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Mr. Potter

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“What’s that Muggle film you showed us where the witch melts?” Ginny cast another cooling charm with a lazy flick of her wrist. Her arm flopped to the side, her wand rolling off into the grass beneath her lounge chair. She sighed. “You think if we get hot enough that could really happen?”

Hermione’s lids drifted shut. A trail of perspiration slipped from her hairline down her temple, dripped off her jaw, and slid down her neck. It tickled but lifting her hand to wipe it away would’ve taken too much energy, energy she couldn’t muster in this heat wave. “No, Gin. Water makes witches melt in the movie, not hot weather.”

A loud cheer rose up from the other side of yard seconds before a shock of water drenched them where they lay.

“Bloody fuck!” Ginny sprang up from the chair, copper hair plastered to her head. Seamus’s head popped up from the water, grinning at the havoc his cannonball had wreaked. “Finnegan! I swear on all that’s holy, I’m going to kick your arse from here all the way to County Kerry, you arsehole!”

Unmoved by her threats, Seamus lazily backstroked across the pool toward where the rest of the boys had congregated in the shallows. “You talk a big talk, Weasley, but you couldn’t even best my arse in Quidditch earlier. What makes you think you can beat me otherwise?”

Ginny ripped off her heart-shaped sunglasses and glared. “Everyone has an off day, you prat. It’s hot as bollocks out here, for one. You want to ride someone’s dick so badly? Dean’s right there, so gladly hop off mine.”

 Seamus snorted so hard his head slipped beneath the surface of the pool. When he emerged, he was still gasping with laughter. “Oi, Potter! Didn’t realize you were into that.”

“Welcome to the club.” Dean waggled his brows.

Harry rolled his eyes while Ron wrinkled his nose at the entire exchange.

Hermione let her eyes fall shut once more, soaking in the sounds of her friends laughing and splashing in the pool.

The pool. God, she adored the Potters’ pool. Not that she didn’t love Harry, too, but his pool was the draw, the reason why she had hauled her arse through the Floo every day since graduation. It was just so bloody hot outside and cooling charms didn’t last but for a few minutes, but the cooling charms on the pool were different, left the crystal-blue water cool for so much longer. She’d be in the pool right then if not for the fact that the boys wanted to roughhouse when all she wanted to do was float. Between the humidity and being constantly splashed, not to mention dunked under the water no fewer than three times, her hair was quadruple the size it usually was.

“What Harry and I get up to is none of your business,” Ginny said.

“Is it like a strap-on situation or transfiguration or…?”

Ron choked. “Hey! There are things a bloke doesn’t want to know about his sister.”

Hermione cracked open an eye just in time to witness Ginny lob a particularly devious smirk toward Seamus. “If it were, I wager I’d be better with a strap-on than you are with the real thing.”

A throat cleared from the backdoor and Hermione nearly swallowed her tongue.

The other reason why she had hauled her arse through the Floo everyday stood in the doorway. “Not to interrupt this not at all awkward conversation, but hello, everyone.”

A chorus of, “Hey, James” sounded around the yard as everyone greeted Harry’s dad.

Hermione averted her gaze and mumbled a quick hello before scrambling for her book.

Mr. Potter was by far the youngest of all their parents, a solid two decades younger than her own father. Harry had been a…happy accident, Mr. Potter and Lily only sixteen at the time of his birth. Despite being teenagers, they had both very much wanted to keep Harry, and the Potters’ wealth and means made it possible for them to do so without much disruption.

“Dad.” Harry grinned and swam across the pool to the ledge, heaving himself out of the water. “You’re home early.”

Mr. Potter ducked his chin and ran his fingers through his dark hair. He’d rolled his shirtsleeves up his arms to his elbows, his forearms on display, and that simple move, running his fingers through his hair did stupid things to his muscles, stupidly drool-worthy flexing that in turn did asinine things to her insides. “Yeah, guess I am, aren’t I?” He shrugged his shoulders and dropped his arm, tucking his hands into his pockets. “Work’s slow on Friday’s, so I thought I’d leave a little early. That and I’ve got a…thing.”

Harry crossed his arms, lips twitching. “A thing?”

Mr. Potter winced. “You know, a…date thing.”

Hooting and hollering and cheers of get it and fuck yeah, you do came from the guys. Ginny snorted and shot Hermione a look, rolling her eyes and mouthing boys.

“A date?” Harry asked. “Seriously? With who?”

Maybe it was because they had been so young, or maybe they simply weren’t meant to be, but Mr. Potter and Harry’s mum had split before Harry’s first birthday. No hard feelings, they had both said. Their co-parenting, while a bit unorthodox—Mr. Potter had foregone his final years at Hogwarts, instead finishing his education at home in order to raise Harry while Lily went back to school and later completed a potions mastery in Italy—had resulted in a happy and healthy Harry who wanted for nothing and was closer to his father than some were with their own siblings.

Mr. Potter’s teeth sunk into his lower lip. “Erm, you know Lydia? The—”

“Administrative assistant of the Head of the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes?” Harry asked. His lips continued to twitch. “You might’ve mentioned her a time or two.”

Mr. Potter flushed from his ears all the way down beneath the unbuttoned collar of his shirt. “Right. She asked if I wanted to grab dinner sometime and I said—”

Seamus clapped. “Oh, someone’s getting lucky tonight!”

Mr. Potter shook his head. “She just wants—”

“Your dick?” Dean joked.

Seamus thrust his hips in the water.

Mr. Potter lifted a hand, silently flipping Seamus the bird even as his flush deepened. “She’d already asked twice and I don’t know—I said yes this time.”

Hermione bit the inside of her cheek and stared resolutely at the page in front of her, the text nothing more than squiggly black lines before her unblinking gaze.

“Good for you, Dad.” Harry clapped his father on the shoulder. “If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

Mr. Potter chuckled and—she refused to look but she could imagine his smile would be just a touch crooked. Adorable. “Thanks. I’m supposed to be meeting her in the alley at six, so I really ought to get dressed, only I haven’t the slightest clue what to wear.”

Harry snorted. “And I’m supposed to help you with that how?”

“You’re young, you’re hip,” Mr. Potter protested. “You know these things.”

Harry bent over at the waist, laughing. “Dad, you’re young, too. Just…wear what you usually do?”

Ginny scoffed. “Shut up, Harry, you don’t know what you’re talking about. James, just put on what you planned on wearing and Hermione and I’ll tell you what we think. If it doesn’t do, we’ll send you in for another go.”

She peeked over the edge of her book, stomach flipping as James grinned in their direction.

“Thanks, Gin. I’ll be back.” He ducked around the corner, disappearing inside the house.

“The man is stupidly fit,” Ginny murmured.

Hermione nodded.

With dark, unruly waves and the most beautiful hazel eyes she had ever seen, Mr. Potter was unfairly handsome. He was just over average height, but his shoulders constantly pulled at the seams of his shirts and his forearms—those blasted forearms could reduce the chilliest woman to a puddle of goo. Between the corded muscle and prominent veins and dusting of dark hair against his pale skin, not to mention the matching tattoo he shared with Remus and Sirius—a dog, a stag, and a wolf—his arms were a fantasy unto themselves, and oh Gods had she fantasized. She’d thought of him wrapping those arms around her, one of those delectable forearms banding around her waist or maybe just beneath her breasts as he took her from—no. No, no, no.

Mr. Potter was so far off-limits he existed somewhere outside the stratosphere, another realm. He was Harry’s father for crying out loud, but that thought alone did little to quell the fluttering in her stomach and the dampening of her knickers anytime he was near.

It hadn’t always been that way, heavens no. She hadn’t really noticed Mr. Potter as being handsome until third year, and even then, it had only been a crush, childish and innocent, merely making her blush in his presence. It certainly hadn’t stopped her from snogging Viktor Krum after the Yule Ball or losing her virginity to Ron over the summer after fifth year. It certainly hadn’t stopped her from engaging in hate-sex with Malfoy in a broom closet on several occasions sixth year.

Just a crush, harmless, only…somewhere along the way it had become less about finding Mr. Potter charming and kind and handsome and more about—well, she still found him all those things, but one day he was also fit and funny and. So. Damn. Fuckable.

The shift had happened in sixth year, months after her fumbling with Ron. She’d spent half the Christmas holiday at the Burrow like always, celebrating with the Potters and Weasleys, Sirius, Remus and Tonks. Fred and George had spiked the eggnog with firewhisky and she and Ginny had imbibed just a touch too much, enough to shut off the logical part of her brain that knew it was terrible to eavesdrop. Crouched in the hall and biting back drunken giggles, she and Ginny had listened as the Marauders regaled the eldest Weasley sons with tales of their misspent youth. She’d peeked around the corner, watching as Mr. Potter threw his head back, laughing, and the long line of his throat had caught her eye. It was sudden, strange, but she’d wanted to press her mouth to his pulse and taste his skin, feel him swallow against her lips. Distracted, she’d nearly tumbled down the stairs when he looked across the room, eyes meeting hers.

She and Ginny had made a hasty exit, but the memory of Mr. Potter laughing and then meeting her eyes across the room had lingered in the back of her mind.

Every night for the rest of the break, she’d lost herself in the most inappropriate thoughts of Mr. Potters hands, his mouth, how much better it could be with him, someone with more experience. She’d waited until Ginny fell asleep and then slipped her hands beneath the covers, slid them under the band of her knickers, touched herself until she had to bite down hard on her lip to keep from shouting his name. Mr. Potter.

It was normal to fantasize, healthy even, as long as she kept her crush to herself, didn’t let Ginny know, certainly not Harry. Gods, if Harry ever found out half the things, the tamer things, she fantasized about doing with his father he’d—she couldn’t even imagine how awful it would be. Harry was one of her closest friends, one of her best friends and if she lost him because of this stupid, misplaced, inappropriate crush, she’d be beside herself.

Mr. Potter was off-limits.

Not that he’d be interested in her, anyway. She tucked a curl behind her hair and winced when it sprang back, the weather making it harder to tame than usual. No, Mr. Potter could have any witch he wanted. Merlin, enough of them had thrown themselves at him over the years and he’d turned almost all of them down. He’d dated very seldom and never seriously, never going on more than one date with the same woman. They just weren’t right, he’d said.

She picked at the string holding the side of her bikini bottoms together. Maybe Lydia would be right for him, finally a good fit. Hermione had seen her before, seen her when she’d interviewed over in the Department of Mysteries three weeks ago. She’d gotten turned about, somehow wound up on the wrong floor and Lydia with her perfectly curled, honey-blonde hair and big, sparkling blue eyes, and sunny smile had pointed her in the right direction. She’d had a friendly face, and nice teeth, teeth Hermione’s parents would’ve appreciated. She was so different from Hermione with her bushy brown hair and boring brown eyes.

Mr. Potter returned, dressed in dark denims and another button-down, this one light blue and it brought out the flecks of green and gold in his irises. When the boys whistled lewdly, he rolled his eyes, but he didn’t break his stride, circling the pool toward her and Ginny.

“So.” He lifted his arms to the sides. “How do I look?”

Shaggable. She cleared her throat. “Fine.”

Ginny shot her a look, one brow arching in disbelief. “You look—is it awkward if I say I can’t wait until Harry’s your age? Because damn.”

Mr. Potter coughed into his fist. “Very awkward.”

Ginny shrugged. “Truth hurts, I suppose.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “I’m sure Lydia will think you look quite nice, Mr. Potter.”

He grabbed the back of his neck, teeth biting at the corner of his lip. “You really think so?”

She’d never been so jealous of someone else’s teeth before, her stomach curdling with envy that it wasn’t her worrying his lip. She swallowed thickly and nodded. “Definitely. She’s—she asked you twice before, right? That’s…persistent. She must really like you.”

Mr. Potter chuckled beneath his breath. His eyes caught hers, stare holding, just for a moment but it felt longer, managed to snatch the breath from her lungs all the same. “Thanks, Hermione.”

Hermione. Hermione. Hermione.

The way he said her name should be illegal, the sound of it spilling off his lips, tumbling from his tongue enough to fuel a million nights’ worth of fantasies. Gods, was she fucked. Rather, not fucked.

“Have a good time, Mr. Potter,” she forced out.

Her stomach sank at the thought of him laughing with Lydia, kissing Lydia, going home with her, returning home in the morning with her impractical bubblegum-pink lipstick on his collar. She smiled anyway.

Mr. Potter turned, and with a wave over his shoulder, apparated away.

***

Hermione grabbed her wand and cast a quick tempus. Not even eleven, Merlin.

She was wide awake, couldn’t sleep. The room she was supposed to be sharing with Ginny was quiet, too quiet. Potter Manor was all the way out in the country where everything was still and silent, unlike her parents’ house where suburban sounds filtered through her window, or Hogwarts where someone was always tossing and turning or coughing. Ginny snored, but she was in Harry’s room, the whole idea of her and Hermione sharing a room while Harry slept down the hall laughable.

Rather than roll over again, Hermione threw back the covers and stood. The wood floor was cool beneath her bare feet as she tip-toed her way to the door and out into the dark hall. Giggles and intermittent gasps filtered from beneath the door to Harry’s room, making her wrinkle her nose as she turned toward the stairs.

Maybe she’d make herself a cup of tea. Yes, tea. Something herbal and calming. Chamomile or peppermint, perhaps. She’d sip her tea and curl up on the couch and then—

Someone was already on the couch, the lights in the living room dimmed but bright enough to read by.

Mr. Potter.

The second to last stair creaked beneath her weight and he look up from his book, hazel eyes landing on where she stood frozen. He smiled, slow, lazy, eyes crinkling at the corners from behind his glasses.

“Hermione. Didn’t know you were still up.”

She stepped off the stairs and stood there, not quite entering the living room but not stepping back. Her fingers fidgeted with the hem of her shorts that suddenly seemed too short. She spared a glance down at her shirt. Was it obvious she wasn’t wearing a bra? “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Ginny snoring again?” he asked.

She bit the inside of her cheek. When Mr. Potter began to chuckle, she relaxed.

“I’m kidding,” he said, shaking his head, smile just a touch wry. “I know what goes on under my own roof. I mean, half the time I wish I didn’t know what goes on, but alas, Harry seems to be a touch lax with his silencing spells.”

Her face flamed as she laughed. “Unfortunately.”

Mr. Potter reached for his tea and lifted it in the air. “Here’s to hoping he’s more adept at the contraceptive spell.” He glanced down at the large book splayed open in his lap. “Then again, he’s made it to adulthood without any mishaps, so I can’t really complain, can I? Can’t judge either.”

Hermione bit her lip and dragged her toe against a knot in the wooden board beneath her foot. “It’s rather early for you to be home, isn’t it?”

Mr. Potter looked up, eyes darting to the clock above the mantle and frowned. “Is it?” He shrugged and patted the cushion beside him. “Sorry, please sit. I made a pot of chamomile.”

Her eyes darted back up the stairs. She was the only one here, save for Harry and Ginny. Ron had returned to the Burrow before dinner, and Seamus and Dean had ducked out to the pub just after nine.

It was only tea, tea with Harry’s dad, nothing to get herself all worked up over only…did he have to look so good sitting there, sleeves rolled up and collar undone? His jaw was covered in scruff and his glasses were crooked, and he looked—he always looked—like a bit of a mess, a delicious mess. It wasn’t that he couldn’t clean up nicely, because he could, he could rock the hell out of a pair of dress robes, but this…it was like he didn’t need to try, didn’t need to comb his hair a certain way or posture and preen, didn’t need to do anything but show up and women—and a number of men, too—would drop their knickers.

She’d heard the stories about a very different James Potter, a James Potter who was arrogant and boastful, knew exactly what he looked like and what those looks could get him. Maybe parenthood, teenaged parenthood, had softened those edges, humbled him and forced him to grow up, because, while Mr. Potter could be cocksure on occasion, most of the time his confidence was quiet and interspersed with moments of adorable, bumbling awkwardness. She wasn’t quite sure which side of him was more appealing.

Just tea. She pasted on a smile and rounded the coffee table, taking a seat on the edge of the cushion. She grabbed an empty cup and filled it, cradling the porcelain in her hands as she stared at the clock.

Suddenly, Mr. Potter laughed. “Gods, this was the funniest day. Have you seen this?”

She leaned over, just enough to see what he was talking about. In his lap was a photo album, and he was pointing at a picture of a pint-sized Harry holding on to a training broom for dear life as he spun upside down.

Her lips curled into a smile. “No, I haven’t seen that one.”

Mr. Potter smiled fondly down at the moving photograph as Harry zipped out of the frame. “It was a good day, a good memory.”

He sounded wistful, almost melancholic, not at all how a man should sound after spending the evening with a woman as gorgeous as Lydia.

She sipped her tea, wetting her tongue. “How was—how was your date?”

Mr. Potter pulled a face, flipping to the next page. “Merlin, where to start?”

“That awful?” she asked.

He puffed out his cheeks, before releasing his breath in one gusting sigh. “We, erm, went into Muggle London to catch a movie and that was nice, I suppose. Then we grabbed dinner and…” He shook his head, grimacing. “Have you ever met someone you were entirely not on the same page as and it was startling to think they could entertain such…ridiculous thoughts and think them normal?”

He turned his head, meeting her eyes. His brow furrowed as he waited for her response.

“Erm, maybe?” She shrugged and…what had been the question? She shook her head. “What happened?”

He scoffed, dry and humorless. “I thought we were really hitting it off, good chemistry, you know? We started to discuss the future in a very roundabout way. Not serious, just feeling things out. She made this comment about how happy I must be that my son is eighteen now, that he’ll be leaving the house. I kind of shrugged it off, not too strange I suppose, but then she said, that way you can get married and have your do-over. My do-over. Who the hell feels that way, let alone says it out loud?”

“Bitch,” Hermione muttered, apparently loud enough for him to hear because he laughed.

“Right?” He nodded. “I tried to be polite after that, but it was a lost cause.” Mr. Potter ran his fingers through his hair, brushing back the waves that had fallen against his forehead. “This is why I don’t bother.”

Hermione had opinions, loads of them, but she’d always been careful to be respectful of her friends’ parents. Most adults didn’t take kindly to a child harping on—she’d learned that the hard way—but Mr. Potter had always listened, always acted as if he valued her point of view. They always had great conversations, spirited conversations on any number of topics, their shared interests many and varied. But giving him advice on his love life was really, truly overstepping for so many reasons.

But Gods, she couldn’t help it, not when her curiosity niggled at her. “Do you want more children?”

His eyes darted back to the photo album of Harry’s childhood. Another soft smile curled his lips. “Yeah, I think so. If I find the right person. I wouldn’t want to do the whole single parent thing again if it could be helped, but I don’t think of Harry as an accident, and another baby wouldn’t be a do-over for me.” He chuckled beneath his breath. “Of course, I learned plenty, made a few mistakes I’d be careful not to make again, but that’s what learning is, right? I learned from the past; I don’t want to forget it. Harry’s my whole world. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.”

Why not explode her ovaries while he was at it? Merlin, she had zero business thinking about babies, let alone babies with Harry’s father, but tell that to her stupid hormones. It was PMS, it had to be. Either way, the man was impossible, cranking her biological clock up to ten-minutes-to-midnight.

“Of course not.” She wet her bottom lip and nodded. “I’m sure there’s someone out there who understands. Mr. Potter.”

His lips twisted, pulling to the side. “You know, you’re the only one of Harry’s friends who still calls me that.”

True. Everyone else had started calling him James around fifth year, but not her. Mr. Potter reminded her of who he was and drew a much-needed line in the sand, even if her libido often liked to ignore it.

“It’s your name, isn’t it? I mean, that is to say, you are Mr. Potter. It’s only polite.”

She didn’t call any of her other friends’ parents by their first names and it was critical that she keep Harry’s father in that same mental group. Parents. Off-limits.

“Polite? It makes me feel old,” he complained, chuckling lightly.

“You’re not old,” she argued. “You’re young and…not old.”

His lips twitched. “I’m young and not old? Both, wow. Lucky me.”

Her jaw dropped. “Are you—are you making fun of me?”

Mr. Potter laughed, eyes crinkling. “Just a bit, yeah.”

What was she supposed to say to that? She did what she’d do if it were someone else teasing her, one of her friends, someone her age. She sniffed lightly and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “Rude.”

He shook his head, laughter petering off into something soft, his smile lingering. “Just taking the mickey, Hermione.”

Hermione. Hermione. Hermione.

She’d never loved and hated her name in equal measure as much as she did in that moment. He’d ruined it, ruined her name because it would never sound that good from someone else’s lips, not ever.

“Ginny’s right, you know?” She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. He tilted his head, waiting. “You’re not old, you’re…fit.”

He huffed, his face pinking. “Ginny’s a bit biased, don’t you think?”

Perhaps she was, but… “I’m not. Biased.”

Mr. Potter froze, hazel eyes widening. She struggled not to squirm, instead chewing the inside of her cheek to shreds, her heart pounding inside her head, blood whirling so loud it was as if she were under water.

What had possessed her to say such a thing? Gods, it was bold and brash and she was courageous, sure, but she wasn’t stupid. This was—who did she think she was, flirting with Harry’s father? Merlin.

His lips, those stupidly full, kissable lips, parted. “Hermione—”

She couldn’t take it, couldn’t listen to him brush it, brush her off. Let her down easy. There would be nothing easy about it, not for her. It would smart and leave her raw and uncomfortable and miserable as she avoided Harry’s house for the foreseeable future.

“I’m just taking the mickey.” Her molars clenched as she grinned.

She held her breath. It took a moment for him to nod, even longer for him to smile back. “Right. Good one.”

No amount of polite tea sipping made it any easier for her to swallow past the lump in her throat. She’d made things terribly awkward, stiflingly so. She set her cup aside. “I should—it’s getting late. Goodnight, Mr. Potter.”

She stood, primed to make a hasty retreat. Mr. Potter grabbed her wrist, fingers circling her arm. His skin was warm, so warm, his fingers only slightly callused from the occasional game of Quidditch. Her pulse skittered, jumping in her throat.

“Hermione.”

Mr. Potter glanced up at her from beneath the thick fringe of his lashes. The soft light in the room reflected off his lenses, almost making it look as if, for a split second, his gaze darted to her mouth. A trick of the light, cruel and impossible.

“Yes?” Thank Merlin her voice hadn’t cracked or come out breathy and wanton.

He cleared his throat and dropped his hand, fingertips gliding over the racing pulse in her wrist. “James. Call me James.”

The air whistled through her lips as she took a breath and nodded. “Right. Good night—James.”

She moved as quickly through the living room and up the stairs as she reasonably could without looking as if she were running away. Not once did she look back, but she could’ve sworn she felt his eyes on her, his gaze weighty, just as tangible as his hand had felt wrapped around her wrist, his fingers pressed into her skin.

Chapter Text

Hermione double checked the mirror, adjusting the straps of her dress one last time. She tilted her head, then turned, looking over her shoulder at a different angle. Decent enough. Her skill with beauty charms was passable, but she’d never been one for much makeup. Her hair on the other hand… it was a relief being able to tame that into submission with a few flicks of her wand and a bit of concentration.

After double checking that Crookshanks had enough food so he wouldn’t yowl and drive the neighbors batty, she grabbed her wand and apparated to the perimeter of the Burrow, just beyond the wards. Eyes shut, she swallowed, steadying her stomach. She wasn’t sure which she hated more—travel by apparition or Floo. Only when she was no longer in danger of losing her lunch, did she open her eyes, lips curling into a smile at the sight before her.

Mrs. Weasley had out done herself. A long table covered in a cheery blue tablecloth weighed down with every dish imaginable—certainly all of Hermione’s favorites—stretched from one end of the yard to the other, covered by a gauzy canopy. Another table, already heaped with presents, sat further off. None of this was necessary, no one had needed to go to the trouble, but she appreciated it, nonetheless.

“Birthday girl’s here!” Bill shouted, stack of plates wobbling in his hands. “Happy birthday, Hermione.”

“Thanks, Bill. Need a hand?”

With a jerk of his chin, Bill waved her off and continued toward the other end of the yard.

“Hermione, dear! Happy birthday.” Mrs. Weasley bustled out of the house, apron flapping around her hips as she yanked Hermione into a fierce hug that squeezed the air from her lungs.

It was the first of many hugs that afternoon. It seemed that’s what she did, bounce from Weasley to Weasley, with her other friends thrown in as a palate cleanser, one hug after the other interspersed with plates of food thrust into her hands before she was dragged in another direction to join another conversation with yet more people who wanted to greet her with hugs. So many hugs.

Thank Merlin she was holding an overflowing plate when Mr. P—James found her. That way she didn’t have to hug him, didn’t have to stand there with a polite smile on her face while she died a little inside as he wrapped his arms, those infuriating arms, around her and pressed his chest against hers, the hard lines of his body lining up perfectly with her curves. Plate in hand, she avoided the whole charade.

“Haven’t been left alone for a moment, have you?” He shook his head, arms crossed. He was wearing a t-shirt, fitted, and the sleeves were just this side of too snug, hugging his biceps. His lips twitched. “You’d think it’s your birthday or something.”

It took everything she had not to white-knuckle the plate. “Strange, isn’t it?”

James grinned broadly, tiny lines appearing at the corners of his eyes. “How’s it feel to be nineteen?”

Her nose wrinkled. “Much the same as it did yesterday, to be honest.”

He frowned.

“You know”—she shifted her weight from one foot to the other—“that whole bit with the time turner third year? Madam Pompfrey isn’t sure how much I aged, but she guesses somewhere between six months to a year, medically speaking. We could do the math, I suppose, count how often I turned and for how long a duration I traveled back, but it doesn’t matter. Age is just a number, right?”

The Ministry wasn’t even certain if time was linear.

James’s brow furrowed as he nodded. “Time is one of those mysteries I’ve always been respectfully wary of. I’ll gladly turn into an animal any day, but mess with time magic?” He shook his head.

She bit the inside of her lip but didn’t say anything. She couldn’t say anything. As a newly hired Unspeakable working in the Time division, studying time magic was her job. Messing with it was something else entirely, but—she couldn’t say anything, couldn’t argue that point.

He cleared his throat as a flush crept up the sides of his neck, surely matching hers if the heat inching across her skin was any indication. The silence was awkward, oppressive, just like all their interactions had been since that evening at Potter Manor.

James hadn’t said anything, hadn’t referenced that night, but things between them had been stilted, just a touch off. Every time their paths had crossed, it had been as if they were replicating that moment when two people come to a head and move in the same direction, stepping back only to again move in the same direction, dancing around one another with stiff smiles on their faces. They hadn’t literally done that, no, but it had felt the same, some strange shifting around one another in an attempt to—she had no idea really. Give each other a wide berth? She hated it, hated that one night and one off-the-rails conversation had caused such a shift in their dynamic. Gone were the easy conversations and quick smiles, replaced with tense limbs and cleared throats and constant shifting from foot to foot.

James was standing right in front of her, close enough to touch, but the distance was so much greater, insurmountable and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it without pushing him further away.

“’Mione!” Ron shouted across the yard. For the first time, she was so stupidly thankful to hear that awful nickname because it saved her from suffering another moment of awkwardness. “Mum says it’s time to open presents and then we can have cake.”

She forced herself to smile. “Better do as Mrs. Weasley says.”

***

Bluebell flames housed in jars illuminated the backyard where soft music from the wireless drifted on the breeze. Harry and Ginny, Molly and Arthur, Bill and Fleur, and Remus and Tonks swayed on the trampled down grass serving as a makeshift dance floor, completely wrapped up in their own little worlds. Across the yard, beneath the large Sycamore tree, Sirius had Fred, George, Charlie, and Ron in stitches at a story, very likely bawdy in nature.

She’d slipped away to the swinging bench tucked beneath the arbor on the far side of the garden, needing a moment to herself. As much as she adored the Weasleys, they could be overwhelming, especially all at once. All she needed was a moment, maybe two, to decompress and then she’d return. Not that it looked as if she was missed.

“Mind if I join you?”

Her head swiveled, feet dragging through the mulch as she stopped swinging. James stood behind her and slightly off to the side, his expression neutral, eyes darting over her face.

Her heart threw itself against her sternum frantically as if it could flee. Or maybe launch itself at James. One of the two. Both? Neither made any sense, but that’s what she’d been reduced to—nonsensical mental ramblings to make up for the absurd self-control she was forced to exhibit in real life. Repression in the form of placid smiles, polite nods, small talk. Niceties.

She scooted over to one end of the bench. “By all means.”

The bench was small, just barely big enough for two grown adults. Even sitting pressed against each end, their thighs touched. At least it wasn’t skin on skin. A tiny mercy.

James set a small, tragically-wrapped package on her lap. The red bow was lopsided, the shiny silver paper wrinkled, and there was more tape holding the seams together than necessary.

She bit her lip and lifted her head.

“I, erm, forgot this at home earlier. I know the wrapping’s a bit of a mess, but…” He trailed off, scratching his jaw. “Happy birthday?”

“You didn’t need to get me anything. Or, you could’ve just gone in with Sirius and Remus on their gift.” They’d gotten her a set of phoenix feather quills, expensive.

“Open it?”

She slipped her finger beneath the mess of tape and pulled, laughing when another layer of silver wrapping paper was revealed beneath the first. “Did you wrap this in the dark?”

James chuckled, tugging on his ear. “Erm, no. I wish that’s why it looked that way, but I’m really just pants at wrapping presents. Ask Harry. Gift bags are really more my specialty.”

Finally, she pried off the layers of paper, fingers brushing against the aged, leather spine of a book. She flipped it over, eyes scanning the title. “A Study Into the Possibility of Reversing the Actual and Metaphysical Effects of Natural Death, with Particular Regard to the Reintegration of Essence and Matter by Bertrand de Pensées-Profundes. She frowned and shook her head. “The book’s a joke, you know. The whole thing is him telling everyone to give up because you can’t—”

James reached out, flipping open the cover. Her eyes widened.

“This is—”

“The real journal?” James laughed beneath his breath. “Potters are distantly related to the Peverells, you know? I mean, of course you know. Our family has a strange association with…the subject matter.” He shrugged. “Pensées-Profundes left it to my great, great grandmother and I found it in the family vault, thought you might appreciate it. It’s only a study, not anything tenable, but—”

She rested her hand on top of his and swallowed. “Thank you. I’ll—I’ll take good care of it and give it back when—”

“No.” James shook his head. “It’s a gift. It’s yours.”

“But Harry might want to read—” She stopped herself. Harry wouldn’t want to read this.

James nodded. “Yours.”

She wouldn’t admit it, certainly not to his face because she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, but it was the most thoughtful gift she’d received. “Thank you.”

She lifted her hand from atop his before she did something regrettable like lace their fingers together. Tilting her head back, she turned her focus skyward. The night was clear, the stars out in full force, the moon not yet full, but close. A picturesque night to finish off a nearly perfect day. Nearly. Her chest tightened and a heavy unpleasantness thickened her throat, making it difficult to swallow. She didn’t know the word for this feeling, this obscure sense of sorrow, missing something she had never had.

Leave it to her get oddly pensive on her birthday.

“So”—James nudged the ground with his toe, rocking the swing gently—“what did you wish for?”

She turned her head. He was watching her, a strange look in his eye. Strange like he was trying to solve a puzzle, figure something out. Not quite so far as scrutinizing, but too perceptive for comfort. She shook her head. “Wish for?”

He nodded. “Your candles? On your cake? When you blew them out, what did you wish for?”

She rolled her eyes. “I can’t tell you that.”

She hadn’t wished for anything. Well, there had been a fleeting moment, briefer than a heartbeat, where she’d clenched her eyes and smoke had filled her nose and she’d thought maybe—but no. She hadn’t even finished her thought, completed her wish. Wishing wasn’t real, wasn’t enough to make things happen, wasn’t worth pinning any hopes on. Magic, she believed in, obviously, but it was her that made the impossible happen when she held her wand. Blowing out candles was sillier than divining tea leaves. There was no power behind it, no force. If she wanted something to happen, she had to do it, not wait for fate to drop her wishes in her lap. And she’d never attempt to make that fleeting, silly wish into a reality, no matter how badly she wanted it, wanted him. Merely toeing the line had caused enough trouble. No, no. Repression, it was.

“Because it won’t come true?” His voice had dropped to a whisper, hushed and husky and it did ridiculous, riotous things to her insides.

She wet her lips and forced herself to meet his gaze. His eyes had darkened, or maybe she was imagining it. Yes, she was just imagining it. Not real. “Because it’s silly. It won’t come true, regardless.”

“Says who?” he asked.

“Says…” She didn’t know, but she couldn’t look away, couldn’t tear her eyes from his. “Says…someone.”

His lips twitched. “This person is the authority on wishes?”

They were both whispering, so soft, they had to lean in, lean closer.

“They’re—it’s.” She huffed softly. “You’re teasing me again, aren’t you?”

He hummed.

She still couldn’t look away, not even as her stomach sank. “Well, stop it. It’s—it’s confusing and—”

Apparently, the distance between them was not insurmountable because his mouth was on hers, soft, his lips pillowing her bottom lip. There were no teeth or tongues, just a chaste press of lips to lips and yet it made her heart flutter faster than a snitch. It was perfect and she wanted more, was greedy for—

James drew back as if he’d been shocked, hit with a stunner. He stood so fast the bench nearly upended, swinging erratically with her still on it. He ran his fingers through his hair. “I should not have done that.”

Her eyes darted beyond him, around the thick vine-covered arbor into the yard, her stomach churning. But no—Harry and Ginny were still lost in their own world, same as everyone else. No one had seen.

“Why not?” she asked, lifting her head, pinning him with a stare. Because he had kissed her. He had kissed her, not the other way around, and that changed—Merlin, that changed everything.

He could explain this away, not her.

He shook his head. “I’m—I’m so sorry. I should…”

James took three steps back, stumbling on a root, righting himself and—

Gone. Just like that, James Potter apparated away.

No.

He didn’t get to kiss her, make her hope, and then flee. No way. That wasn’t fair.

Standing from the bench, Hermione stalked around the house and slipped inside, making a bee-line to the fireplace. She grabbed a handful of Floo powder in a trembling fist and called out, voice only wavering a little, “Potter Manor.”

Thank Merlin the grate was open, otherwise she’d have been in for a nasty shock, rebounding through the network. Coughing on soot, she appeared in the fireplace right inside the Potters’ living room just in time for James to step through the back door into the house.

He froze at the sight of her, hand stilling on the door knob. “Hermione.”

Setting her gift, the book, on top of the mantel, she took a deep breath. She would not approach this with anger or petulant disappointment.

“You don’t get to kiss me and then leave without answering my question, so I’ll ask again. Why not?”

James slumped against the door. “You’re serious? You’re truly asking why I shouldn’t have—shouldn’t have kissed you?”

She nodded.

He buried his hands in hair. “Merlin, Hermione, you’re—you’re nineteen.”

“Or twenty.” She shrugged. “Maybe. I thought we already established that age is just a number.”

He laughed, dry and humorless. “It’s not. It’s really not. For Merlin’s sake, you’re Harry’s age. I’m old enough to be your father.”

She cut her eyes. “My father is old enough to be your father.”

“For all intents and purposes, I am sixteen years older than you.” He dropped his hands to his sides, shaking his head. “That’s—”

“Only three years more than the age difference between Remus and Tonks, and if I remember correctly, and I do, you were one of the more vocal supporters of their relationship.” She cocked her head, glaring softly. “What was it you said to Molly? They’re adults and they care about each other and that’s all that matters?”

“It’s different,” he protested weakly.

“How?” she asked. “How is it different?”

James groaned, head knocking back against the door. “Hermione, you’re—”

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.” She lifted her chin. “I don’t know what exactly you were planning on saying, but it was bound to be rubbish.” She was not a child and she knew what she wanted, two of the most likely excuses, stupid excuses, he was about to hurl at her. “I know what I want. I want you and if you want me, explain to me why we can’t—"

The words stuck in her throat as he stormed across the room, grabbing her by the arms and walking her backward. Her back hit the wall just to the side of the fireplace, not hard, but enough to make her gasp at the shock of it, his hands on her, the suddenness of it. He’d been across the room and then he was here, in her face, hands gripping her tight as he glared down at her, nostrils flared as he crowded her against the wall.

“You are infuriating, you know that?” he gritted out. “You walk around my house in that fucking string bikini of yours and that tiny scrap of fabric you call shorts and you call me Mr. Potter and you have no idea what it does to me, what you do to me.” He shook his head, eyes wide, frantic. “And that’s my problem, not yours, but—"

“I thought you said that made you feel old.

He scoffed. “What it does, is make me feel like a pervert.”

She blinked, brow furrowing. “What?”

“Yeah.” He nodded, throat bobbing as he swallowed. “Makes me feel like a pervert when you call me Mr. Potter and all I can think about are the filthy things I want to do to you. A whole year of feeling like some sort of debauched, dirty old man for wanting to hear you call me Mr. Potter while I fuck you.” He stepped closer, pressing his erection into her hip. “What do you think about that, Hermione? What do you think about the fact that I’ve spent the last year wanting to hear you call me Mr. Potter when you come on my cock?”

Her breath quickened, heat pooling between her thighs. If he was trying to scare her off, it wasn’t going to work. Even if it did feel a bit as if she was suddenly playing with fire. “Just a year?”

He dropped his head, his forehead landing against the top of her head. “Hermione.”

She’d been of age in Magical Britain since she was seventeen, since the beginning of sixth year. It could’ve been longer than a year and she wouldn’t have cared. It had been longer than a year, for her.

She rolled her hips, biting back a whimper when his pupils dilated. “I thought—I think about your hands. What they’d feel like on me, touching me. I wait until Ginny falls asleep and I touch myself wishing it were you.” Her inhale was shaky. “I touch myself and I imagine it’s your fingers inside me. I have to bite my lip to keep from saying your name.” She licked her bottom lip. “Mr. Potter.”

Fuck.” His fingers bit into the skin of her arms, squeezing tight. He shuddered, breath ghosting across her face. Chocolate, he smelled like Mrs. Weasley’s chocolate cake and she bet he’d taste just as sweet. That kiss on the bench hadn’t been enough for her to tell, hadn’t been enough period. “This is—we shouldn’t do this.”

“Why not?” she demanded.

She’d take his argument, any argument, and turn it on its head if he’d just say. She’d tell him why he was wrong, all the reasons why they should, beginning with the most important, that she wanted him more than she’d ever wanted anyone, and apparently, he wanted her, too.

“Because,” he whispered, “Once won’t be enough. I know it won’t. Once I have you, I’m not going to want to stop and—”

“So don’t.” She shook her head. “Don’t stop.”

His eyes narrowed. “You don’t know what you’re asking for.”

She scoffed. She knew exactly what she was gambling, what she was risking, what was at stake. Her friendships, her family. Yes, she wanted him to fuck her, wanted it so badly her stomach ached, but a rough fuck against a wall, a tussle between the sheets wasn’t worth her friendships. No, that wasn’t what she was asking for, not all she was asking for. But it would be a hell of a place to start.

Pressing up on her toes, she rested her mouth against his ear. “Please.”

James groaned, chest rumbling against hers. He released her arms, his hands sliding up her neck and burying in her hair, tugging her close and tipping back her head until his mouth covered hers.

There was nothing chaste about his kiss. His tongue was in her mouth, tracing the ridges of her teeth, tasting her, demanding, taking what he wanted. When he drew back, teeth nipping at the swell of her lower lip, she shivered, a soft groan escaping. He grinned against her mouth, fingers tightening in her hair.

“Fuck, Hermione. You’d let me have you right here, wouldn’t you? Right against the wall?”

She nodded, whimpering when he pulled her hair. “Yes.”

He hummed, and one hand slid down her shoulder, her arm, slowing to caress the thin skin of her inner elbow, pausing to brush his thumb against the thrumming pulse in her wrist. He shifted, tracing the curve of her waist before reaching for the hem of her dress. His fingers slipped beneath the fabric and trailed up the inside of her knee, fingers warm as they danced against the skin of her thigh. His hand cupped her over her knickers, fingers pressed right up against her cunt through the damp cotton. Behind his lenses, his eyes widened minutely before darkening. “You’re already wet for me, aren’t you?”

Her face flamed as she nodded. “Mhm.”

“Fuck.” He chuckled softly, the look in his eyes still heated, but a bit soft, too as his gaze flickered over her shoulder. “Erm, I’ve never actually fucked anyone against a wall before, so maybe…”

She grabbed his face and pressed her lips against his so she wouldn’t grin too stupidly. “Bed,” she muttered against his mouth. “You can shag me against a wall later.”

He nodded. “Good. Right. Yeah, that’s a brilliant idea. Bed.”

His hands slid down, palming her arse, fingers biting into her flesh as he lifted her against him. She wrapped her legs around his waist, gasping softly when he pressed against her, her knickers the only thing covering her core.

James stumbled across the room, trying to navigate while nibbling her neck. His teeth grazed against a particularly sensitive spot just under her ear and she tightened her legs, squeezing him to her, making him groan. “Fucking fuck, Hermione.”

Halfway up the stairs, he huffed and set her down, right on the staircase. “Bugger this.”

Shuffling until he was kneeling several stairs below her, James reached under her dress, fingers looping around her knickers, tugging them over her bum and down her thighs. They wound up flung somewhere over her shoulders, up the stairs, forgotten when James ducked his head beneath her dress and ran the flat of his tongue between her folds, moaning softly against her flesh.

“Oh Gods.” Her hands twitched, grasping the edge of the stair, fingernails biting into the wood. The tip of his tongue flicked against her clit, hard, fast, determined, before he wrapped his lips around the bundle and sucked. A shudder wracked her body, her abdomen tensing, twitching. “Fuck.”

One of his hands slid over her dress and up to her neckline, tugging until the bodice slipped, her breasts no longer covered, the bra built in. Taking advantage of her partial nudity, James pinched her nipple, first lightly, then harder when she gasped at the pleasant sting. Fire sparked inside her veins when his other hand trailed up her thigh and two of his fingers pressed against her, sliding inside her and curling against the spongy tissue she could never comfortably reach, but he could, his fingers longer and thicker than hers and he knew exactly what he was—fuck, what he was doing with them. She bit her lip hard enough to taste blood. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh fuck.”

James lifted his head. His glasses were askew, his lips shiny and his chin wet as he smirked. “Mr. Potter works just fine.”

She’d have laughed or maybe rolled her eyes—definitely rolled her eyes—had he not ducked back down and fastened his mouth to her clit once more, his tongue moving rapidly over her as his fingers curled and pressed unyieldingly. Instead, she closed her eyes and bit down hard on the inside of her cheek as her toes began to curl, pleasure unfurling from the base of her spine and spreading—

Oh.” She snapped, muscles trembling, as she came, pleasure blindsiding her, stealing the breath from her lungs until her vision spotted.

James withdrew his fingers, groaning softly when her cunt continued to spasm with aftershocks. He raised his head, adjusting his fogged glasses as he licked his lips. “Good?”

She blinked at him. Was he—serious? Gods, he was, the look on his face strangely unsure. She nodded quickly. “Yes! Great. Perfect. I’m—”

She shook her head, blinking, words failing her.

Slowly, he smirked, cocky as hell and her cunt clenched all over again. “Good. Not that I’m opposed to further practice, because—fuck, you taste amazing.”

James brought his hand to his mouth, sucking his fingers clean. Holy hell.

Hermione squirmed. There was a stair sort of poking into the middle of her back that she hadn’t noticed until now. “Maybe we can move this to a bed?”

James ducked his head, laughing. “Sorry. Got a little eager there.”

On the list of things he needed to apologize for, his eagerness ranked dead last.

Before she had a chance to stand, he reached down, scooping her off the stairs into his arms sideways, her knees crooked over one forearm while the other held her back.

As soon as they were inside his room, he kicked the door shut and then set her down on the bed. He took a step back, blowing out his breath. “So.”

She bit the inside of her cheek and stood, lifting her dress up her body and over her head, dropping it at her side where it landed against the floor with a soft rustle.

James stared, mouth open. “Wow. Okay. Fuck.”

He reached behind his neck and pulled off his shirt, the muscles in his arms flexing in the process. He was—Gods. It should be criminal to look that good.

Broad shoulders gave way to an equally broad and built chest that nipped down into a defined waist. A trail of dark hair ran beneath his belly button and disappeared into his jeans, jeans she wanted off yesterday.

“Off,” she demanded. “Take those off.”

James held her stare as he popped the button on his jeans and lowered the zipper. His thumbs dipped beneath the waistband but he paused, lips quirking. “Impatient?”

She lifted a shoulder and brought a hand to her breast, fingers plucking her nipple. The slight pinch sent another rush of warmth between her legs where she was already hot and definitely ready. “About to start without you.”

James shook his head and shucked off his jeans, his undershorts sliding off, too. He stepped out of the denim and took a step toward her, cock jutting out in front of him, hard and thick, pearly fluid leaking from the tip.

She hadn’t realized she’d licked her lips until he groaned, his hands grabbing her hips and pulling her close. His cock pressed against her belly, heavy and hot, precome smearing onto her skin. “Are you sure?”

Resting her hands on his shoulders, she captured his lips. He tasted warm and like her, tangy and sweet, his mouth still covered in her arousal. She swiped her tongue against his bottom lip and pulled back before he could deepen the kiss. “Yes.”

Yes to this and to the next time and the time after that and all the frightening moments in between that she was ready for but didn’t want to think about just then.

His grip on her hips tightened, fingers biting into her bum. “Get on your hands and knees.” His lips twitched. “Please.”

She bit the inside of her cheek and did as he’d…instructed? Asked? Demanded? His bed was soft, the comforter cool under her palms as she got comfortable, bracing herself on all fours.

He didn’t say she couldn’t look, so she peeked over her shoulder, watching as he knelt on the bed and crawled toward her. He molded himself to her back, curling himself around her, closing the distance between their faces so he could kiss her again. It was while they were kissing that a brief warmth settled over her abdomen. Wandless and nonverbal casting. That should not have been as hot as it was.

His mouth was still pressed against hers, his teeth biting at her bottom lip when he filled her. Her head fell forward, breaking the kiss, as she gasped softly.

He felt huge like this, or maybe she was just tighter in this position, she had no idea. But it felt like he was touching every inch of her, his cock nudging places inside her she didn’t even know existed.

And somehow, he sank even deeper when he shifted, bracing himself with an arm on either side of hers, his lips pressed against the nape of her neck. “You feel fucking amazing. Your cunt is—”

His hips drew back, cock, withdrawing until only his flared head kept her open to him. He quickly thrust forward, burying himself inside her once more. “Fuck, Hermione. How are you this perfect?”

She closed her eyes and hummed. His breath was hot against her neck, his lips even hotter as he sucked what was going to be a vicious mark into the side of her throat.

“Please,” she panted. It was—fuck, it was so good, but too slow, the drag of his cock inside her leaving her all but vibrating with need.

“Please what?” His tongue laved a path up her neck, his teeth closing around the lobe of her ear. “Tell me. Tell me and I’ll do anything, I promise.”

“Harder.” She whimpered when he immediately delivered, hips snapping.

“Like this?” His breath was ragged against her ear, damp and hot and combined with the feel of his cock constantly nudging something deep inside her, she’d never felt this—this utterly fucked before.

“Yes,” she gasped. “Don’t stop. Please don’t stop.”

“Never going to,” James promised. “Said I wouldn’t.”

Her eyes slipped shut, her mouth hanging open as little punched out noises slipped from between her lips. She couldn’t have been quiet had she tried.

“Thought about this,” James confessed in a murmur against her throat. “Fuck, I used to wank myself raw when I knew you were coming over so I wouldn’t see you in that fucking bikini and spring wood in front of everyone. I’d fuck my fist and think about burying my face between your thighs and eating your cunt until you screamed my name. I thought about sliding my cock inside you and fucking you until your legs gave out and you couldn’t leave my bed. Gods, I’m just—”

With one arm, James grabbed her around the waist and tugged her up until she was sitting on his lap, impaled on his cock. He shifted, hand wrapping gently around her throat, pulling her mouth toward his. Only when she was totally lost in the kiss did he begin to rock into her, slower, but just as hard, more intense because of it.

Her legs began to shake and it had little to do with how she was kneeling and everything to do with how he was taking her apart with his cock and his words, his unbelievably filthy words, and the intense look in his eyes each time their mouths parted and he stared at her from behind his smudged glasses and beneath heavy lids. Her breath caught in her throat, lips trembling.

His thumb brushed her bottom lip. “You gonna come for me, love?”

She felt like she was going to fly apart. “Yes.”

He smiled, small and dirty. “Who are you going to come for?”

Fuck. Her stomach tensed, the thread inside her perilously close to snapping. “Mr. Potter.”

A groan rumbled through his chest and he pressed his lips to hers in a bruising kiss. It muffled her cry as she shattered, toes curling in the sheets almost to the point of pain, her muscles locking and releasing rhythmically.

“Hermione, fuck.” James settled his hands on her hips, lifting her off his cock and pulling her back down hard and fast before he eventually groaned against her shoulder.

The room was quiet save for the sound of them catching their breath. Wincing at the stiffness in her thighs, Hermione shifted off his lap and collapsed against the mattress with a sigh. “Oh my God.”

James chuckled and scrubbed a hand over his jaw. “Fuck. That was—wow.”

She covered her face with her hands, laughing softly. “It was.”

The mattress dipped as he settled in beside her. He tugged on her fingers, and she lowered her hands.

His cheeks were flushed, his hazel eyes bright, but the twist of his mouth looked nervous. “So, I didn’t mean to make that as…kinky as I did. You know, with the whole Mr. Potter thing, it was just—”

“James.” She pressed a finger to his mouth, shushing him. “Shut up.”

His lips curled in a blink-and-miss-it smile before he nipped her finger and narrowed his eyes. “You’re a mouthy little thing, you know that?”

She bit the inside of her cheek and shrugged. “Maybe you need to do something about it.”

His eyes widened, just a fraction, before he nodded. “Right. Yeah. Maybe I do.” His lips twitched. “Sorry, just—you’re really okay, right? Because I want to make sure I didn’t—”

She swallowed his words, kissing him quiet. Only when it seemed like he was thoroughly snogged witless did she pull back. “I’m fantastic. It was fantastic. I’m quite looking forward to the next time because I’m sure it will also be fantastic. Though, I’m a bit worried you’re going to begin to panic soon and that will be awful, but I’m prepared for your inferior arguments. That being said, it would be much easier if we simply skipped the part where you worry you overstepped or took advantage of me or fill in the blank with any of your ridiculous concerns.”

James nodded slowly. “That sounds…reasonable.” He winced. “Except, I have one concern and it’s not unreasonable. I promise.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Go on.”

“I’m going to have to tell Harry.” He frowned. “Not about this, the shagging, but erm…us?” He paused. “I was clear about that, right? That I’d like there to be an us? Or, to try?”

Her heart skipped one beat and thudded extra heavy on the next. That couldn’t be healthy. “Yes. I mean, I’d like that.”

Merlin, she was dating Harry’s dad.

James bit his lip, but the corners still managed to curl into a smile. “Good. I’d like that, too. Which is to say, I like you.” He rolled his eyes. “Something I probably should’ve said before I nearly shagged you on the stairs.” He blew out a breath. “Merlin, I swear I used to be better at this. Then I had a kid and it’s like—boom! I reverted to some perpetual awkward stage where I don’t know what to do with my hands, especially when I’m around you.”

“I think you know exactly what to do with your hands.” She laughed. “And for the record, I like you, too.” She paused. “Mr. Potter.”

Chapter Text

It took a split second to remember where she was when she felt someone breathing against her neck. As soon as it hit her, she buried her face in her pillow—Gods, it smelled like him, like his shampoo, cardamom and sandalwood—and grinned.

James.

Mr. Potter.

Hers.

He shifted at her back, groaning sleepily. The arm draped over her waist tugged her closer to his body, his cock hard against her bum. He hummed, nose nudging the shell of her ear. “You awake?”

He sounded sleepy, his voice rough, a touch gritty. She pressed her thighs together. Oh yes. She was very much awake.

She swallowed, stomach jumping, and rolled over in his hold. “Hi.”

His lids were heavy, his lips a touch swollen as he smiled down at her and stroked his hand up her side, his palm settling on the curve of her hip. Familiar.

“Did you sleep all right?” He yawned, blinking, eyes looking more awake by the minute.

She nodded, face warming when his eyes dipped to her chest. “I slept wonderfully. Your bed is quite comfortable.”

Who she’d slept with and what they’d done before sleeping had certainly helped.

James smirked. “What luck, seeing as I’m not letting you out of it any time soon.”

“What about food?” she asked, breath catching when his hand swept down to her knee and lifted it over his hip.

He hummed. “We can have breakfast in bed.” His fingers stroked between her thighs. “Or maybe I’ll just have you for breakfast.”

This was dream. It had to be. She didn’t wake up in bed beside James Potter of all people, let alone get greeted with dirty promises and follow-through. That sort of thing just didn’t happen to her.

James leaned in, slotting his mouth over hers, sucking her bottom lip between his. Okay. Maybe this sort of thing did happen to her.

Not that he seemed interested in making her gratification instant. He made lazy circles around her clit, like he was more inclined to watch her squirm than actually make her come.

She rocked her hips, seeking friction, speed, something more. She turned her head to the side, breaking the kiss. “Please.”

He shuddered, a groan slipping from between his lips. “What do you want, Hermione? Tell me.”

“Fuck.” She gasped as his fingers finally quickened. But she was so empty. “I need you inside me.”

Just like that, his fingers froze, making her whimper at the loss of sensation. James rolled them over until he was above her, cradled between her spread thighs. His fingertips brushed the slight jut of her hip bones, making her shiver as warmth suffused through her abdomen, the charm cast.

Taking himself in hand, James ran the head of his cock through her folds, smirking lightly as he tapped himself against her clit, teasing. Her legs tightened around his hips, drawing him close, trying to pull him inside.

“James.” Her head pressed into the pillow, neck arching. “Fuck. Please.”

His front teeth bit into the swell of his lower lip. “Gods, you’re gorgeous.” His hips pressed forward, his cock stretching her as he slid inside. He bared his teeth, expression that of exquisite agony. “And so bloody tight.”

Her eyes slipped shut, the feeling of him inside her so good, too good.

A sharp pinch of her nipple of made her gasp, her eyes opening. James smirked down at her. “Uh-uh. Eyes on me. I want you to know exactly who’s fucking you.”

As if she could forget. “James.”

He hummed, hands wrapping around her thighs and shifting her, lifting her bum. He snapped his hips, his cock pressing against her front wall. Her back arched, eyes rolling back as pressure made her belly tighten.

“Talk to me,” he requested, words just a touchy breathy like he himself was hanging on by a thread.

Talk to him? Merlin. She was used to there and yes, that’s it but actual words strung together? Coherency? He was good at it, filthy phrases spilling off his tongue with ease when he was wrapped up in the moment. She swallowed. “I’m close.”

“Yeah?” His tongue swiped against his upper lip, capturing a bead of sweat before it dripped away. “You’re gonna come all over my cock, Hermione?”

 “Uh huh.” She dipped her chin, back arching, meeting his thrusts. “Yes. Fuck. So close.”

A muscle in his jaw jumped as he reached between them, thumb rubbing her clit fast and—

James.” Everything inside her clenched, her whole world narrowing down to the place where they were joined, where the pleasure stemmed and radiated.

He choked out her name, hips stuttering before he slumped forward, bracing his weight on his arms so he wouldn’t crush her.

“Oh, sweet Merlin,” James gasped against her temple. His lips brushed against her forehead as he leaned back, meeting her eyes. He chuckled softly. “Good morning.”

She opened her mouth to return the silly, but sweet greeting when her stomach rumbled something fierce.

“Hungry?” he asked.

The last she’d eaten had been birthday cake just before dusk. “Famished.”

He brushed a strand of hair away from her forehead, then traced the curve of her jaw with his knuckles. “Would you rather go out for breakfast, or have me fix something here?”

“Oh, so you’re letting me out of your bed, after all?” she teased.

James arched a brow. “Just for breakfast. As soon as you’re fed, we’re coming straight back here and spending the rest of the day in my bedroom.” His lips quirked to the side. “I’d rather not limit us to the bed. If I remember, I promised to shag you against a wall.”

“You did.” Her stomach jolted, this time not because she was hungry. “What if Harry’s downstairs?”

James reached for his glasses on the nightstand, wincing. “I do need to tell him…”

“Of course. But if I walk downstairs, he’ll know I stayed the night. He’ll figure out…” That they had shagged. Gods. This was not how Harry was supposed to find out about them.

If not for the apparition wards, she’d be tempted to leave right from the bedroom, not even risk going downstairs.

Hands scrubbing his cheeks, James sighed. “Okay. How about this—I’ll go downstairs first. Transfigure your dress into something different and come down a few minutes later. Throw some powder in the fireplace for noise and say you just came over wanting to know if anyone wants to go to breakfast. I’ll sit Harry down and tell him after, okay?”

That sounded…feasible, plausible even. She’d stopped by for breakfast before. Usually she gave advanced notice or was invited, but she’d dropped by unannounced on occasion. It wasn’t unheard of. “Okay.”

James dressed quickly, kissing her cheek before ducking out of the room.

Okay. She could do this. She just had to act normal, act like she hadn’t spent the night shagging Harry’s father.

After a quick cleanup in the master bath, Hermione slipped on yesterday’s dress, changing the color to a soft pink and the neckline to something a little higher. She couldn’t find her blasted knickers anywhere. Maybe James had pocketed them? Shrugging it off for the time being, she applied a glamour to the sizeable hickey on the side of her throat and fixed her hair into a bun that looked a little less freshly fucked and a bit more Sunday brunch.

It would have to do. Sliding inside her flats, Hermione took a deep breath and opened the bedroom door, peeking out into the hall. All clear. She shut the door and tiptoed her way down the stairs, careful to avoid that creaky step at the bottom and rushed over to the empty fireplace, throwing down a handful of powder before whispering her own flat’s address, stepping back when the Floo flashed green and roared noisily.

Maybe this would work. Buoyed, Hermione crossed the hall and ducked her head inside the kitchen. James had his back to her, his head in a cabinet, and—she steeled her spine—Harry was seated at the table, his nose buried in the Prophet. She cleared her throat. “Good morning!”

Harry lowered the paper but didn’t take his eyes off the article. “Morning.”

James turned, feigning surprise. “Oh hey, Hermione. What brings you this by this morning?”

“Just thought I’d see if anyone wanted to grab breakfast? I was thinking of heading over to—”

“Hello, Hermione.” She spun, nearly knocking right into Sirius who had come from the direction of the loo. “Fancy seeing you here at this time of the morning.”

He rounded the table, taking a seat beside Harry who was still fastidiously reading the Prophet. Sirius kicked his slippered feet up on the table and grinned.

“Right. I just stopped by to see if anyone wants to grab breakfast.”

“Just stopped by?” Sirius asked, tilting his head to the side.

She crossed her arms. The look in his eye spelled trouble. “What are you doing here?”

Sirius pointed at his chest. “Oh, me? I stayed the night. It’s a funny story really. See, you rather disappeared from your party, and we were all quite worried. We searched the Burrow top to bottom, went by your flat, etcetera and yet we couldn’t find you anywhere. Odd, isn’t it? Well, we staged a bit of a search party. Harry and I teamed up to check if you’d come here for some reason, who knows why? We hadn’t the slightest clue as to what could have possibly brought you here of all places, but we thought we’d be thorough, yeah? Leave no stone unturned.” Sirius held up his hands, shrugging. “Eventually, I got a bit knackered and decided to crash on the couch.”

She restrained the overwhelming urge to glance toward James, shrugging instead. “You must not have looked very hard.”

Sirius hummed, lacing his fingers together in front of his chest. “You’re saying you were home?”

Damn. “I was in bed.”

Just not her bed.

His lips twitched. “Of course. Makes perfect sense.”

“It does.”

For a moment, no one said anything. The whistle of the kettle made her jolt.

James cleared his throat. “Tea, Hermione?”

She nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Potter.”

Harry’s head landed against the table with a thud. When he groaned into the newsprint, laughter sputtered from between the tight press of Sirius’s lips.

She glanced at James, but he looked just as lost as she felt.

Harry mumbled something unintelligible, something that sent Sirius into hysterics.

“Oh fuck.” Sirius pressed a hand to his stomach, gasping. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I just—no, I can’t.”

James set the kettle down on the table and crossed his arms. “Can’t what, Sirius?”

He shook his head, gasping. “Moony—he’s gonna—fuck—this is too much.”

Harry mumbled something else into the paper.

“What was that, Harry?” she asked.

He lifted his head and shot her an exasperated look, eyes narrowed, and lips puckered. His whole face was flushed. “Could you just, I don’t know, refrain from calling my father Mr. Potter when I’m in earshot, please? I’m traumatized enough, Hermione.”

Heat crept up her chest, her neck, finally her jaw as her stomach soured. “What?”

One word and her stupid voice cracked.

“Oh, Prongsy.” Sirius sighed. “I love you, you know that? You’re pants at Marauding these days, but you’ve made me a very happy man.”

James frowned. “I don’t follow. I don’t know if I want to follow.”

“Moony lost the bet.” Sirius grinned. “He’s gonna be so fucking pissed you two couldn’t keep it in your trousers until Christmas.” Shifting in his chair, Sirius reached into the pocket of his robe and threw something on the table. “Nice knickers, by the way, love. Those bows add a special touch.”

Her black knickers, the ones James had tossed on the stairs and apparently forgotten about retrieving, were sitting in the center of the dining table beside the bloody pepper shaker.

Harry dropped his head back to the table with another aggrieved sigh.

No. No. No. This was not how it was supposed to happen, not even close. She reached across the table and plucked her knickers off the table, holding them awkwardly in her fist. Not that that did much to hide the…evidence. That ship had sailed.

“Arse,” she muttered, heart racing.

James guppied for a moment, mouth opening and closing. “We didn’t—we weren’t…” He squared his shoulders and clenched his jaw. “Okay, yeah, you know what? We did. I’m an adult and so’s Hermione and we did do…that. Which is awkward for you, Harry, and I’m a little sorry, not that we did that but that you obviously heard us doing…that.”

Merlin help her.

Harry lifted his head, brow furrowed. “Dad.”

“See, I’m…” James shook his head. “Harry, you know the last thing I want to do is hurt you or make you cross with me, but I really like Hermione and—”

“We’re all quite aware of how much you like her, Prongs.” Sirius snorted. “We heard you loud and clear. Enthusiastically. Several times. Congratulations, by the way. Apparently, you’re not as rusty as I worried you’d be.”

James flipped Sirius the bird. “Sod off.” He turned back to Harry. “Look, I’m—”

Harry lifted a hand. “Dad, just…” His gaze flitted to her, his cheeks going red. “Really, Hermione? My dad?”

She couldn’t get a handle on his tone. Was he angry? Disgusted with her? Hurt? Confused?

“Erm.” She shrugged. “Yes? He’s—”

Harry shook his head. “You’re serious?”

Sirius snorted. “No, I’m—”

“Shut up, Padfoot.” James huffed.

Harry rolled his eyes. “I mean, you’re serious about my dad? Because I don’t want him getting hurt if you’re not.”

She stared at him for a moment. He didn’t back down, his gaze unwavering, protective. Her hurt James? Gods. “Yes, I’m serious, Harry. I’m actually quite—"

Harry lifted both his hands, forcing her to swallow her words. “Don’t need details.” He turned to his father. “And you’re serious about Hermione?”

James nodded, eyes meeting hers. “Absolutely.”

Her stomach flipped. Absolutely.

“Okay.” Harry paused, lips twisting. “I mean, it’s bloody awkward, but I’ll live.” Harry turned to the next page of the Prophet. He scanned the page before lifting his head and arching a brow. “Just so we’re clear, I don’t, nor will I ever, want details. And try, please try, to keep the snogging around me to a minimum. And silencing spells, for Godric’s sake, put them up.”

“Pot, kettle.” James rolled his eyes.

Sirius jerked a thumb at his chest, grinning roguishly. “Black.”

Harry shook his head. “And you’re on your own telling everyone. I’ll be supportive, but I’m not fielding questions from Mrs. Weasley on your behalf, okay? I have enough to contend with from her on my own.”

Oh Gods, Mrs. Weasley. That would be fun.

James scoffed. “Merlin, how did I raise such a tight-arse?”

“He is, isn’t he?” Sirius tsked. “Prongslet, how could you possibly not have seen this coming a mile away? There was so much eye fucking, it was obscene.” He cocked his head. “Not that I’m complaining. I enjoyed watching you two tip-toe around one another. You could cut the tension with a knife. Hot as hell, truly. Got my jollies vicariously, as a matter of fact. Like dinner and a show every Sunday.”

Godric grief, really?

Harry gagged. “You’re obscene, Sirius. You and Remus had a bet going? Really?”

“Of course we did. Hell, Tonks was in on it, too. She figured Hermione would’ve jumped James’s bones within a week of hopping off the Hogwarts Express for the last time.” Sirius rolled his eyes. “Eager, my cousin. No, I figured Prongs would feel all guilty, so noble, all oh no, I can’t defile the perfectly legal woman who’s been making eyes at me for the last year.” Sirius cleared his throat and pitched his voice, “Oh, Mr. Potter, how fit and experienced you are with your—”

“Details!” Harry’s face paled. “I don’t want them from anyone.”

“I sound nothing like that,” she muttered.

Sirius sighed, shaking his head slowly. “Oh, where did we go wrong with you, Harry? Where’s your sense of humor? I mean, look on the bright side—your dad’s just dating your best friend, it could be worse. At least they aren’t cousins like my parents.”

Harry turned slightly green.

James coughed. “That always explains so much.”

Sirius stuck out his tongue.

Harry’s eyes bounced between James and her, leveling them both with a hard stare before landing on her and holding, softening as his smile went crooked. “I love you, Hermione, but just so you know, I’m not ever going to refer to you as my step-mum, okay?”

Oh, sweet Merlin.

Sirius cackled. “How about Mrs. Potter?"

James smiled, more to himself than anyone else, but it made her heart race.

Mrs. Potter.

She rather liked the sound of that.