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Always & Forever

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After dropping Lily off at pre-school, Ginny Potter Flooed home and practically ran to her bedroom. It was still empty. She really wasn’t surprised to see that her husband, Harry, had not yet come back from his weekend camping trip, but it was still disappointing. Once again, she found herself walking back to Harry’s study. She opened the closet door and stood staring at the wooden chest that was tucked away in the back of the closet floor.

The chest was chestnut brown, with black iron, flower-shaped detailing. It looked like an antique, but it actually was only just a little older than her marriage. Twelve years, to be exact. She remembered the day they had bought it and the way Harry’s green eyes had lit up when he’d seen it. He had made a comment about how it reminded him of playing ships and pirates. He had said that the chest looked like something to hide treasure in.

And even though she hated the pull of it, Ginny was always drawn to the chest in the back of Harry’s study closet whenever he was away for too long. Over the past twelve years of their marriage, there had been times when she would find herself in his study in the earliest hours of the morning. She’d pace next to the closet, pausing to stare down at it as she contemplated whether or not to open it.

Ginny prided herself on her willpower. She was a strong and proud woman, and it sickened her to think of caving in to her longsuffering and very well-hidden insecurity that perhaps Harry was hiding something, or worse, that he didn’t love her the way he said he did. He was certainly gone much too often, especially now that the children were older. She often wondered, especially when he was gone too long like this, what secrets did his chest hold? Pacing next to the closet helped ease her mind a little, but not much. But, she had held out, and not once had she ever even attempted to do an Alohomora spell or break into the latch. Not even when the dead silence of another lonely night without Harry held sleep at bay.

This morning was different. She was tired of pacing, tired of wondering, and so Ginny dropped to her knees and pulled the chest out. She ran her hands over the sides, and then the latch, inspecting it.

Something important was in there; she knew there had to be. Perhaps it held the answer to the question that had been on the tip of her tongue for the past decade, a question she dared not ask, for her sanity, and for her children’s sake.

Where did Harry really go when he wasn’t at home? Was he really camping as he claimed or was he somewhere else? Could the answer be laying in wait for her here? Perhaps opening the chest could inform her about why she no longer felt comfortable being in the same room with her brother, especially when Harry was around. She had seen shadows of things. Weird, unnameable things. But they were just shadows, and whenever she went to touch or grasp hold of them to discern if they were real, they’d dissipate like ghosts, leaving her feeling paranoid and silly.

Still, even though she couldn’t put her finger on it, something had changed between Harry and Ron since their days at Hogwarts. There was a vibration between them that made her skin prickle, and now she could barely hold a decent conversation with her brother whenever Harry was around.

And then there was Hermione. Her relationship with the bushy-haired witch had always been strange. To everyone else, it appeared that Hermione and Ginny had so much in common: same House, same friends, same family. But where it counted, Ginny knew that they didn’t have much in common at all. She really never ever felt any kinship to the girl, and truthfully, Ginny often wondered what why her brother had chosen her for his wife.

What she hated most was the way Harry’s eyes would light up whenever the witch entered the room. The three of them had a strange magnetic bond that gave off its own electric energy whenever they were in each other’s company. Even Ginny had to admit that their friendship was special.

As she thought on it, deep resentment rose once more. She could be in the room with them, and still feel alone. No matter how close Ginny tried to get to them, she knew she would never be able to penetrate that bond. Over the years, she had almost grown to accept that. Harry was never just hers when they were near.

She glared at the chest, her mind working on a sound rationalization for opening it. It would be a violation of Harry’s privacy, but he had been gone for too long this time. He always took one weekend out of every month. Occasionally, those weekends rarely ran long, maybe once or twice in the summer. But it was winter, and he had been away for nearly four days, instead of two and a half.

The logical thing to do would be to owl Ron and Hermione, but Ginny already knew, somehow, that they wouldn’t be home to receive it. They were with him. They always were.

Bitter jealousy scraped at her willpower to resist opening the chest. She hated the damned thing. It was almost as if Harry had put it there to mock her.

“A pirate’s secrets,” he had said… or perhaps those of a husband she barely knew.

Clicking her teeth in disdain for her frailty, she withdrew her wand and cast an advanced Alohomora . To her surprise, the latch dropped immediately. Harry hadn’t put any special locking spells on it, as she had expected, and opening it had proved to be simple.

Too simple.

She knew that when Harry wanted to hide something, he was rather good at it. Her heart sank in disappointment. There were no hidden secrets here, no answers that would relieve her of the nagging insecurity about a secret life. She fingered the lock, playing with it before pausing. It wouldn’t hurt to peek inside, to see what silly things he had tucked away, even if they were harmless. It would be something to do to occupy her mind and put her nerves at rest temporarily until he came home.

Ginny flung the top of the chest back against the wall. It was empty. There was nothing, save a red felt bottom, which was perfectly clean. New, even.

She reached down to run her fingertips over it, and shrieked in shock as sharp pain penetrated her skin. Her first inclination was to withdraw her hand, but something told her not to do that. Instead she leaned forward, squinting as her eyes searched for the offensive object. But there was nothing there. Her fingers still throbbed, but she grew more determined. She braced herself for more pain as she pressed her hand down against the bottom of the chest. This time, her hand tingled with a strange vibration, and then the hard red felt-laden bottom of the box completely disappeared. She gasped, her eyes taking in the contents that had obviously been hidden very carefully from view.

There was a golden snitch there, the familiar Invisibility Cloak, a few photographs of Harry and Dumbledore from old newspapers, and letters. Dozens and dozens of letters.

She ran her hand over them, exposing their post dates. The dates spanned many years, some as far back as right after the war. She frowned. None of them had a return address on them.

Her thoughts began battling with her conscience. Who were they from? And did she really want to know? Should she open one?

She unconsciously bit her lip, glancing behind her like a child expecting to be caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

Grasping the first letter within her reach, she snatched it out and held it up before slowly opening the plain white envelope.

Harry,

I know I sound like a selfish cow, but I don’t care anymore. Even though we just saw you, I miss you terribly. Your sporadic visits to the house don’t count, at least not for me. Honestly, you could at least send us an owl once or twice in the interim. I know this is hard for you, but it’s harder for us, knowing you’re living another life without us. I hate the charade! Our monthly trips to the cabin aren’t enough anymore. I wish there was a way out of this. Sometimes I just want to tell her. Tell her to let you go. Don’t worry, you know that I won’t ever do that. I know she wouldn’t understand. No one would.

I really can’t wait until the 15th! Until then, Ron and I are looking forward to seeing you at the Weasley feast next week. I suppose it’s better than not seeing you at all.

And don’t ever doubt that we both miss you. I know Ron doesn’t always tell you, but he loves you just as much.

I suppose we’ll be seeing you soon,

Always and forever yours,

Hermione

 

Ginny gaped at the words, reading them again and again, trying to turn them over in her head for possible alternative meanings.

I hate the charade!

She could barely swallow; her mouth was dry from hanging open.

Sometimes I just want to tell her.

She felt lightheaded, and her eyes fluttered as she tried once more to read it over, convinced she was mistaken at the conclusion that was standing before her.

Tell her to let you go.

“No…” she whispered. “They… they can’t be…”

Her brother, Ron, would never do that to her. He didn’t even like blokes!

I know she wouldn’t understand. No one would.

But then the memory of them at the last gathering came crashing back like a tidal wave, shocking her with cold realization. There had been tension at the dinner table, she remembered that clearly. But she had dismissed it as the fallout from a spat between Harry and her brother. Hermione had been unusually silent, giving Ginny forced smiles whenever she made eye contact.

The three of them had moved around each other awkwardly, and Ginny had just assumed there had been a row of some sort. They were known to have them, and she had figured that was just their usual way of working through it.

But now, in light of the letter, she saw the scene differently.

We both miss you. I know Ron doesn’t always tell you, but he loves you just as much.

Always and forever yours

 

Ginny stared at the words a few more times before folding up the letter carefully and placing it back inside its envelope. She studied the post date on the right corner, and then her eyes wandered back to the chest.

There were dozens and dozens of letters scattered on top of each other, all out of order. Taking a deep breath, she extracted all of them, spreading them out along the floor.

It would take a while, but she planned to read them all, starting from the beginning. She had to know what the charade was, and when exactly had it started.

And most of all, Ginny had to understand exactly what Ron and Hermione meant to her husband.

Chapter Text

June 3, 1998,

Harry,

How are you doing? Well, I hope. I miss you. I know you said you wanted to take a break and fix up Grimmauld, but I hope you’ll reconsider. I know you need your rest, and that you’re grieving, but this is the best way to work through it. With us. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the world. Mrs. and Mr. Weasley have already given Ron permission. I told my parents to purchase a ticket for you as well, just in case you changed your mind. I know you’re probably thinking now that Ron and I are dating, that three’s a crowd, but you’re wrong. This is a chance for us to spend time together, like we used to– just the three of us. But if you like, you can even invite Ginny.

Please contact me soon to let me know if you can or not.

Love,

Hermione

P.S. Although the formal letters have not gone out yet, McGonagall has already informed me that we will have the option of returning next year. I’ve already made up my mind to return. Unsurprisingly, if you choose not to return, Ron has said that he probably will not return either. I hope you are considering it. A proper magical education is invaluable, Harry, and honestly, attending Hogwarts wouldn’t be the same without either one of you there.

 

Ginny put the letter down and sat back against the closet door. She remembered that year clearly. It had been the summer right after the war. Her brother Fred had been buried only a few months before. Her mum was running about, tending to everyone else, not taking anytime for herself, while her father walked around numbly with a permanent sad smile plastered on his face. He mostly kept to himself that summer, busying himself with fixing Muggle machinery.

There was an explosive row between Ron and their parents about taking the trip around the world with the Grangers. Mum was fiercely adamant about keeping her children close to the Burrow. But Ron insisted on going, that is, until he pushed her too far. Ginny would never forget the chilling long sob her mum let out as she broke down in the middle of the living room, crying uncontrollably. Everyone was silenced and her Dad stood glaring at Ron in disapproval.

Ron knelt down beside their mum, trying to console her with promises that he would never leave her side. He obviously felt terrible about causing her more pain. But in that moment, their mum must have had an epiphany – one that would free them all. Molly Weasley finally realized that no matter how much she tried, she would never be able to watch over her all of her children, all of the time. After that revelation, she collected herself and gave Ron her blessing, insisting that he owl the Grangers to tell them he would be joining them soon. Ginny remembered watching guilt and relief warring on Ron’s face, and she remembered being angry with him for making their mum cry like that. Worst of all, Ginny remembered feeling jealous that she couldn’t leave the Burrow and go with him.

The next week, Ron was gone, and so was Harry.

Harry informed her at the very last moment that he would be joining his two best mates for the trip. It left a bitter taste in her mouth and she resented Hermione for extending the invitation Harry. Ginny had just gotten him back, and he was going to leave her. Again.

And now, to find out that Harry could have invited her along, but simply chose not to…

Ginny’s face tightened as she tried to fight back angry tears and the urge to ball the letter up and throw it away.

 

June 15, 1998

Sitting back against the cool plastic deckchair of the Muggle cruise ship, Hermione exhaled. This was the most relaxed she had felt in years. The war, and all of the funerals that followed it, seemed almost as far as way as Great Britain. She had finally gotten past the anguish of travelling back to Australia so she could retrieve her parents and restore their memories. There had been tremendous guilt about the whole ordeal, but it had been the only way she knew to protect them. Thankfully, her parents understood, and as far as she could tell, their memories had been fully restored. She was grateful for that, and for the fact that they were still alive.

Pushing her sunglasses over her forehead, she tried to get a better look at what Harry and Ron were up to. To her disapproval, they were both too close to the edge of the ship.

Ron was perched up on the thin wooden edge, half of his body leaning over like he was preparing for a dive, while Harry was sitting on the edge as if it were a seat made just for him. Hermione felt anxiety rise as Ron pushed himself up with his forearms and swung his legs around to sit beside Harry. She tried her best to bite her tongue and not rise to scold them about safety.

Boys.

Only they weren’t boys anymore. She wasn’t blind. Ron had grown taller, and since their return from the woods, his lanky form had filled out considerably. His arms were large and well defined, his back broad and proportioned to his toned chest. She let her eyes wander to Harry’s back, and noted that while he was lean, there were slight muscles apparent where there had only been only skin and bones just six months prior. He had a swimmer’s form.

She quickly glanced away, disturbed she had been staring at Harry’s body. While occasionally she and Harry shared flirtatious smiles and lingering hugs that held the promise of unexplored chemistry, they both knew that she was Ron’s girl. The thought of what could happen if Harry expressed an interest in her, or if Ginny weren’t around was irrelevant now, and she forced herself to push such thoughts out of her mind.

It didn’t matter anyway. None of those things mattered now. What mattered was that she, Ron, and Harry were here together, as friends first.

She was elated that Harry finally agreed to join her and Ron in sharing her parents’ reunification gift: a trip around the world. They would be making stops in different countries along the way. Hermione was both surprised and grateful that her parents had decided to do this, but she also understood why. She and her parents had lost a lot of time together in the years she had attended Hogwarts. Christmas and summers had once been their time to catch up and bond. But over the last few years, summer and holiday breaks had been cut much too short, and some of them had been completely stolen. This was the Grangers’ time to become reacquainted with their daughter, and Hermione was ecstatic that Harry and Ron could join her as they did.

Harry turned his head and gave her a small, carefree smile, prompting Ron to do the same.

Hermione arose from her seat and walked over to where they were sitting.

“You two should get down from there. Do you know how many passengers are reported missing from falling overboard each year?”

“Oh give it a rest, Hermione, and get up here,” Ron said.

Hermione shook her head. “Absolutely not! It’s dangerous and foolish. I can see the sea just fine from here.”

“What are you afraid of? Falling in?” Ron teased.

She glanced up at Harry, who was smiling in amusement.

Sticking her nose up, she huffed dismissively. “I just survived a war, Ron; I’m hardly afraid of water.”

“Come on, then,” Ron pressed, extending his arm out to help support her effort.

Her eyes surveyed the small edge, weighing the danger, before deciding that if Ron and Harry could do it, she definitely could. She took a small breath to summon her courage. Ignoring Ron’s offered arm, she gripped the edge with both hands and pushed herself up.

Once she did, how to get in a sitting position without going overboard proved to be quite a challenge, and a slight sweat broke on her brow as she realized the predicament she had gotten herself into. She tried to lift her knees to get herself into position but slipped. As soon as she did, two strong hands were reaching down to grab her arms.

She saw Harry’s legs swing over and land on the deck. He walked over on the left side of her, while Ron continued to hold her right side. Harry began to push her up, placing one firm hand on her arm, and the other high on her thigh, right beneath her bum.

His hand felt warm on her skin, and suddenly her shorts seemed much too short. She glanced up at Ron, but he seemed focused on helping her up despite the fact that his best mate’s hand was cupping her bum. She concentrated and allowed herself to be pulled and pushed, finding balance on the edge with her leg until she was straddling it. Harry’s and Ron’s hands never left her as she anchored herself with her hands to turn and swing her other leg over the ship’s ledge. Finally, her bum was firmly planted on the edge.

“There! No problem at all,” she said proudly, looking to her left and right.

Ron and Harry were both smiling at her, and scooted in closer so that their arms were touching hers.

Hermione looked out to gaze at the sky, and was temporarily stunned by the beauty of the red sun sinking into the Red Sea. The horizon was orange, red, and yellow, and casting its own light onto the clear blue water. She had never seen anything so breathtaking.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Ron murmured.

She nodded. “It’s... incredible.”

“Thank you, Hermione,” Harry said softly, his eyes focused on the setting sun as well. “I’m so glad I came.”

She smiled, tilting her head against his shoulder briefly. “I’m glad you came too, Harry; it wouldn’t have been the same without you.”

She heard Harry’s breathing pause as he turned to stare at her, his eyes penetrating hers. She was pinned by his stare, and felt her own breath catch in her throat. Harry swallowed and then nervously glanced over her head at Ron. She quickly turned to look back at her boyfriend, as well. Ron was watching. But there was no suspicion in his stare, only a flash of doubt. Or perhaps it was curiosity. She couldn’t quite read it, but whatever it was, it faded just as quickly as it appeared. Ron smiled at them, his blue eyes reflecting a silent appreciation that warmed her heart.

Hermione returned his smile as relief, contentment, and happiness filled her; she felt whole. There was a soft cool breeze coming up from the water, and she extended her arms to feel it caress her skin before hanging them loosely around the shoulders of her best mates.

She just couldn’t stop smiling and didn’t want to. They had survived. Harry had survived. He had won, and they were together again under much better circumstances. It was a new day, and there was renewed hope for the future. The bad memories were behind them, and there were new ones to be made.

And watching the setting Mediterranean sun on the ship’s edge between Ron and Harry was Hermione’s new favourite memory.

Chapter Text

August 17, 1998

Hi, Harry, how are you doing? I’m not really sure what to write in this letter, but I feel like I need to write something. I hate how things have turned out. Who would have thought sex between good friends could make things so complicated? I know you’re confused right now and think that we’ve ruined our friendship, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We both love you very much. Ron probably would never say that, but he does. I know it. He’s been in a foul mood since you left. Truthfully, I haven’t been in the best of moods, either, but I’m trying to stay positive. I know we’ll get through this. And in case you’re wondering, I don’t regret it, not one bit. Still, I understand why you are having a hard time with it. But, Harry, even though things may be complicated right now, you must remember that above anything else, we’re your friends. I’m still here if you want to talk. Please don’t shut me out because of this.

I hope you’re well, and that you will owl us soon.

Thinking of you, always,

Hermione

 

Ginny read that one a few times as she tried to recall that time period. All she could remember was how happy she had been when Harry had come home early from the trip around the world with Hermione and Ron. She finally had him to herself. They could take long walks, catch up, and snog, like other couples did. She remembered trying not to be too clingy or cloying, but wanting to be by his side every moment, still not sure when he would up and leave her again. That was the real beginning of their life together.

And it had been one of the best times of her life. Now, it would be forever tainted by the knowledge that somewhere along the way, before Harry had come back to her, he had been intimate with his best mates. They'd had sex.

A sick feeling in her stomach grew as she tried to push away the image of her brother and Hermione touching Harry like that.

How could Ron betray her like that? Hot tears gathered in the corners of her eyes and the knots in her stomach tightened until she finally she had to rise and rush for the bathroom to vomit.

August 15, 1998

Harry’s nerves were on end; it felt like he had taken too much Pepperup Potion. He couldn’t sleep, had trouble keeping food down, and he had developed an annoying habit of going out to check the post too often, despite the fact that post usually only came once a day.

He was waiting to hear something, anything from them. He’d left both of them in a panic, their uncomfortable silence telling him everything he had needed to know, right then. They’d made a mistake, possibly one that couldn’t be fixed.

Harry was sure that he had just thrown almost seven years of friendship down the drain, all for a shag.

Granted, it wasn’t just any shag; being between Hermione and Ron had been one of the most natural and intimate things he had ever experienced, but it hadn’t been worth losing their friendship over. He knew that.

He had left them in the middle of Belize, barely getting out a thank you and apology to the Grangers before taking the first plane he could back to London. He knew his actions were confusing and probably hurtful to Ron and Hermione. At least, he thought so; he really didn’t know what they were feeling at the moment.

Since leaving, constant guilt had taken up all of Harry’s emotional reserve. He felt guilty for cheating on Ginny and not stopping it before it had gone too far. He felt guilty for wanting it in the first place and for enjoying the physical comfort they offered in one of his most vulnerable moments. But worst of all, Harry felt guilty for reminiscing on it, and last night, after Ginny had left him for the Burrow, he felt guilty for wanking to it.

Ginny seemed to want more of his time lately, and he understood why. He’d left her before the war, practically preparing her for his death. Of course, it was understandable that when he returned that she would want to snog him silly. But, as much as Harry tried, snogging Ginny never excited him quite as much. She didn’t quicken his pulse the way the memory of what he had shared with Hermione and Ron did, and he hated himself for that.

During their trip around the world, the Grangers had given the three of them plenty of space, more than he would have expected, considering their daughter was hanging around two blokes. But, Hermione was no normal daughter. She was a dutiful and responsible witch, who had lived away from home for years, excelling in nearly everything she put her mind to, making her parents proud. The Grangers were all too happy to have her back. After years of being separated from her, the scare of the war, and nearly having her Obliviated from their memory, they were eager to do anything they could to make sure she was content. So to keep her close, they gave her, Harry, and Ron all the space they wanted.

After eating dinner with the Grangers, Harry, Hermione, and Ron would stay up half the night talking, laughing, and remembering those they had just lost. There were countless tales about the adventures of Fred and George, Moody, Tonks, Dobby, and even Hedwig. In the quiet breaks, when they would run out of laughs, they’d settle on more sober memories of Remus, Dumbledore, Sirius, and Snape. Hermione always cried then, and sometimes Ron would too, but Harry never did. He hadn’t cried at all, not even at any of the funerals, but he was there for his best friends when they did. During the day they’d wake up soberly with lingering sadness from their late night remembrances still in their eyes, until Mrs. Granger would knock on the door and ask how they were doing.

They always gave a chipper, “Great, we’ll be right out.”

Hermione would then rise and list off the things that they should plan to do for the day, places she thought they should visit, and little known history facts about the area.

Ron always groaned about her over-planning. He just wanted to just relax, it was a vacation, after all. That would get Hermione in a huff, and they’d start bickering while Harry watched patiently, sometimes with amusement.

After breakfast, they’d allow Hermione to drag them wherever she wanted. Sometimes they’d stop to do what Ron wanted, much to Hermione’s chagrin, as it usually involved something related to eating or investigating something she considered uncultured.

But on that particular day, that night, the night they had done it, everything had been off. In retrospect, Harry could see the signs clearly. He had even crafted a stoic face to mask the avalanche of emotions that had been building since the start of the trip. With each embrace and laugh, the notion of Hermione as a sister began to unravel. He had begun to notice little things he hadn’t before; her body, her smile, her energy. Being around her sometimes made his body respond in ways that he had reserved for Ginny, and within a span of a month, she had become much less like a sister and much more than a friend. And then there was Ron. For a moment, Harry thought he had been going mental for suddenly noticing the layers of blue in Ron’s eyes, and how developed his mate’s chest had become. He had never paid really noticed before, and was confused about why he sometimes found himself gawking at the redhead when his back was turned. There were even occasional moments when Harry had to restrain himself from hugging Ron, and he embarrassed by how much he enjoyed the few hugs they shared.

Harry had felt sexual tension before, but never like this. The spark of unexplored desire and curiosity that hung between them was almost mesmerizing at times. Over the course of the trip, lingering stares became unspoken words, and touch became a possibility of something new and indescribable. It seemed so taboo, what they were feeling. None of them were willing to speak or act on it, it just hovered in the air. If Harry were going to be honest with himself, it had been hovering over them long before the trip,

That day, Ron and Hermione had a wicked row. Hermione put them on a tight schedule, trying to cram several historical site tours within a span of hours, and Ron insisted on not being held to her schedule.

Tired and weary of both of them and their bickering, Harry walked ahead in silence. When either one of them would try to draw him into the debate, he’d give them the minimal response, determined not to be a pawn in their power struggle.

When they got back to the hotel, Harry finally had enough and simply snapped.

“Just shut up! Both of you! You keep arguing about stupid shite! You think Remus and Tonks would be arguing about whether to visit the bloody Mayan Temple or to go see a damn waterfall? They’d be happy to just to be here, just to be alive!” he yelled, shaking with uncontrolled rage.

It scared him, snapping on them like that. He didn’t understood where it had come from, and he was fearful of the open shock and shame he saw on their faces. Harry couldn’t stand there, with them staring at him like that, so he turned and rushed upstairs, locking himself in the bathroom to take the longest shower he’d ever taken.

When he finally came out with the towel wrapped around his waist, Hermione and Ron were there, waiting for him. Both of them sat on Hermione’s bed, their eyes reflecting deep concern.

“Harry,” Hermione started.

Harry shook his head, grabbing a t-shirt and sweat bottoms, returning to the bathroom to change. When he came out, he didn’t even look at them. He walked to his bed and slipped underneath the covers, turning his back to them. He pushed his face into the pillow as the first tears shed in nearly a year began to boil to the surface. Determined not to let a sound escape, he tightened his mouth, pressing his lips together, wishing the tears would cease.

The silence in the room was thick, and Harry could feel their eyes on him. He was on the verge of having a bloody breakdown, and they were just standing there, watching him do it. He wanted to tell them to leave, but he was afraid of saying anything for fear that his voice would give him away. When his tears began to gather on the tip of nose, threatening to block his nostrils, he cursed himself for sniffling.

Then the lights went out. He sighed in relief, thankful they were going to leave him alone, but then his mattress sank under their weight as both of them climbed into bed with him. Hermione in front of him, Ron behind him.

They lay with him for several minutes, listening to him cry.

“Why?” he whispered with a broken sob. “Why am I alive, and they aren’t? I should be dead… I should be dead.”

Hermione reached up to stroke his face. “Harry, no. No, you’re alive because that’s the way it’s meant to be.”

“What does that mean? That they’re meant be dead? That they deserved it?”

Ron threw his arm over Harry, holding him tight. “No, mate. They didn’t deserve to die, but they died fighting for what was right. It’s how they would have wanted to die.”

“But it’s not fair,” Harry whispered, his sobs beginning to choke him forcing him to take a huge breath. His heart literally ached as he had thought of Remus and Tonks. He felt traitorous for not thinking of the others just as much. But how could he grieve for so many all at once? His thoughts drifted to Dobby, Fred, Hedwig, Sirius, and Dumbledore. He drew into himself more, curling up as much as Ron’s heavy form would allow.

“It’s all right, Harry… it’s all right to cry,” Hermione said softly.

“That’s right, mate; it’s good to cry. Actually, we’ve been waiting for you to do it. You were starting to worry us,” Ron said with some lightness in his voice, giving Harry another affirming squeeze.

Ron’s strong arm wrapped around him felt like a life jacket, and Hermione’s soft reassuring voice was a calming break in the tumultuous sea of despair he had fallen into. She continued to caress his tearstained cheeks, whispering, ‘It’s okay, Harry, it’s all right,’ until his sobs subsided and silent tears ran in their wake.

Hermione’s fingers traced his tears as they fell, trailing down his cheek, over his lips and chin. She moved in closer, pressing her body against his closely. Harry instinctively reached out to her like a lifeline, pulling her in tight. He needed this, their closeness, their warmth, their protection from his pain. At first, he didn’t think twice about the fact that her breasts were pressing against his chest, or that he had pulled her halfway between his legs, one of his legs wrapped over hers like a lover. Ron gave him another squeeze, pulling both Harry and Hermione closer to him as he did. Harry’s body fit into Ron’s perfectly, arching right into the curve of the redhead’s form. When Harry felt his best mate’s groin press against his arse something deep inside of him stirred.

He moaned. It was soft, barely audible, but they all heard it. Harry was sure of that, because as soon as he let it slip, they all lay there, quite still, listening to each other breathe. He heard Hermione swallow, and then she resumed her caresses on his cheek as if nothing had changed.

But everything had changed.

Her fingers began lightly tracing his lips. It was sensual and exploratory, something he had never pictured Hermione doing. But in that moment, it felt so right. Harry pressed his lips against her fingers, kissing her hand, and she quickly replaced her hand with her mouth, tasting his lips. When the kiss ended, they were both short of breath, enraptured and terrified at once.

Harry held his breath, waiting for Ron to react, waiting for his best mate to get angry, to say something or do something. But the boy pressed against him didn’t move, there was only heavy breathing in his ear. His arm was still wrapped around Harry, and his pelvis was still pressed against Harry’s bum. Harry took a chance and pushed back against Ron and felt the boy’s cock harden almost immediately, poking Harry pointedly against the light cotton of his sweats.

Harry squirmed against his mate’s erection, which eliciting a grunt from behind. Goosebumps broke as the redhead nestled his mouth against his neck. Ron’s breath was hot and heavy on his skin and Harry stretched his neck inviting more attention there. In that moment, he wanted Ron to do whatever he wanted to him. Ron hesitated for a moment, causing Harry to still, his heart beating wildly as he waited for Ron to come to his senses and freak out or perhaps make a joke of it. But he never did.

Instead, Ron began attacking Harry’s neck with fervour, his teeth nipping and sucking as he ground his now fully hard, clothed erection against Harry’s arse. Harry gasped loudly, opening his eyes fully to see Hermione watching him in the dark. The whites of her eyes had almost glowed in the sliver of moonlight coming in through the window. He pulled her closer.

She opened her mouth to say something, and suddenly, Harry feared she’d protest or raise some logical reason for them to not do this. He rushed to cover her mouth with his own to stop her, his tongue coaxing her to relax and allow herself to be kissed. They moaned in unison until Ron’s hand glided over his belly and slipped beneath the waistband of his sweats, causing Harry to whimper.

The rest of that memory was now a hazy blur with only flashes of clear snapshots. He remembered feeling both shock and euphoria as their clothing was quickly discarded. They tried to remain in physical contact with each other, groping, caressing, kissing, and grinding all at once. It felt dreamlike to have Hermione tracing his nipples with her tongue, as Ron’s large palm closed around his cock. He remembered feeling that he had never needed them that much.

He had always been nervous about what his first time would be like, but that night, everything came easily. All he wanted was to please them, and for them to enjoy him just as much as he was enjoying them.

Flashes of Ron kissing him deeply, and Hermione’s mouth on his belly, came and went, melting and merging into the memory of that night. He closed his eyes, remembering what it had felt like to finally sink into Hermione’s tight, wet core. He hadn’t been her first. He could tell by the way she had expertly guided him inside of her and twisted her hips wantonly against him. Apparently, she and Ron had been shagging for a good while.

He remembered almost coming inside of her. He’d never felt anything so good in his life, not until she tightened around him, crying out as her nails dug into his biceps. That was unbelievable. He would never forget that, or what came after.

As he slipped out of Hermione and fell on his back, his head reeling from watching her face as she came, Ron scooted closer, looking down at him. Harry stared up at his friend, apprehensive, and hopeful that he hadn’t caused his mate offense or created resentment. Ron was silently considering him. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then Ron’s mouth came crashing down onto his. His mate’s tongue was bold and insistent, roughly tangling with Harry’s as he grunted and moaned into his mouth. Harry reached up to grab the back of Ron’s head, trying to take control over the kiss, when Ron pushed Harry’s hand back against the mattress. Ron moved quickly to fasten his mouth to his neck, moving down his torso until he was taking Harry’s cock into his hot mouth.

“Ron!” Harry gasped, his hand finding Ron’s hair, gripping it tight while his mate sucked him in deep, undoubtedly tasting Hermione as he did. And then she started pressing against him again, her bare breasts rubbing against his skin as she leaned over to kiss him. That’s when Harry lost it. He came without warning. He remembered being embarrassed, thinking how rude he was to come into his friend’s mouth so abruptly without sufficient warning. But, Ron didn’t pull away, he continued to suck Harry until there was nothing left to take from him.

Hermione continued kissing him, and Harry wore a lazy smile on his face as she did, his hand resting on top of Ron’s head. When Ron finally rose, she pulled back, looking up at him.

“Now it’s your turn,” she said to Ron, with a smile in her voice. Ron let out a sigh of contentment and leaned in to give Harry one last soft kiss before falling on his back beside him to welcome her. Hermione climbed over him and straddled Ron. Harry remembered stared up into darkness, his body languid and relaxed as she rode Ron to his climax.

All of that felt like a dream now. Surreal. In the days since he had come home, Harry replayed the sequences he could remember well over again while trying to recall the parts that seemed to blur, fading into a haze. He wanted to hold onto any piece of it, hoping it would soothe the constant ache he’d felt since awaking the morning after.
As soon as the sunlight hit his face, Harry felt speared by self-loathing for what he had done. His pitiful breakdown had been a catalyst for something far worse than anything he could have done under the influence of Firewhisky. Gut wrenching guilt, anxiety, and regret grew as the last bit of sleep faded and he lay awake, between Ron and Hermione.

They all lay there awake, pretending to be asleep, for what felt like a painfully long hour. Harry could hear their irregular breathing as unbearable tension grew, causing uncomfortable stiffness in his own body. The weight of what they had done seemed to pin them into unnatural stillness. There were no words.

Where would they go from here? How could they move on as friends after what they had shared? They couldn’t possibly move on as lovers. There were social mores and rules about love and marriage. And then there was Ginny.

Finally, Hermione forced an unmistakably fake yawn, and sat up. Harry turned away from her, pretending to be roused out of sleep as he forced his eyes open. Ron rose next, his back turned to all of them, like he was afraid to face them. Despite the night before, they all took their turns changing in the loo, trying to force some semblance of normality of what they were before. But the longer they stood, moving about the room, dressing, and cleaning up the room in silence, the more Harry became convinced that they’d made a mistake.

They ate breakfast in the same awkward silence. Sick guilt tore Harry’s insides apart, making him unable to eat. He couldn’t stand it. Finally, he caved in to it and promptly apologized to the Grangers. He refused to look at Ron and Hermione as he informed Hermione’s parents that there was an emergency back home, requiring him to leave right away.

The Grangers was concerned but didn’t pry, agreeing to help him get home immediately. They put him on the first available plane to London.

And here he was, at the Burrow, sitting on the Weasley couch, watching Teddy run around while Andromeda chased him around the chairs where Mr. Weasley and George sat. Percy was on his left making odd conversation with Bill and Fleur, while Mrs. Weasley was busying herself with everyone’s cup of tea and bringing out fresh crumb cake. They were happy Harry had come back. Wherever he was, they flocked to be with him. It was their way of saying thank you, welcome back, and you’re not alone. The atmosphere was pleasant and sombre. The grieving was not over, but there was a concerted effort to focus on the positive. They were still celebrating and mourning. On his right, Ginny was running her hands through his hair, snuggling next to him in peaceful silence.

Inside of Harry, a storm of guilt and longing raged on.

Chapter Text

As Ginny sat in her sweats on the plush blue-carpeted floor of Harry’s study, she felt nothing but pure anger coursing through her. Her eyes were drawn to the family photos and the memorabilia collected from past family trips adorning Harry’s desk. It was all a farce.

She frowned, focusing her attention back to the rows of chronologically arranged letters lined all around her. The postdates on them jumped from August 1998 to July 1999. There were no letters from September 1998 to June 1999, and she knew exactly why: Harry had returned to school to complete his seventh year, and so had Hermione and Ron. There’d been no need for letters when they’d been together, right under Ginny’s nose, all along. She wanted to smack herself for being so oblivious of it all.

Thinking back on that year, she recalled her popularity, becoming a leader at Hogwarts; a war hero who’d fought the notorious Bellatrix alongside her comrades in the final battle, she was officially dating the "Saviour of the Wizarding World", and had earned the starting Chaser position on the Gryffindor team. Ginny had finally come into her own.

That year flew by. She was falling deeper in love, and was ecstatic that Harry had returned to do his seventh year over just to be with her, or so she’d thought.

But as Ginny thought about that year, she realized there were many moments unaccounted for, moments when Harry had been absent or simply too busy to see her. She had chalked it up to his own popularity, and a need to catch up in his studies. He had always been pants at schoolwork.

She had been happy just to play Quidditch alongside him and Ron. Those were good times. Gryffindor had become a beacon of hope, invigorated by a renewed spirit of victory, and they won a lot of games that year. She gasped as she thought of the unknown stolen kisses that could have been exchanged between Harry and Ron in the boys’ changing room.

She remembered wanting to give them space. Crowding or appearing clingy when so many others were doing the same would’ve made her just like everybody else. She’d wanted to stand out as strong, independent, and not consumed with thoughts of marriage, despite her mum’s uncomfortable hints that she and Harry should be thinking about it. Oh, she wanted to marry Harry, there had been no doubt about that, but Ginny had also felt guiltily about thinking of it so soon after the war. Harry could have died, the wizarding world had only been a duel away from being ruled by Voldemort, and they were all still recovering. Harry needed time to recover as well. She had no idea what had occurred the previous year, when he, Ron, and Hermione had left school. They hardly ever spoke about it, but whatever had happened, they had lived through it, together. So Ginny restrained herself and stayed out of their way.

Reflecting on that first train ride back to Hogwarts, Ginny realized how clueless she had been. She remembered thinking that the silence in their car had been a comfortable, shared understanding between all of them. Only now, she knew she had never shared any such thing with them; those three had their own understanding – then and now.

September 3, 1998

Ron turned over, his eyes focused on Harry’s back through the thin curtain surrounding his bed. How could the tosser sleep so peacefully?

To have his lover so close but not able to touch him, not when everyone was sleeping around them, was maddening. It was the same frustration Ron experienced in the locker-room, watching Harry shower. He’d sneak glances for sure, but that only gave Ron enough to think about for wanking later.

He thought coming back this year would ease the aggravation and longing he’d felt when Harry had left them in summer, but this was worse.

Every moment since Ron had returned to Hogwarts felt like a production. He was starring a leading role in a play he hadn’t signed up for. He had to play the best mate, always keeping a proper distance from Harry when all he really wanted to do was hold or snog the boy without worrying about what others would say.

At least he had Hermione. Ron was grateful that he no longer had to pretend not to have feelings for her. Honestly, he didn’t think he could go through another year acting as though he didn’t love her. If only he could love Harry just as openly. Sometimes he felt greedy for wanting Harry, like some type of a deviant. Having a girlfriend, the love of his life, by his side should have been enough. Only the problem was, he had two loves. That had become clear to him after Harry had left them in Belize. It had felt like something was missing.

He stared at Harry’s back for what felt like forever, until his eyes finally began to grow heavy. He had almost drifted off when he was awoken by a firm hand clamping down over his mouth. Straining to see in the dark, he saw a familiar form waiting for his acquiescence. He knew it was Harry, but it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust and see the intense, imploring stare of his best mate before he slipped into Ron’s bed. He crawled half on top of Ron, while closing the curtain around them.

Ron exhaled, basking in the feeling of Harry’s body touching his own. His cock hardened instantly. Harry’s smaller athletic form was pressing against him, and he had to bite back a moan against the hand covering his mouth so that he wouldn’t awaken the others in their room.

“Miss you,” Harry whispered as he began to grind against Ron, staring into his eyes, their noses touching.

Ron just barely nodded, returning Harry’s gyrations with small, firm ones of his own. His eyes fluttered to feel the erection he longed to touch in the showers rubbing against his leg.

Harry closed his eyes, and slid over more so that he could straddle Ron. His weight settled firmly, and he moved his hand, allowing Ron a deep breath, lower, over nipples and abdomen, then finally Ron’s waist. Ron gazed up at the dark figure covering him, his excitement growing with every movement of Harry’s body. Harry lay firmly on top of him now, and it felt so good to be covered by him. The hand covering Ron’s mouth moved down the redhead’s chest to find his waist and Ron squirmed under his touch. Everything Harry was doing to him made him feel tingly inside and out. And then Harry’s hand ventured even lower, slipping underneath to grab Ron’s arse.

Ron couldn’t help whimpering. Harry quickly silenced him with his tongue, probing, coaxing his own to respond. Ron pulled Harry closer against him, closing his eyes as he tried to enjoy and remember everything Harry was doing to his body, knowing they didn’t have much time.

They continued to grind against each other, kissing deeply, breathing into each other, trying to swallow the moans that rippled through their mouths. Ron felt like he was going to go mad from the friction of Harry’s cock rubbing against his own. He wanted to feel so much more; he wanted Harry inside of him. But this would have to do, so he gripped Harry’s arse, and pushed his hips up, communicating his own need.

When Harry bit down on his lip and stiffened, Ron knew his time was running out. Neither of them were going to last much longer, but Ron wanted to come with Harry; to feel him come. Not knowing when he’d feel it again forced his hips to move faster, harder, pulling Harry against him. Above him, Harry began to shake. He hastened his own frantic hip motions so that he could come with his lover. It was only a moment later that he felt Harry’s body rattle against him. He squeezed Harry as hard as he could and exploded, biting his tongue to force down a groan. He held onto Harry for a long time after that, his head buzzing as his heart beat loudly in his chest. After several minutes, his thoughts became clearer, and it was then that he felt a small patch of wetness seeping through his pyjamas. He opened his eyes to see Harry staring down at him in complete silence.

“I hate this, Harry… it’s killing me,” Ron whispered.

Harry didn’t reply, only gave him a quick kiss on the lips before sliding off of him and quietly slipping out of his bed to tiptoe back over to his own.

December 31, 1998

It had been the best Christmas holiday break ever, in his opinion. Not only was Hermione there, after spending a week at her parents’, but so was Harry. No one bothered them. Ron didn’t know why exactly. Perhaps it was because they were of age now. Perhaps it was because they were war heroes, or maybe people just knew they needed their time together. For whatever reason it was that people gave them space, Ron was grateful. He, Hermione, and Harry took long walks alone and would go upstairs to his room for hours without interruption. Everyone respected their need to be around each other… apart from Ginny. But they had worked out how to handle her. Harry would split his time, give her all the attention she wanted and needed, so that when he and Hermione came around, she’d understand that they needed to spend time with him too.

Sometimes Ron would look at his sister and feel absolutely creepy. Like some sort of pervert. What kind of bloke coveted his sister’s boyfriend? Other times, he’d feel like a complete arse. He had gone beyond coveting and was actually sleeping with Ginny’s boyfriend as well! He never thought he’d ever do something like that. But here they were, and he refused to give Harry up for anything or anyone.

They needed each other.

It was New Year’s Eve, and their mum had invited nearly everyone they knew over. It was a huge party, and they were all happy to see everyone there. Still, if Ron could have his way, he just wanted to be alone with Harry and Hermione. He could openly hold Hermione around the waist and even kiss her, and he did, but every time he did, he felt guilty. He’d look up at Harry, who would always be glancing at them with a warm, cheery smile. Harry always looked so happy to see them together. But Ron knew better. He knew his best mate was just as miserable as he and Hermione felt every time they exchanged a glance from across the room, or when Mum would drop another half-joking suggestion about planning a wedding for him and Ginny.

The thought of Harry marrying his sister made Ron sick, but now wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Harry was here, and so was Hermione, and it was their first New Year’s Eve together… like this.

George had made sure to bring plenty of the everlasting exploding light balls that he and Fred had created only two years before and Seamus, Ernie, and Dean had helped him distribute them while everyone below watched.

The elaborate light show in the sky painted all of their faces in a rainbow of colour. Each burst of light was a celebration of their hope, their will to move forward and find peace with the tragedy of the past year. Ron turned to see his mother and father kiss. It was good to see them happy again. Just a few feet past them Neville was holding Hannah about the waist, and Luna was holding hands with her new boyfriend, some strange bloke named Rolf. Ron smiled in amusement. They looked good together, and it was nice to see so much love among people who had experienced so much pain. Love was everywhere, like an elixir for their spirits, and Ron felt it too. He turned to smile at Harry and saw his mate’s face turned upwards, toward the light show, his glasses reflecting colour and obscuring his eyes. Ginny reached up and pulled Harry’s head down for a kiss.

Ron grimaced, clenching his fists briefly as jealousy flared. He forced himself to calm down and quickly look away. Hermione was looking up at him, and he pulled closer for a kiss of his own. In that moment, he forgot everything else. Hermione’s arms wrapped around his neck, her mouth soft and tender against his own always did that to him. It had been only about seven months, but every time Hermione kissed him it felt new and exciting. He still couldn’t believe she was with him. Still.

When she drew back breaking the kiss, her hands running up his hair, she whispered, “Let’s go for a walk; go grab Harry.”

Ron nodded without thinking twice, turning from her to walk over to Harry and his sister. “Mate, let’s go for a walk.”

“The light show isn’t over,” Ginny said with irritation in her voice.

She was always so bloody greedy with Harry. Not that he could blame her.

“Don’t worry; I’ll bring him back to you as soon as possible. Hermione and I’d like to have a talk, if that’s all right?” he asked her in a patronizing voice.

He turned his eyes from her annoyed glare, keeping them on Harry, who nodded enthusiastically. Ron smirked as Harry gave Ginny a quick peck on the forehead, promising her he’d be right back.

As they walked away, Ron felt giddy, like he had pulled off a great heist. He tried to contain his excitement as he approached Hermione. When he grabbed her hand, she feigned surprise, giving Harry a curious look.

It was cold out, but excitement and anticipation warmed him, making him sweat. They walked side-by-side, ignoring everything around them and headed away from the house, away from Ginny and questions.

The snow was packed hard in the wide field at the base of the hill where the Burrow sat. They began to slip as they stepped down onto the steep hill leading down to it.

Hermione glanced up at him and Harry, apprehension on her face. Ron chuckled. “Might as well just slide down, much safer and more fun,” he said. He decided to show them by example, falling down onto his bum to propel himself forward with both arms.

He looked back on his left and right as he began to pick up speed. Harry and Hermione stood at the edge, watching him.

“Well, come on!” he yelled back.

His descent down quickened as he neared the bottom and he almost tumbled onto his side before forcing himself to slow down with his hands. Staggering to his feet and wiping off his trousers, he smiled up at them. Hermione and Harry exchanged a brief glance and then immediately took their positions for the slide down. He watched them as they did. Hermione let out little squeaks along the way, while Harry wore the biggest grin Ron had seen on him in a long time.

Once Hermione arrived, he helped her up. Harry was next, and he offered his hand to him, as well.

“Let’s do it again!” Harry said like an excited kid.

Ron and Hermione smiled at him. A sudden urge to pick Hermione up swept over Ron, so he did, lifting her as high as he could. She yelped, but then calmed, as he brought her down, cradling her in his arms. He began walking across the big field that lay ahead of them, with Harry beside him.

They talked about the lightshow, about the New Year, their hopes and resolutions. They talked and talked until they reached the edge of the field where the woods lay. Ron looked back over the field at the sky making the snow glow red, yellow, and blue with each explosion. The lights were so beautiful, but also fleeting. They didn’t have much time; people would be looking for them soon. He put Hermione down on her feet. She was smiling up at both of them, and then they were kissing. All three of them, kissing each other. It was messy, disjointed, clumsy, and it felt so fucking right.

June 4, 1999

As he settled into his seat, Ron looked out the train car window one last time before they pulled out.

This was his final train ride on the Hogwarts Express, and the last time he’d be seeing Hogwarts as a student. He fought the urge to wave goodbye. He had done his waving. Hagrid, McGonagall, and even Pomfrey stood on the platform, where all of the remaining ‘eighth years’ had their noses pressed to the glass to get their final glimpse of the castle that had come to define their childhoods.

“I can’t believe this is our last train ride,” Hermione said softly, looking between Harry and Ron before giving Ginny an obligatory glance as well.

“You know, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m going to miss school,” Ron said as he sat back.

“I think you’ll miss the food more than anything,” Harry teased.

Ron jabbed Harry in the side with elbow, and Harry feigned pain, giving him a playful smile after. Ron’s eyes were instantly drawn to his mate’s lips, picturing how good it would feel to press his own against them. He threw a quick glance at Ginny and cleared his throat, turning his head back to the window.

“Perhaps we could come back to watch to some of the games next year,” Ginny offered.

Ron clicked his teeth. “Yeah, I suppose; not the same, though.”

Harry reached over him, then, to wave to an enthusiastic Hagrid, who had his face damned near pressed against the glass.

“Goodbye, Hagrid,” Harry said as though the half giant could hear him.

Ron could smell Harry; his scent was strong, his body brushing against him, while Harry halfway leaned over into Ron’s lap. Feelings that were too inappropriate to show stirred. He could feel his ears burn as his cock started to twitch.

“’scuse me, Harry,” Ron said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder to push him back so he could rise.

“I have to go to the loo,” he said hurriedly, leaving before anyone could see the evidence of his arousal tenting his trousers.

He walked out of the carriage and down the aisle, not bothering to even say hallo to anyone as he passed. He went to the farthest carriage in the back, the one where the rejects from any House sat together, and closed himself inside the loo, sighing once he closed to the door.

What was wrong with him, getting aroused so easily by his best mate? Harry hadn’t even done anything sexual. Then again, Harry never had to. Not being able to touch him was frustrating, and any contact they had now, even accidental, sparked the dirtiest thoughts and most unusual reaction out of Ron. He cursed himself as he released his erection. He pulled out his wand and whispered a lubrication spell into his hand. Then he grabbed his cock and pulled it, jerked it. He just needed to come, to get it out of his system – now, preferably. He thought of being inside of Hermione, then he thought Harry, and then the two of them together, doing things to him he could never repeat. Thinking of them in that way made him feel dirty, loved, and special. If only they could--

There was a knock on the door, and he froze, his mind frantic. “Yeah? I’m busy, ya mind?” he called out with irritation.

“Open up, Ron,” the voice demanded.

“Harry?”

“Yeah! Come on, hurry up.”

Ron pulled his trousers over his erection the best he could before peeking out.

“What is it?” he asked, peering past Harry and noticing Hermione right on his back.

“Let us in,” Harry said.

Ron looked at them in confusion. “What do you mean? I’m in the loo.”

Harry growled low, which made Ron draw back in surprise, appraising his best mate. He glanced over Harry’s shoulder to Hermione, who was imploring him with her big eyes to do what Harry said. Ron sighed and opened the door a bit wider, allowing Harry and Hermione to squeeze their way in.

“What are you two up to?” Ron asked.

“That depends. What are you up for?” Harry said in a devil-may-care, cavalier manner that did nothing to soothe Ron’s erection.

Ron stared back at both of them, his mouth half opened, until Hermione rushed toward him, her mouth covering his and her leg vying for position as she manoeuvred herself between the two boys.

“This is mental,” Ron whispered breathlessly when Hermione broke the kiss to reach into his trousers to find his erection.

“Where else can we all be together?” Hermione asked matter-of-factly.

“I don’t know, but not here,” Ron said half heartedly as Hermione stole another kiss and began to palm his erection.

He moaned into her mouth, glancing up at Harry who rucking up her robes with his left hand while his right gripped her waist. He pulled back, staring down at her and up at Harry.

“What about… Ginny?” Ron murmured, his hips involuntarily moving to feel more of the friction between his cock and Hermione’s hand.

“She thinks we’re off to find the candy cart, now shush,” Harry whispered as he leaned in to capture Ron’s lips with his own. Ron sighed in relief and contentment as Hermione’s hand tightened around his length and began to pick up its pace. He bucked against her, pushing his tongue down Harry’s throat. He could feel Hermione’s body pushing against him unevenly and knew that Harry was doing something to her.

“Shit,” Ron gasped against Harry’s mouth, his back against the wall as Hermione’s body began to slam against him from Harry’s thrusts. Hermione’s hand began to jerk his cock frantically as she exhaled soft grunts against his chest. They were all working desperately when he felt Hermione’s hand give his cock a hard squeeze as she whined against him. It would have hurt if he wasn’t so close to release; instead it felt good, and he continued to buck his hips, insisting that she finish, despite the fact that he knew she’d just come.

Hermione complied, her grip lazier, and her body resting more heavily on his now as Harry continued to pummel her against him. It was too much, having them both of them here like this, Ron felt overwhelmed by his approaching climax. He reached up and gripped Harry’s arm, anchoring himself as he exploded over Hermione’s hand. As he groaned against Harry’s lips, he felt Hermione’s body shake against his twice before Harry bit into his bottom lip. Ron didn’t care though, he could feel Harry’s orgasm rippling through his kiss, and Hermione’s grip. After a few moments, Harry pulled away then, throwing his head back and closing his eyes while Hermione breathed heavily against Ron’s chest.

Moments later they were disentangling, straightening up, and doing cleaning spells.

There were no words, just a shared satisfied smile. Ron watched Harry open the door of the loo and slip out. Hermione looked up at him and gave him a small, closed-lipped smile, and then a peck on the lips before leaving. Once she left, Ron stood there for several moments, thinking, as a satisfaction, guilt, and sadness battled within him.

He felt complete when the three of them were together; with just two of them, it felt somehow incomplete. He wondered if Harry and Hermione felt the same, but knew he’d probably never ask. They had enough to deal with as it was, they didn’t need him raising more difficult questions. There were no easy answers to what they had started, at least, none that Ron wanted to consider. He let out a long sigh, opening up the door of the loo to take the long walk back to the carriage where Harry, Hermione, and his sister sat. For a brief moment, Ron felt resentment towards Ginny, but then it was gone. He could never resent his sister for this; it wasn’t her fault.

This was just the way it had to be.

He’d rather have Harry and Hermione like this than not at all.

Chapter Text

Ginny read through several letters from the summer of 1999. They were all from Hermione, always. Her view of the witch was rapidly deteriorating with each letter. Although she had never considered the woman a close friend, she always took her to be honest and virtuous, if not a little self-righteous. Now, as she read over how much Hermione had wished Harry would consider spending the summer with her and Ron at the Grangers’ instead of at the Burrow with Ginny, a spark of hate began to grow. But it was the letter dated October 7, 1999 that gave her pause, forcing fresh tears to her eyes.

 

October 7, 1999

Harry,

Ron just informed me that he received a letter from his mum saying you’ve proposed to Ginny. I sincerely hope it is untrue! Please tell me that Mrs. Weasley is mistaken, or that it is just more of her wishful thinking.

If it isn’t, I have no words for you! Well, that’s exactly not true. I do have a few. I thought we discussed this! If this is your way of getting back at us then it’s thoughtless and foolish, and it will only make things worse! I know how frustrated you are, but so are we! Ron and I just aren’t ready to do what you’re proposing. But just because we can’t be together the way you want us to be, it doesn’t give you the right to go off and marry Ginny! Yes, I know you want a family of your own, and you’re probably thinking if we can’t have one together then marrying Ginny is the next best thing. But you don’t really love her, not the way a man is supposed to love a woman he wants to marry. It isn’t fair to her, or to us.

Harry, we can make this work, but you have to give Ron and me some time. Announcing our relationship will cause a lot of controversy and turmoil. We have to consider how we should handle it, but it’ll take some thought and planning. In the meantime, please consider putting your engagement on hold. Just tell her that you need a bit more time, perhaps you can even use your career as an excuse.

I hope you’ll answer this owl, or better yet, just come straight to my house so we can work this out. You and Ron could make a trip of it. Tell Ginny that you want to go camping or something. I’ll be waiting for you.

Always and forever yours,

Hermione

 

P.S. Sorry about the worrisome charm, but I thought it’d be safer if I started protecting our correspondence, just in case. I always wonder what you do with these letters…

 

Ginny watched the ink on the letter spread, as the page became damp from the tears falling from her face. There had always been some part of Harry kept off limits to her, however he had shared himself with her in so many other ways, and that had been good enough for her. But how much of his heart had he given her? She couldn’t even attempt to guess. Deep down inside, she had always thought their engagement had felt off. Harry had been too eager as far as he words but aloof in his actions. He had been too agreeable to anything she desired, yet he only showed real affection after she initiated it. He never sought her out during their entire engagement; he was always just there, at least his body was, emotionally, many times, it felt like Harry was somewhere else.

Her eyes wandered to a pair of old beat up hiking boots in the closet. The month after Harry had proposed, he and Ron had gone camping, for almost two weeks. She remembered the nervousness in his voice, the hesitation when he had explained why that Ron and Hermione had wanted to celebrate his engagement quietly amongst themselves, a sort of send-off before you get married-camping trip. Shame had cast a shadow on his face, but Ginny had dismissed it as her fiancé’s guilt over leaving her with her mum, who had gone into a fanatical wedding planning frenzy.

It was clear now, Harry had only been reflecting the shame of his lies. That was the second time he had disappeared, but it wouldn’t be the last. Over the years, it would become a pattern, one Ginny had learned to accept or at least, tolerate.

October 14, 1999

Harry hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep in weeks. He’d wake up in the middle of the night tense, sweaty, and grinding his teeth, replaying his argument with Ron and Hermione from the summer.

‘I don’t understand, if we’re in love, why can’t we just make it public? Why all the secrecy? To hell with everyone else!’ he had said to them in frustration.

‘Harry, it’s not that simple,’ Hermione had tried to reason with him.

‘Mate, you have to see it from our perspective,’ Ron would always add.

That summer and fall, he, Hermione, and Ron had been having the same argument over and over again. Harry wanted them to announce their relationship. He thought it would be best if they just made it public. It would hurt a few people, but the lies would end immediately and they could get on with the business of healing and living their lives– together. But Ron would always point out the betrayal Ginny would feel, how his mum would side with his sister, and the possible risk it posed at tearing apart the entire Weasley clan. After Fred’s death, Ron had become hypersensitive about upsetting his family. He was scared of losing his sister and mother, and possibly his father and George. But Harry knew the Weasleys well enough to know that they’d appreciate honesty, and while they may be put out about the news at first, eventually, they’d come around. He knew they’d never disown Ron. He never believed for one minute that it would ever come to that.

Hermione was worried less about her family’s reaction and more about losing the Weasleys, her second and only real family in the magical world. She was also very concerned about all of their reputations and subsequent careers. That part really made Harry’s blood boil more than anything. At times, Hermione’s pragmatism and ambition seemed more important than their relationship, even if some part of him had to admit she was right. Coming out publicly as a triad would make them fodder for gossip, and it could possibly cost them some career opportunities and alienate them from their friends, and the general public. Harry knew how important those things were to Hermione and Ron, he just didn’t think it was more important than living their lives authentically, as lovers.

“This is so easy for you, isn’t it? You don’t have to worry about the Durselys getting angry with you! You don’t have to be accountable to anyone! You’re Harry fucking Potter, and the world revolves around you, right?” Ron had spat bitterly during one of their most heated arguments.

Harry balled the covers in his fists, wanting more than anything right then to reach out and shake some sense into Ron. He wanted tell him to put aside his bitterness and jealousy. Harry would use whatever clout came with his name to shield them from everything they were worried about. He’d protect them; he’d fix whatever went wrong if and when they came out.

But Ron had turned away, too stubborn to hear him. Hermione had just stood there, giving him a helpless expression; it was obvious that she felt her hands were tied. In that moment, Harry's resentment threatened to lash out, he didn't want to say things that he wouldn’t be able to take back. Reluctantly, he had to put space between them and himself.

He left Ron and Hermione in the quiet cabin that her parents owned in the Lake District and returned to the familiar. He split his time between Grimmauld and the Burrow, never quite comfortable in either place without the two of them around. But he’d manage, he had to. Ron and Hermione wanted a ‘normal’ life, with him on the side, and that just wasn't good enough. He couldn't go on feeling like some sort of dirty little secret.

As soon as Harry returned, he made a decision. If he couldn’t love who he wanted openly, he’d love the one person who had always loved him the way he wanted to be loved. Ginny had never shied away from embracing him. She was always there, always faithful, and she had so much love for him. He would no longer deny her the love she wanted from him, especially since she gave hers so unabashedly. He wanted to make her happy. There were times when he felt indebted to her for waiting for him. She deserved a little happiness for putting up with his shit. Besides, he had always wanted a family, and he knew he could have it with her.

And so, on October 1, 1999, Harry proposed to Ginny Weasley, and she said yes.

He reached over to the night table to put on his glasses and opened the drawer to feel his way to the back and pull out his locked diary. He never wrote in it. He hated writing, but he did keep letters there. Hermione often sent letters, especially when she was feeling sentimental, upset, or worried. There were so many of them now, he’d have to buy a case or chest for them soon. He reread the letter once more, frowning at the naiveté in Hermione’s words. There was nothing to discuss; this was the real world and there were consequences that Ron and Hermione weren’t ready to face. They couldn’t have their cake and eat it too, while he got only got a thin slice.

But he was tired of being angry with them. They were his closest friends as well, and this conflict was driving them apart, and making him very irritable to be around. Even Ginny had noticed, and now she was constantly asking if he was all right. He had to fix this, maybe not the way Hermione and Ron wanted him to, but perhaps a camping trip would do them good.

They needed to clear the air and make peace with the life he had chosen; the life they had left him with no choice but to choose.

October 22, 1999

It didn’t take much to talk Ron into going; even though he had his own flat now, he seemed eager to get away and for the opportunity to be alone with Harry and Hermione. For Harry, finding an excuse to leave Ginny while she and Mrs. Weasley began planning the wedding was a bit more difficult. He really hadn’t been able to look her in the eye steadily as he did it. He was hoping she’d think he was feeling remorseful about leaving her.

He and Ron decided to take the train so they could talk. For the duration of the train ride there was a palatable tension between them, but at least they remained cordial. However, as soon as they got off at the Oxford stop, Ron asked Harry, once more, what good could possibly come from marrying his sister? With thick sarcasm, Harry asked Ron, just how long he should wait—until he and Hermione got married or after their first born child? That launched a heated row that didn’t taper off until they were within a block of the Grangers’ residence. They were both at their wit’s end with each other by the time they arrived, not even able to look at one another.

Harry rang the doorbell, trying to fix his face. He didn’t want Hermione or her parents to see him so put out. When the door opened, Mrs. Granger greet them with a friendly hello that was cut off by Hermione, who pushed past her mum to give Harry a enthusiastic hug.

“Hermione! Let the boys get in the door first,” her mum scolded, shaking her head, giving Harry and Ron a small smile before walking back into the house.

“I’m so glad you came,” Hermione said to the both of them.

Harry forced a small smile. Ron moved past him to give Hermione a long intimate hug, much longer than the one Harry had just shared with her. Of course, Ron could hug Hermione like that. They were ‘in a relationship’. His bitterness about their circumstance returned and he cleared his throat to remind them he was there.

Ron sighed, pulling away with an annoyed glance.

“Is everything all right?” Hermione asked, looking between the two of them.

“As well as they can be, I suppose,” Harry said with resignation.

Ron huffed quietly, rolling his eyes and gazing off to the side of the house.

Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed. “Well, I’m glad you’re both here. We should all talk.”

Harry sighed. “Hermione, listen—”

“Don’t bother, Hermione. He says there’s nothing to discuss. He’s got his mind made up,” Ron said bitterly.

Hermione glanced behind her before coming out on the porch and closing the door behind her.

“Nonsense,” she whispered harshly, staring hard at Harry. “You’re being rash and foolish, Harry. It’s wrong, and you know it!”

Harry pursed his lips. He couldn’t do this right now. He felt fragile and didn’t know if he could take another row about Ginny. The argument with Ron had been exhausting.

“Hermione, I came here to spend time with you. Both of you. Not to argue. You know, maybe this was a bad idea. I can’t do this right now… I won’t,” Harry said sadly, forcing himself to turn away.

“Harry, no! Please! We don’t have to discuss it right now. Let’s just spend some time together before you… let’s just hang out, all right? No arguing, no pressure. Can we just do that?” she asked with desperation in her voice.

Harry stopped in his tracks, exhaling quietly in relief. He’d been hoping she would stop him. More than anything right now, he just wanted their company, without all of the tension.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he admitted. “I’ve really missed you two,” he said, glancing back at Ron sheepishly.

Ron glared at him for a few moments and then dropped his eyes. When he finally looked back up, he gave Harry a small nod and the tiniest of smiles. Harry knew it was his way of apologizing and agreeing to hold his peace about the wedding. And that was all he needed from Ron right now.

They all stood on the Grangers’ porch in silence, a strange new understanding hanging between them.

“So, are we all set to go?” Harry asked, anxious to move forward.

Hermione nodded quietly. “I think so; I never thought I’d go camping with you two again. I swore it off after our seventh year.”

Ron chuckled. “Let’s not talk about that, all right? I want this trip to be fun.”

Harry smiled. “It will be. Let’s get your stuff and get moving,” he said. Hermione smiled, ushering them inside.

February 18, 2000

Harry snuggled up to Hermione’s back, wrapping his arm around her waist. The crackle of the fire dying slowly and the chirping of the crickets from outside were lulling him back to sleep. Ron’s right foot brushed against his calf, which rested over Hermione’s ankle. The redhead nestled in closer to cuddle with her, while Harry moved in closer to spoon her from behind.

Harry’s head was heavy with wine, and his belly was full with roast chicken, salad and lots and lots of chocolate. The whipped cream and strawberry syrup Ron had poured, and licked off of both of them had left his skin feeling sticky and wonderfully dirty. It was best Valentine’s Harry had ever had. Coming out to the Grangers’ retreat in Lake District had been a brilliant idea. The rustic two-bedroom cabin was quickly becoming theirs. Hermione’s parents hardly ever used it, and it was secluded, giving them all the privacy they needed. Harry had gone back and forth debating whether to continue his affair with his best mates. After all, he was marrying Ginny. Each time he said it would be the last, until finally he just gave in, swearing to himself that after he married Ginny, things would change. He would put a stop to this, somehow.

“That was incredible,” Hermione murmured.

“And tasty, too.” Ron smiled. “Happy Valentine’s Day you two,” he murmured.

Harry snorted. “You’re four days late,” he pointed out.

“And whose fault is that?” Ron asked with some bitterness.

Harry rolled his eyes. What did Ron expect him to do? Ditch his sister on Valentine’s Day to be with them? Harry was simply grateful to be with them now.

“Fine, Ron. Happy Belated Valentine’s Day, happy now?” he asked, nudging Ron’s leg with his foot.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Harry,” Hermione said softly.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Hermione,” he whispered against her skin, squeezing her more tightly around the waist.

She raised her head to lean back and give him a kiss. She tasted like strawberries and chocolate, and the softness of her lips was making him grow hard once more.

Hermione broke the kiss to twist and turn so she could face him. She wrapped her arms around his neck, her hands wandering up into his hair.

“I love you, Harry,” she whispered before kissing him again. This kiss was more urgent, taking Harry by surprise. As their tongues began to dance, his hand slid down to cup her bum. But Ron’s hand was already there, resting. Harry peeked his eyes open to find his mate watching them with lazy, half-sleepy eyes.

When Hermione finally pulled back for air, Harry couldn’t take his eyes off of her flushed lips, and wild hair. She was so damned beautiful.

“I love you, too, Hermione,” he whispered.

Hermione’s eyes began to water as she stared back at him, and Harry fought not to avert his eyes from hers. He knew exactly what she was thinking.

Then why are you marrying Ginny?

“I’m sorry,” he apologized for what felt like the hundredth time.

“I’m sorry, too,” she said, one tear finally spilling over.

He reached up to wipe it away.

“At least we have this,” she said, forcing a small smile.

“Yes, we’ll always have this,” he said, leaning in to give her one more kiss. Behind her, Ron grunted his protest, one he had long given up trying to put into words.

June 15, 2000

It was supposed to be one of the best days of his life. Harry was getting married.

The Burrow was packed. Molly had really outdone herself transforming the inside and outside of the Weasley residence. It was ten times more lavish than Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Everything was bathed in ivory and periwinkle. There were beautiful blue and white periwinkle flowers decorating the staircase and doorframes of the Burrow, and on the outside, there were patches of them at the perimeter of the seating area. Mr. Weasley had charmed an old white stone Muggle industry water fountain to sit in the middle of a field of periwinkles right behind the white wooden gazebo where they were to be married.

Everyone was there: the whole lot of Weasleys, many of their former classmates, some of their former professors, the remaining members of the Order, and even some of Mr. Weasley’s co-workers from the Ministry. Ginny had chosen Luna, Hermione, Angelina, and Fleur for her bridal party. Harry had picked Ron, Neville, Bill, and George.

Hiding from Mrs. Weasley in a corner on the back porch, Harry stared off. His eyes rested on the spacious field behind the Burrow. There was land as far as the eye could see, no gates, no borders, but inside, Harry felt trapped. He was still trying to tell himself this was for the best, even if he didn’t quite feel it, when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He jumped, glancing up sharply. It was Ron, and Hermione. They both looked very concerned.

“What?” he asked, a flutter of a hope creeping up in his voice. They wouldn’t. Not here.

But they could; they could stop all of this, with just one word.

Harry watched them closely, waiting. Ron and Hermione exchanged a cautious glance.

“Say it,” Harry blurted out. “Tell me to call it off, and I will,” he begged, searching their eyes for any sign that they had changed their minds.

Ron swallowed and Hermione took in a deep breath; she opened her mouth when the door flew open, startling them all.

“There you are, dear! What are you doing back here? Hiding?” Mrs. Weasley asked Harry in exasperation.

Harry kept his eyes on Ron and Hermione, who both stood frozen, their eyes locked on his.

“Is there something wrong?” Mrs. Weasley asked anxiously.

Ron shook his head. “No, Mum… nothing’s wrong.”

“Everything is just fine, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione reassured.

Harry nodded, his former faith splintering into a million pieces. He cursed himself quietly for letting it grow once more.

“That’s right, Mrs. Weasley, everything is fine,” he said bitterly, giving Ron and Hermione one last glance before turning his back on them, and walking into the house.

As he made his way through, Harry tried to calm his nerves. He smiled at everyone who passed him. More than a few wanted to shake his hand and congratulate him. But every greeting felt false, and his hands were beginning to sweat. It was all too much right now. He quickly ran upstairs to Fred and George’s old room where he could hide until the wedding began.

Nearly an hour later, Molly’s call brought him down. Everyone was ready, and the hour spent in solitude had helped him greatly. As he waited in the gazebo, staring out over the rows of guests, Harry tried to concentrate on what this day was supposed to mean. He thought of his bride to be, of all of the things they had shared, and what their life could be like together. It wasn’t so hard. He had once dreamt of Ginny and only Ginny.

Luna and Neville came down the aisle first, followed by Bill and Fleur, and then Angelina and George. When Ron and Hermione began their walk down the aisle, Harry did his best to keep his happy face on. He had to remind himself that his regret and longing were tucked away. He’d left it in Fred and George’s old room, vowing to not let it ruin Ginny’s day… their day.

Yet, he couldn’t help but notice just how radiant Hermione was in her periwinkle blue dress. It complimented her figure and skin tone perfectly. And Ron looked dashing with his matching periwinkle cummerbund and bow tie, it brought out the blue in his eyes. Harry didn’t want take his eyes off of either one of them, but he forced himself to look away.

When Ginny came down the aisle, escorted by Arthur Weasley, everyone stood up. She was beautiful; the picture perfect bride. Her long red hair was pulled up into a French bun, and there was one long red tendril hanging close to her face, bringing attention to her bright honey coloured eyes. Her dress was simple and classic. It was just off the shoulders, satin, with floral beaded embroidery, cut in a way that accentuated her toned athletic but feminine form. Harry knew that there were plenty of men who would happily trade places with him just to be with her.

Arthur walked her up the stairs of the gazebo, giving Harry a proud smile before returning to his seat. He and Ginny turned their backs to the crowd and were greeted by a smile from the Seer officiating their wedding. She was an older woman with striking black hair and penetrating blue eyes. Even though the Seer was smiling at him, Harry could feel her eyes studying him. Her gaze flickered to Hermione and then to Ron before settling on Harry. He swallowed, shifted a little when she did. Then she glanced down at Ginny, giving her a warm smile.

“Are you ready?” she asked the two of them, staring at Harry specifically once more.

Harry quickly glanced at Ginny, who looked back at him with a excited smile, nodding.

Harry returned her smile, giving a slight nod of his own.

“Very well,” she said.

Are you ready? echoed in his head just as the woman began reciting an old Latin wedding recitation about fidelity, love, and trust. He had heard it several times during the rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the wedding. He practically knew it by heart, now. It was a mutual vow. After each line, he and Ginny were supposed to repeat the recitation back to her. Once their vows were done, the Seer would say a few words about the meaning of marriage and then invite the guests to join in the traditional wizarding marital chant.

“Amor Vincit Omnia,” she began.

“Amor Vincit Omnia,” Harry heard himself repeating. His thoughts were unfocused. It felt like someone else was talking, someone else was standing here, about to marry Ginny Weasley.

As she continued the recitation, Harry’s thoughts spanned the past year. The weekends he had spent with Hermione and Ron. The slow, sad acceptance they had reached in order to prepare for this day. A dull pain throbbed in his chest. His heart literally hurt.

“Semper Fidelis,” the Seer said.

“Semper Fidelis,” he and Ginny said together. And then Ginny turned to give Harry a loving smile. He forced himself to turn and return the look with his own. When she turned to face the Seer once more, Harry’s eyes flickered past his bride to be to find Hermione.

She was crying silent tears, her eyes fixed on him.

He forced himself to look away and focus on the Seer once again. He had to focus on the reality of the situation. This couldn’t be undone, not by Hermione’s tears, not by his desire to be with her and Ron, not by wishful thinking for a life they didn’t have the courage to live with him.

“Semper Amemus,” the Seer finished, saying the last of the recitation.

“Semper Amemus,” Ginny said, turning to Harry with happy tears in her eyes.

“Semper Amemus," Harry repeated, feeling his own eyes began to water. “Love you, always," he whispered.

Chapter Text

As she sat cross-legged on the floor, Ginny reeled, rocking forward. No matter how many times she wiped her eyes, the tears wouldn’t cease.

He wasn’t even talking to me

That last whispered vow from Harry had been one of the most intimate and romantic memories of Ginny’s wedding day. But now, as she thought about that day, she wasn’t even sure who he had been swearing his love to.

She could no longer discern the lies from the truth. When had Harry ever been genuine with her; the first time they had made love; their honeymoon night; their fights; the quiet moments they had shared once the kids had been put to bed?

Where had Harry’s mind been in those moments?

Ginny closed her eyes. She had a sudden urge to pack everything up and leave. She could run away from all of it, but her anger overrode that urge. This was her house, and she was a Weasley; she didn’t run from anything, especially not cowards. In her estimation, that was exactly what Harry was, a lying, cheating, conniving coward. But Harry wasn’t the only one who had lied; Ron and Hermione had too.

She put her head in her hand, staring down at the new letter in her lap, waiting to be read. She didn’t have to read any more of them, but she wanted to arm herself with the full truth, or as much of it as she could put together from Hermione’s words.

 

August 4, 2000,

Harry,

Thanks for the congratulations card. I know it was more from Ginny than you, but it was a nice gesture all the same. Ron and I really don’t want to make a big fuss about the wedding. We’d like to keep it small, but it seems Mrs. Weasley is determined to turn it into another big event the way she did with your wedding. Mark my words, Harry: I will not let her!

Mum and Dad were talking about selling the cabin, but I told them how much we use it, and they said it’s all ours if we want it. I could have told them that a year ago! Although, we haven’t used it much lately, have we?

Speaking of which, how’s married life? You don’t come around as often, well hardly ever really. We really miss you. Oh, I don’t know if Ron’s told you yet, but he’s decided on a career as an Auror. I really think that he’s just hoping to spend more time with you. Have you made a decision about your career yet? I remember you used to talk about becoming an Auror often, but I haven’t heard you speak of it since leaving school. Then again, I haven’t seen you much lately to hear you speak of anything.

Well, I know you probably won’t answer this post, but it’d be nice if you dropped by sometime soon. If you decide to drop by after September 15th, we’ll be at the new flat in Bloomsbury, the address and directions are on the back.

Always & forever yours,

Hermione

September 17, 2000

If Mrs. Weasley owled one more time about the wedding music, Hermione would be forced to Apparate to the Burrow and give Ronald’s mother a piece of her mind. Hermione had always been fond of Mrs. Weasley, how could anyone not love such a kind and caring matriarch? At times, she even considered the woman a second mother. But as much as she loved Molly Weasley, Hermione had quickly tired of the woman’s doting and intrusive planning. She felt she had been as gracious and accommodating as one could be; this was not Ginny Weasley’s wedding. Molly meant well, and this sort of thing was what she excelled at, but Hermione hated the sense of obligation and loss of control it rendered to have her future mother-in-law so involved in the planning of her wedding. Hermione had never been one for lots of attention, and she valued discretion. She wanted as little attention on her special day as possible.

It was bad enough that the press was guaranteed to be nosing about because of Ron and Hermione’s involvement in the war. They had shown up in droves at Harry’s wedding, and everyone was still looking for symbols of renewal and hope, as they rebuilt and recovered from the lingering aftermath of the war. In a way, Hermione, Harry, and Ron had become those symbols, and as much as Hermione hated the attention, she understood how important it was to put on a good public face to help keep people’s spirits up.

Still, this was her special day, and press or no press; she was determined not to let it become another circus event. Besides that, in addition to planning a wedding, there was still plenty of unpacking to do after moving to their new flat, and Hermione had just started her new job in the Care of Magical Creatures Department at the Ministry. It was stressful work, the department was a mess, and they seemed to be over-reliant on Hermione to help them sort it all out. To make matters worse, she and Ron hadn’t heard from Harry in weeks.

Hermione was beginning to think that married life with Ginny suited him better and he had decided to move on. The thought of it dampened her spirits considerably. She missed Harry’s company, and even more, she missed the three of them sharing time together. It never seemed quite right when one of them wasn’t around. Ron appeared to be just as affected by Harry’s absence. He was always in a wicked mood these days, and ever since Harry’s wedding, they had been bickering more than usual.

Hermione sat on her bed, going through new post, when she came to one from Mrs. Weasley. She opened it and frowned.

“Ron? Ron!” she called out.

“What?” Ron barked from across the hall.

“Your mother owled me again! It’s about the flower arrangements this time,” Hermione called in frustration.

“And what are you telling me for?” Ron said grumpily.

“I told you, if she owls me one more time after I’ve told her that I would take care of something, I’ll leave it to you to handle. Now, unless you want to deal with her in tears, I suggest you answer this owl!”

“Me?”

“Yes you! And try to tell her in the nicest way possible to stick to our agreed upon task assignments for the wedding!”

Ron sighed, snatching the owl from Hermione and reading the letter. “Can’t you just work with her on this? You know how much these things mean to her,” he pleaded.

Hermione threw up her hands. “Ron, I’ve already allowed her to pick out the bridesmaid dresses, the food, and even the invitations! What do you want me to do, let her just take over? My own mother isn’t nearly as involved in this wedding as she is!”

Ron put his hand in his hair. “Look, Hermione, just… please try to humour her. It’ll all be over in a few more weeks. “

Hermione stood up and stomped her foot stubbornly before walking past Ron and out of the room.

“Told you, we just should have eloped,” Ron called after her, which irritated her even more, because right now, Hermione actually agreed with him. Eloping would have been much easier than dealing with Mrs. Weasley.

Trying to calm down, she went into the living room to start on a fresh batch of unopened boxes when there was a knock at the door. She froze, almost certain she knew who it was. As if owling wasn’t enough, Mrs. Weasley had undoubtedly decided to come over for a visit. Hermione surmised it was probably not only another attempt to discuss the wedding, but also a convenient way for the woman to check out the couples’ new living quarters.

“Ron!”

“What now?” Ron asked in frustration, coming out to meet her in the living room.

“Your mum’s at the door! Can you please get it?”

Ron rolled his eyes, walking slowly to the door. “That’s it, I’m leaving the country!”

Hermione huffed.

“And I’m not telling either of you where I’m going. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in time for the wedding,” he said as he swung it open.

Hermione felt another flash of irritation at his cavalier attitude towards the entire situation.

“Oi!” he exclaimed.

Hermione’s eyes went wide when she glanced up.

Standing at their door with a sheepish smirk on his face was Harry. She rushed forward as fast her legs could carry her, pushing past Ron to throw her arms around Harry’s neck.

Harry returned her embrace with a slow but firm hug of his own. There was some uneasiness and hesitancy in the way he wrapped his arms around her, but once he did, she exhaled, closing her eyes and inhaling him in as deeply as she could.

“Oh, Harry,” she whispered, holding him even tighter.

He held onto her until she pulled away.

She pursed her lips, putting her hands on her hips. “Where have you been?”

Harry glanced up at Ron and then looked at her with a guilty expression. “Did you two forget? I’m a newlywed…”

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him before glancing over at Ron who was standing by with a guarded expression, appraising Harry. Despite what Ron said, Hermione knew that he had been missing Harry terribly and was very angry about his best mate’s abrupt disappearance.

“Well, don’t just stand there, come in!” she said in a much more pleasant tone, trying to ease the tension she felt between the two of them.

Harry slowly stepped through the doorway, looking around as he did. “So this is your new flat, eh?” he asked almost casually. She could tell he was still slightly anxious.

Hermione smiled, extending her arms out toward the living room as she turned around.

“Yep. This is it,” she said.

Ron nodded, averting his eyes and looking back at his own living room. For a moment, they all stood in awkward silence.

Finally, Harry’s eyes settled on Ron once more. It seemed as if he wanted to say something but was struggling to speak, until Ron saved him from the effort.

“So… you want a tour? It’ll be really, really short...” Ron tried to joke.

To Hermione’s relief, Harry finally cracked a smile. He appeared relieved at Ron’s attempt at humour.

“Yeah.”

Ron gave Harry a small smile and then turned to guide him back toward the hallway.

Hermione was encouraged that Ron seemed to warm up and return back to his usual casual, joking self as he continued to walk Harry through the flat. She had missed that Ron. It suddenly occurred her how much Ron was affected by his relationship to Harry. His mood seemed to hinge on whether they were getting along or not, and it had felt like she had been living with someone else entirely for the past several weeks. When they entered the spare bedroom, Ron stopped and turned. Their eyes locked immediately, and he gave her an apologetic smile. He knew he had been acting like a git since Harry had left them.

She returned his smile, acknowledging his apology.

Harry looked between then and cleared his throat. “Listen, guys, I’m really sorry. I should have owled or something, but I didn’t really know what to say,” he said unsurely.

“Anything would have been nice,” Ron muttered.

“Harry, we thought you had moved on, that perhaps you had decided you didn’t want to be with us anymore,” Hermione said softly.

Harry visibly swallowed. “I’m not going to lie to you, I have had those thoughts, that’s why I got married, isn’t it?”

Hermione and Ron stared back at him in silence. Her heart sank once more.

“But…” Harry continued. “I don’t know how to quit you two*. I don’t think I can. We’ll always be friends, but that’s not enough for me, I don’t think it’ll ever be.”

Ron chuckled. “I could have told you that, mate. Nothing’s ever going to come between us, Harry… ever.”

Harry stared at Ron for a moment. “Not even your sister?”

Ron looked down at the floor with a guilty expression before looking back up. “I love Ginny, but…”

When it became obvious that Ron was struggling to finish what he wanted to say, Harry took a few steps forward to give him a huge bear hug.

“I love you, too, Ron.”

“Yeah? Well, then don’t ever pull that shit with us again,” Ron said, wrangling out of the embrace as he gave Harry a half-joking look of warning.

 

Hermione smiled, her heart warming as she watched their reconciliation. She felt immediate relief, and then guilt about her relief. She looked down regretfully as she thought of Ginny.

“So, what’s been going on with you two?” Harry asked.

“Not much, really,” Ron said quickly.

Hermione gaped at him in confusion as thoughts of Mrs. Weasley, the wedding, her new job, and the stress of moving came to mind. Ron returned her gaze with a shrug and then the beginning of a ridiculous smirk began to form on his lips. She shook her head at him and then they both burst out into a fit of laughter.

It so felt good. She hadn’t really laughed out loud or heard Ron laugh in a long time, and she knew it had everything to do with Harry being there with them.

“Not much, huh?” Harry remarked, staring between the two of them with an amused grin on his face as they continued to laugh at the all of the things that had occurred in a span of a few months since they had last seen Harry.

When their laughter finally subsided and they straightened, Hermione walked up to Harry and pushed up on her tiptoes to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“We’ll tell you exactly what been going on. But you might want to kick off your trainers and get comfortable, it’ll take awhile,” she informed.

The Firewhisky and wine were retrieved as they all moved into the living room to sit. They talked for hours about Mrs. Weasley’s rabid wedding planning, Hermione’s new job and the politics in the Ministry, the upcoming Auror application and training process, and Harry’s first few months as a newlywed.

Hermione’s stomachs tightened into a knot as she listened to Harry explain his and Ginny’s plans for buying a new house and starting a family as soon as possible.

“Ginny’s going to make a great mother… I know it,” Harry said awkwardly. “I mean, she’s a great wife. We’re actually having a pretty good time of it.”

There was a heavy silence. Hermione couldn’t bring herself to say anything nice. All she felt right now was jealousy and regret. Was Harry really happy like he said, or was he trying to convince himself he was? Either way, she hated it.

She glanced up at Ron, who finished off his mug of Firewhisky before belching quietly. “We should have stopped you,” he whispered.

Harry kept his eyes fixed on the floor. “I think it was for the best. This is the only way, isn’t it?”

There was more silence as the reality of that statement set in. It was a reality Hermione had grown to resent. But Harry was here now, and she wanted him to herself. He could see Ginny any day of the week, but she and Ron weren’t as fortunate. She suddenly felt very possessive of him.

“Stay the night,“ she blurted out.

“Hermione, I can’t. I told her I’d be back by dinner, and I’m already late,” Harry said regretfully.

“Well, then just owl her and tell her that you ran into some old friends. Hell, Harry, tell her that you came by to see us and you’re just going to crash here. It’d be the truth,” Hermione pressed.

Harry gave her a look of reproach and then glanced at Ron who gave him a small encouraging smile.

Finally he sighed, with a small smile of his own. “Oh, all right, but we can’t make a habit of this. Next time, we have to plan it properly. I’m married now, I have obligations.”

Smiling, Hermione clapped and rose from her seat. “I’ll make us dinner,” she said excitedly, heading toward their small kitchenette.

“You can’t cook right now; you’re sloshed!” Ron called after her.

Hermione laughed. “Well, I didn’t say it would be very good, but we should eat something!”

As she searched the cupboard for what she would fix for them, she found she couldn’t stop beaming. The food was really for them, because Hermione wasn’t really hungry at all; her heart was already full with excitement and gratitude.

October 21, 2000

The music from the organ reverberated off the walls, filling the sanctuary with a familiar sound she recalled from her childhood, before Hogwarts. Her parents were regular parishioners at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. Hermione looked around the large sanctuary with a sense of satisfaction. After a brief battle with Mrs. Weasley, Hermione had won the choice of the location of her wedding.

The chapel’s ceiling was high, and the organ pipes that were flushed against the far wall in front of her were almost as high. There was a balcony above and behind her, stained-glass windows decorated the cream coloured walls, and there under her feet and yards ahead of her was plush red carpet, lined by polished mahogany wooden pews. It was same chapel her parents had gotten married in almost twenty-five years ago.

All of the fretting, nagging, arguing, and planning she and Mrs. Weasley had done was for naught. For this day, the day of her wedding, was their day, and Hermione was determined to shut out everything else and focus only on Ron… and Harry.

As her father ushered her down the long aisle, Hermione scanned the many familiar faces she passed. They were all smiling, some with tears in their eyes. Many of them were same people who had been in the Weasley wedding earlier that year. She noted with disdain that Ginny and Harry were now standing in the exact same the places that she and Ron had stood in their wedding.

Her heart was doing funny things, happiness and grief were swirling as her eyes fell on both of her lovers. They were both at the podium, waiting for her. Her first love, Ron, looked quite handsome in his black formal wizarding robes; there was light blue lining on the cuffs and down the centre, and it matched his eyes perfectly. Next to him stood Harry. His robes were black as well, with no lining, but it didn’t diminish the brightness of his eyes. He looked dashing. They were both watching her with rapt attention as her father escorted her down the aisle. Once the ceremony began, and the traditional scripture reading commenced, she imagined that the presiding priest was speaking to the three of them about the importance of trust, fidelity, communication, and love. And she imagined that instead of Ginny, Harry was standing to the right of her.

The pastor requested Ron to repeat his vows, and she turned toward him expectantly. Ron smiled at her, stepping a little to his left to give her a clear vision of Harry even as he declared his love for her. When it was her turn to repeat her vows, Hermione made sure to keep her eyes fixed on both of them, pleased to see them both smiling back at her.

When it was time to produce the rings, Harry fumbled in his pocket a bit until he retrieved them. Instead of giving them to Ron as they had practiced, he held them out, presenting them to both Hermione and Ron, giving them a sneaky smile as he did. Ron gave Harry a small smirk, while Hermione stifled a giggle at the hidden meaning of the gesture. She didn’t care that they all held their gaze for several moments longer than necessary in front of all of their family and friends. She didn’t want the fantasy of marrying them both to end, and from the looks on Ron’s and Harry’s face, they were enjoying the illusion of it as well.

After the ceremony, everyone headed out to the Burrow. While Hermione had won the location of the wedding, Mrs. Weasley had worn her down about the location of the reception. Mrs. and Mr. Weasley had set up a huge spacious tent, warmed to room temperature. Hermione smiled as she looked up. The roof of the tent was charmed to look like a cloudless spring sky. Perhaps Molly Weasley did know a thing or two about weddings.

Once everyone arrived, Arthur Weasley and Mr. Granger each took their turns offering a toast and boasting their pride in seeing the young couple joined together in matrimony.

Hermione watched as Mrs. Weasley gushed, crying happy tears. After Mr. Granger sat down, Hermione’s mother read a sonnet about true love that was met by a spattering of ‘awws.’ When she finished, to Hermione’s surprise, Harry stood up, clearing his throat. She found herself squeezing Ron’s hand nervously. Hermione didn’t know why she was nervous, Harry would never be so bold as to announce their relationship at a time like this. Still, the dread of that possibility rose within her as she waited for him to speak.

“Uh, I suppose I should say a few words as well…” he began before his voice trailed off.

Hermione squeezed Ron’s hand tighter as they waited for Harry to continue.

“Just make a toast, mate!” George yelled out to a few chuckles. But Harry just stood there, staring strangely at the crowd in awkward silence. After a few moments, a chant began to build among their former classmates. ‘Toast. Toast. Toast.”

Finally, Harry gave a curt nod. “All right, a toast, then, here goes” he stammered, waiting for everyone to settle down.

The chanting died down and they all stared up at him, waiting.

His eyes settled on both Ron and Hermione, and he took a deep breath. Hermione did her best to smile back at him but her heart was beating wildly. She knew Ron had to be in pain from the tightness of her grip, but she couldn’t let go. What was Harry about to say?

“It’s been an honour to serve as best man…I’ve never… met two people like Ron and Hermione. They’ve stuck by me through the best and worst… they’ve been my anchor through everything… I don’t know what I would have done without their… friendship. I know that I can always count on them to be there for me...” he paused, staring intently at both of them. “I love you both very much, and I know you’ll have a brilliant life together,” he finished quickly, his voice cracking on the last.

There was a loud applause and several camera flashes. Hermione tried to smile as Ron returned her tight squeeze with a painful one of his own. She glanced over at him and saw that his eyes were watering as he stared up at Harry. She tried giving his hand a little tug to break his stare. It worked. Ron broke his eye contact to look at her. He wore a sad forced smile on his face, and quickly let go of her hand to lift his glass up towards Harry.

“We love you, too, Harry!” Ron called out before downing his wine more quickly than Hermione had ever seen him drink before. She eyed him anxiously and turned her attention back to Harry. He was looking at both of them with a strange expression she couldn’t decipher.

“Enough talking, let’s get this party started!” Charlie called out toward the band. George whistled, and Hermione looked over as the wizarding band, Magick, began playing her and Ron’s favourite song, a Muggle tune they had picked up on their trip around the world: “You’re Still The One.” Hermione tried not to groan as her new mother-in-law grabbed Ron’s hand and placed it over hers.

“Well, go on, you two, it’s tradition for the couple to have the first dance,” Mrs. Weasley exclaimed.

“Right. Thanks, Mum, I think we’ve got it from here,” Ron muttered, snatching his hand from out under his mother’s. He held his hand out to Hermione.

“May I have this dance?”

Hermione smiled up at him, placing her hand into his. “Certainly.”

They glided to the centre in front of the band. Ron embraced Hermione loosely, and she lay her head on his shoulder as they began to dance.

“Sorry, ‘bout that,” he apologized, sliding his hand around her waist. Hermione breathed a sigh of relief, actually happy to be away from Mrs. Weasley and cameras and well-wishers. It felt good to have Ron’s arms around her, to dance as their favourite song played. Despite the anguish she’d had felt during Harry’s toast, this was a moment she didn’t want to forget. She looked up at her husband, and was happy to see that for that one moment, he appeared to be just as happy.

“I love you, Hermione,” he whispered.

“I love you, too, Ron,” she said, smiling.

When he leaned in to kiss her, she closed her eyes and just let him lead the rest of the dance.

Once the dance ended, everyone began to get up and share in the festivities. Hermione looked around at all of their guests as they laughed and danced. They appeared relieved and overjoyed to be celebrating once more. Everyone was making the most out of her and Ron’s wedding reception, except for Harry.

When Hermione looked over to Harry’s table, she saw Harry sitting, looking forlorn as Ginny talked to Luna who was sitting behind her. When her dance with Ron ended, Hermione began to walk over toward him but was pulled away by a group of women who wanted to congratulate her and inspect her dress.

The strain of the day returned as more people came up to her and asked for more pictures and fussed over her dress. It was exhausting. Hermione was growing tired of the congratulations and all of the picture taking, and her smile was beginning to hurt her face. Once again, she glanced over at Harry who now had a forced cheerful smile on his face as he spoke with Seamus. But his smile couldn’t hide the sadness she saw in his eyes. Ginny was draped over him, looking restful and content, and Hermione turned away so as not to gape at them any longer.

Finally, she managed to get away from the well-wishers and coaxed Ron up on his feet once more to dance with her. She wanted desperately to recapture the magic of their first dance, to forget about Harry and Ginny, and how incomplete everything felt right now. But with each passing song Ron’s movements became more sluggish, his expression more weary and his smile more half-hearted. Hermione could tell he had been drinking a bit too much.

“I think I want to sit down,” he murmured finally after the fifth song.

Hermione nodded reluctantly just as someone pulled her hand. It was her dad, he wanted to have a dance with her, and she couldn’t refuse him.

When the song was done, she looked around for Ron. He was sitting at their table, drinking. She sighed, walking over to him when someone grabbed her hand. It was Mr. Weasley. He wanted to have the next dance with her. She smiled as he bowed before her and kindly accepted.

At the end of the dance, Hermione searched the party until her eyes found her increasingly inebriated husband. Ron was now visibly impaired, his eyes half closed, his cheeks flushed, and his hair tousled as he struggled to stand up straight amongst a group of his former classmates. Some of them were looking at him in concern. She quickly walked over to be by his side.

“Ron… Ron…” she tried to say as discreetly as possible.

“Hey… ‘Mione!” Ron called out, whipping his head over to stare at her. “Look, guys, my lovely bride is here. Isn’t she lovely?” he asked Neville and Seamus, who both exchanged anxious glances and then looked back at Hermione and nodded quickly in agreement.

“You look great, Hermione,” Neville complimented.

“Thank you, Neville,” Hermione said, wincing as Ron yelled out.

“She’s absolutely beautiful!” He raised his half filled glass toward the crowd behind them. Hermione glanced behind her to see several raised glasses and smiles at Ron’s exclamation.

George walked over, stepping between Neville and Ron, patting his brother on the back. “Hey, little brother, perhaps you should slow down. You two have a long night ahead of you,” he said, giving both Ron and Hermione a playful wink.

Hermione’s eyes nervously darted over to Harry who was watching Ron from his table a few feet away, in concern.

“Yeah, all right,” Ron said, raising his glass once more, this time spilling a bit of it on himself and splashing George as well. “Hey, I didn’t get to make a toast! Doesn’t the groom get to make a toast?” he yelled out.

Everyone began to settle down, turning to stare at him. Hermione held her breath; certain that Ron was far past his limit and was about to embarrass both of them. She fixed her eyes on him and balled her dress in her fists, feeling helpless to stop him without making the situation worse.

He gave her a lazy, lopsided smile, raising his glass higher. “To happily ever afters. Not all of us can have them!”

“Here, here!” several guests called as everyone drank.

Hermione sighed in relief, thankful he didn’t say anything he or she would regret.

“Ron, please… I think you’ve had enough to drink,” she said softly, placing a gentle hand on his arm.

“Oh, come on, ‘Mione! It’s supposed to be a celebration, right? Right?” he asked, with a bitter smile that matched his eyes. They were just as watery as they had been during Harry’s toast. There was pain there that belied the contentment of his toast. Ron was upset, and Hermione knew exactly why. The illusion of them marrying Harry was long over; he was married to her. Just her. And she knew that he wanted more than that, because she did, too.

“Ron, please…” she said, putting her hand up to cover Ron’s raised hand before he could take another sip.

Ron’s glanced past her, and then he rolled his eyes with so much exaggeration that Hermione had to turn around to see what was the matter. Harry was standing behind her. Relief swept over her. She didn’t know if she could deal with Ron alone like this.

“Harry, please, do something, he’s drunk,” she pleaded quietly, looking up at him helplessly.

Her eye caught movement behind Harry. Mr. Weasley was also rising and making his way over toward them.

Ron scowled as he stared back at Harry. “Come ‘ter wish us more happi’ess, ‘ave ya?”

“Ron, maybe you’ve had enough, yeah?” Harry offered.

Ron snorted. “Yeah, well, maybe I ‘aven’t! Maybe I’ll jus’ decide when I’ve ‘ad enuff, thank you very much!”

Hermione and Harry exchanged an apprehensive look. This was leading to disaster.

Mr. Weasley cut into the group, pushing past Harry to put his arm around Ron. “Son, why don’t you come over and sit with your mother and me. We’ll get you something to eat and some water.”

Ron shrugged his father’s arm off, jerking away.

“I’m fine! Wha’s everyone’s problem? Huh? Dance! Be bloody merry! This is my wedding night… it’s supposd ta be da happiest night of my life! Innit dat right?” he asked bitterly, staring hard at both Hermione and Harry as he stumbled and fell backwards onto his arse.

The music abruptly stopped, and Hermione scanned the crowed. To her horror, several guests were staring back at them, some curiously, others with embarrassment.

She looked down at Ron on the grass, struggling to get up and failing with each try as tears began to well up in her eyes. Her heart was aching for both Ron and herself.

“I’m sorry, Ron. I’m sorry I’m not enough for you,” she whispered.

She felt Harry’s hand reach out and touch her arm, and a spark of anger rose. How dare he! She shot him a hateful glare and pulled her arm away. Taking one last glance at all of the faces staring in shock at them, she turned abruptly on her heel and ran into the house.

Ten minutes later, when Harry found her, she was sitting on Ginny’s old bed. She had shut herself up in the room so she could cry without an audience. He called and knocked several time but she refused to answer. Finally, he spelled the door open and found her sitting with her legs folded up against her chest, her chin resting on her knees. Immediately, she resented his presence.

“Harry, please,” she tried to protest.

“I just wanted to know if you wanted help taking Ron back home…” Harry offered.

“I don’t need your help, Harry,” she said bitterly.

To her irritation, Harry walked over to the bed and took a seat across from her. They sat in silence for several moments. Hermione could feel Harry staring at her, even as she kept her eyes on the duvet.

“I’m sorry, Hermione...” he started.

“Stop saying that! It doesn’t matter, anyway… we’ve all made our choices,” she ground out, trying to will away the new batch of tears forming.

Harry didn’t reply, instead his hand found its way to her forearm, his touch was light and tentative. She tensed and then chanced a look up at him. He was staring at his hand on her arm, as if he was afraid to meet her eyes and face her scorn.

“I’m still sorry,” he whispered, pressing his palm against her arm more firmly as his hand slid down to her hand. She wanted to stay angry with him. She summoned all of her rage and resentment, trying keep her body tense and impervious to his touch. But then he began to trace her skin, his fingers slipping between hers, grasping, struggling to hold onto her hand. Hermione finally let go, allowing him to, feeling the tension she had been holding onto slip away.

They held hands for several moments as her tear subsided.

“Think you’re ready to help me take Ron home?” he asked.

She sighed, looking up at him and nodding. “Yes.”

When they walked out, they went straight to Ron’s room and found him laid out on his bed, surrounded by Mrs. and Mr. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley’s face was red and tear-streaked, and she put her hand to her mouth as Hermione entered to the room.

“Oh, Hermione, dear, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what got into him,” Mrs. Weasley apologized, tears in her eyes.

“It’s all right, Mrs. Weasley, Harry and I will take him home,” Hermione replied, feeling some pity for the woman. She knew how much this day meant to the woman, and in some ways it had been ruined for her as well.

Harry and Hermione both bent over to lift Ron up. He moaned, opening his eyes groggily as he tried to plant his feet firmly on the floor to assist them in helping him up.

“’Mione… where’d ya run off to?” he asked, leaning over to rest his head against hers, his arm pulling her closer, threatening to topple them onto the bed.

“I’m here now, Ron,” Hermione whispered, glancing past Ron up at Harry who gave her a small smile.

“Let’s get you home, mate,” Harry said.

Ron nodded immediately. “Yeah… home,” he slurred, lifting his head and falling leaning over to rest his head against Harry’s on the other side.

“Let’s get him down to the Floo,” Harry said.

Hermione shook her head. “Harry, we don’t have a chimney in our flat. We’re pinching sickles to save up for a house.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Well… that‘s rotten. Let’s Apparate then.”

“No,” Hermione protested. “A Side-Along with an inebriated person is dangerous. Ron would kill us if he got Splinched again.”

Harry appeared frustrated. “Hermione, he’ll be fine. We’ll just have to make sure he stays still is all,” he argued.

Hermione sighed. She was tired of arguing, tired of the day, just tired. “Fine,” she relented.

“Are you two sure?” Mrs. Weasley asked worriedly. “It’d be better if you and Ron just stay here,” she offered.

Hermione shook head, “Mrs. Weasley, thank you, but I really don’t think that’s such a good idea. If its all the same to you, I’d like to just take him home.”

“But, dear—”

“Mum,” Harry started, stunning Mrs. Weasley temporarily. She stared up at Harry affectionately.

“Yes, Harry?”

“I think Hermione’s right; they’ll be fine. This is their first night together as a married couple. They need some privacy.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded reluctantly. “Oh, all right, I suppose you’re right.”

“But we better get going,” Harry said. “Ron’s heavier than I thought,” he joked.

Hermione tried concentrate on holding down her food as they did a Side-Along Apparation into her living room. She hated Apparating and Side-Alongs always amplified her discomfort tenfold. She checked Ron to make sure he was all right. They slowly moved him to their bedroom to set him down on the bed.

“You guys are brilliant!” Ron slurred, his head lolling to side as he fell back onto the bed. Hermione and Harry exchanged a weary glance as they began to remove his shoes, socks, trousers, and shirt. Once he was stripped down to his pants, he curled up in a ball while Hermione and Harry stared down at him.

“I’m so sorry, Hermione… you deserved a better wedding day. I’m going to give Ron a piece of my mind when he wakes up.”

Hermione stared up at Harry in incredulity. “What do you mean, give Ron a piece of your mind?”

“Well, he ruined—”

“Ron didn’t ruin anything, Harry! You did!”

Harry looked at her, dumbfounded.

“You ruined everything when you went off and married Ginny! Nothing has been right since that day! Nothing!”

“So this is my fault?” Harry asked in shock.

Suddenly Hermione didn’t know whose fault it was. She could have stopped him from marrying Ginny, Harry had given her and Ron a chance to. They could have gone public with their relationship when he had proposed it but neither she nor Ron wanted to risk it. Guilt and desperation flooded her for the second time that day as she fell onto her knees beside the bed, her face in her hands.

“No, Harry, it’s nobody’s fault. Gods, I hate this! It’s so screwed up!” she cried.

When she finally looked up, Harry was still standing in the same spot he had been before, his eyes heavy and sad behind his glasses as he stared down at Ron.

“I don’t know how to fix this,” Harry said.

Hermione dried her tears and then looked at her husband lying passed out on the bed. “I told you, Harry, there’s nothing to fix. It’s already done. I’m sorry I blamed you, it’s no one’s fault, really.”

After several moments, Hermione lifted herself up to her feet and gave Harry a small smile, despite the tears drying on her face.

“Thank you for helping me bring him home, Harry. We’ll be fine from here,” she said, dismissing him.

Harry continued to stare down at Ron and then leaned over and planted a long gentle kiss to Ron’s cheek. Ron abruptly turned onto his back and lifted his arms, wrapping them around Harry’s neck.

“Harry,” he moaned, pulling Harry down, causing the dark-haired man to stumble and put his hands down on the bed so that he could balance himself.

“Ron, I have to go,” Harry said awkwardly.

“Why? Where ya goin’?” Ron asked, lifting his head and then planting a big wet sloppy kiss on Harry’s lips.

Hermione watched as Harry reluctantly wrangled free from out of Ron’s arms.

“Ron, mate… it’s your wedding night, you’re supposed to spend it with Hermione,” Harry explained, his face growing red.

Ron fell back once more, this time looking up at the ceiling. Hermione was relieved to see that they were wide and appeared almost lucid.

“It should’ve been all of us,” he said, slowly turning his head to stare at Hermione.

Hermione felt new tears welling in her eyes as she looked back at him, wishing he would pass out once more.

“Ron, just go to sleep,” she managed to say.

Ron gave her a sad pout, holding his arms out to her. “I’m sorry, ‘Mione. I didn’t mean to mess it up. Come here.”

Hermione glanced up at Harry and then back at Ron as a sour snicker escaped her. Sometimes, Ron was every bit the man she had imagined he’d grow up to be. But there were other times when he was still the wayward boy she had often argued with during most of her time at Hogwarts. She felt some sadness and pity looking at him now. He seemed almost oblivious to the levity of what had just occurred. She narrowed her eyes, studying him. Sometimes she didn’t think Ron was oblivious at all. Sometimes, she was sure that he was aware of everything and that he simply chose to escape by feigning ignorance. Tonight, perhaps alcohol had been his way of doing that.

Whatever was really going on with Ron, Hermione was only sure of one thing: she was exhausted. She was tired of all of the confusion, tension, apologies, and awkwardness. Right now, folding herself into her drunk new husband’s arms and going to sleep seemed like the fitting ending to such a wretched day.

Harry seemed unable to decide what to do or how to exit. Hermione refused to look at him any longer and instead lifted her dress and climbed onto the bed to lie down next to Ron. She reached around to hold him, cuddling him close as she closed her eyes. She was sure that Harry would take that as his cue to leave. As soon as he left, she planned to let sleep overtake her so that she could put this unfortunate day behind her. Instead, Hermione felt the mattress sink behind her, and one familiar strong arm encircle her waist tightly.

She let out a tiny half groan, half sigh at Harry’s insistence to stay. She stiffened as he pressed his chest into her and began pulling her hair back over to the side, exposing her neck.

“Harry,” she murmured in half-hearted protest when his lips found their way to the nape of her neck. He began planting soft, soothing kisses along her skin there.

She nestled closer to Ron, while Harry scooted closer still, holding himself against her.

Exhaling, she finally allowed herself to relax without further protest. She meditated on the cruel irony of having both of her lovers in her wedding bed until sleep overtook her, giving her dreamless respite from the pain of such a tainted day.

Chapter Text

The first time Ginny had begun to suspect that something was really off in her marriage was on the night of Ron and Hermione’s wedding. It had been awful watching her brother get drunk at his own wedding and making such a scene that it sent his new bride running from the reception. She remembered being embarrassed as she watched Ron stumble about while her mother and father carried him up to the house. George had come through though, saving face for the Weasley family by encouraging the band to continue. He and Angelina danced with such infectious enthusiasm that it was hard for the other guests not to get up and dance as well. The reception went on hours after it should have ended, especially since the bride and groom were both absent.

Ginny didn’t think twice about Harry running after Hermione; of course he would go and console his friend after such a traumatic event. But then Harry stayed gone. Not for an hour or even a few–the entire night.

When Ginny went to see about Harry and Hermione, her mum told her that they had taken Ron home and that she should wait at the Burrow for Harry to return. But late afternoon turned to dusk, and then night fell, and still Harry had not returned. Her mum and dad didn’t seem to think anything of it. Mrs. Weasley busied herself with cleaning up while Mr. Weasley did damage control with the few remaining guests who still had questions about Ron’s behaviour and Hermione’s well-being.

Ginny, meanwhile, struggled to restrain her frustration and bewilderment about what could have been taking Harry so long. How much consoling did Hermione need? While Ginny thought what happened had been quite unfortunate, it wasn’t as if anyone had died. Surely, nothing had occurred that was serious enough to take her husband away from her for the entire night.

When she finally informed her parents that she was going back home, they gave her a hug and told her to thank Harry once more when she saw him. Ginny tried not to scowl as she stepped in the chimney to Floo home. Alone.

It wouldn’t be the last time, either.

Staring down at the remaining letters, she noticed that the correspondence between the years 2000-2005, before the birth of their son, James, was sparse. There were no more than two or three per year, and they all said basically the same thing: “I really enjoyed our time together, hope to see you soon.”

It all made sense. Of course Hermione wouldn’t need to write Harry during that period; she had been seeing him regularly. Ginny remembered experiencing many lonely nights shortly after Ron and Hermione’s wedding, and especially once Harry had decided to pursue a career as an Auror. His absences didn’t occur in succession and they weren’t so excessive that it would cause any reasonable witch suspicion, at least, not in Ginny’s estimation. But now, looking back over the years, it seemed much more obvious. There were far too many random nights when Harry would get caught up at work or just crash at Ron and Hermione’s house. And then there were those damned monthly camping weekends.

When Ginny had first asked Harry about his camping trips, she had felt like a clingy, paranoid wife. Every couple needed a break, as Harry had often explained. Camping was his refuge. He would always say Ron and Hermione helped him sort through his problems, that they made him a better man for her to be around. That explanation held up for awhile, but it wasn’t long before they were engaged in regular spats about him spending more time with his friends than his wife. Sometimes Ginny felt selfish, but mostly, she felt it was her right. She wanted a family, but it always seemed that one thing or another interfered with them getting pregnant, and Harry’s absences hadn’t made it any easier.

When she would bring up making a family, he would always have an excuse. At first, Harry said he needed to establish himself as an Auror first before having a child. Next, he said was worried about the safety of the child, claiming he was still a target for Death Eater sympathizers and all the nutters in the wizarding world. And then they experienced a prolonged struggle with impotency. That had been the worst.

Ginny remembered with bitterness the countless nights they had tried and failed at making love, her hopes for a child growing more desperate with each effort. Harry had always blamed it on stress and the pressure of making the baby, but Ginny had always wondered if the problem could have been something, or someone else.

She skimmed Hermione’s next letter, expecting more of the same, but something caught her eye. She couldn’t help the tug of the smirk growing on her face as she reread the letter more slowly. A warm, smug feeling grew in her gut as she imagined the wicked row that must have taken place to prompt Hermione to write such a letter. Apparently, everything between the three didn’t always go so well, and from what she could gather, she had been the cause of at least one fight.

 

June 23, 2002,

Harry,

I hope you read this letter. I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, but I can’t stand it anymore. We’ve been missing you. Both of us. It’s been weird not having you around. We don’t even go to the cabin anymore. I know that you and Ron still aren’t talking, and I can’t imagine how you two can do that since you work together now, but I think I understand.

I know what Ron said and what I didn’t say hurt you. Please believe me, Harry when I tell you that in that moment, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t know what to say, and I’m convinced Ron didn’t mean most of what he said. We were both very frustrated and jealous of what you have with her. It all came out wrong. Ron was just trying to protect me, and I was being a selfish cow. You were right; what we have is very hard to maintain, on all of us. Despite what Ron said, don’t ever think for one minute that either of us would ever take it back.

I think he’s waiting for you to make the first effort. No surprise there. I know you feel like you’re always the one who bends first, but you’ve always been the rock, Harry.

I know I’m probably asking for a lot, and that you have every right to keep your distance from us, but it would be so nice if you dropped by the flat for dinner sometime this week. We could all talk, catch up, perhaps. It’d be a start, at least.

Please consider it.

Love you, truly, always and forever,

Hermione

January 11, 2002

Harry was relieved when he finally arrived at the cabin. The tension from the holidays had spilled over into every gathering. It had started at Neville’s Christmas party. Ginny couldn’t stop talking about her and Harry trying to get pregnant. At first, Hermione had made some effort at looking pleased with the news, but her disposition towards his wife quickly deteriorated. He and Ron tried to keep the peace, talking about neutral topics, but by the time Seamus’ Christmas party rolled around, Ron seemed to be just as put out as Hermione about Ginny and Harry trying to create a family.

At first, Christmas day at the Burrow had been a reprieve from the mounting uneasiness Harry was starting to feel whenever he was around all of them. After Arthur said a few words about gratitude, George had shared a rare, sobering thought about Fred and appreciating the family he was left with. That seemed help with changing the mood considerably. Ron and Hermione made an effort at letting go of their resentment, and made an effort to initiate conversation with Harry and Ginny. They even joked around a little. It was a hopeful truce, that is, until Ginny and Hermione exchanged gifts.

It all started innocent enough; Hermione had given Ginny a new Chaser’s glove, it was a celebratory gift in honour of her making the Holyhead Harpies. Ginny gave Hermione an anthology book on Magical Creatures that Harry had seen Hermione eyeing in a bookstore. Everything seemed to be settled between them until Ginny hugged Hermione and thanked her, making an offhand remark about how her new Chaser’s glove’s days were already numbered since she and Harry were about to be with child. Harry watched as Hermione pursed her lips and told Ginny that if she couldn’t use it for catching the Quaffle, perhaps Harry could use it for catching the baby when it arrived. Harry knew Hermione well enough to know that the joke had a dark nasty undertone, but Ginny seemed to think that Hermione was attempting to be funny, and laughed. Hermione shot a quick glare at his wife and then at Harry before turning and leaving the room with Ron following right behind her. After that, things became progressively worse. For the remaining week, Harry tried putting on his good face, but it seemed at every turn Hermione was making a snide comment or just leaving the room altogether whenever he and Ginny entered.

Harry was at a loss as to how to explain Hermione’s behaviour to Ginny, who had begun questioning Harry incessantly about what she could have possibly have done to offend his friend. Meanwhile, Ron alternated between shooting carefully timed glares at Harry when Ginny’s back was turned to outright ignoring him when they were all in the same room. Harry, for his part, couldn’t understand why Ron was laying blame on him for any of this, but he suspected that it was a lot easier for Ron to be mad with him than with Ginny or Hermione.

It took a few days, but eventually, Mrs. Weasley had noticed the tension and did her best to try and make sure the four of them were engaged in some sort of activity together. However, being forced to set the table or clean up together only seemed to increase the unbearable tension. By the time Harry got home from holiday, he didn’t want to be around any of them. He closed himself off from Ginny, staying in his study when he was home or off to work out or practice dueling with Angelina in preparation for the upcoming Auror screening.

At the Auror trials, he and Ron barely said one word to each other until they were matched to do a spell battle in an advanced level obstacle course. Once inside the simulation, they were able to put aside their differences to join forces, assisting each other in making it to the end without getting eliminated. That seemed to ease some of the tension. They even went out and celebrated together after they both passed the preliminary physical portion of the application process.

Now, here it was almost two weeks later and Harry was feeling decidedly more hopeful about their weekend. With him and Ron on much better terms, it seemed the stress of the holidays was finally behind them. When Hermione and Ron arrived at the cabin to meet him, however, everything that had been swept under the rug suddenly emerged and sat in the middle of the room like a giant troll.

They all greeted each other with warm hugs, but instead of the passionate kisses that usually followed, Hermione wandered off to the stove to make a pot of tea, pulling a book from the shelf and keeping silent as she settled into a chair. Harry refused to let their weekend turn into the holiday he had just endured and snatched the book out of her hands.

“Harry!” she said in irritation, grabbing for the book he held just out of her reach.

“Hermione, it’s not like you to play games. You’re obviously upset about something, let’s talk about it.”

Hermione glared up at him and then glanced past him at Ron, who was standing by the door awkwardly.

“It doesn’t matter what’s bothering me. Discussing it won’t change a thing,” she said resentfully.

Harry frowned. “Is this about Ginny?”

Instead of replying, Hermione stood up to make her way back to the tiny stove against the wall in the small space they had designated as the kitchen. She poured herself some more tea, keeping her back to them as she did.

Harry sighed. “It is, isn’t it? I know it is. You were practically biting her head off over the holiday.”

Hermione took a sip of her tea, remaining silent for a few moments. “Harry, I’m sorry, she was getting on my last nerve,” she finally admitted.

“Was it all of the baby talk?” Harry asked carefully. He looked behind him at Ron who simply shrugged.

“It was a bit much, mate. I mean, it seems like that’s all she talks about now,” Ron said.

Hermione gave a short scoff. “You’d think she knew about us, the way she goes on and on about it,” she said bitterly.

“So, that’s it, then?” Harry asked incredulously. “You think Ginny was trying to rub getting pregnant in your face?” He knew the baby talk had been getting to Hermione, but he had no idea she thought it was a purposeful jibe.

“Yes,” Hermione said, finally turning around. “And don’t look at me like I’m being mental, Harry! It’s very possible. I’m sure she senses something when I’m around. She has to! We’re in love, and she’s not stupid or blind!”

Harry shook his head. He refused to believe that Ginny had suspected anything was between him and Hermione, or that she would be so malicious as to purposely use planning a family as a weapon.

“Now, you’re being silly. Ginny would never tolerate this if she even suspected anything of the sort. She’s not jealous of you, Hermione, and she wasn’t trying to be annoying. She’s just excited. We both are,” he added weakly.

“Oh? Is that right?” Hermione asked. She looked hurt, and Harry’s stomach lurched to think that he had been the cause of that.

He swallowed. “Hermione, I want a family. I’ve always wanted a family, you know that,” he practically pleaded. Why couldn’t she and Ron see how important that was to him; it had been one of the primary reasons he had married Ginny in the first place.

Hermione’s eyes were cast to the floor, and he could tell by the quivering of her mouth that she was holding back tears. Behind him, Ron grunted and then he heard a loud thud of what sounded like a kick to the wall.

Harry turned around to see what was the matter.

Ron was standing against the wooden door of the cabin, his arms folded over his chest, a grimace on his face. “We know you want a family, Harry; you’ve told us a million times, already! You don’t have to be reminding Hermione and me about it every chance you get.”

“I don’t, Ron,” Harry defended.

“Yeah, well, I agree with Hermione, all that baby talk was a tad too much,” Ron said.

“Look, I’m sorry, but why are you angry with me? It’s not like I can control what Ginny says or thinks!”

“Because you’re the reason why we’re in the shitty situation we’re in now,” Ron said, anger rising in his voice. “Are you happy? Do you get off on seeing Hermione and me suffer while you and Ginny laugh it up about baby names? You think we want to hear about any of that shit? We don’t want to know about how many you’re planning to have!”

“What am I supposed to do, Ron?” Harry asked in frustration. “Neither of you wanted to announce our relationship, but when I make a go at trying to be happy on my own, you get mad because you don’t want me to do that, either. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too!” Harry said bitterly. That had been on his chest for a long time, and although he feared the repercussions of saying it, a large part of him was glad it was out in the open.

“You know why we couldn’t go public, Harry, and you didn’t care! It’s always that way with you. You think you’re above rules, that you’re special or something. You didn’t even stop to consider what the consequences would be if we all decided to tell everyone about it.”

“I have considered it!” Harry protested.

“And instead of waiting,” Ron continued. “And talking through it, you went and did the next easiest thing; you married my sister!”

“I love your sister!” Harry exclaimed.

“No, you don’t! You don’t love anyone but yourself! You’re always thinking about yourself,” Ron accused.

“That’s not true, Ron!”

Ron gritted his teeth, staring past Harry at Hermione. When Harry looked back at her, his heart clenched. She had tears in her eyes and was looking at him wearily.

“Harry, how do you think it felt for us to sit there and listen to her go on and on about it while you encouraged her?” Hermione asked. “It didn’t even feel like you tried to change the subject once. Can you put yourself in our shoes?”

“Hermione, I have,” Harry said in exasperation. “Why do you think I chose to marry her? I didn’t want to be on the outside while you two got to have your family. Tell me, where’s the fairness in that?”

Hermione looked back at him sadly. “I just wish you’d be a little more considerate,” she said softly, going over to sit on the bed.

“And I wish you’d try to understand that I’m trying to make everyone happy, and it’s really hard,” Harry said.

“Maybe it’s too hard,” Ron said.

“What?” Harry asked, turning around abruptly to face him.

Ron shrugged dismissively. “I said, maybe this is too hard. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing it.”

“Well, we knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Harry said.

Ron shook his head. “I don’t think this is working out. What happens when you and Ginny have a kid? What then? It’s only going to get worse.”

“Not if we talk it out, it won’t,” Harry insisted.

“I’m tired of talking about this, Harry,” Hermione sighed. “I’m tired of apologizing for being jealous and angry.”

“What do you want me to do, Hermione?” Harry asked in frustration. “Divorce her? Marry you two? We can’t even do that; it’s not even legal! And even if it were, neither one of you is ready to do it!”

“I don’t know, Harry... I don’t know what to do,” Hermione said, her voice breaking.

“Yeah, well, I do,” Ron said in a cold voice that made the skin on Harry’s arms prickle.

Harry knew what Ron was going to say before he said it, but he didn’t want to believe that Ron would ever utter the words. He looked up to see Ron staring at him with a neutral expression, devoid of emotion. He hated that look on the redhead, it was worse than anger.

Ron glanced at Hermione and then back to Harry before straightening. “I don’t think we should do this anymore.”

“What?” Harry asked, his panic rising as he stared back at his lover. He knew Ron well enough to know he had made up his mind.

“Ron, please,” Hermione whispered, her voice choking on a sob.

Ron shook his head. “I’m tired of lying. I’m tired of betraying my sister. I’m tired of being angry with you for being the husband you’re supposed to be for her. I’m tired of seeing Hermione crying over you, and being mad at Ginny for wanting something she has every right to want. I wish we had never started this. If we had really thought about it first, we would have seen that nothing good could have come from it.”

“Nothing, Ron?” Harry asked. He felt like Ron had just stabbed him, his heart hurt.

“But now that we know, we can still do the right thing and end it,” Ron finished as if Harry had said nothing at all.

“You don’t mean that,” Harry said breathlessly.

“You know I do, Harry,” Ron said, moving his back away from the door.

Harry stared at the door, and then Hermione who was staring up at Ron. Her silence was telling. She wasn’t protesting or producing logical arguments to counter what Ron had said.

Had it really gotten this bad?

Harry hadn’t seen this coming. He knew they were all struggling with accepting what they had, but he’d had no idea that Ron and Hermione had been suffering and hurting this much. He desperately tried to see it from their perspective, but he couldn’t. He was out of reasons and arguments he could use to persuade them that their triad was right. It felt like he was always the one advocating their relationship, and the burden of protecting everyone from hurt feelings and neglect seemed to always fall on him. He was tired of trying to please everyone. Maybe it wasn’t working. At the moment, he certainly wasn’t happy.

“All right, then,” Harry said with finality, looking at Ron before bending over to pick up his backpack. “I guess I’ll be seeing you two around, then.”

“Harry!” Hermione cried.

Harry turned to give her one last look. She was crying. He wanted to wipe her tears away, to take all of the pain away, but felt powerless to do anything. Hermione stood up and walked toward him. He stared down at her, waiting as she opened her mouth as if to speak. But nothing came out, and that was all he needed. There was nothing else to say so Harry turned away from her. Ron was holding the door open for him, and he didn’t even bother to look the redhead in the eye as he walked out. He refused to look back.

July 26, 2002

Harry stared at Hermione’s letter once more before folding it back up and placing it in the envelope to hide in his storage chest, where he hid all the others. The nondescript, plain white envelope never had a return address on it, only dates and an illegible signature across the flap that was really Hermione’s way of charming the envelopes sealed until Harry decided to open them. It had been a week since she had sent that letter, and he hadn’t made any attempt to go by their flat to see about them. The thought that he was the one expected to make the first effort at reconciliation left him feeling even more vexed.

He emerged from his study and slipped into bed with Ginny, his mind racing. His fight with Ron six months before had left a bitter taste in his mouth, and since then he hadn’t talked to his friend much, at all. Harry hated his rows with Ron; they always resulted in long silent treatments and unbelievable tension so thick it could be cut with Sectumsempra. Hermione had always been the one to bring them back together, but this time things were different. It wasn’t a petty spat, and in Harry’s opinion, Hermione had been just as much a part of the problem as Ron. He couldn’t see how dropping by for dinner could mend things.

At work, things began falling apart for Harry. The idea of being an Auror had always excited him, but now his enthusiasm for the job had been considerably dampened. Ron could be stubborn and spiteful, and everything was either hot or cold with him. He had been treating Harry with complete indifference, barely acknowledging his former lover’s presence. They passed each other like they hardly knew each other, and they never stayed in the same room for very long. Ron had even put in for a transfer. It was granted, and he was now assigned to a completely different unit.

He was startled when a kiss from Ginny broke his reverie. She was kissing him, hard and desperate, forcing her tongue into his mouth. Harry tried to go with it, letting her tongue slide over his as he tried to summon the same amount of passion she was showing. Her hands were all over him, lifting his robe, unbuttoning his shirt, then his belt, slipping past the waistband of his trousers and into his pants to fondle his cock. He was still limp, just like he usually was whenever they made a go of it. Even when he was mildly turned on by her efforts, he just couldn’t get an erection. She had tried everything: putting her mouth on him, using her hand, even her breasts to coax the lifeless member. It all failed.

Harry kept his eyes closed, willing himself to become hard, hoping to make another try at pleasing her. After several minutes of grinding, fondling, and forced sloppy kissing, Ginny gave up once more.

Harry pried his eyes open, ready to face the anguish that usually followed their efforts. It had become too familiar over the past several months.

“I just don’t know what else to do!” Ginny whined in frustration. “Perhaps we should see a healer or mind specialist?”

Harry shook his head. The last thing he needed was some mind shrink in his head. That would be a disaster.

“Ginny, I told you, I’m under a lot of stress. It doesn’t help when we try to force it. It should just come naturally.”

“But it doesn’t! You’re always tired or in a bad mood. I thought we both wanted this baby!” she said in confusion, her eyes searching his for affirmation.

“I do, Ginny. I do. You think I like not being able to please you? It’s embarrassing.”

Ginny sighed, lifting her hand to his cheek. “Harry, I’m not trying to make you feel bad. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I just want to help you. We can even go in and see a healer together. Maybe it’s something about me.”

Harry shook his head, gripping the hand on his face. He felt awful that she even suspected such a thing. “I told you, Ginny. It’s not you. You’re beautiful. You’re everything any man could ever want. It’s me… I know it is. I’ll think about going in to see a healer, but for now, just give me some time.”

Ginny forced a weak smile, poorly veiling her disappointment.

Harry felt guilt tearing through him once more as he gazed upon her sad face. She didn’t deserve this, any of it.

“Until then, would you settle for me pleasing you in other ways?” he asked, making an obscene gesture with his tongue.

Ginny sighed and shook her head.

Harry sat up, looking down at her in concern. She usually accepted oral pleasure in lieu of lovemaking. He was starting to feel useless.

“All right then, how about a nice hug and back rub instead?” he offered.

He was pleased to see a small smile crack on her sad face. She nodded, despite the tears threatening to spill from her eyes. He was ready to make them go away, but they never fell. She turned over on her stomach to stretch out, preparing herself for his massage.

As Harry began to knead her back, his thoughts dwelled on his failed erection and all of their previous attempts at creating a child. Although he wanted a family badly, he would have much preferred to have one with Hermione and Ron. Maybe his prick knew that, too.

Ginny soon drifted off under his ministrations and slipped into sleep, snoring softly. Harry rose to take a shower and then quietly returned to bed beside her. His mind felt unorganized and scattered but there was one constant thought. The same one that lay underneath all of the worries, ideas, and dreams he’d been having for the past six months.

Hermione and Ron.

He missed them so much, and Hermione’s letter only made the ache of their absence stronger. Despite the silent treatment, he wasn’t angry with Ron for what he had said. He understood why his lover had been so resolute. The guilt and dissatisfaction that had finally boiled to the surface had been festering for years. The monthly getaways to the cabin and false presentations in front of the Weasley family had been wearing thin on all of them. Christmas had been especially hard. It seemed the closer they all got, the more animosity and resentment it created whenever they had to pretend to be something they were not.

“I wish we had never started this.”

Ron’s words during their last row had cut Harry deeply. Several times since that day, they haunted him, making him reconsider the entire affair, and his marriage to Ginny, all in one stroke.

It wouldn’t have hurt so much if there hadn’t been a grain of truth to it. Ron always had the uncanny ability to plant a seed of truth, even when he was being daft or hurtful. Sometimes Harry would try to imagine what their lives would be like if he had told Hermione and Ron to just leave him alone on that fateful day in Belize. Or had it been inevitable? Whenever they were together it felt so natural. No, he was sure that nothing would have stopped them from eventually coming together the way they had.

When Harry awoke early the following Saturday morning, he quietly slipped out of bed, then packed a few essential belongings and snacks before heading out. When he arrived at the Trio’s cabin, he paused a moment to stand at the bottom front step. He didn’t even really know why he had come here, of all places. When he awoke, something told him to leave. He hated that he felt trapped in his own bed, in his own home. But coming to the cabin only reminded him of Ron and Hermione, of all the time they had spent together, of what they had, of what they could have had.

He opened the door and was greeted by the nostalgic scent of pine and roses. Hermione loved to set them up on the table, and she often left charmed rose-scented bezoars on the pillow, near the window, and on top of the cooler.

He dropped his bag at the door and went to the bed, staring down at it as flashes of the many nights they had spent here ran through his mind. In spite of his sadness, those memories still made him smile. He pulled out his wand to do a cooling charm on the room before lying down.

He awoke to the sound of footsteps and voices outside. As they grew louder, his eyes widened and his body stiffened in panic. He held his breath as the sounds finally drifted onto the porch, right outside the door.

“‘Mione, please, just drop it already! I thought the point of coming here was to get away, not bring our problems with us,” he heard Ron’s voice say.

Harry bolted up into a sitting position, watching the door, waiting for them to come through it. He silently cursed himself for choosing to come to the cabin.

“I’m just saying that perhaps if he knew we were here, he’d take a chance and come up,” Hermione said as the door opened.

“Yeah, so we can have another row,” Ron complained as he stepped inside.

Harry stared up at his friend, frozen, not sure what to say or do. He wanted to grab his things and run, but that didn’t feel like the right response at all.

Ron’s eyes reflected shock as he stood gaping back at Harry, while behind him, Hermione began to fuss.

“Ron, what are you doing? Move!” she said irritably, pushing past him and heading over toward the centre of the room with a bag of groceries. She squeaked when her eyes caught Harry, nearly dropping the bag.

“Harry,” she gasped.

Harry hopped up off of the bed. “Ah… I’m sorry, I didn’t know you guys would be up here this weekend. I thought I’d be alone.”

Ron’s face tightened as he stared back at Hermione and then at Harry.

They all stood staring at each other for several moments, the tension strung out between them like a rubber band, waiting to snap.

Finally, Harry sighed and shook his head. “I should leave.”

“Harry, no! Please, don’t go. Stay,” Hermione pleaded, going over to put the groceries down on the small wooden table in the corner.

Harry’s eyes locked with Ron’s, neither one of them budged as they continued to stare and appraise each other.

“Funny timing you got,” Ron said suspiciously, glancing over to Hermione accusingly.

“Ron, I swear, I didn’t have anything to do with Harry being here,” Hermione said emphatically.

“Yeah, right,” Ron said in disbelief.

“It’s true, Ron,” Harry said. “I came here to get away from… from everything.”

“Yeah, well, so did we,” Ron said quickly, looking away from Harry’s stare.

“I’ll just leave you to it, then,” Harry said, making his way to the door and picking up his bag.

Ron moved quickly to shut the door behind him and propped his back against it to block Harry’s retreat.

“Not so fast, you’re here, now…” he said, glancing past Harry to Hermione. “We might as well have a chat.”

Harry looked back at Hermione, whose eyes were begging him to stay.

Harry sighed, turning back to face Ron. “All right,” he said, not bothering to lower his bag or to move. He wasn’t expecting the chat to last long.

Ron took in a breath, balling his fists. “I didn’t mean… everything I said, last time,” his eyes cast to the floorboards.

“Yeah? Then tell me which part you did mean,” Harry demanded, not able to constrain some of the resentment he still felt at how much Ron had hurt him.

Ron set his jaw, glancing up at Harry. “I can’t help it. It just rubs me wrong… to see Hermione all upset like that. And I feel rotten knowing you’re messing around on my sister, with me! It’s all fucked, really,” he said with a pained expression.

Harry’s guilt returned. It seemed bad all around, no matter whose side he examined the situation from, and that’s what hurt the most. He sighed. “I know, you’re right, it is. But, Ron, it’s not all my fault. Why am I always the one taking the blame for it? We’ve all played a part in this.”

“You’re right, Harry, we have,” Hermione said, walking over to him. “Ron and I know that. And we know now that it was unfair for us to blame you for everything. We both were really just frustrated and… jealous.”

“Of Ginny,” Harry added, looking intently at Hermione.

Hermione looked away. “I know this isn’t her fault, and I know it’s irrational for me to be so angry with her talking about children, but Harry, I’m only human. It’s hard to watch someone I love discuss making a family with someone else. You’re my family, Harry.”

Harry could feel his own eyes watering and closed them for a moment, fearing that his tears would reveal just how much Hermione had affected him with her words.

“You’re family to me, too, Hermione. You both are,” he said, turning back to face Ron, whose face revealed a rare vulnerability. Harry wanted to grab him and hold him to reassure him that nothing had changed, but that would be a lie. It felt like so much had been said, and Ron had made up his mind. The git was as stubborn as they came.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him firmly on the lips. Harry felt his whole body melt as she did. It felt so good to have her pressed against him. When her tongue slid in his mouth, he felt encouraged. His hands found her bum, cupping it firmly as he pulled her tighter to him, his tongue saving the taste of her lips. He lost all train of thought until he felt Ron’s wide, hard chest pressing against his back.

Startled, he pulled his mouth away from Hermione.

“Uh…” he started, feeling his cock jerk as Ron’s hands glided down his sides to his hips. Ron gave him a firm grip, pulling Harry’s bum against his large, clothed erection.

“I thought we said this wasn’t going to work,” Harry choked out, finding it suddenly very hard to breathe as Hermione’s hands began to slide up his chest.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t make up properly. Let’s just consider this our last shag. We can start a new platonic friendship once it’s over,” Hermione reasoned.

Harry’s eyes were drawn to her half open mouth, so red. She noticed immediately, licking her lips seductively.

“That sounds about right to me,” Ron breathed in his ear before nipping his neck with slow playful bites.

“Ron…” Harry moaned. He hadn’t realized how much he had really missed both of them, until this. Being pressed between them awakened all of the arousal and lust he had thought he no longer had. His cock was harder than it had been in recent memory, and he desperately wanted to free it, he wanted to feel himself sinking into them, he didn’t care which one went first. He’d have both of them before the day and night was done.

“I fucking missed you,” Ron growled in his ear, pulling up Harry’s t-shirt.

Harry lifted his arms, letting the redhead disrobe him, as Hermione sunk down in front of him onto her knees, pulling down his trousers and releasing his erection from his pants. She wasted no time closing her lips around his cock, sucking him desperately.

Harry’s hands found their way to her head, holding it firmly to control her as he pumped himself into her hot, wet mouth. His eyes flew open as a wet finger began to work itself between his arse cheeks. It was insistent and probing. Harry closed his eyes once more, relaxing. He wanted Ron to have his way with him. A large hand snaked up his back, gripping his shoulder, as Ron began to finger fuck his arse, slow and tender at first and then faster. Another finger was added, stretching him wider, and then a third before slipping out. Harry groaned at the absence until he felt the tip of Ron’s large cock demanding entrance.

“Right here?” Harry gasped. He was still stunned by Hermione’s attention to his cock as she continued to suck wantonly.

“Yeah, why not?” Ron asked as he pushed forward. Harry felt the hand on his shoulder press into his skin. He was being pulled back onto his lover’s cock.

“Oh!” Harry called out, throwing back his head as the sensation of being filled with Ron while Hermione sucked on him almost made him come. He had to hold back, he wanted to enjoy this.

And he did.

They spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking and laughing as they became re-acquainted with each other’s bodies, hearts, and lives, swearing each time they touched that it would be the last.

Yet, after each caress, kiss, and shag, Harry became more convinced that they were kidding themselves. Whether or not he was married to Ginny, they would all just have to find a way to make due with what they had, because this would never end.

This was eternal.

Chapter Text

Ginny easily breezed through a dozen or so letters dating between 2002-2005. They were all brief; either detailing upcoming plans for the Trio’s getaway to the cabin, or Hermione’s efforts to work out their apparent many disagreements about how the relationship should develop. Whatever rows they had seemed to be quickly resolved as evidenced by the large gap between dates and Ginny’s own memories of Harry’s more regular trips away.

To Ginny’s recollection, Harry’s schedule had been quite erratic during those two and half years. She remembered with bitterness the many excuses he always seemed to have on hand. Now she knew his excuses had been fool’s gold she had willingly accepted in exchange for the illusion of a successful marriage.

In the months after Ron and Hermione’s wedding, she and Harry had tried repeatedly to make love with little success until one day, she’d awoken to an empty bed. Harry had left her a brief note mentioning something about having to get away for a while. She was forced to face the reality that neither she nor Harry was happy in their marriage.

For her, his persistent impotence was proof of that. The more they had tried, the harder it had become, until it was almost as much of a chore as doing laundry. Those few years had been hard on both of them, mentally and physically.

After skimming a few of Hermione’s brief notes for that time period, she began to read the first letter dated for the year 2006. Her curiosity was piqued. That was the year that their first child James had been born. It had been one of the best years of Ginny’s life. She had been more than ready to start a family. James had been her miracle, a testament of persistence and faith. Just when Ginny had thought her marriage was doomed to a play out as a passionless façade, her first son had come along, inspiring renewed hope.

Her smile was sour as she remembered with bitter-sweetness how happy Harry had been to finally be a father. As a husband, he had transformed overnight, becoming attentive and present throughout the entire pregnancy. His weekend trips with Ron and Hermione became less frequent, and he’d often cancel them to look after her. And despite Hermione’s noticeable absence from any and all celebrations related to the birth of her first child, Ginny had felt at peace and secure in her relationship with Harry during those months.

She had never played favourites with her children—they were all blessings in their own way—but James Sirius Potter would always hold a special place in Ginny’s heart for bringing Harry back to her, even if it was only for a little while.

 

April 22, 2005

Harry,

Ron tells me that you and Ginny were very pleased with our congratulations card and the magic baby wipes. I’m so relieved. Please let me know if either one of you ever need anything. I know a newborn can be a handful. I do feel awful about missing the baby shower and Ginny’s welcome home party, but as you know, my boss is a tyrant and work was unrelenting during those months. I hope neither one of you think that I hold ill will toward Ginny or the baby. I do wish her and the James all the best. Please send her my apologies once again. Hopefully, I will be able to tell her myself, that is if I can get time off at work so that I can attend the next Weasley dinner.

In the meantime, I don’t know if Ron informed you, but we’re trying to conceive as well. Honestly, I don’t know why we waited so long! I think career and life got in the way, but with things starting to settle at work, it seems like the right time.

I was wondering if perhaps, now that you’re a new dad, if you were too busy to come up for our next camping trip? We were planning for the third weekend in May. I’ve been cleared to take that weekend off, but I know Ginny probably needs your help with the baby. Then again, perhaps it could be just the break you need from such stress. I do hope you’re considering it. If not, please don’t feel guilty about it. Family comes first. Ron and I really are happy for you, I hope you believe that.

Hope to see you soon.

Always and Forever yours,

Hermione

July 2004

Ron was content. The feel of the warmth of Harry’s body curled against him, and Hermione’s bosom against his back was just what he needed after a hard week of work. Being an Auror was a lot tougher than he had thought it would be, and sometimes he wished he had taken George’s offer to assist with managing the Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. But he had wanted to be close to Harry, first and foremost. Being an Auror had not only guaranteed that he could see his lover almost as much as they used to back in school, but he could also keep an eye on his best mate, just in case Harry got the inclination to rush into danger recklessly, as he was known to do. Now that he and Harry worked two completely different units though, it made the workweek a lot harder to get through.

Harry shifted against him and then rolled over to face Ron, a sleepy smile on his face, his eyes squinting against the sun shining in from the cabin window. Ron began to trace his hand along Harry’s arm, enjoying the feeling of smooth warm skin shivering under his touch. He could feel Harry’s cock hardening against his thigh and felt his own stir in response. But he really had to piss first. So he reluctantly dragged himself out of bed to make a quick sprint to the loo.

When he came out, Hermione was sitting up in the bed, breasts bare, reading the novel she had stashed next to the bed. Ron shook his head at her insistence to read in the first waking moments of her day.

“If only you would read like that all the time,” he said, his eyes feasting on her nipples peeking out from beneath the book. Hermione sighed, pulling the duvet up to cover her chest as she continued reading.

Harry smiled, pulling the duvet back down to expose her again. Hermione gasped and then scowled at him as he reached over the edge of the bed to find his glasses.

“Should we go hiking or kayaking today?” Hermione asked, not bothering to look up from her book.

“It’s too cold for kayaking, I think,” Harry remarked.

“Can’t we just stay here? Everything doesn’t have to be a great adventure,” Ron said, slightly irritated with Hermione’s insistence to have planned activities during their weekend trip. This was supposed to be their time to relax, not do more work!

“Well, we can’t just lie around and shag all day, Ron!” Hermione chastised.

“And why not?” Ron asked, jumping back into his spot in between the other two.

Harry chuckled. “I think I’m with Ron on this one… this is the only time I get to really relax and get off.”

Ron looked up, grimacing at the last bit. Anytime Harry mentioned anything that made Ron think of Harry and his sister having sex, he felt slightly nauseous.

Hermione frowned. “Harry…”

Harry looked up at the ceiling. “Sorry, Hermione… I didn’t mean—”

“No, Harry, it’s all right,” Hermione quickly reassured. “You should be able to talk about it with us,” she said gently, although Ron could tell by her expression that she was just as uncomfortable as he was by the topic.

Bracing himself, Ron sat up to show a good faith effort to listen to his lover’s problem.

Harry sighed. “It’s just… I didn’t know making a family would be so hard,” he said wearily.

“I guess you two have been trying for a long time,” Ron observed. He hadn’t really realized how long until now.

Harry nodded. “Too long. I think Ginny is giving up on me.”

“Why? Is she blaming you?” Hermione’s voice had an angry edge to it that made Ron anxious. Hermione really didn’t need another reason to gripe about his sister.

“No, she’s not. This is my fault. I’m the one who can’t…” Harry stopped, punching the bed at his side with a closed fist.

Ron stared at Harry with wide surprised eyes. He knew Ginny and Harry had been trying since they got married, and that over two years had passed without them coming close to getting pregnant. He also knew that the strain and disappointment about not having a child had resulted in the subject being unofficially banned at any Weasley gathering, but he had no idea why they couldn’t get pregnant. He had just assumed that something was wrong with Ginny.

“Is it your sperm count or something?” Hermione hesitantly.

Harry shook his head, sitting up, his eyes full of shame. Ron recognized it right away and knew immediately what the problem was. “Oh, you mean you can’t…”

“I can’t get it up… not with her,” Harry finished, looking defeated.

There was a heavy silence, and Ron suddenly felt awful for his sister. He had been enjoying Harry sexually without difficulty for a long time, but Ginny had to suffer through years of Harry’s impotence. Not to mention that it seemed to be all of his and Hermione’s fault. He hoped to Merlin she hadn’t been blaming herself for it.

“I’ve tried everything. I’ve even considered seeing a Mind Healer,” Harry confessed. “But I don’t need some overpaid head specialist telling me what I already know.”

“Poor Ginny,” Hermione said quietly.

Harry nodded. “Yeah, poor Ginny… I suck.”

Ron chuckled. “Yeah, you really do… very well, I might add. But that’s not going to help Ginny get pregnant.”

Harry rolled his eyes, pushing Ron over and grabbing his pillow out from under him. Hermione laughed as he smacked Ron roundly in the face with it.

Ron blinked and shook his head, reaching behind Harry and returning the favour, feeling triumphant he had knocked Harry’s glasses off with his blow.

“You’re going pay for that one,” Harry growled, hitting Ron upside the head several more times. Hermione’s laughter throughout his pillow beating didn’t go unnoticed by Ron, and he decided she was having entirely too much fun at his expense.

“Think this is funny, do you?” he asked, hitting Hermione with his pillow square on top of her head.

“Oh!” Hermione cried. “You shouldn’t have done that!” Turning over quickly, she grabbed her pillow and flung it into Ron’s face just as Harry delivered one more, harsh pillow smack to Ron’s head from behind.

“Doh!” Ron groaned, lunging forward to tackle Hermione, who giggled as he began to tickle her. And then Harry was all over his back, mauling him. Hermione jumped out of bed, laughing, as they began to wrestle. Harry appeared to be enjoying himself immensely, his face was red, his eyes bright with playfulness, and he was smiling. As much as Ron enjoyed seeing Harry like this, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ginny hardly ever saw him like this, and perhaps that was part of the problem.

Ron threw all of his upper body strength against Harry, pushing his lover onto his back. He quickly covered Harry’s body, pinning him effortlessly before swiftly pushing his lover’s wrists to his side. Harry seemed to be helping him in his effort, apparently thinking they were engaged in some sort of rough foreplay.

“You got me,” Harry said, out of breath, smiling up at Ron.

Ron smirked. “Yeah? Well, now that I got you, you have to do whatever I say.”

Harry made a slight but very half-hearted attempt to struggle before giving up. “I guess I do.”

Ron leaned forward, his nose touching Harry’s. He could feel his lover’s semi-hard cock rubbing against his own, and he knew he’d have to get what he wanted from Harry quickly. He could never tease the man for too long—Harry made him weak.

“All right, I want you to promise me something,” Ron said softly.

“What?” Harry asked, licking his lips.

“Make Ginny happy…” Ron said, staring intently into Harry’s eyes.

“What—”

“Lie to her if you have to, but don’t continue making her feel like your problem is her fault, because it isn’t.”

Harry looked confused and exasperated. “What do you want me to do, Ron? You think I haven’t tried everything already?”

Ron remained calm, understanding why his lover was upset. But he was sure he could fix that with his next words. “Next time you and she are… making a go at it, I want you to close your eyes and picture that it’s me and Hermione you’re making love to.”

Harry stared up at him, his breath heavy, his eyes searching Ron’s incredulously.

Ron shifted, rubbing his cock against Harry’s meaningfully. Harry moaned in spite of himself, his mouth halfway open. He loved Harry’s mouth; he had to lick those lips. Leaning in, Ron began to suck on Harry’s bottom lip before continuing.

“I mean it, Harry. Pretend that you’re with us; whatever you have to do to give her what she wants… she deserves to be happy.”

Harry nodded slowly. “All right.”

Ron pulled back, easing the pressure off of Harry’s wrists while grinding himself in a tight circle on top of Harry so that their cocks slid against each other. Harry reached up to pull on Ron’s nipple, eliciting a moan from the redhead.

“Mmmm,” he hummed, leaning over once more to kiss Harry.

“You mean, you want me to pretend I’m running my hands through your hair when I reach up and stroke her like this,” Harry said, grabbing Ron’s hair firmly.

Ron swallowed. “Yeah… something like that.”

Ron’s cock was rock hard now, and when he felt Hermione sinking onto the bed and moving closer to kiss his cheek, he felt his body shake. Her hand moved slowly down his arm until it covered his hand over Harry’s chest.

“Just close your eyes and pretend that her breasts…” she said, bringing Harry’s hands to her breasts, “… are mine.”

Ron watched as Hermione pushed Harry’s hands over her erect nipples, helping him to massage her. He moved to the side, allowing her to replace him on top of Harry. She was already fully nude and slid down over his hard cock easily. Watching her ride Harry always made Ron’s cock rock hard. He began to stroke it as she continued to ride him.

“And when you’re kissing her, think of this,” he whispered as he leaned in to plunge his tongue into Harry’s mouth. He could kiss Harry all day, his mouth was always so responsive to him as he sucked, teased, and bit.

Above him, Ron could hear Hermione’s moan. “And when you’re inside of her… you’ll think of this, won’t you, Harry?”

Harry moaned into Ron’s mouth then, struggling to break free from Ron’s insistent kiss. Finally, Ron pulled away.

“Yes, Hermione… yesss,” Harry hissed, arching up into her as he gripped her hips to hold her steady over him.

Ron smiled triumphantly. It looked like they were going to stay in, after all. Teaching Harry how to perform his husbandly duties for his sister would probably take all day, and that suited Ron just fine.

April 2005

When Harry had informed Ron that Ginny was going into labour and that he’d meet him at St. Mungo’s,a confused rush of excitement, relief and nervousness pushed Ron into action. He promptly fire-called his mum and dad, telling them she was in labour, although he was sure that his mum already knew, and then he Apparated straight away as close to St. Mungo’s entrance as he could get.

Unsurprisingly, Hermione was unavailable due to work. Since Ginny’s pregnancy, Ron’s wife had busied herself with work, missing nearly every major event connected to the approaching birth of Harry and Ginny’s first child. Ron had heard so many excuses over the past nine months about why Hermione couldn’t make it to Ginny’s baby shower, or come to the weekly Sunday Weasley dinners. She had managed to attend a few, but more often than not, whenever Ginny and Harry would be somewhere, Hermione had made herself scarce.

It wasn’t as if Ron could blame her. Sometimes he wanted more than anything to make a quick exit from their gatherings as well. But they were his family, and he knew his mum and dad would suspect something if he’d made himself just as unavailable. Worse than that, Harry would start his self-loathing and pity act again. Ron really didn’t need that right now. If Harry wasn’t happy, it always affected him and Hermione, and Hermione was already in a constant state of aggravation lately.

It didn’t help that Harry had begun pulling out of their monthly weekend camping trips so that he could tend to Ginny, fearful that she would go into labour at any moment. During those times Hermione swore under her breath and disappeared behind a book with nothing to say for the rest of the evening.

So when Harry told Ron that Ginny was going into labour, he was almost relieved that the baby was finally arriving. Perhaps now, things could get back to normal again, whatever that was, really.

“Hey, mate,” Ron said once he made it inside the hospital. He did his best to sound cheery and bright, despite the queasy feeling of his insides.

“Hi,” Harry answered excitedly.

“Well… where is she?” Ron asked, looking around.

Harry looked as if he were struggling to calm himself as he began speaking. “They told me they’d call me when I could come in.”

“Why? Is there a problem?” Ron felt anxious all of a sudden.

Harry shook his head, but concern was growing on his face even as he did. “No, I don’t think so, we did everything we were supposed to, and Ginny was fine when we got here. You don’t think that’s why they asked me to leave, is it? Maybe something is wrong.”

Ron shook his head, patting Harry on the arm. “No, no… I’m sure everything is fine, Harry. It’s probably protocol or something like that,” Ron reasoned.

Harry nodded agreeably. “Right.”

They both stood in silence; Harry was rocking on his feet glancing at the door to Ginny’s room every few minutes.

At last an assistant came out with a small smile and bright eyes. She walked over to where Harry and Ron were standing. “You may see your wife now, Mr Potter. We just needed to run some scans to check some things out.”

“Is everything all right?” Harry asked.

The assistant smiled. “Yes, you’re free to sit with her until the baby arrives.”

Harry sighed in relief and gave Ron a big smile before rushing to the room, with Ron following behind.

“Harry!” Ginny called from the bed. Ron hadn’t realised how pregnant she was until he looked at his sister laying before them. She was huge, and suddenly Ron felt gratitude that she was safe and in the hospital.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked, going to her side and holding her hand.

Ginny nodded with a pained expression.

“It’s all right, you’ll be fine,” Harry said soothingly, rubbing the back of her hand. He leaned over to kiss her forehead and then smooth back her hair tenderly.

Ron felt like he was intruding on an intimate moment. It wasn’t like his sister to reveal things like fear, vulnerability, and sadness. Ginny always put up a strong front, especially around him. Still, he felt a small part of him cringe at the sight of Harry touching her so lovingly. That was something that never went away, no matter how many times he was forced to witness it. He mentally slapped himself for having such jealous feelings. His sister was about to have a baby and here he was, feeling like a jealous school bird. He tried to focus on her instead.

“Ginny, are you in a lot of pain?” he asked.

Ginny forced a small smile, looking up at her brother. “A bit, but they gave me potion for it, it’s starting to work. Once the contractions get closer though, I suspect it won’t help much.”

Ron swallowed. “And to think, I used to envy you for being the girl. I don’t think having your own bedroom is worth it, though.”

“Oh, Ron,” Ginny scolded with amusement.

Harry chuckled, smiling at Ron who shrugged, giving them both a smile back. Seeing Ginny laugh in spite of her pain made him feel better; he felt useful.

“Is Hermione on her way?” Harry asked.

Ron glanced down at Ginny who was staring up at him with a tight expression. He knew that over the past few months, his sister’s relationship with Hermione had become increasingly strained. She had questioned him many times about Hermione’s absences and growing distance from her.

“Not sure. I left a note… but, uh, she’s got a big report due soon, you know they’ve been working her to death down there.”

Harry’s eyes were sad. He gave Ron’s explanation a simple nod. They both stood in silence, looking down at Ginny. One of Harry’s hands was on her forehead, the other covering hers over her swollen belly.

“Mum and Dad will probably be here soon,” Ron said, trying to fill in the uncomfortable silence he felt watching the young couple.

He was actually rather looking forward to seeing his parents right now. Harry was clearly occupied and focused on Ginny, as he should be, and Ron felt like an outsider and arsehole all at once. He wanted nothing more than to be anywhere else but here right now.

“As a matter of fact, I think I’ll go outside and wait for them,” he said. “Probably will need to calm Mum down before she comes in to see you.”

Ginny smiled, reaching out to grab Ron’s sleeve. He turned, waiting.

“Ron, thanks for being here,” she said.

Ron smiled, feeling guilt and warmness colliding against each other as he took in his sister’s grateful smile. He glanced up at Harry briefly before looking back at her. “You don’t have to thank me, Ginny; I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

He left promptly after that. There was no one waiting out there and so he sat, trying to gather his thoughts and bottle his emotions. But no matter how hard Ron tried, the same thoughts began to poke and taunt his insecurities. He had known this was coming, that Harry deserved this bit of happiness and that his sister deserved even more for unknowingly putting up with all of the lies they had fed her. But those rationalisations didn’t subdue his fear that he and Hermione would mean less to Harry now that he was about to be a father.

Ron didn’t realise he had been unconsciously wringing his hands until he was jarred out of his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps. He looked up to see his whole family approaching. Mum and Dad were leading the pack, and after them followed George, Bill, Fleur, Percy, and to his surprise, Charlie as well. They were rushing up the hall; Mrs Weasley’s eyes were frantic and wide when she spotted Ron.

“Is she all right?” she asked loudly, not bothering to wait until she reached him.

“Mum, please calm down,” Ron said in a soothing voice, glancing around at the curious on-looking hospital staff at the reception desk. “It won’t do Ginny any good if you’re panicking. She’s fine; Harry’s in the room with her,” Ron informed.

“Oh,” Mrs Weasley sighed, smiling at Ron, patting his shoulder as she moved past him. Ron was relieved to see that she had slowed down her pace. His father put a hand on his back as they all continued towards Ginny’s room.

Five hours later, Ron was standing next to Harry in the New Infant Ward. All newborns were placed in a special floating stasis that kept them in a warm comfortable environment similar to the womb while their vitals were monitored until they were taken home. Much like a Muggle hospital, they were lined side by side with a large glass window available for new parents and visitors to spy upon the newborns.

Ron eyes were fixed on the baby floating in stasis number twenty-two. He couldn’t believe he was looking at Harry and Ginny’s child.

“Congratulations, Harry,” he forced out, hating the insincerity he felt in that moment.

Harry finally tore his eyes away from the glass, turning to smile at Ron. “Thanks, Ron,” he said, giving his lover a tight hug.

Ron held on, not wanting to let go of Harry, even though he knew he should. They were in public, after all, and this was really a family moment. But he kept holding on, fearing when he would see his lover again.

“Congratulations to you, as well,” Harry whispered.

“For what?” Ron asked, happy to stretch out the hug even longer.

“Ron, you’re an uncle,” Harry said simply.

A lump sat in the back of Ron’s throat as the words sunk in. Of course, he was a part of Harry’s new family, after all. He was related to this child and would always be its uncle. He felt some growing pride in that he was someone’s uncle as well as relief that Ginny had had a successful pregnancy with no complications. But none of that made any of this any easier. Regret, resentment, and the sting of betrayal all bit at the heels of whatever happiness he felt right now. In his wildest dreams, he had pictured Harry and him fathering a child with Hermione. He closed his eyes, marvelling at how something so beautiful and precious as a newborn could produce so many mixed emotions.

“Right, an uncle,” Ron repeated, finally pulling out of the embrace to stare back at the baby lying before them beyond the glass. “Have you two decided on a name yet?”

Harry nodded, pressing his face against the panel so that his glasses clicked against the surface. “We’re going to name him James… James Sirius…”

Ron nodded. Of course James and Sirius. Two people Harry had loved and lost. One, a man who Harry idolised before he even knew him, the other Harry had formed a brief but strong bond with before losing him right before his eyes. A strong pang of sadness shot through Ron as he stared back at Harry, who stood gazing at his son. It was always that way with him. Harry could never have anyone completely to himself; he always had to suffer a loss of some sort, until now. It finally dawned on Ron just how important this baby was to Harry.

“That’s a fine name, I think,” Ron said, feeling tears stinging his eyes.

Harry nodded, smiling, his hands pressed to the glass. “Yes, it is.”

Ron stared back at James Sirius and suddenly everything—his jealousy, Hermione’s resentment, Harry and Ginny’s relationship—seemed inconsequential. New life was here, and Harry was the happiest he had ever seen him in a long time, and for right now, that was enough.

March 2006

When Ron awoke to the smell of eggs and bacon, there was loud classical music playing. Hermione loved classical music, and often put it on when she was cleaning or in a good mood. He was about to rise to go to the kitchen and see what she had made when she entered, carrying a tray of food and pumpkin juice. She came around to his side of the bed, waiting for him to sit up before carefully placing the tray across his lap.

He gave her a strange look and then smiled and rubbed his hands together eagerly as he stared down at what she had prepared. It was a complete breakfast; the delicious scent of it was drifting up, making him salivate.

“What did I do to deserve this?” he asked as he scooped up a forkful of eggs and picked up some bacon to chase them down with.

Hermione beamed, shrugging. “Nothing, I just felt like cooking, and you haven’t had breakfast in bed since… well, never.”

Ron snickered. “And where’s yours?”

“Oh, I won’t be eating with you. I already had mine: a grapefruit, some whole grain cereal, and a glass of orange juice,” she informed.

Ron scrunched up his face. “Since when do you eat whole grain cereal?”

“Since I have to start taking care of my body… I’m no longer eating for one you know,” she smiled, staring down at him with clearly constrained enthusiasm.

Ron coughed, the eggs almost going down his windpipe. “Wh-What?” he sputtered.

Hermione nodded, smiling, her hands gesturing widely as she began to jump up and down. “We’re pregnant!”

Ron was speechless as he stared back at her. It really was happening. After months of trying, Hermione was finally pregnant. He couldn’t believe it; he was going to be a father. A Dad. His excitement quickly bubbled up to the surface, and he lifted the tray of food on his lap to place it to his side. He reached out and pulled Hermione down on top of him.

She laughed, falling onto him. They wrapped their arms around each other tightly.

“I can’t believe it,” he whispered, still in shock but feeling very excited as well.

“Well, believe it.”

Ron closed his eyes, nuzzling against his wife’s neck. “‘Mione, I love you.”

Hermione gave him a firm squeeze in acknowledgement. “I love you, too, Ron.”

They held each other for several moments before Hermione asked, “Do you think Harry will be upset?”

Ron couldn’t think of why Harry would be upset about them having a baby. He had a family of his own now. He actually thought Harry would understand better than anyone.

“I don’t want him to feel left out,” Hermione continued, sounding apprehensive.

Ron shook his head, chuckling. “You worry too much. I’m sure Harry’ll be happy for us,” he said, giving her a firm kiss on the cheek.

Hermione pulled back, smiling as she ran her hands over her belly like she was expecting to feel or see something new there.

Ron smiled at her. “When did you find out?”

“This morning. I did a pregnancy scan,” she explained.

Ron narrowed his eyes, his excitement waning a little. “Those scans are notoriously shoddy, aren’t they?”

Hermione nodded. “Most of the time, yes, but I got this scan from the Ministry’s Head Healer; he and I cross paths quite often.”

His hope restored, another thought occurred to Ron. “Well, I suppose that means you’ll have to reduce your hours at work.”

“Ron, I have cut back my hours,” Hermione said wearily.

He thought on it. It was true; Hermione had been around more, ever since…

“You’re right, I have been seeing a lot more of you lately, ever since Ginny had the baby,” he said pointedly.

Hermione looked down in shame, playing with her sleeve. “I suppose I owe her an apology…”

Ron shook his head, looking at his wife in pity. “Best leave it alone, they have their hands full right now,” he said, wiping a curl away from her forehead and stroking her cheek.

She lifted her eyes and gave him a weak smile. “I was being such a bitch.”

Ron sighed. “Yeah, you kind of were.” He smiled.

“Harry must hate me, but… Ron, it was just so hard watching them go through that.”

Ron nodded. “I know, ‘Mione, I know. I suspect Harry knows, too. Don’t worry about it, Ginny will get over it. I told her you were mental, probably an undiagnosed workaholic, and that I was planning on getting you some help.”

Hermione gasped and then laughed, swatting Ron on the arm. “You didn’t?”

Ron chuckled. “I sure did. It was the best excuse I could think of.”

Hermione’s face sobered. “Do you think she bought it?”

Ron shrugged. “Maybe. Let’s worry about mending those fences later. Right now, we have our own baby to think about, don’t we?”

Hermione smiled, running her hands over her belly once more. “Yes, we do… I think we should tell Harry first, before we let anyone else know.”

Ron nodded. “So let’s owl him now.”

Hermione appeared sceptical. “Ron, you know Harry doesn’t respond to owls. I’ve been writing him for five years and he’s never once shown up just because I asked him to.”

Ron smirked. “Oh, yeah? Then maybe I’ll just have to owl him this time.”

In the next minute, Ron was writing Harry an urgent owl. He sent it off right away then waited by the door.

His anxiety increased as the minutes went by. He had quickly dismissed Hermione’s concerns that Harry wouldn’t take the news of their pregnancy so well, but now that he had time to think on it, he realised that she had a point. Harry had made it no secret during their rows that he often felt like he was a third wheel, even when Ron and Hermione had done everything they could to show him how integral he was to their relationship. For all of Harry’s friendships and popularity, Ron knew that his lover had always been a loner at heart, and now he feared that the news of Hermione’s pregnancy would inadvertently push Harry further away from them.

When Harry arrived twenty minutes later, Ron felt just as anxious as Harry looked.

“You guys really need to move,” Harry said in irritation as he stepped inside their flat. He appeared out of breath.

Ron gave him a puzzled look.

“It takes twice as long to get to here without the Floo,” Harry explained.

Ron nodded in agreement. “Sorry, mate, I expect we’ll have to hurry up and get a real house soon anyway.”

“Why? What’s going on? Why did you owl me? Is Hermione all right?” Harry asked urgently.

Ron nodded. “Yeah, she’s fine… great, even. I just wanted to talk to you…”

“Talk? Ron you owled me to come right away and you never owl! I thought that something was wrong! I didn’t come all this way for a chat!” Harry seemed at his wit’s end, which only increased Ron’s anxiety.

“Well, more than a chat, really,” Ron started.

Harry threw his hands up. “You owled me over here for a shag? For Merlin’s sake, I have a newborn son! Your sexual appetite no longer qualifies as an emergency!”

Ron scowled. He was offended. He had never been that desperate for sex. “No, you git! We have something we’d like to tell you,” he said, glancing at Hermione, who had just entered the room.

Harry glanced between Ron and Hermione curiously, the usual lines of worry beginning to show on his brow. “Well, what is it, then?”

Hermione took a deep breath, reaching to grasp Ron’s hand. He grabbed it right away, giving her a firm reassuring squeeze.

“Mate… ‘Mione and I, we’re pregnant,” Ron said, his eyes fastened to Harry’s.

Harry’s mouth opened and then closed as he stared at the both of them. “That’s… that’s wonderful. Congratulations, both of you,” he sputtered, a slow smile spreading on his face.

Ron felt absolved as Harry spread his arms out slowly and move forward for a hug. He met him full force, gripping Harry tightly. He could feel Hermione pressing in on the other side. They all hugged each other for several moments before finally Harry pulled back.

“So, I suppose that means you’ll be taking it easy at work, then?” Harry said, with one eyebrow quirked at Hermione who blushed in response.

“Harry…”

He smiled, shaking his head and pulling her in for another firm hug. “Shhh… don’t apologize… she’s not even angry with you, and I’m not either.”

Hermione smiled over Harry’s shoulder at Ron and then closed her eyes, relief written all over her face.

“But I’m serious, Hermione, if I find out that you’re putting in crazy hours while carrying this baby, I’ll arrest you for child endangerment,” Harry warned in a deadpan voice.

Hermione laughed as she continued to hold him. While Ron watched the two of them embrace, all previous doubt and worry about how Harry would react or fit into their new life as a parents faded. Ron was going to be a Dad; someone else’s role model.

He shook his head at that thought, grateful that he had both Hermione and Harry in his life to help him along the way.

December 2006

Ron was just about to ask Hermione what she wanted to eat when his mother came over, pushing a plate into his hand.

“Ron! Get up and get your wife a plate!” she scolded. Ron grit his teeth.

Instead of eating at the table, where Hermione would have to sit far from the table because of her swollen belly, everyone had agreed to eat in the living room.

The baby was due any day now, and Ron had considered not coming at all, but Hermione had insisted that they attend. In the months since becoming pregnant, she had been going over and beyond to attend the Weasley family gatherings. She was still trying to make up for her previous absences and repair her relationship with Ginny, who was pregnant again. This time Ginny’s pregnancy seemed to irritate Hermione less, and at every turn she was seeking Ginny out for advice and to discuss whatever it was that women talked about while they were pregnant. Even Ron felt like he was becoming more comfortable with the idea that Harry and his sister were working on their second child, but that didn’t stop him from managing to find something else to do whenever those two got together.

“What would you like to eat?” Ron asked his wife.

Hermione smiled up at him. “Why don’t you get me a bit of everything… and some lemon water as well, please.”

“You got it,” Ron said, looking down at her and their unborn baby with fondness. He really was excited. He didn’t lose a second moving to the dining room where a feast was set up, making sure to get a sample of everything on the table.

When he returned, Ginny and Hermione were in a deep discussion about pre- and postnatal diet and weight loss. Ron tried to suppress a groan. He wasn’t about to touch that with a ten-foot ruler. Hermione had been very sensitive about her weight lately.

“It’s fine, Hermione, you really haven’t gained that much weight. Isn’t that right, Ron?” Ginny asked.

Ron’s eyes burned into Ginny’s, challenging the dare he found sparkling there. From time to time they would play such games. She was the youngest and assigned to torment him, after all.

“I haven’t really noticed any weight gain, to tell you the truth,” Ron fibbed.

Hermione gave Ron a dubious look as she reached for her plate and then smiled. “Thank you, Ron.”

Ron smiled brightly, leaning over to give Hermione a firm kiss on the lips as he cracked one eye open to wink at his sister who rolled her eyes with a smirk on her face.

Behind her, Harry stood up. Ron broke his kiss with Hermione to watch his other lover walking toward the kitchen.

“Uh… I’ll be right back,” he said to both women, turning to follow Harry.

Once in the kitchen, Ron promptly shut the door behind him. He was relieved to see that Harry was the only person there and exhaled loudly in relief.

Harry turned in surprise. “Ron?”

Ron smirked. “I need a break… your wife is one cheeky witch.”

Harry chuckled. “Trick question?”

Ron nodded, walking toward the kitchen table where Harry was standing.

Harry gave him a small knowing smile. “I know what you’re going through right now. Cravings, mood swings… crying.”

“Harry, I can’t wait until it’s over,” Ron said in a rush of desperation. Where had Harry been for the last nine months? Oh, yes, he had his own newborn to tend to.

None of that mattered right now, Ron was just happy to be here with Harry in a rare moment alone. So far during their stay at the Weasley Christmas gathering, wherever Harry was, Ginny and James Sirius followed. Ron and Hermione didn’t stand a chance against those two, and they both had begun to accept their new diminished role in Harry’s life. The weekend trips to the cabin had come to a virtual standstill, and with Hermione’s pregnancy, the thought of getting away had become more like a well-worn memory or fantasy.

“You’ll be fine. Sometimes I miss the cravings and crying. Just you wait ‘til the baby arrives and you’re up at two a.m. changing nappies,” Harry said, patting Ron on the back.

A shiver ran through Ron’s spine from his touch. He closed his eyes as Harry’s hand stopped patting and began rubbing. Ron whimpered softly, and then slowly opened his eyes again. Harry was standing so close. Too close. His green eyes reflected the longing Ron felt.

“I miss you, Harry,” Ron whispered.

He leaned in, enjoying the feeling of his lover’s hand moving down his back to his lower waist as he was drawn into a tight hug. Ron tried fighting his lust as Harry continued to press into him, but he could feel his cock filling out, straining against his trousers.

“Not more than I miss you,” Harry whispered against his ear. Fresh goose bumps broke out on Ron’s neck.

Ron kept his eye on the kitchen door as his hands began to roam up Harry’s back and then to his hair. He pulled hard, just the way Harry liked, eliciting a tiny whimper before he fastened his mouth to Harry’s neck.

“Ah,” Harry gasped, grinding his hard erection against Ron in an effort to create more friction.

Ron began walking them both backwards toward the kitchen counter when Harry began to struggle to pull away. “We can’t, not here.”

“The loo then,” Ron suggested quickly, already thinking of how he would position Harry on the bathroom sink. He couldn’t wait to be inside of him again.

“All right, but we’ll have to make it quick,” Harry breathed, pushing Ron away and turning toward the direction of the bathroom.

“Ron!” came the frantic voice of his mother. Ron froze and Harry jerked, both glancing at the door to the living room. They stared at each other with wide eyes.

“Are you all right?” they heard Ginny say. “Just breathe, Hermione, just breathe.”

“Oh, no!” Ron gasped.

“Ron! Where are you?” Mrs Weasley yelled out.

In the next moment, Ron’s feet began moving faster than his thoughts as he rushed for the living room with Harry on his heels.

When he came through the door, he saw Hermione struggling to stand. Ginny was holding her up on one side and his dad was on the other. Mrs Weasley was shouting out directions as she busied herself spelling items into a bag in preparation.

“There you are!” she said when she saw her son. “Come on, there isn’t much time. You’ll have to take the Floo,” she said, pushing Ron toward Hermione.

“Oh, I do wish you had listened to me; you should have been at St Mungo’s a week ago! The Floo is no way for a pregnant woman to travel!” Mrs Weasley said worriedly, eyeing the chimney and then Hermione anxiously.

“Well, it’s better than Apparating,” Hermione said with a nervous laugh.

When she winced, rubbing her belly, panic filled Ron. He didn’t like the sight of it; he had to get Hermione to the hospital quickly.

Mrs Weasley finished filling the bag, Levitating it toward Ron who promptly grabbed it.

“All right, you best be off. Ron, hold onto her tight and keep that bag close.”

“All right, I got it from here,” he said quickly.

“It’s filled with everything you’ll need, just in case. There’s some pregnancy-safe Calming Draught in there along with a small bin just in case she gets sick. Oh, and I also packed some wipes and a change of clothing just in case her water breaks—”

“Mum, we’re leaving!” Ron said impatiently, making sure Hermione was secure within the hearth before grabbing a handful of Floo powder.

Mrs Weasley nodded anxiously. “We’ll be right behind you, dear.”

Ron tried to give her a reassuring smile as he Flooed himself and Hermione to St Mungo’s pregnancy ward.

Hermione’s water broke somewhere between the Floo connections, so when Ron brought her out, he was in a frantic state. Grateful there were healers on hand to meet them, he began searching the bag his mum had packed.

An older woman approached him. “Mr Weasley, nice to meet you, your mother has put us on notice to be expecting you for a week now.”

Ron stared back at the healer in shock while Hermione continued to take in short, rapid breaths. Although Hermione was trying to remain stoic, Ron could see the pain in her face. Not since the Malfoy Manor had he ever felt so anxious and helpless.

When she faltered, he gasped. He was happy to see the healer respond immediately, summoning assistants. They came with a wheelchair and insisted Hermione take a seat.

“Ron, don’t leave me,” she said, holding onto his hand as they began rolling her down toward a private room.

“I won’t Hermione; I’m not going anywhere,” he promised.

And he didn’t. Ron never left her side once, even when his family showed up.

Fourteen hours later, Harry was by his side. Ron realised that it was nearly a year later, and they had switched places. This time it was Ron’s face that was pressed against the glass and Harry that was asking him questions about names.

“Rose… she’s my rose, Harry,” Ron said absently, staring at his daughter as she floated in stasis number four in front of him.

“She certainly is, but ah… is that name Hermione-approved?” Harry asked.

Ron chuckled. “Definitely; we decided on it months ago.”

Harry smiled, patting Ron on the back. But Ron barely noticed. His eyes were glued to his baby girl.

“Everything is going to be different now, Harry,” Ron murmured.

Looking at the tiny pink face of his daughter, Ron knew in his heart that he’d do anything he could for this little girl. He’d give her whatever he could so that she could have the very best. He was a dad now, and his job was to make sure she was happy. That meant protecting her from pain and heartache as well. He glanced at Harry who gave him a small smile in return.

His thoughts became heavy with worry as he stared at his lover and then back at his baby girl. How would he keep them all close while Harry and Ginny raised their children alongside his and Hermione’s as cousins? How would he shield his baby girl from the web of lies and dark secrets they had created?

Ron wasn’t ready to let Harry go, but he wasn’t ready for the truth to come out either. Now that Rose was here, things would have to change for sure, but at the moment, he had no idea how.

The only thing Ron was certain of now was that life was precious and love was priceless, and he’d do everything in his power to preserve and protect the three loves of his life, for as long as he lived.

Chapter Text

Reading Hermione’s apologetic letter about missing James’ birth brought back more memories for Ginny. Nearly three years of consecutive pregnancies had interfered with her Quidditch career, wearing her body down. Sometimes she regretted quitting Quidditch to be a stay-at-home mother, but most days, she considered the sacrifice of her career well worth it.

Some of the best memories of her life with Harry were during her pregnancies. He was always more of a husband then. Harry had stayed home the longest after the birth of James. But with each successive pregnancy, Ginny’s dream for a perfect family waned a little more. She had begun to settle for occasional moments of satisfaction and convenience. When Albus Severus arrived, and then Lily, Harry’s busy schedule resumed. And so did his monthly camping trips with Ron and Hermione.

Once, Ginny had almost invited herself up to the cabin, but had stopped herself at the last minute. Something told her they wouldn’t act the way they did with one another around her, and none of them, least of all Ginny, would enjoy it. Whatever they did ‘up there’ in the mountains was for them, and she didn’t believe her presence wouldn’t change that.

Her thoughts now lingered on Hermione. Ginny wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t read it for herself. Her sister-in-law was a professional woman, a brilliant witch, and a mother of two, for God’s sake. Still, it appeared that Hermione’s pregnancies had never really interfered with the threesome’s trips to the mountains. Now, the thought of Hermione being a mother made Ginny sick to her stomach.

Everyone in their lives had played second to this love affair. How could Ron live with himself, knowing what he was doing to her? How could Harry look at her and their children with a straight face and say ‘I love you’? And how could Hermione possibly know who had fathered her children?

Even more disturbing to Ginny, was whether Hermione even cared…

 

December 12, 2007,

Harry,

I’m tired of this. I can no longer tolerate seeing you and Ron play these juvenile games. You can’t continue giving each other the silent treatment. Whether this child is yours or Ron’s is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. We all love each other, so we should all love this baby no matter who fathered it. I never thought that something like this would cause so much turmoil. We have to talk. I don’t want this to negatively impact James or Rose. If you haven’t noticed, they are very observant and can discern when you and Ron aren’t getting along. They’re already very close and very intelligent for their ages. Don’t let something like this disrupt our family. Remember that’s what we are, Harry: a family. All of us, not just Ron and I, or you and I. It doesn’t work without one of us.

I promise to continue to do my best and try to talk to Ron about this, but it’s really up to the both of you. You two need to grow up and sort this out together. It would really be great if that occurred before the hols, but especially before I give birth. Please! I look forward to seeing you at the Weasley Christmas gathering in two weeks.

Always and forever yours,

Hermione

August 2007

Hermione was beaming. This was their first real vacation since she had had Rose. She and Ron had been judicious about not over-relying on their parents for baby-sitting their daughter.

At first it had been hard not seeing Harry for their monthly camping trips, but after a while, they all adjusted. They made due with the occasional surprise visit, Harry’s sporadic drop-bys, and seeing each other at the Weasley family gatherings. Sometimes Hermione and Ron even hosted a few of their own. She and Ron had scraped and saved to buy a new home right in Yorkshire; it had a large backyard, garden, a porch with a swing, and thankfully a chimney so they could Floo anytime they liked.

Rose was nearly two years old and quite a handful, leaving Hermione tired but feeling spry trying to keep up with her. She was ready to have another baby. Harry and Ginny had wasted no time working on their second and third, with Albus Severus arriving in May of 2006, then Lily arriving in February of 2007.

It annoyed Hermione how many children Ginny had managed to have in just three short years. She thought it was Ginny’s way of claiming Harry, or at least keeping him around. When Ginny announced she would be resigning from her position as starting Chaser for the Harpies in order to raise her children everyone was surprised. Ginny had always been fiercely independent and active, but now she claimed that her children made her most happy and were her primary interest. But Hermione wasn’t convinced. She had been trying for the longest time to uncover whether Ginny was truly happy being a married housewife or if she was just trying to hold on to her marriage.

One thing was for certain, though: Hermione was no longer jealous of Ginny Potter. She knew without a doubt that the witch did not really have Harry’s heart. Sometimes she even pitied Ginny. But mostly, she just felt irritation.

“What do you think Rose is doing right now?” Ron mused, his eyes thoughtful.

“Hmm, I think she’s running around the Burrow, laughing and pulling down everything in sight,” Hermione chuckled.

Ron smirked. “Nah, mum has that one nailed. After seven children, she’s perfected the Sticking Charm to keep everything child-proof and in place.”

Hermione’s brow furrowed. “Sticking charm? How come I haven’t heard of this?” She scanned her mental files on everything she had ever read about charms.

“Oh, that’s not a charm you’ll read in any book. That’s old Weasley magic,” Ron said proudly. “Where do you think my brothers got half of their inventions?”

Hermione gasped in surprise. “Well, I need to sit down with your mum and find out what other tricks she has up her sleeve. She could save me a lot of trouble, I’m sure.”

“I’d like to learn that spell as well; having three little ones means we can’t ever leave anything lying around the house,” Harry remarked, turning over in bed and pulling Hermione closer to him.

“Well, no one told you to go and have three little ones, did they?” Hermione replied snippily.

Harry sighed, burying his face into her curls. “Would it make you happy if I had had them with you instead?”

Hermione stilled, unable to speak. The thought of having Harry’s child had crossed her mind several times as she had been forced to bear witness to each of Ginny’s pregnancies. The fantasy of a child with Harry always brought a smile to her face. There was a deep longing there that wouldn’t go away, no matter how many times she told herself she had his heart.

Ron sat up, looking down at them. Hermione thought she saw a flash of concern flickering in his eyes, but then it was gone as quickly as it came. A faint suspicion of Ron’s jealousy those many years ago, before they had become official, suddenly crossed her mind, but she pushed it aside immediately. They were all together now, and had been for many years. Jealousy was no longer a part of the equation. She was almost certain.

“Getting greedy, aren’t you?” Ron asked, staring at Harry. “You have three of your own and now you want a fourth? Are you trying to start a Potter village?”

Harry laughed, rolling over onto his side, to perch himself up on his arm. “We could always make one together,” he said seductively.

Hermione turned her head to look up at Harry. His black hair was messier than ever, and his eyes were bright and captivating. They always were early in the morning before he put on his glasses. He was shirtless, and his slender muscled form matched perfectly with the deep and sexy voice he had just used. She scooted closer to him, and ran her hands over his chest.

“Yeah, we could,” Ron said.

There was movement behind her. Hermione glanced back to see Ron climbing out of bed. He quickly pulled down his shorts, releasing his perfectly thick, hard cock. There was a sly smirk on his determined face as he winked at Harry.

Hermione gave Ron a bemused look; what was he suggesting?

Harry shook his head. “It’s a nice thought, mate, but you know as well as I do we can’t both get Hermione pregnant.”

“But we can try, right?” Ron said, sliding into bed to climb on top her. She paused in puzzlement and surprise, and then opened her legs, accepting him without a second thought. It would be fun to try.

Ron wasted no time sliding his entire length into her. With his head buried against her neck, he groaned against her skin. Wrapping her legs around his waist, she urged him deeper with the grip of her embrace. She reached around his broad back, hugging him close, enjoying the feeling of him moving inside of her. It never got old. When he pulled his head up to kiss her, she moaned against his lips.

“Hmm, yes, Ron.”

Ron groaned and then froze. Hermione opened her eyes to see what was the matter. Harry was kissing him. As Ron began to move again, Hermione watched as Harry grabbed her husband’s head with both hands to complete devour his mouth.

Harry’s kisses seem to spur Ron on, and he began to quicken his thrusts, pushing her harder into the mattress. She twisted against him, her need increasing as he continued . Finally, Ron broke the kiss to fall against her. He was about to come. Hermione held on as he raised his head to look down at her. He always insisted that she come first because he loved to watch her face as she did. She closed her eyes, pushing back as hard he gave, work her way towards her approaching orgasm. When Ron pulled her leg up and pushed a little deeper, Hermione’s mouth fell open in a silent scream. It felt like her soul had been touched; her mind went fuzzy as tiny waves of shock exploded inside of her.

“Oh, Ron! Ooooh!”

“Are you going to come for me?” he grunted, continuing to pound into her.

“Yes… yes!”

And she did, twice, the last causing her sink her nails into his arm, one leg gripping his waist as if holding on for life.

Ron fell on top her, his breath coming in rapid takes as he buried his sweaty forehead against her shoulder.

Hermione kept her eyes closed, watching the bright spots fade as she collected her own breath, and then she felt Ron being pushed off of her.

“My turn,” Harry said, climbing on top of her.

She could barely breathe and he wanted to start up with her again?

“Harry, wait…”

“Wait for what, Hermione? Until you have a nice nap and decide you’re ready for me? Nuh-uh, I need to feel you. Now,” he said as he leaned in to suck one of her pert nipples into his mouth.

Hermione moaned reluctantly, pushing against him only to have him push her arms back, pinning them to either side of her head. Her whole body was charged and very sensitive, and every little touch Harry gave made her shiver.

She could feel herself getting excited again as she squirmed under him, enjoying the feeling of struggling within his grip. When she bucked up against him, he threw his weight down on her. She could hardly protest when used his knee to manoeuvre his way between her legs. He wasted no time pushing his hard length against her. Already wet with Ron’s seed and her own arousal, Harry sank into her effortlessly.

“Ah, Harry… Harry,” she moaned, throwing her head back against the pillow, enjoying the feeling of having him inside of her so soon after having Ron. Those were always the best orgasms. If she could accommodate them both, she would, but this was the next best thing.

October 2007

As Hermione left the Healer’s office, both Ron and Harry jumped up to greet her.

“You all right?” Ron asked.

“What did he say?” Harry followed.

“I’m fine,” she said, smiling at the both of them. They both looked so concerned, it was touching and slightly amusing. “He wants to see me again in a few weeks to see how I’m progressing.”

“So it’s true, you are pregnant?” Ron asked.

“Yes, I told you that, Ron. I used the same scan that I used when I thought was pregnant with Rose.”

“I know, but…” Ron paused, glancing at Harry. “Well, did he tell you anything else?”

Harry face was tight. He appeared to be holding his breath as he waited for her to answer Ron’s question. Hermione glanced at Ron and saw that he seemed just anxious as Harry’s. She didn’t like where this was going.

“Like what?”

“Well, like…” Ron pursed his lips, looking around before leaning in to whisper. “Like who the bloody father is!”

Hermione nearly rolled her eyes, scowling at both of them. “Does it really matter?”

“Yes,” Harry and Ron answered together.

Hermione scoffed. Ron and Harry exchanged a look of frustration, apparently in agreement that she was the one being daft.

Instead of giving them an answer, Hermione proceeded to walk out.

When they arrived back at Ron and Hermione’s home, no words were spoken for several long moments. She could sense that the issue was not over, but neither one of her lovers had anything to say at the moment. So she took off her shoes and went to the kitchen to make some tea.

Still silent.

When the tea was ready, she brought it into the living room and picked up her current book of the moment, a spy thriller she had been thoroughly enjoying. It was the perfect distraction from the weirdness and demanding stares being thrown her way.

Ron moved to sit right beside her, brushing her arm as he did. She tried not to groan as Harry moved to take a seat direct across from her. His stare was becoming unnerving.

Finally, “Well are you going to tell us or not?” Ron demanded.

Hermione leaned over and to have a sip of tea. She didn’t know how long she could keep her cool—the very idea that they cared this much about the baby’s paternity was upsetting. “Ron, we’re not discussing this,” she said calmly.

“And why not, Hermione?” Harry pressed.

Hermione tried not to look as irritated as she felt when she put the book down in her lap to give Harry long speculative look. “Why?”

“Why what?” Harry asked.

“Why is it important, Harry?”

“Because it is! A father has a right to know if he’s a father,” Ron insisted.

She thought she heard jealousy she had long believed to be dead in his voice. Her eyes narrowed. “Is this some sort of contest?”

“No!” they both replied emphatically.

“Hermione,” Harry clasped his hands, leaning forward as if he were about to give counsel. “We just… want to know. Why the secrecy?”

“Harry, I’m not keeping secrets,” she explained. “I don’t even know who the father is; I didn’t ask him to do a scan for that. And I’m not sure I want one! Would you care any less for this child if it wasn’t yours?”

She felt a small sense of triumph when his face softened. “No, I mean… no, I suppose not. I…”

“But it would change things, wouldn’t it?” Ron interrupted.

“How, Ron?” Hermione asked warily.

“Well, what if that’s Harry’s baby and I have to raise it as my own?” Ron asked. It was times like this when Hermione wanted nothing more to cast a Silencing Charm on Ron; it’d be better than choking him.

“You picked a fine time to worry about such a thing, Ron! You weren’t thinking of that this summer, were you? In fact, you seemed quite taken with the idea of making a baby with Harry.”

Ron’s eyes dropped, and he looked apologetic, but Hermione knew how stubborn he could and didn’t expect him to back down. He didn’t let her down.

“Well, it’s different now that it’s real… this complicates things…” he continued.

Hermione straightened. “Well, it shouldn’t. We’re together. All of us, and we can raise this child together.”

“Except Harry doesn’t ‘live’ with us, ‘Mione, does he?”

Hermione sighed. “Yes, but he can come over anytime he likes, and when he’s around, this can be whatever we want it to be. We’re always at the same gatherings, nothing has to be different. Not really.”

Harry was looking down at the coffee table—he appeared to be thinking. Finally, he nodded his head. “Perhaps Hermione is right. It doesn’t really matter. Whether I live with you guys or not, we can be a family. Just a different type of family.”

Hermione exhaled in relief, happy that at least one of them agreed. She really didn’t want this to turn into some sort of turf war between Ron and Harry. This was her body, and she rather liked the thought of them all thinking of this baby as theirs.

Ron shook his head, persistent still. “Harry, it does matter. I’m the one married to ‘Mione.”

“Thanks, Ron, I had no idea! I must have blanked out the last five years,” Harry said with bitter sarcasm.

“Well then, I have the right to know whose child I’m raising, don’t I?” Ron said, his voice rising.

Hermione opened her mouth, but Ron put up his hand to stop her. “Listen, both of you, I get it! I understand you want to be one big happy family. It’d be really nice if we could just all pretend that this baby is something we all created, something that has a bit of all of us in it. But it’s not. I’m over that dream now. The fact of the matter is, Hermione and I are married now and we have one child. Harry, you’re married to Ginny, and you already have three kids. Your kids play with ours. What if… what if this baby winds up being their half brother or sister? Isn’t that something we should know?”

Hermione gritted her teeth. She hated it when Ron pointed out something she hadn’t really considered. Truthfully, she hadn’t wanted to take that into consideration. It only brought the tangled reality of their situation to the forefront. And it made her resent Ginny all over again, and Harry as well for the decision to marry and father three children with her. Children that he could have had with her and Ron without complicated consequences. It would have been a bit unconventional, yes, but much less messy than the situation they were in now.

“How would knowing that make any difference?” Harry asked quietly. “It’s not like we’re going to tell them… or anyone else for that matter.”

Hermione nodded. Ron had made a few good points, but she was mostly happy that Harry seemed to agree with her.

“I think it’s best we don’t know. We should keep it like that. We wouldn’t want anything to come out later…” Harry said ominously.

Ron scoffed. “Oh, right. Like the fact that you’re cheating on my sister and knocking up my wife. You’d love it if I never found out whose child this is; that way you can keep your little fantasy of having two wives and two families going. The more children, the better, right?”

Harry’s face became twisted with frustration and barely restrained anger. “Oh, sod off, Ron! Hermione’s right, you had no problem with it while you’re getting your bollocks off. Stop being an immature prat.”

“I will, when you stop being a selfish, greedy git!” Ron shot back.

Ron and Harry glared at each other, the growing contempt in Ron’s face was evident. They were both making Hermione anxious. She had settle this, quickly.

“Ron, the bottom line is, whether this child is Harry’s or yours won’t change the fact that I’m going to have it. Let’s just make the most of this!” she pleaded.

“No, I want to know…” Ron said stubbornly. “I’m not going to bury my head in the sand like we can all live together and get married and have children without worrying about the consequences.”

Hermione looked at Harry for some support, but instead all of his attention was focused on Ron. His face was strained and his jaw was set, like he was trying very hard not to curse his lover out. “And if you find out it’s mine, what then, Ron?” he asked. “Are you going to disown it?”

Ron folded his arms over his chest, shrugging. “I hadn’t planned on it, but if I’m going to be raising your child, it’d be nice to know… just in case there are problems.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Problems?”

“Yeah, like maybe he has thing for breaking the rules at school, or he’ll have messy hair that’s hard to manage. I’d know exactly where it all came from.”

Harry smirked but there was no smile in his eyes. “Yeah, perhaps you’re right… if Hermione is carrying my child, I’d like to know as well. I mean, what if he accidently picked up some of your faults… I don’t want any child of mine constantly putting his foot in his mouth and stuffing his face full of food. I’d want to help him unlearn those things.”

Ron’s upper lip curled.

“Stop it, both of you!” Hermione scolded. “Who says it’s even going to be a boy? It may be a girl!”

“I’d better go,” Harry said, rising from his seat.

“See ya,” Ron said curtly.

Harry ignored Ron. “Hermione, tell me when you get the paternity scan. I’d really like to know.”

Hermione stood up to walk Harry to the door. “Harry, don’t leave like this… Ron’s being a stubborn arse.”

Harry nodded. “Yeah, he is. But he is right about one thing…He has a right to know if he’s raising my child. I’d want to know that, too.”

She wanted to protest, but how could she argue with their feelings? Ron and Harry wanted to know, and she didn’t. So, she remained silent as Harry grabbed a handful of Floo powder and disappeared in flash of green flame.

Behind her, Ron called, “Is he gone? ‘Mione?”

Hermione felt tears brimming. She couldn’t speak. If she did, she knew her voice would break and she’d probably tell Ron to get up and see for his damned self.

Instead, she turned to climb to stairs to go to bed.

December 2007

“Mummy! Mummy!” Rose yelled, looking back at Hermione as she pointed up at the Christmas tree. George was using his wand to decorate, Levitating decorations lazily while talking to Charlie, who was nursing a baby dragon with a bottle just out of arm’s reach of the not-so-little-anymore Teddy Lupin.

George didn’t seem to care about making the tree pretty, just filling it up with as many bright colored trinkets as possible. Hermione watched Rose as her eyes followed the floating objects landing on the tree branches, seemingly held in place by invisible hooks.

“Look, Mummy, look!” The little two-year-old pointed.

Hermione smiled and nodded. “I see, Rose! That’s incredible! Do you know how he’s doing that?”

The girl continued to stare up at the floating objects, finally looking back at her mother in puzzlement.

“That’s magic, Rose.”

“Mah-GIK!” Rose repeated, emphasizing the last syllable as she sounded out the word once again. She had been practicing it for many days now. Hermione was proud that Rose had an impressive slew of words in her arsenal; magic was the latest.

Mrs. Weasley walked in just as George Levitated a red decoration, letting it land lopsided against a bright pink bell. She placed her hands on her hips, staring at the tree disapprovingly. “George, that’s hardly any way to decorate the tree! If you’re not going to do it right, then don’t do it at all!”

“You should have asked me, Mum,” Percy said smartly, giving George a headshake before returning to his conversation with his father about the Ministry’s new laws on Muggle contraband.

Though both Percy and Arthur had tried to include Hermione in on that conversation, the last thing she wanted to discuss right now was work. She managed to talk her way out of it so that she could join Andromeda and Ginny on the couch. They were discussing the use of fairies for play with toddlers.

“Oh, you two, stop it this instance,” Hermione heard Mrs. Weasley scolding Ron and Harry from across the room. She looked up to see Ron’s mother giving them both a motherly stare of warning. “I don’t know what’s gotten into either one of you, but it ends now! I need the two of you to go and tidy Ron’s room for Fleur and Bill. We’ll need all the space we can get with them bringing their little ones, and I have to finish the roast.”

Hermione watched as Ron and Harry sulkily took to the stairs to do as Mrs. Weasley requested.

Several minutes went by and Hermione found it harder and harder to concentrate on Ginny and Andromeda’s conversation. Hermione stared off vacantly as they continued to talk. She wondered what Harry and Ron had gotten into; were they up there cleaning the room in tense silence, or were they being civil and polite? Or perhaps they had made up. She doubted that, but she was grateful to Mrs. Weasley for forcing them to spend some time together. Poor woman had no idea what had caused the rift, but Hermione was just as determined as the Weasley matriarch to see it over with. Whenever they had a row, it affected anyone around them. This was Christmas—Rose’s and Albus Severus’ second, and James’ third—and Hermione was not about to let Harry and Ron ruin it. More importantly, she was pregnant and wanted both of them by her side right now.

She stood up slowly, making her way over to the stairs.

“You all right, Hermione?” Ginny asked in concern.

“Oh, I’m fine, Ginny. I just want to see what the boys are getting into up there.”

Ginny gave her a strange forced smile that made Hermione almost blush. Sometimes she could swear that Ginny could see right through all of them. Hermione paused, fearing Ginny would rise to join her, but instead, she remained seated, seeming to accept that whatever was going on was between the three of them. Ginny always seemed to know when to keep her distance, and for that, Hermione was grateful.

“Well, you tell them I said if they don’t shake hands and make up, neither one of them gets a bite of my special treacle tart.”

Hermione smiled. “That’s better than any incentive I could think of.”

Once upstairs, Hermione listened for raised voices, but there was nothing. In fact, it sounded as if someone had cast a Silencing Charm on floor.

“Ron? Harry?”

There was no reply, so she made her way to Ron’s old room, quietly trying to open the door. It was locked.

“Uh, just wait a sec,” Ron yelled.

“Ron, it’s me!”

“Oh…” The door opened, and Hermione felt her eyes nearly pop out of her head. Their faces were flushed, their hair was wild and messy, and Ron had sloppily tucked his shirt into his trousers, while Harry fiddled with the buttons of his shirt. Hermione nearly laughed, noting that one of Harry’s trouser legs was stuck at the top of his sock.

“How’s it going?” he said almost nonchalantly.

That did it, Hermione had to laugh. It was good to see that they were clearly trying to connect again, although not quite the way she had pictured it.

“Fine, from the looks of it,” she snickered.

Ron glanced sheepishly up at Harry. “Harry and I, well, we had a little chat.”

“Oh? You actually talked, did you?” Hermione teased.

This time Harry cracked a small smile. “We were being silly before. Isn’t that right, Ron?”

Ron nodded with a closed-mouth smile, stuffing his hands in his pockets, like he always did when he was being apologetic. “I suppose you were right, ‘Mione: it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the baby is born healthy.”

Hermione sighed in relief, trying to restrain her excitement. “You matter as well, both of you,” she said.

Her whole body was enveloped as Harry and Ron wrapped themselves around her in a tightly tangled hug. When they disentangled, they all shared a smile of understanding.

“I’m so glad you’re not going to put any more pressure on me about it. I like the idea of all of us being a parent to this child,” she said.

“Yeah, I suppose I do, too,” Ron admitted. “I used to dream about it being that way.”

“Me, too,” Harry said.

“But then, reality set in,” Ron sighed. “And well… look, I’m sorry I made such a fuss.”

Harry patted Ron on the back. “It’s all right, mate. I told you, I completely understand.”

“I’m still a bit worried about it, though,” Ron said softly.

“About what, Ron?” Hermione asked.

“Well, what do we say if the baby comes out with huge green eyes? Or messy black hair… how will we explain that?”

Hermione drew in a breath. She had been thinking about that ever since she’d found out she was pregnant. “Let’s just take it one day at a time, all right? If it needs explaining, then…”

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Harry finished resolutely, looking back at Hermione.

Ron gulped. “All right, but what if there’s some sort of disease or genetic defect, and we need medical information, or an organ donor who is a relative... “

Hermione frowned.

“Well, it’s a small possibility, but could it could still happen,” Ron mumbled.

Harry smiled. “Ron, if that happens, I promise we’ll get the paternity scan.”

“But…”

“Ron!” Hermione and Harry both exclaimed.

“I’m just thinking that—”

Hermione laughed as Harry silenced her husband with a firm, wet kiss.

She joined him, planting one on the side of Ron’s face, her hand reaching down to fiddle with his trouser buttons. Ron moaned, reaching out to grab one of Hermione’s breasts. Harry’s hand had found its way to her other breast as they all began walking backwards, towards Ron’s bed. Hermione was just about to reach down to grab her husband’s erect cock when they heard heavy footsteps climbing the stairs.

“Ron? Harry? Hermione? We need you downstairs in the kitchen now… Bill and Fleur are here, dinner’s almost ready, and I need help setting the table up,” Mrs. Weasley called.

They all scrambled to fix themselves, putting as much space between each other as possible.

“You hear me?” Mrs. Weasley said, now right outside of the door.

“How could we not hear you, Mum?” Ron called.

Mrs. Weasley opened the door. Hermione tried to give the woman her most curious and innocent expression.

“What are you kids doing in here? It’s just as messy as it was when I left,” Mrs. Weasley said, looking around the room.

Hermione followed her stare. The room was a fright.

“Molly, we were talking… I think Ron and Harry had some making up to do,” Hermione explained truthfully.

Mrs. Weasley smiled. Hermione knew that had been the real reason she had made Ron and Harry work together.

“Well, I suppose that’s good news,” she said.

“Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll clean this up,” Ron said quickly.

“I’ve got it, Ron,” Hermione offered, pulling out her wand and Levitating several items in their proper place very quickly.

Ron shook his head, staring back at his wife in admiration.

“You sure are quick with the wand,” Mrs. Weasley said, impressed. “Now, I need you three to come down. Dinner’s just about ready, and the table needs to be set.”

Hermione, Harry and Ron shared a brief smile before following her out the door to meet the rest of the Weasley clan downstairs.

March 2008

Hermione focused on her breathing as she tried to relax; well, as relaxed as woman could be when her contractions were this painful. The early ones always hurt like hell, and she just wanted it all to be over with. Her water had broken some time ago, and every movement, every spasm felt like the final signal to the baby’s arrival. But she knew better - they weren’t coming quickly enough. After having one baby and reading everything she could about childbirth, Hermione knew she was in for a long labour.

Ron was being a dutiful husband, running about, asking her if she wanted anything, and giving her small, sympathetic smiles. She could see it pained him to watch her like this, but a part of her was happy to see him uncomfortable. It was an awful thing to think, but there it was, that was how she felt.

She groaned as another painful spasm left her gasping.

“Hermione, are you all right? Harry asked, jumping up to his feet to check on her. “Perhaps we should get the Healer now,” he said anxiously.

“No, Harry, I think they’re tired of running in for false alarms. I wasn’t ready six hours ago, and I’m not ready now. Why is everyone out there is just hanging about? They could go home and come back and I’d still be pregnant. Oh, bloody hell!” she groaned, throwing punches at the invisible protective wards on the side of her bed. She closed her eyes to shield her vision from the lights that suddenly seemed too bright for a hospital room.

“Come on, already!” she heard herself blurting out.

“Uh… Ron,” Harry said softly.

“What?” Ron whispered as if that would prevent Hermione from hearing. Honestly, sometimes he was such a—

Hermione held her breath. There was no sound. Perhaps they were talking silently with their lips, or using sign language. Maybe they had even left. She didn’t want to open her eyes to see, it seemed to hurt a little less with them open. If only she could just black out, the pain would fade, and perhaps she’d wake up with the baby in her arms.

“Hermione?” Ron said gently.

“What, Ronald?” she snapped, opening her eyes to see Ron staring back at her apprehensively. Suddenly she felt like crying. She was being so snippy. This wasn’t his fault. Well, maybe it was…

“Oh!” she cried out as the baby delivered another hard kick to her belly. Her hands flew to her stomach as she tried to soothe the pain.

“I should go get the Healer!” Harry said, turning for the door.

“Harry, no! They said they’d come and check on me soon, I don’t want to be nuisance. I’m not ready yet… I’m just in a lot of pain.”

“‘Mione, I thought they gave you some labour draught?” Ron asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. It was obvious that whoever invented labour draught had never actually been in labour.

“That shit doesn’t work very well. I probably could have brewed something much better for myself,” she complained.

She heard chuckling and glanced up to see Ron and Harry sharing a laugh.

“Are you laughing at me?” she asked sternly.

“Well, yeah, you said shit!” Ron said in wonderment. He appeared thoroughly amused.

“So what?” Hermione snapped. “It’s a shitty potion, and it didn’t do shit for me, because I still feel like shit!”

This time the laughter that followed was loud and hearty, and she pursed her lips as she watched Harry and Ron bowling over on either side of her.

“It’s not funny! I’m in the worst pain of my life, and you two are having a laugh about it… yes, go on, laugh it up,” she grumbled, trying to keep a serious face. It really wasn’t funny, well, not entirely, besides the fact that she hardly ever cursed and definitely never used the word shit. But it had been the perfect word to describe how she felt right now. She tried to fight the smirk growing on her face, but couldn’t. And for a brief moment, she forgot about the pain, until she started to laugh.

“Owww!” She winced as another contraction squeezed her innards. She wouldn’t be laughing again anytime soon.

Her cry quickly sobered both Harry and Ron, who exchanged worried looks.

“Damn it!” Hermione cursed, turning her face to the side and gritting her teeth as she tried to think of anything other than the approach of the next painful contraction.

“Uh, well, have we chosen a name for the baby yet?” Harry asked quickly, giving Ron a meaningful look.

She could see he was trying to distract her from the pain. She smiled his effort and tried to focus on answering his question. “I have a few in mind. Let’s see—”

“So have I!” Ron interrupted.

“Oh?” Hermione asked, turning to regard him. “Since when?”

“Since now,” Ron answered. “I was thinking it should be something that represents all of us.”

Hermione smiled. “Oh, Ron, that’s a lovely idea!”

Ron smiled, glancing at Harry. “If it’s a girl, I fancy the name Romainarrella!”

“Romain—what?” Hermione repeated in shock. What a hideous name!

“And if it’s a boy, I was thinking we could call it Romainarry.” He smiled proudly at his choices.

Hermione stared at him, dumbfounded. “Ron, those are the most ridiculous names I’ve ever heard!”

Ron shrugged, looking at Harry. “What do you think, mate?”

“Well, I was thinking of something more symbolic, a name that stands for something meaningful.”

Hermione sighed in relief; at least one of them was thinking like she was. “Harry, that’s a great idea, perhaps—”

“For the boy,” Harry continued, disrupting Hermione. “I thought we could name him after someone who’s made a big contribution to our lives… Hagrid.”

What?” Hermione lifted her head to peer at Harry closely. Was he being serious?

“Hagrid Severus,” Harry finished.

Hermione scoffed. “Harry, you already have a child named after Snape, remember?”

Harry shrugged. “Well, the git did sacrifice a lot for me. You can never honour a man too much,” he said with a straight face.

“Harry!”

“And if it’s a girl,” Harry continued. “I fancy the name Minerva Tonks.”

Hermione opened her mouth, unsure of what to say, she didn’t want to offend Harry, Tonks had been a sweet soul and she Professor Minerva McGonagall had always been a role model to her, but that name, it was—

Hermione’s eyes narrowed as she saw Ron and Harry exchange a mischievous glance before bursting out into laughter once more.

They had been had been ragging on her the whole time.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Ha, ha, ha, very funny, you two…”

Ron tried to put on a serious face as he straightened up. “Oh, come on now, ‘Mione, it got your mind off of the pain, didn’t it?”

Hermione shook her head, smirking at the lengths they’d go to make her feel better.

“Seriously, Hermione, what names did you have in mind?” Harry asked.

She smiled, excited to be able to discuss this finally. She hadn’t brought it up out of fear of appearing too controlling. They had already granted her wish of not having a paternity scan.

“Well, I was thinking if it’s a girl, I’d like to name her Joan,” she offered.

“Joan? What kind of name is that?” Ron asked.

“It’s the name of a 15th Century Muggle female warrior, Joan of Arc. She was accused of being a witch, and they burned her alive at the stake. Well, it was more complicated than that, but the point is, she’s a heroine, and very brave. “

Ron looked up to the ceiling, seemingly contemplating. “Joan… I like it. All right, Joan it is… and the boy’s name?”

“For the boy, I was thinking of Muggles who stood for social justice but also represented culture and enlightenment, and the name Victor Hugo kept popping up.”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “The novelist?”

“Yes, the novelist. He was also a great poet and playwright, and he influenced many classical musicians, including my favourite, Beethoven. Not to mention he was an outspoken political activist that championed the rights of others.”

“Figures,” Ron mumbled. “I don’t like the name Victor, though…”

Hermione frowned. “Why not? Oh…” she whispered, remembering Ron’s disenchantment with Viktor Krum. “Ron, that was years ago.”

“Not because of him… I just don’t like the name,” Ron said, his ears turning pink.

“Well, I like the name Hugo… it’s sort of a manly name,” Harry said.

Ron scrunched his face. “I’ve never heard of anyone with that name.” He contemplated for a minute before nodding. “All right. Hugo it is.”

Twelve hours later, Hermione was surrounded. Around her stood her parents who held Rose, Andromeda, Ginny, James, and Lily, and nearly the entire Weasley clan—save Charlie and Percy, who were both at work.

And, of course, on either side, pressed next to her bed stood Ron and Harry. As she looked down at her son, Hugo, she couldn’t help but look for it. Her eyes scanned for any proof of who could have fathered him. But Hugo’s eyes weren’t blue or green, they were brown, like hers. He had a spot of hair on his head, but it wasn’t black or red; it, too, was brown, at least right now. She knew that the hair and eyes of babies were known to change.

Oh, why did it matter? Her eyes began to water as she gazed upon her son, feeling caught somewhere between adoration and self-loathing.

What had they done?

Would she ever be able to have a conversation with him about this? What if Harry was the father, did Hugo have a right to know? And if they decided he should know, when would they tell him; when he was old enough to understand, or when they were brave enough to face the fallout from the truth being told?

A large tear fell on his face, and she wiped it gently from his forehead.

“Hermione, you’re supposed to cry during labour, not after,” George teased.

They all laughed, and so did she. As everyone continued to gush and talk excitedly around her, Hermione’s attention remained focused on her son. She glanced up briefly to see Harry and Ron staring at him as well. They wore the same speculative looks she had held only moments before. She knew that they were curious and looking for proof of themselves in Hugo’s face.

But they would all have to wait and see. Trying to put it out of her mind, she smiled and leaned in to give her baby a kiss. Right now, everything was as she had dreamed it could be; Hugo was theirs.

Chapter Text

Ginny let out a loud sob, not bothering to wipe her face as fresh tears began to flow. She had to get it all out now, before the children came home. She knew she’d have to put on a brave face for them, despite the fact that she had no idea when Harry would be coming home or what she would say to him once he did.

She was beyond angry with the three of them and anxious for her children. But most of all, she was clueless about how she could go on, knowing what she knew now. How would she confront this? Besides the family Harry and she had made together, they also had a large extended family which included Ron and Hermione. All of their children were closer than cousins, more like siblings, and if the last letter she read was anything to go by, for all she knew, one of them really was.

She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was 3:00 pm. James and Albus would be home from school a little before 4:00 pm, and then Ginny would have to go and pick Lily up from pre-school. Harry and she had both agreed that the children should attend Muggle primary school before they attended Hogwarts. They felt that it was the best way to educate them about Muggle culture and the importance of tolerance. But right now, Ginny desperately wished that all of her children were old enough to attend Hogwarts; they’d be protected by the distance that the wizarding school provided, and far away from this mess.

After reading all of the letters Hermione had sent in the past year, Ginny had surmised that Harry’s extended absence was no accident or careless mistake. The tone in each of the letters had become increasingly more demanding and possessive.

I hate the charade! And our monthly trips to cabin just aren’t cutting it anymore.

Hermione sounded as if she were ready to announce their relationship to the family.

Ginny didn’t know whether to feel relieved or combative at the thought of it. It was clear that Ron and Hermione shared a special bond with her husband, a large part of his affections that she could never have, but Ginny was a fighter at heart and didn’t want to simply walk away like a jilted lover.

But, Harry had walked away first. Again and again, every month he walked away to spend time with them. There really was nothing to salvage or fight for. Harry had made his decision, and it was time for her to be strong and make one as well.

As she thought of her children, and the best course of action to minimize the damage, she was jarred from her thoughts by a gasp and heavy thump nearby. She looked up. Harry was standing in the doorway, his camping bag on the floor beside him. Sitting in the midst of Hermione’s letters, Ginny felt no guilt at all for breaking into the chest he had spelled locked. Taking in his flushed face and tightened jaw, she could tell that he was surprised but also guarded and cautious. He was probably ready for her to launch into a tirade or perhaps throw a tantrum, and she considered drawing it out as long as possible. She could play the vindictive wife, keeping him in suspense about how she would exact her wrath. But that was for a stronger version of herself; right now, Ginny was simply too tired to play that game.

For the last six hours, she had experienced every possible emotion a betrayed lover could feel: denial, disbelief, regret, anger, rage, fear, despair, and even hate. But now with Harry standing right before her, the only thing she could feel was a deep sadness that left her feeling depleted and weary.

They stared at each other for several long minutes, Ginny frozen by her own ambivalence about what she should say or do next, and Harry seemed to be waiting for her to make the first move.

Finally, she spoke. “Did you ever love me?”

Harry sighed softly. “Yes, Ginny, and I still do.”

“But not the way you love them,” she said. It wasn’t even a question; she already knew.

Harry gazed back at her unapologetically. “Ginny, you’re a fantastic wife and a wonderful mother, and I’m… I’m an arsehole. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was an arsehole, but now you know.”

She didn’t know what to make of Harry’s demeanour. He appeared almost relieved, and she didn’t know whether to be hurt or angry by that.

“Yeah, I gathered that much,” she said, looking down at the letters. She picked up one of the more recent ones, holding it up. “So is Hugo yours?”

Harry swallowed. “I… I really don’t know. None of us do.”

Ginny shook her head. “Still?”

He remained quiet.

She felt tears welling up once more, her eyes were already sore from hours of crying and wiping them dry, and the tears burned as they began to cloud her vision. She was tired of crying. She was not one of those women who cried and bared all of her emotions before the man who had broken her heart. Harry had taken enough from her.

She sniffed, wiping her face before closing her eyes and running her hands through her hair to pull it back into a makeshift ponytail before covering her face with her hands. She needed to think. What now?

“I’ll understand if you want me to move out…” he started.

She groaned, her anger igniting once more as she dropped her hands to stare up at him plainly. “Move out? Just like that, huh? Well, that was easy…”

Harry shook his head. “No, it’s not easy, Ginny. I’ve had over ten years to think about this.”

Ginny chuckled sardonically. “Right. Ten years, Harry. You’ve had ten years to do the right thing, before we got married, before we had children. And now, you offer to move out?”

Harry reached out to grip the doorknob as if bracing himself. “You’re right, I should have done this sooner, and I tried to at first, but not hard enough. Ron and Hermione didn’t believe we could make it out in the open, and I really did love you. It may have been different, but it was still love, so I gave up on them for a while. I thought this would all work itself out, but it started up again. And the longer it went on, the more complicated it got…” His voice trailed away as he stared off.

Ginny continued to watch him, waiting for him to finish. She was unable to say anything at all; she was truly speechless.

Harry appeared uncomfortable with her non-response, shifting on his feet, his eyes focused on the floor.

“I really am sorry, Ginny… I hope you believe that. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I thought that divorcing you to be with them would somehow be worse.”

Ginny was baffled. “How could that be any worse than this, Harry? What—”

“I didn’t want this to destroy our family!” he blurted out. “I thought… I was protecting you and your parents. And then when the kids came along, I thought divorcing you would be messy… I didn’t want to hurt them… I just wanted what was best for them…”

“What’s best for them is to have a father who doesn’t lie and cheat, Harry!”

Harry nodded dejectedly. “You’re right. I know that now. What I’ve done, it’s inexcusable. We should have gotten a divorce ages ago.”

She felt a slow ache growing in her gut as the reality that this would always be staring her in the face began to really sink it. The consequences of it for everyone were almost suffocating. She stared back up at him, unblinking, willing new tears not to fall this time.

“Harry, a divorce isn’t going to just make this go away. What you, Ron, and Hermione have done is much bigger than that. Ron is my brother! And you… you’d still be around visiting the children, you’d be there at Christmas, family dinners… Hell, Harry, you are family, and probably always will be… I’ll never be able to really get away from you, or them or this… and neither will the children.”

“They don’t have to know,” Harry said quickly.

Ginny chuckled in spite of herself. Harry gave her an anxious, puzzled look.

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you? For everyone to believe you’re the saint hero while I kept your dirty little secret tucked away like letters in a locked chest.”

Harry narrowed his eyes then, his lips drawn in a thin line. He had some nerve to appear suspicious of her! Well, if he wanted a fight, she was ready.

But what he said next completely disarmed her.

“Ginny, what I’d like is to protect James, Albus, and Lily from scandal. I don’t want them to be teased when they go off to Hogwarts. I’d like for them to have a childhood full of good memories about their family, not fighting and separation. I’ll do anything I can to give them that as long as I can.”

Ginny closed her eyes, hating that she agreed with him. No matter what had occurred between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, what she wanted most was to protect her children as well as her niece and nephew from the ugly truth. It was a truth that had the potential to destroy the Weasley family—at the very least, change life as the children knew it, forever.

Both she and Harry glanced up at the large window behind her at the sound of James and Albus’ school transport bus pulling up in front of their home. They would both be running through the door any minute, and she and Harry had yet to really discuss where to go from here. Harry pushed his bag to the inside of the door with his foot before closing and locking it.

“What do you want to do?” he asked in a soft, imploring voice.

Instead of replying, Ginny quickly began to gather the letters, stacking them neatly.

Harry continued to watch her as she collected them and then placed them back inside the chest.

“I can tell them that I forgot something and I have to head back out… at least until we get a chance to talk about this some more,” he offered.

Ginny didn’t even glance at him as she locked the chest back up and slid it back in place inside of the closet. She set a large box of old papers on top of it and then took a deep breath as she struggle to stand. Once on her feet, she shut the closet door and then finally turned back around to face Harry.

“Mum? Mum?” They heard James and Albus call.

Harry’s eyes were fixed on Ginny, his body posture stiff with anticipation. Ginny sighed.

“One second, darling!” she called back. “Dad and I are talking…”

“Dad!” they both yelled in excitement.

“Dad’s home!” she heard Albus cry.

“That’s right, I’m home,” Harry answered. “We’ll be right out, all right?”

“Okay!” they both called back.

There were things that needed to be done, and those things didn’t require any emotional wrangling or thought. They weren’t complicated or wrought with unpleasant consequences. For now, she would throw herself into doing what came easily.

“I need to pick Lily up and then get started on dinner. The potatoes needs to be cut, the salad needs to be made, and it takes forever to prepare the chicken,” she said, trying to ignore the perplexed look on Harry’s face as she made a mental list of all the things she had to accomplish before the night ended.

“Everything should be ready in about an hour and a half. In the meantime, if you wouldn’t mind, there’s a pile of laundry waiting to be done, perhaps the boys can help you with it.”

Harry nodded, his expression stunned and contemplative.

She walked towards him, hoping he’d just step aside. She didn’t think she could handle it if he tried to touch her right now.

He seemed to sense he was on tenuous ground with her and stepped aside immediately, opening the door for her to exit. She paused. If it was going to be this way, if she was going to play this game his way for even just a little while longer and help keep his nasty affair hidden from the world, then she deserved a bit of compensation. It was the least he could do.

“Oh, and I think I’ll start up training again. I know it’s going to be hard, but I want to give the Harpies another go,” she mentioned offhandedly, giving him a challenging glare.

Harry’s eyebrows rose considerably but he said nothing, waiting for her explanation.

“The kids are in school all day and I’m ready to resume my life again. We can figure out the details of how we’re going to manage the rest later.”

Harry nodded quickly. “OK, Ginny. Whatever you want. I’m sure you probably miss—”

But Ginny was already walking out of the door, not bothering to wait to hear the last of Harry’s concession. She didn’t need to; she already knew he’d do anything he could to make this work. Besides, she needed to hurry if she was going to pick Lily up from school and have dinner done in time.

And, the chicken really did take forever to prepare.

~~~*~~~

Harry wasn’t surprised that Ginny had turned her back on him before he had even finished his sentence, but he was taken aback by her response. He felt rooted to the floor as he stared at the ajar door. Before he could even process what she had just said and what it meant for their family, he heard running feet approaching.

James and Albus came pushing their way through the door to clobber Harry, knocking him back into the room.

“Dad! You’re back!” Albus cried, burying his head into Harry’s stomach.

“Yeah, I am,” Harry said, hugging both of his sons.

“How was it? Did you catch any fish?” James asked.

Harry smiled. “Just one, and I gutted it and ate it.”

Both boys pouted.

“So you didn’t bring any back, then?” Albus asked, looking disappointed.

“I’m afraid not,” he said, feeling guilt tug at him once more.

“When are you going to teach us how to fish?” James asked.

“Soon… real soon,” Harry promised. “And I did manage to bring you back something else.” He reached down to grab his camping bag and pulled out two Native American Sioux tribe made dreamcatchers: one with blue feathers for James, and the one with red feathers for Albus.

He loved the wide-eyed excitement that always came when he would bring back gifts for his children. It had become a tradition since they were old enough to notice his monthly weekend absences. It helped ease his guilt momentarily and made coming back easier for all of them. Children were very forgiving, although the questions about where exactly he would go and why they couldn’t go with him had been increasing lately. Harry knew that eventually he’d have to plan an outing just for them.

“Cool!” James said, grabbing his and holding it up. “What’s it do?”

“It’s a dreamcatcher. Some Native American tribes used these as charms to get rid of nightmares. You can hang them over your bed to catch all of your bad dreams,” Harry explained.

James was staring at the object sceptically . “Native American? Does that mean you went to America to get it?”

Harry chuckled. “No, James. Native Americans came to Britain a long time ago, and left their influence. They even have a few descendents here.”

James studied the dreamcatcher more closely. “Does it really work?”

Harry shrugged. “That depends…”

“On what?” both boys asked.

“On whether or not you believe magic is real.”

“Of course it’s real,” James said matter-of-factly.

“What do you think, Albus?” Harry asked.

The shorter boy nodded in agreement. “Magic has to be real; our whole family does it.”

Harry nodded approvingly. “Right. But believing is half the trick of it.”

“I thought you needed a wand, too?” James asked.

Harry chuckled. “Well, that helps…”

Albus held his dreamcatcher up, marvelling at it. “Can we hang it up now?”

Harry smiled. “Sure. Just makes sure you don’t make too many holes trying… you know how Mum feels about holes in the walls.”

Albus grinned, running past James out the door. But James didn’t budge, and his smile began to fade as he lowered his dreamcatcher and peered up at his father in speculation.

Harry frowned. “You don’t have to hang it if you don’t want to.”

“Did you get one for Lily?” James asked in concern.

Harry smirked, putting his hand on his son’s head. “Of course, I could never forget her.”

But James still appeared troubled.

“What’s wrong, James?” Harry asked in concern.

“Dad… why don’t you ever take us with you when you go away?”

As Harry looked down at his son, he knew he was too young to hear the truth and too old to dismiss anything that was said. The lie would really begin here, and whatever he said he would have to keep repeating. And Harry really was tired of lying. He had seen the bad fruits of it too many times, most recently in Ginny’s tear streaked face.

He stooped down to meet his son eye to eye. “James, you remember when we first moved here?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember how you begged off for your own bedroom?”

James nodded.

“Why was that so important to you?”

“Because I didn’t want to share everything with Albus any more,” James replied.

Harry nodded. “That’s right, because you needed your own space and time to yourself, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, Daddy needs that, too. When I go away, that’s my time to myself.”

James frowned. “You need to get away from us? Do we make you angry?”

Harry shook his head, pulling his son into a firm embrace. That was the last thing he’d ever want any of his children to think. “No… never. I know this is hard to understand, but sometimes a dreamcatcher isn’t enough, sometimes adults need a special place all their own to dream. Do you understand?”

James stared back his father before slowly nodding. “I think so. Where you go… does it really help you dream?”

“It helps me be a better person, I think,” Harry answered truthfully.

“Can we go with you some day?” James asked, watching his father closely.

Harry smiled. “I’ll do one better than that. How about we go in a few weeks?”

A huge grin grew on his son’s face, and Harry’s heart felt much lighter for it.

“Do you really mean it?” James asked excitedly.

“Yes, I mean it… and I’ll teach you, Albus, and Lily how to fish while we’re up there,” Harry promised.

James’ face grew sceptical again. “Lily won’t like fishing. Girls are scared of worms and stuff like that.”

“Who told you that?”

James shrugged. “The girls at school always scream and make icky faces when they see one.”

Harry huffed. “Well, I’ll have you know your mum isn’t scared of worms… or snakes.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really, and I think your sister may surprise you as well,” he said with confidence. “Now go make sure your brother doesn’t put a hundred holes in the wall trying to hang his dreamcatcher.”

“All right,” James said, giving his father one more hug before turning and running out the room.

Once James was gone, Harry found he had to put his hands out to brace himself against the wall as he gradually stood up. He closed the door again, walking slowly to the closet and then pausing to stand before it.

How many times over the years had he gone and left her for two to three days at a time? How many times had he spontaneously crashed at Ron and Hermione’s during the week?

He couldn’t even begin to count. Each time that he left he felt a tug of guilt, but not enough to keep him away. The guilt was always the strongest when he’d return, especially after the children were born. But he had learned to accept that as a part of his relationship, too. This was his burden to bear for the decisions he had made. He had grown used to the constant dull ache of guilt. It was always there, hidden under his well-crafted rationalization that this was the only way to keep everyone happy.

He opened the closet door to stare down at the chest lying underneath the box Ginny had placed on top of it.

He had always known this day would come. He was actually surprised it hadn’t come sooner. Why had he kept the chest so accessible? He had charmed it locked, but even he knew that if Ginny wanted to break into it, she could have. Perhaps somewhere deep inside, he had wanted her to discover it. It certainly had been easier than telling her the truth himself.

Truthfully, he was relieved that Ginny knew now. The past weekend had been most contentious, forcing him to stay an extra day. Hermione and Ron were both growing tired of the once a month weekend trips. They wanted Harry to come over more and play with Hugo. Hermione, especially, had become more insistent on him spending extra time with them, and she had even come up with a number of a ways for Harry to try to split his time between the two houses.

Harry wanted that as well. And while Hugo looked every bit like Hermione, hiding any evidence of his or Ron’s paternity, sometimes he thought he saw shadows of himself in the boy. Hugo was rambunctious and enjoyed exploring things, sometimes recklessly ignoring Ron and Hermione’s rules. Of course, he was also four years old, so Harry wasn’t sure if the child’s behaviour had anything to do with him, but still it was nice to think of Hugo as his.

As he sat alone in his study, one concern overshadowed everything else. What would Ginny’s next move be? Would she wake up in the middle of the night and leave him, taking the children with her? Perhaps she’d run and tell her parents everything and go through with a divorce.

She had been right about one thing: a divorce wouldn’t make any of this disappear. He couldn’t hide from her, the Weasleys were his family, now more than ever, and he had no intentions of moving too far away from his children.

Over the years he had thought about giving up Ron and Hermione many times, and each time he talked himself out of it, or tried and failed. Being with them came as naturally as chasing a Snitch or breathing, and without them, he felt off kilter, like a piece of himself was missing. And while Ginny’s stoic response had unnerved him, the fear of living a life without Hermione and Ron scared him even more.

He didn’t know what lay in store for him or his family now. He couldn’t even begin to imagine what life would be like now if Ginny decided to stay and keep quiet. He’d have to continue to be a husband to her while making time to be with his other family and his children.

That would mean he’d have to work a bit harder to make sure his children never thought his absence was a way of punishing them or worse, rejecting them. More than anything, Harry wanted them to have the childhood he never had. He would make sure they got to experience everything they wanted to and always knew that they were loved.

He would show them how to fish, how to camp, how to be independent thinkers who lived life to the fullest, not worrying about what other people thought of them. They’d know love and be courageous enough to love freely when they found it in others, in whatever forms it took.

He wanted them to be better than him.

~~~*~~~

Two hours later found them all sitting at the kitchen table. Ginny sat directly across from him, and his daughter on his left and his two sons sitting side by side on his right.

“Dad said we’re going to camping soon,” James blurted out after helping himself to more mashed potatoes.

“Oh?” Ginny questioned, staring back at Harry meaningfully.

“Really? Dad, is that true?” Albus asked.

Harry nodded. “Yes, camping and fishing.”

“Fish? Like in the pet shop?” Lily asked in amazement.

Harry smiled. “Yes, like those.”

Lily’s enthusiasm was apparent. “I want a big one!”

“You’re too little to fish,” Albus said.

“Am not!” she protested.

“Are, too!”

“Albus, she’s only a year younger than you,” Ginny pointed out.

“She’s much smaller though,” he defended, sitting up straighter.

“At least right now,” Harry remarked. “But she’s big enough to fish.”

“Mum, are you going with us, too?” James asked, looking up at Ginny and then back at his father.

Ginny paused, putting down her fork to stare back at Harry, and for the second time that day Harry felt his heart beating wildly in his chest.

For one brief moment, her fierce brown eyes burned into him, and it felt like they were lighting him afire with judgment and scorn, but then it was gone as quickly as it came.

Her eyes softened as she glanced down at her son. “Yes, of course, I’ll be going. I suspect I can teach your dad a thing or two about fishing,” she boasted.

“Ooooh,” James and Albus said, enjoying their mum’s challenge.

Harry scoffed, letting out a silent breath of relief. “We’ll just see about that.”

“Are Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, Rose, and Hugo going to come, too?” Albus asked.

Harry opened his mouth to reply but Ginny beat him to it. “No, your dad goes camping with Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione every month. This trip will be just for us,” she said.

Harry leaned back in his seat, staring at his wife in disbelief. Ginny seemed intent on avoiding his gaze though, and instead, took a long sip of water.

She had made her decision. Nothing would change. Ron and Hermione would remain in his life, but so would she and their children. This would be their life together: no more secrets, no more lies. They’d manage the duality and make it work somehow.

It was more than he could ever ask from Ginny. Harry suddenly felt a great weight lifted from his spirit. He gave his kids a cheerful wink and his wife a grateful smile as an elusive peace he had been waiting over a decade for finally settled in his heart.

Chapter Text

September 1, 2017

“And the castle is super spooky!” James said in a hushed whisper.

“What do you mean?” Albus asked anxiously.

“I mean it’s really, really haunted. You never know when a ghost is going to pop out and just grab you!” James said, lunging for his brother theatrically.

Albus jumped back in startlement, glancing up at his mother with an apprehensive question on his face.

Ginny scowled. “James, I told you that’s enough! Now I’m not going to say it again. Stop scaring your brother. You know good well that ghosts can’t grab you! Besides, all of the ghosts at Hogwarts are friendly… except for Peeves,” she muttered the last.

“Who’s Peeves?” Albus asked nervously.

Ginny shook her head. “Darling, don’t worry about it. Just remember nothing in that school is there to hurt you… Now, James, when you get to Hogwarts, I want you to look after your brother, and no more teasing! You two stick together, no matter what, do you understand?”

“Yes, Mum,” James sang exaggeratedly before smirking at his brother and grabbing his hand to pull him over to a group of James’ friends who were standing just a few feet away.

Ginny couldn’t help the bittersweet feeling lulling her into contemplative silence as she waited beside Harry on Platform 9 and ¾. It would be Albus’ first year, and she was surprised at how nervous she was for him; she thought that this part of parenting was supposed to get easier. Sending James off to Hogwarts last year had been one of the most difficult things she had ever done, but it felt like she was experiencing it for the first time all over again.

She and Harry had had several discussions with the children about the virtues of all the Houses at Hogwarts. Albus, however, still seemed very anxious about the possibility of being Sorted into Slytherin. If she could tag along and hold his hand through the Sorting ceremony, she would have. His brother James hadn’t been making it any easier with his cool jabs, which were obviously an act to have a laugh at his brother’s expense.

As Albus stood by his brother, making his best effort to fit in, Ginny felt a sense of accomplishment. He, James, and Lily were well-adjusted children, and none of them were aware that anything in their parents’ marriage was amiss.

She and Harry had managed to keep up the façade of a loving marriage for almost five years. At times, it had been difficult. In fact, on several occasions, Ginny found herself on the brink of completely giving up. She had even visited a solicitor once. But thinking about the details of a divorce always brought her back to the reality that she wouldn’t be able to escape any of them. Not without completely cutting her children off from their family.

At first, all she wanted was for Harry, Ron, and Hermione to suffer. Suffer in shame and fear that she would and could at any time destroy the illusion they had fed everyone. She wanted each one of them to pay with guilt. The first year after the discovery of the letters, Weasley family gatherings had been her time to wield power. They would all practically freeze whenever she entered a room, watching and waiting for her to do it.

But she never did.

She and Harry had a reached a silent understanding that there would be no sex between them, but they shared the same bed. There were nights though, when Ginny would awake just to glare at Harry while he slept. Sometimes she would contemplate whether to hex his bollocks off and petrify him while she gathered the children to slip off into the night. She’d sometimes imagine announcing the entire truth before the family at a Weasley gathering. She’d picture her parents and brothers disowning Ron, and kicking Harry and Hermione out of the Burrow while she and the children happily waved them goodbye. Other times she’d fantasize about sending an anonymous owl leaking their secret affair to the Daily Prophet, or at least, her mum and dad.

Those daydreams were her refuge from a truth that at times seemed too heavy for one person to bear alone.

But as the years went on, Ginny found those fantasies less and less satisfying. She didn’t have much use for them anymore. Now, Weasley family gatherings were mostly happy affairs. The tension and awkwardness dissipated with time, and that was fine with her.

She no longer had any use for the Trio’s guilt and fear. She had uncovered inner strength and power in other places.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s relationship no longer mattered—nor did the fact that Harry continued to spend “quality” time with his lovers every month and sometimes during the week. It didn’t matter that Hugo could very well be Harry’s son and that there was a very visible connection between him and the boy. And, it really didn’t matter that Ginny was now the second line-up Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies and involved in a discreet love affair of her own with a dashing Beater named David.

The only thing that really mattered to Ginny was that her children were still innocent from the complexities of the relationship she, Harry, Hermione, and Ron all shared. James, Albus, and Lily were happy, loved, and they had a huge extended family that still gathered frequently for dinners and holidays. Ginny still had her pride, the family she always wanted, a successful career, and someone to love her the way she deserved to be loved—it just all came packaged a little differently than she had once imagined.

She watched as Harry looked on conspicuously, trying to listen in on Lily and Rose’s conversation. He seemed to sense Ginny’s eyes on him and turned to acknowledge her with a small smile. There was a time when Ginny would have returned that smile with a bitter, forced one, but Harry had come through with his end of the bargain. He made time for their family, and had supported her as she tried to build a separate life for herself, and for that, she returned his smile with a warm one of her own.

~~~*~~~

‘Some things never change,’ Ron thought to himself as he smirked up at the side of the Hogwarts Express while waiting for the conductor to step off. That would be their cue to start boarding and say their final goodbyes to Rose. He couldn’t believe his little girl would be starting Hogwarts this year. It was amazing how fast time had gone by. His hair was a little thinner now in spots, his muscles a little more slack, and he could now feel pain in places he hadn’t known existed before, but some things never changed.

A strong feeling of nostalgia swept through him as he thought of his first day boarding the train, the same day he had met both Harry and Hermione. That had been over twenty-six years ago.

He watched as Hugo ventured over to join James and Albus. James was leading a conversation with his group of friends while Albus stood awkwardly by James’ side. He was clearly not quite comfortable, and appeared anxious to fit in, and when Hugo joined the circle, his face immediately lit up. Right then, Ron felt an instant kinship to Albus. The boy reminded him of all the times in school when he himself had felt like the outsider, not quite comfortable in his skin, and wanting nothing more than to measure up to his brothers so he could just belong.

And even though he was now a senior commanding Auror, a father of two, and the husband of the brightest witch of their age, there were still times when Ron felt like he didn’t quite hit the mark , most recently during his Muggle driving exam. He had even Confunded the instructor out of fear of failing. Some insecurities never die. But Ron took comfort in knowing he still had the trust and love of his children and wife. He stood gazing at Hermione with admiration. The years had been good to her: her figure had rounded out nicely, and she still was just as lovely as the day he had realized he loved her. Looking past her to Harry, he smiled as he eyed his best mate’s wild black hair and twinkling green eyes shining through expensive bifocals. Harry hadn’t really changed a bit, except those eyes were no longer wide and naïve. They were wiser and full of love and appreciation.

Familiar pride and gratitude swelled within him as he took in his two lovers and all of their children. He was damned lucky, even more now than ever.

When his sister had first discovered their secret, Ron had been afraid. The guilt and fear had cost him many nights of sleep, compelling him to find an excuse to leave the room whenever Ginny would enter. He had even considered making a confession to his Mum and Dad to rid himself of the guilt. But Harry had reassured him that he and Ginny had an agreement. He didn’t believe it at first, but as the years went by, he saw that it was true. Words couldn’t express how grateful he was for her sacrifice. Her silent pact with Harry had released them all from the constant fear of being torn apart by exposure and possessive jealousy. Still, Ron’s guilt remained.

There were still times, here and there, when he’d miss Harry’s presence something fierce, and wish Ginny would just up and leave, but those times were becoming less frequent. He appreciated his sister’s presence now. His relationship with her had changed; he no longer felt completely uncomfortable in her company. Only a little. They were mostly back to being siblings, albeit on different terms. Their bond went beyond blood now; they shared Harry and a desire to protect their families from the truth, at least for the time being.

Ron knew the day was coming when he, Harry, and Hermione would make an announcement about their relationship. Harry and Hermione had been talking about it more frequently lately, and they had all begun preparing for it in their own way. It wouldn’t happen tomorrow, next year, or even five years from now, but soon. It seemed time had a way of shortening the longer he lived so that two years easily felt like one.

And Ron felt that he was just about ready to love both of them the way he had always wanted to: freely and out in the open for the entire world to see. He could almost picture himself standing before his entire family, professing his love for both Harry and Hermione.

In nine years, his fear of the controversy, scandal, and disapproving looks would be completely gone, and he’d be more than ready to go public and tell his family the truth, of that he was sure.

~~~*~~~

Hermione sighed as she stared at the back of her daughter’s head. Rose’s curls were untameable and wild. That morning, they had had an argument over the girl’s refusal to allow Hermione to apply a hair straightening charm. Rose had insisted that such a charm was too ‘girly’ and seemed set on not using it out of principle more than anything. It was clear that Rose was no ‘girly’ girl, and Hermione had to often remind herself that she, too, had once thought the vanity of school girls was just as ridiculous.

Truthfully, Hermione knew her preoccupation with Rose’s hair was just her way of coping with her nervousness about her daughter’s first year at Hogwarts. She wanted everything to be perfect for Rose so that the girl would have an easier first year than Hermione remembered hers being. She was encouraged by her daughter’s exceptional interest in learning. The girl had been trying to absorb as much information as possible about magic long before her acceptance letter had arrived. Hermione had no doubt that Rose would be at the top of her class, that is if she were able to restrain her inclinations to act brash and as ‘unladylike’ as possible.

She watched as Hugo pulled away from Ron to join James and Albus in a group of older Gryffindor boys. It wouldn’t be long before she and Ron would be sending him off to Hogwarts. She was most curious about what House he would be Sorted into. A betting woman would have said Gryffindor, but Hugo was always the wild card. He was completely unpredictable in almost everything he did and seemed to have a bit of all three of them in him. He showed signs of Ron’s doubtful and tentative nature, he displayed Harry’s curiosity and had a tendency towards ignoring rules, especially when he thought he knew better, and he seemed to possess Hermione’s penchant for reading as many books as he could. For a nine-year-old boy, he was a quick study and knew all kinds of random facts and trivia.

And while the Weasley clan and the outside world seemed to think of Harry as an attentive uncle to Ron and Hermione’s children, Hermione was happy that Hugo seemed to regard both Harry and Ron as father figures. And despite the fact that Hugo did not live with him, Harry made time for him like a son.

She caught Harry’s eye, and he beamed back her, giving an amused glance to both of their daughters. She chuckled, as if sharing a private joke, and then sobered when she saw Ginny staring at her. She was standing behind Harry, watching, as usual. Finally, she gave Hermione a small smile in acknowledgement.

Hermione never knew what to make of Ginny’s smiles. They were something Hermione had resigned herself to never figuring out. When Harry had first disclosed that his wife had discovered their affair, she had been wary of her sister-in-law. For months, Hermione had waited suspiciously for Ginny to launch a surprise attack or make an outburst at a family gathering. But that day never came.

And, despite the fact that she could never imagine herself in Ginny’s shoes, Hermione had to concede that she now understood Ginny a lot better than she wanted to admit. She understood what it meant to lay stock in plans only to have them averted. She understood wanting to hold on to the illusion of a dream for as long as possible by any means necessary. And most of all, Hermione understood the anguish of sharing Harry.

Whatever semblance of a friendship the two women had forged had now been replaced by a cordial acquaintance based on that shared experience. An experience Hermione was ecstatic would soon be over. She had been counting down the years. Rose was already growing up faster than she had ever thought possible, and it wouldn’t be long until Hugo would be boarding the train for his first day. The years had slipped by them, and they would go by even faster now that they were all growing older. She and Harry had been discussing it more lately, and Ron seemed amicable with whatever plans they had been making. They already had something definitive, a place and a timeline. They would announce their relationship the year Hugo turned eighteen.

All of their children would be adults then, and they would be free of any obligation to be discreet. Some discretion would still be needed because of who they were, but they would no longer have to hide what they meant to each other. They would come out to the world, and then retreat to their cabin in the mountains.

In the meantime, Hermione planned to enjoy watching her daughter blossom into a young woman and watching her son grow into a young man. She had nine years to prepare for the quiet life she wanted to spend with Ron and Harry afterwards. There was just nine short years to plan; nine years before their time would finally come.

~~~*~~~

Harry tried appearing nonchalant as he tuned his ears to eavesdrop on his daughter who was speaking animatedly to her cousin. As he stared to the side, he noticed Hermione looking at him curiously. He smiled, giving their daughters an amused glance. He knew Lily was rather loud, but she was also very cute when she was this excited. Rose, on the other hand, appeared cool, exuding a mature silence despite the fact that this was her first train ride to Hogwarts. Harry could see that her resemblance to Hermione was growing stronger with each passing year, except of course for her wild red hair and bright blue eyes. Lily had her own unique look, possessing his eyes and hair, but her mother’s nose with a sprinkling of freckles.

His eyes flickered to his sons standing amidst a group of Gryffindor boys in the middle of the platform. James’ resemblance to Harry was almost uncanny, while Albus strongly favoured Ginny, except for his dark hair.

For a moment, Hugo stood watching the older boys in quiet fascination, but in the next minute he was running to join the group of older boys, edging his way into the circle to stand next to Albus.

Hugo didn’t favour anyone. He had Hermione’s brown hair and brown eyes, but he could have belonged to any of them and none of them all the same. But they were all his boys, as far as Harry was concerned, and Rose and Lily were both his daughters. All of the children were connected to the three most important people in his life. This was the family Harry had always wanted, and one that he had once given up hope of ever having.

He had come a long way from that day in the forest when he thought he was going to die. At one time, he had been prone to fits of depression and despair, mentally torturing himself for the choices he made and the mistakes he couldn’t take back. But now, any time Harry found himself descending into self-loathing and guilt for his actions, he’d return to the memory of the day he almost died to remind himself of what he had now. Not only had he survived, but he had loved fiercer and more deeply than he could have ever imagined. His heart and soul were intertwined with two people he had known almost his entire life and would always count as his best mates. He had true friendship and the forgiveness of someone who had every right to hate and resent him. And he had children, many children, that were constantly teaching him new things about the world, himself, and the man he wanted to be.

Nineteen years had passed since he had begun anew, free from the demon that had once tormented the wizarding world and nearly destroyed his life. Eighteen years had passed since he had begun a love affair with his two best friends. Five years had passed since the day he had discovered Ginny sitting in the middle of his study surrounded by Hermione’s letters. And one year had passed since his first-born son had started school at Hogwarts.

Now, it was time for his second son to begin, and a year from now, it would be Lily’s turn to board the Hogwarts Express.

For Harry, the wait for the years to pass would be bittersweet. Every year that his children grew older, they would be moving further away from him. They were making new friends, discovering that there was life outside of home, and one day they would completely leave home. And while he wasn’t looking forward to that day, every passing year also brought him closer to a time where he’d be free to live with Ron and Hermione, alone. They’d no longer have to worry about appearances.

The year of Hugo’s eighteenth birthday would be the year the cabin would cease to be their getaway; it would become their home. They’d live out the rest of their days together just far enough away from the world to enjoy a comfortable silence together, and just close enough to stay accessible to the ones they loved.

Little by little he was preparing for that day. Each month he would buy or bring something new to the cabin, equipping it to set up permanent residence. Ron and Hermione had reassured him that this time, they’d be ready for it. They’d join him to make a public announcement.

Nine more years, that’s all he had to wait. If he were a more impatient man, that may have been problematic, but Harry had already loved Ron and Hermione for a lifetime, so he thought that he could bear to wait a few years more.

Nine years was nothing.

~~~*~~~

Hermione and Ron gave Rose one last hug before trying to usher her aboard the train, but she quickly shooed them off and disappeared inside.

“I guess this is really it; our Rosie is really leaving us,” Ron said, staring up at the train.

“Yes, Ron. But, she’ll be back very soon; Christmas is only a few months away,” Hermione said half-heartedly. Ron turned, giving his wife a sympathetic smile as he grasped her hand. Hermione tried to keep her composure as she squeezed Ron’s hand.

Behind them, Ginny, Harry, Hugo, and Lily were all saying their final goodbyes to James and Albus.

Hermione and Ron both listened quietly with their backs turned as Ginny began to lecture James on his duties as a big brother. Hugo and Lily were both giving Albus advice on foolproof ways to get the Sorting Hat to pick him for Gryffindor while Harry reassured Albus once more that he’d be fine no matter what House he was Sorted into.

Ron snickered. “Harry’s laying it on a bit thick, don’t you think? It’d be a shame if Al got Sorted into anything other than Gryffindor.”

“Ron! It doesn’t matter. I didn’t appreciate that crack you made about disinheriting Hugo if he’s not Sorted into Gryffindor. Rose needs to know that we’ll love her no matter what.”

Ron rolled his eyes. “‘Mione, I was just joking!”

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. “Oh? Is that right? So you wouldn’t care if she didn’t get Sorted into Gryffindor?”

Ron frowned. “That’s not going to happen.”

“But what if it did? Just because a student’s parents were both from the same House doesn’t guarantee that student will be Sorted into the same House. Remember Sirius?”

Ron’s face was determined. “Yeah, so? That was a stroke of luck, really. I’d wager a year’s salary that my daughter will be a Gryffindor.”

“I’d wager that all of our children will be Gryffindors,” Harry chimed in softly from behind them. Ron and Hermione both turned in surprise. Harry smiled at them and then walked up to stand on the other side of Ron.

“They’d better be,” Ron said with a smirk.

Hermione scowled at them both.

“Oh, ‘Mione, we’re just kidding,” Ron teased. “It doesn’t matter what House they’re Sorted into. I actually think that all of the Houses have their merits,” he conceded.

Hermione raised a surprised eyebrow at Ron. “I’m glad to hear you say that, Ron.”

“It’s true, they’re all great… Gryffindor just happens to be the greatest,” Harry said smugly.

Ron chuckled, giving Harry an approving clap on the back. Hermione shook her head in disapproval and glanced up at the train once more. She gasped; Rose was waving from the window. They all smiled up at her, waving back.

Behind them, Ginny was now gushing over Albus, telling him to write often.

Harry sighed. “I suppose it’s time to send another one off. I’d better go help Albus board now.”

“Just don’t follow him on,” Ron warned. “He’ll probably kick you off,” he muttered.

Harry smiled in amusement. “Are we still on for Saturday?”

Hermione nodded. “Definitely, and this time, we’re kayaking.”

“Fine, but if we go kayaking, then we’re not hiking,” Ron insisted.

“Fine,” Hermione said with pursed lips before turning to Harry with a warm smile. “We’ll see you Saturday.”

Harry smirked, leaning in with extended arms. Ron and Hermione quickly met him halfway, wrapping their arms around him to share a short group hug.

“You’ll probably see me before Saturday,” he whispered.

They held on just a little longer, enjoying the comfort of their embrace with a quiet understanding that the days of coordinating schedules and planning for their time together would soon come to an end.

Their happily ever after was only nine years away.