Disclaimer: The usual - I don't own any of the characters or world setting for Harry Potter, J. does, and I don't make any money writing this. Thank you JKR for letting us play in your sandbox.
Harry Potter and the Grocery Run
"Oh shoot. I'd hoped Fortescue's would be open again." Hermione's voiced was laced with brightness, like sunshine had been turned into ribbon that she had carefully sewn overtop of the sadness and pain. Harry noticed, and knew that she had stolen that sunshine and made that ribbon just for him. She didn't want him to be sad anymore. Didn't want him to blame himself for the deaths of his friends. He tried to rise for her, tried to respond in kind, but his voice failed him and only dripped bitterness.
"I wonder if he'll ever be back." He said. He tried to smile, but only succeeded in tightening his lips in lieu.
She was wearing her rose-colored denim jacket, her favourite, over a fleece jumper and her most comfortable pair of jeans. Harry couldn't help but notice how well she filled them. Ever since that night in the tent... No. He wouldn't go there. She didn't want him that way, and that was her choice.
She took her hands from her pockets and took his hand in hers as they walked. He knew her smile was forced - could see it in her eyes. That just made the fact that she faked it just for him all the sweeter.
"I guess we'll have to wait before I can buy you a celebratory ice cream."
That brought a single ray of light into his gloom. She was always like that. Always there, always helpful, always brilliant. If anyone could pull him back to reality...
"It's just as well. I need real groceries. Meat, fruit, veg. I'll settle for sharing a small tub with you after dinner?"
"That sounds like a lovely compromise, Mister Potter."
"Mint Chocolate Chip, of course."
She actually laughed at that. A real, honest-to-magic laugh. It was like finding a rainbow at midnight.
"You know me so well, Harry."
Of course he did. How could he not? Seven years side by side, through laughter and tears, triumph and death. As if summoned by the thought, the faces flashed through his mind again. Fred. Remus. Tonks. Colin. Lavender. He tried not to let it show, but she knew. Of course she knew. He took a deep breath and tried to shove it all down again. She didn't need to see him wallowing after making the trip just to get him out of that dustbin of a house. He tried to smile at her again, but he could see in her eyes that she could see he was full of shit. Still, he did his best.
"Looks like Flourish and Blotts is still open. Fancy a book?" Even to his own ears it sounded like he was glossing over it. Like ice over a deep river at the beginning of spring. You could skate on it, but it moved and crackled and you knew you shouldn't be there.
"Well..." The set of her mouth told him she knew what he was doing, and would allow it for his sake. "Maybe just one..." She flashed that same tightening of her lips that he had tried to pass off as a smile. She was worried for him, but tried not to show him she was. Best friend anyone could ever want.
"Come on then, my tre-" Something set the hairs on the back of his neck on end.
His eyes were suddenly everywhere, searching, seeking... finding.
The sudden increase in pressure on his hand let him know she'd noticed and she too was scanning everything. It was too late though. It was a ragged, sneering man who looked late forties - which meant he could have been eighty as a wizard.
"Say goodbye to the mudblood whore, Potter." The sneer belched. His toady little eyes filled with sadistic glee. "Desperandum Admortem!"
He reached for his wand, but there was no time. He knew there was no time. Hermione had her wand out already, but she was facing the wrong way. She hadn't seen him. She couldn't see the horrid, bruise-purple energy that flashed toward her.
He took a step. A simple step. Right foot forward about a meter. Pivot the hips. Look her in the eyes one last time.
She spun to face him, eyes locked onto his, and he smiled then, a real smile. He could feel it warming his face as the violent hatred washed over his back. The pain of it buckled his knees, and he began to fall, and her face stretched in abject terror as she saw him drift toward the street. Her eyes snapped into the distance behind him, and she didn't even cast. She screamed in rage with her wand pointed, and he could hear utter destruction follow. He must have hit the street at some point, but he kept falling, falling into a deep hole as darkness closed in around him.
She studied his face again, searching for any clue, any hint, the slightest movement, but found nothing. He was quiet. Still. Too still. She turned back to the book in her lap - one of twelve in stacks on the floor around her chair - she'd been through nearly a hundred of them in the last four weeks, but had learned nothing that could help. Nothing about any dark purple spells or coma spells or anything. She'd even take any kind of hint as to why he had smiled. She saw his face again as he fell, the calm, peaceful smile she knew was just for her. He had saved her again. He always saved her. He'd been doing it since they met, since she was a frightened and lonely girl on a strange train to a new world.
She wiped her eyes again as the whirlwind inside her neared too close to the surface and forced water from her eyes. The handkerchief stayed in her hand at this point, there was no telling when she would need to dry her face.
The door opened and Ron walked in. She was a little relieved to see him taking some kind of interest in Harry's welfare, but she was also miffed at him, it was the first time he'd shown up in the last four weeks.
"Come on, 'Mione. Let's go."
No 'How is he', no 'how are you', just hey, move it.
"Go where?" She snipped. As if there was anywhere else she should be.
"There's a decent pub just down the way, I fancy dinner and a pint."
"And I should just leave because you fancy dinner and a pint."
"He'll be there when you get back. Coma patients don't go flitting about, do they?"
She wasn't sure if it was his callous disregard or his patronizing tone that pissed her off more. She turned to look at him, disgust and incredulity warring on her features.
"You do know that's your best friend lying in a coma right there, don't you?"
"You do know you're meant to be my girlfriend, don't you?"
"What does that have to do with -"
"Oh please, 'Mione, don't give me that! You've been here four fucking weeks! I guess it just doesn't matter that I had dates planned, does it? Once again the Great Harry Potter just decides to take all the attention for himself! Doesn't matter what Ron wants, does it? You're meant to be my girl, 'Mione! What about me?"
She looked up at him, utterly gobsmacked. What about him? What about him?!
"What about me?" She asked him. Her voice was low and smooth and dangerous.
"Oh now you'll get all defensive and say I was being a git for wanting to go to dinner with you, like it's a terrible thing."
"It's a terrible, horrible, selfish thing! You insensitive prick!" She growled.
His eyes went flat and his ears started to redden and he stuck his hands in his jacket pockets. "Fine." He said.
"That's meant to be me lying there, Ron. Me in that coma. Harry - your best friend - is lying there unresponsive because he stepped in front of a curse meant for me. He deliberately sacrificed himself for me, and you want me to abandon him because you fancy dinner and alcohol."
She found her hand on her wand. She hadn't intentionally put it there. She forced her hand away from it, and took a deep breath as she stood, trying to calm the ocean of rage that was threatening to boil over into the real world.
"You know Ron, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever heard anything come out of your mouth that wasn't 'what about me' in some fashion. I suppose I should have known better than to think one brief glimmer of hope during the last battle was the beginning of something, when the entirety of your history has been something else. I suppose that's my bad judgement. Thankfully, I can rectify that oversight. Go to the pub, Ron. Go have dinner and a pint. Have several pints, since we both know you're going to anyway. When you're finished with that, why don't you fuck off entirely and never come back. Don't come around anymore, don't call me girlfriend anymore, and especially don't ever call me 'Mione again! I fucking HATE that! You fucking PRICK!" The rage washed through her and forced water from her eyes again. She wiped her face with the handkerchief again.
"Fine. Hope you're happy together. The bookworm and her stiff. Lame duck probably jumped at the chance for a coma just for some peace and quiet from you!" He wrenched the door open and disappeared down the hall, but whispered "Fucking nightmare." as he left.
She collapsed into her chair again, sobbing.
Why? He was just like the little kids at Primary school, trying to hurt her with words because they couldn't do it any other way. What in Magic's name did she ever see in him? He never deserved her, she could see that now. Just as she never deserved Harry. Deep down, she knew she'd only ever settled for Ron because he was the next best thing. Because she knew she didn't deserve harry, no matter how much she wanted him.
She kept the handkerchief rumpled in her hand as she picked up the book and began again where she left off. She'd go through as many books as it took to find something that helped. Anything that helped. She had to at least let him know. Let him know and then accept the consequences, be it a laugh and a "Good one, Hermione!" or even if he never wanted to see her again. She could live with that if he knew. It would hurt, but she could live with it.
It started with the train. Somehow he was back on the train, sitting quietly by himself in too much space, hoping against hope to meet some nice people, and absolutely terrified of it. What if Uncle Vernon was right? What if even among wizards and witches he was a freak? Every person who walked by the compartment made him jump in anticipation and fear, equal parts excited and scared.
"Excuse me, have you seen a toad? A boy named Neville has lost his." Her hair was bushy and filled the volume around her beautiful little face, so serious, so earnest. It was her helping people face. He knew that face all too well.
"Nevermind." She said then. "I can see you're clearly unfit to be here. You should go to the back of the train with the other freaks, so no-one thinks you're a regular person. Imagine trying to fit in as though you were normal. I mean, really." She glared down her nose at him, scathing scorn dripping from her every nuance, every syllable. She closed the door again and huffed, then walked away, leaving him alone.
"But... we're friends..." He said to the door. "That isn't how..."
There was a terrible noise then, of crashing and breaking, and he instinctively shielded his head with his arms. Water sprayed on him, soaking through his robes and making the floor slippery. It was the bathroom. He was in the bathroom again. The troll swung its club at him and shattered the stalls in front of him after he ducked it. His heart pounded in his chest, adrenaline flooded his veins. He tried to pull his wand out, but bits of sink and plaster and water all over everything made the footing too treacherous, and he went down on his backside. The troll noticed, and raised its club for an overhand swing.
"Hey you!" She called. Hermione stood by the door, next to Ron. Ron had an amazed look on his face as he stared at the troll about to kill him. Hermione, on the other hand, blasted the troll with several hexes immediately, followed by a WinGARDium LeviOsa. The troll's club slipped from its grip as it brought it's hand down toward Harry, and a foul wind of rank body odour hit him instead of the small uprooted tree. The club then hit the troll in the head, and it crashed to the floor next to him.
"Why'd you bother, babe? Honestly, he's a nightmare. It's no wonder he's got no friends." Ron chided. Hermione looked at Harry, into his eyes, and laughed. She took Ron's arm and left Harry alone in the cold, water-covered girl's bathroom.
"Don't leave..." Harry said softly. "Please..." He reached out to the space she had been, and touched something cold and metal. He blinked, thinking that was a little odd, and saw the dirty old key with a broken wing in his hand. Instantly, the other keys focused on him and swarmed like angry hornets. He tossed the key to Hermione, who caught it and unlocked the door.
"Quick!" She said, ushering him inside. Harry ducked inside the door and closed it behind them just as a hundred tiny thumps jarred the door from the other side.
"That's my Harry!" Hermione grinned and crushed him to her, and he couldn't help but be relieved and happy. She felt so good. She smelled so good. "Well done." She stepped back and nodded to him. "Now, let's see what's next."
She took his hand, beaming happily as she did, and he started to relax inside. The warm sense of rightness he had lived with so long he couldn't remember what living was like without it flooded through him.
"Avada Kedavra!" Quirrel screamed, and Hermione dropped to the floor. He dropped to his knees and smoothed her hair away from her face. Her beautiful, rich warm eyes simply stared. There was no Hermione in them anymore.
"No! NO! NO!" He screamed. Tears washed out his vision, and he couldn't even reach for his wand. He struck out, lashing out with every ounce of strength his tiny body had, but Quirrell only laughed and gripped him around the neck with a fleshless hand of bleached bones.
It was such a tiny thing. So small and subtle that if she hadn't been looking directly at him, watching him, she wouldn't have seen it.
He seemed to sigh gently, and his face went somehow even more slack. A cold hand gripped her guts and crept up through her chest as she waited for him to take another breath. And waited. And waited.
The lights in the room went red. Alarms sounded.
She kicked her books away from the bed and pushed her chair back out of the way of the healers she knew would be coming, but she wasn't paying any attention to her actions. Her world was focused on Harry's chest and the fact that it wasn't rising.
The door slammed open to admit several witches and wizards, all in the warm, clean green robes of St. Mungo's. They all immediately began casting diagnostics and running scrolls of runes filled the air over the bed in several colours.
"Physicals are still green." One said in the clipped fashion of one who was concentrating on a task.
"Core erratic, possible destabilization in progress." Said another the same way.
"Reinforce core integrity, keep a running count of actual magic level." The witch in charge was s heavyset woman with a head of blonde hair that was more white than blonde and tucked into a neat bun at the nape of her neck. Hermione couldn't see her face, the head medwitch's back was to her while she worked on Harry.
"Core depleted. Reserves at sixty percent and falling."
Hermione put her hand over her mouth to avoid sobbing and distracting them. She was losing him. Harry James Potter was slipping away and there wasn't anything she could do about it. Years of suffering and sacrifice, months of running and hiding and evading. Everything they had done was just drifting away, and only four healers stood beside him when he had saved every magical life in Britain. His thanks was an unnoticed death. Another name on a list. She couldn't tell if her tears were more grief at losing him, fear at being impotent to stop it, or rage at it being allowed to happen.
"Fifty percent." The healer's voice rose in pitch.
"Administer three tears."
"We can't, chief. He has tears in his system already. Basilisk venom too."
"Shit. Set up bezoar infusion."
Two of the healers went into action. One pulled a bag of dirty brown liquid from the cart they had wheeled in with them, the other took a rune-covered bit of parchment from the cart and applied it to Harry's arm in the crook of his elbow. Another bit of rune-covered parchment went onto the bag of liquid. At a tap of the wand, there was a tiny flash from the bits of parchment.
"Depletion slowing. Forty-seven percent."
"Save him. Please save him." Hermione whispered through the tears.
"What's the core integrity like?" The chief medwitch asked.
"Holding at level three."
"Depletion at forty-five percent and holding."
"Alright, start pushing, slowly."
All four of the healers assumed a soft glow around them as they funneled magic directly into Harry. Seconds turned into minutes, stretching on and on and on. Hermione paced near the door, quivering like a wire under too much tension.
Harry's chest rose. The soft sibilance of air being sucked into his lungs was the sweetest sound she had ever heard.
She began sobbing again, and didn't care that her legs failed to keep her upright. "Thank you. Thank you." She repeated over and over even after the healers had left the room again. She went to his side when she could stand again and kissed him. She kissed his forehead, his cheeks, his eyes, and his lips. "Don't you ever do that again, Harry, you hear me? Don't you ever leave me again."
She sat back in her chair and held his hand to her forehead as she concentrated on just breathing. The pain in her chest radiated all the way through her, into her fingers and toes. The thought of losing him physically hurt enough to make Lestrange's cruciatus seem like a tickling hex. The pain only increased as she held him. His hands were so strong, so capable. He had callus on his palms and fingers from quidditch and holding a wand constantly, and his fingers were so thick compared to hers, so... she kissed his hand again. She had to find some way to keep him alive, to bring him back. There had to be some way to keep even a piece of him, any kind of...
There was one thing she could do.
It was crazy. It was highly illegal. It was for Harry, so that was irrelevant. Would it work though? She thought through the logistics of it, and decided she needed more information. If it was a possibility, she would also need to modify the detection charms and alarms on him, so that needed research too.
She stood and kissed the palm of his hand, then laid it over his chest.
"Don't you dare go anywhere while I'm gone, Harry. Don't you dare. I'll be back as soon as I can." She kissed his forehead again and picked up her bag. The hospital staff didn't even notice her leaving.
It hurt to see her like that.
She was cold, smooth, and completely still. It had taken Madam Pomfrey minutes to convince him she wasn't dead, just petrified, but he still cried while stroking her hair after Pomfrey left. He sat next to her, hoping she could hear him so she would know he was there, but at the same time hoping she couldn't hear him as he told her the terrible things that had been done to him. He felt so weak, so helpless as he recounted it all. Some of it made him cry tears of rage, some of it made him cry tears of vulnerable pain, but some part of him knew that it was safe with her. Even if it did make him afraid of telling her in the first place.
He didn't know how long he sat there talking and touching her arm occasionally, but it must have been a long time. He knew it was after dinner because Ron showed up. Ron didn't say anything, he just pushed in front of Harry and lifted Hermione's robes, trying to peek down her shirt. Harry stood and shoved Ron into the wall and away from her.
"What the hell Ron?!" He shouted.
"Get lost, freak!" Ron shouted back. "I'm a pureblood and I can have whatever I want! My Mummy said so! I'm gonna take everything you have!"
Hermione's stone face moved. Her eyes grated open and looked at him.
"I love you, Harry." She said.
Ron's face went red and he raised his arm. Before Harry could do anything, he brought a hammer down on Hermione's head and she shattered into gravel.
"NO!" Harry screamed.
Ron laughed. "Ha ha! You should see your face! Why so glum, chum? Guess I'll go find a real witch!" He walked out of the hospital wing, still laughing.
Harry began trying to piece her back together as tears made it impossible.
His tears began to freeze to his face and he recognized the unnatural cold. He looked around quickly, and spotted Hermione on the other side of the lake, lying on the shore with Dementors swooping around like skeletal fishing birds. Sirius tried bravely to fend them off, but his patronus was weak and faltered. A Dementor swooped past him and his face blurred as it pulled at his very essence.
Harry pulled his wand out and reached for his happy memory, but instead of her smile, instead of the feeling of her softness nestled against him as she read a book, he found her empty eyes, her slack, motionless face. Gravel.
A Dementor hovered over her. Her back arched as it sucked her life away. He was failing her. she was dying and it was his fault. The Dementor swallowed the blue-white spark that came from her mouth and she collapsed back to the ground, tensionless. Her head tilted and her empty eyes looked through him again.
"NO!" He screamed, "NO! NO! NO! NO!" He beat the ground with his fist as punctuation, and collapsed into sobs, the pain in his chest threatened to consume him.
The research said it was possible, so that was the premise under which she operated. She took a few nights to study the charms on Harry, learning them inside and out so that she could fool them into giving a false signal while she... Magic's sake, was she really doing this?
She knew she could loop the charms and have them report what she wanted - what she needed them to - and that left waiting for the right time. The healer on Night Rounds always looked in at 2 am, so she would have to pretend to be asleep until he or she left. That would leave her about three hours.
She looked at the clock on her cell, and it read eleven twenty-eight. She would have preferred to do months more research and know the situation inside and out before acting, but time was of the essence. Nobody knew how long Harry had left or whether he would live or die at all, so it had to be now. He would not pass from this world, not completely. She would not allow it.
She reviewed the charms she'd learned for tonight - the detections on Harry, the one-way privacy shell, and the... the ones for her. The potion was in her bag - that had been a real joy to acquire. The old witch's shop in Knockturn had been just wonderful, much like the old witch herself. She was certain she'd paid too much for it, but denying any personal information to such a witch was worth the extra expense.
She took a few deep breaths to calm herself, then picked up the latest book and dove back into trying to find a cure while she waited for two o'clock.
The Night Rounds healer was a witch that night, maybe mid-thirties. She came into the room quietly, checked the detection charms on harry, noted her findings in his chart, and quietly left again. Hermione was leaned forward, head on her arms and clutching Harry's hand during the visit. As soon as the medwitch left, Hermione sat up and took more deep breaths. She cast Silencio on the door and the bed, then checked the hallway. It was empty. She closed the door again and hit it with four different locking spells, and then the one-way privacy shell.
She pulled the potion from her bag and quaffed the fluffy-tasting pink concoction in one pull. Her stomach spasmed, and she felt a hot need settle in her lower abdomen. She pulled her jeans off and set them carefully on the back of her chair, followed by her knickers on the seat of the chair. It was strange being half-naked while technically in public, but for some reason what would normally be anxiety and embarrassment was only anticipation. She took a few more bracing breaths, then altered the detection charms on Harry. She waited a few seconds to see if anything happened, but apparently she'd done it correctly. No alarms sounded, no reaction of any kind. In retrospect she noted it would probably have been a better idea to loop the charms before exposing her crotch to the world. Too late now.
She pulled Harry's sheet down to his knees, and her pulse raced. She paused for another couple of deep breaths, then lifted the hem of his gown. His legs were hard, defined muscle with a sparse coating of thick black hair. She'd seen him in his underwear by accident a few times while they were in the tent, and had always liked the look of his legs. She pulled the gown up to his taut stomach and lay it there. She had seen male sex organs before on the internet and in books, but the real thing staring at her from less than a foot away was a completely different experience. Her pulse raced again, and a heat rose into her cheeks that had nothing to do with temperature.
She looked up at his face, half-expecting him to be awake and looking at her, but there was no change. Gingerly she reached out and wrapped her fingers around his cock - most of what she had seen on the internet had described it as a cock. Nowhere except medical journals did she see it described as a penis. She had known it was called a penis since she was six, but she had to admit she had never thought of it as such. After she discovered the pleasurable feelings between her own legs when she was twelve, she had just always thought of it as a cock. It seemed somehow naughtier and made touching herself more intense. She was unprepared for how one felt in her hand.
"So soft..." She whispered. The velvety smoothness of the skin on it entranced her, and before she realized what she was doing, she had brushed it across her cheek. The feeling of it sent shivers down her spine. She noticed the scent then as well. It smelled like Harry, like the quintessential Harry she had been smelling since she noticed it in third year, but more. There was something else in that smell, in the background of it that stoked the burning in her belly and made her sex tingle. To her surprise and delight, Harry seemed to be growing thicker and longer in her hand. She ran her other hand through the tangle of black hair that surrounded it, then stroked the smooth skin up and down. How many times had she masturbated to this? He'd been awake in her fantasies, of course, and her fantasies couldn't have shown her his cock even in her imagination, because she'd never seen it, but now... This would definitely fuel future nights.
It was big enough to wrap her hand around but still sort of soft and rubbery, but a nice size. She looked at his face again, but still his eyes were closed, his face slack. She stroked it a little harder, and pulled the skin back from the tip. It was round and full, and the super-smooth skin over the tip glistened as it swelled. Curious, she took the tip in her mouth. Even to her tongue the skin was incredibly smooth, and the taste was unlike anything. Like licking Harry's neck after Quidditch, slightly salty, but with an indefinable tang in the background. She slid her mouth down him, taking as much of him in her mouth as she could, unable to get enough of it. A soft moan sounded in the back of her throat as she felt him continue to swell and harden in her mouth. She slid her mouth up and down him a few more times and felt a pulsing in her nethers as she did. She knew that feeling, and it was a prelude to shutting her curtains with silence and privacy spells.
She took her mouth off him and marveled at the size of him. It was one thing to know the numbers for what was average and above average, but an entirely different thing to see it - to feel it. His cock was hard now, like gripping a broom handle wrapped in silk - if they made broom handles you could barely get your fingers around. It was the size of her bloody forearm! A small, detached part of her brain knew that she stretched some, and still asked if it was going to fit. The rest of her had already climbed onto the bed and hovered her opening over his erection. She brushed his tip through her slit and shivered at the sensation. She was wetter than she'd ever been, and briefly hoped it was enough as she lowered herself onto him. She sank as far as she could and groaned at the beautiful fullness. She knew it would hurt. All the books said it would hurt. The medical texts said a part of her would tear, so she knew it would hurt. She hadn't counted on the fire in her belly not caring that it would hurt. A few quick breaths was all the time she could spare for preparing herself, then her need demanded that she drop.
It hurt. It definitely hurt. She could feel ripping in her most tender of places, but oh, the feeling that came when he was deep inside her. It was like masturbating when you were already sore. Yes, there was unpleasantness, but it was rolled together with such want, such need, such pleasure, that the pain only enhanced the experience. She grunted loudly, deep in her chest as her behind came to rest on Harry's legs. Her eyes scrunched shut and her hands made claws as they gripped the taut skin across his stomach muscles.
"Unnhh fffuuuuck..." She groaned. She could feel him in her stomach, deep inside her. She could feel the heat from his cock radiating warmth through her, and it raised her eyebrows and put her tongue behind her teeth in a tiny smile. Her hands went to her stomach and she could feel him in there. She sighed with the culmination of her fantasy - well, one of them - and opened her eyes again. Harry hadn't moved or changed in the slightest. She leaned forward to put her hands on his chest, and that simple movement moved him inside her and sent waves of pleasure through her whole body. The unexpected intensity of it caused another moan to escape. She shifted her hips again, thoroughly absorbed by the unbelievable feelings emanating from their union. Her mind all but shut down then, abandoned to the raw, fundamental power happening inside her. She shifted her hips, dragged them forward across Harry's lower abdomen, than slammed them backward, impaling herself on him again. Over and over she repeated the motion, and she could feel a hot pressure building inside her. It was like when she knew she was close to finishing, but so much bigger, so much more encompassing. All at once the pressure broke, and the universe went white.
When reality intruded again, she was curled into a ball on Harry's chest, still impaled on his thick length. The top of her head had lifted off, and she could feel the air directly on her brain. The fire in her stomach still burned, and the simple act of sitting up, of pushing herself off his chest sparked another buildup of pressure. She rode him helplessly, slave to the pleasure that demanded of her. The universe went white again in short order, and again once reality returned she continued her quest.
She began to worry that what she was doing wasn't working, and became slowly aware that beneath her grunts of pleasure there were words.
"Please Harry. Give it to me Harry. Please Harry. Give it to me please."
She felt the buildup again rising, rising toward her pleasure threshold, but then something changed. She felt him pulsating inside her, felt the jets of hot liquid splashing against her insides. The unexpected pleasure of it combined with the knowledge of what it was send shockwaves through her and lifted the top of her head off again. She came back to reality lying on his chest again, and the sheer enormity of the love she felt for him forced tears from her eyes.
"I love you, Harry." She told him as she kissed him. "I love you. I've always loved you. I will always love you."
She wanted him to open his eyes and tell her he loved her too. She wanted it more than anything. Then she wanted to fall asleep right where she was, feeling and smelling him and waking up on top of him. Her chest was tight with the need for it, but he did not wake up, he did not open his eyes, he didn't move.
She sighed and wiped her eyes before swinging her leg over him and climbing off him and the bed. She cleaned him up so the healers wouldn't notice anything amiss, then pulled his gown down again, and re-covered him with the bedsheet, then fixed the detection charms. She cleaned herself up before putting her knickers and jeans back on, then curled up in the plush chair, arms wrapped around her stomach and its precious cargo.
All that was left to do was wait and see if she needed to repeat her actions tomorrow.
"Kill the spare." The voice hissed.
NO! NOT AGAIN! Harry thought, and shoved Hermione out of the way. He felt the sickly green energy hit him in the back as he protected her. He felt himself hit the stone floor, and saw feet pointed at his face. He jumped back to his feet, but Luna's eyes were haunted, dead inside. She merely stared straight ahead and didn't acknowledge him at all. They were in a stone room with one door.
"No, not here. Not again. Please." Harry whispered.
Two large men in black hoods entered their cell and closed the door, both focused directly on him. Harry tried to back away, but they weren't giving him any room to move. One of them backhanded Luna to the floor, and Harry dove toward her, but the other one was too quick. He caught Harry's ankle, and the one who'd struck Luna grabbed a handful of his hair and hauled him to his feet. They switched their grips to having one of his arms in each of theirs, and they dragged him out the door and up the stairs to the large stone room where Hermione lay on the floor with Bellatrix kneeling over her.
"Get off her!" He shouted.
"Oooo, does Bella's little slave have a boyfriend then?" Lestrange cackled. Hermione stood and pulled out a wand with her right hand. Her left arm was bleeding, dripping a trail on the floor as she approached. Her arm read 'Bella's Slave'.
Hermione pointed the wand at him, and he felt himself ripped away from his captors and thrown mercilessly to the floor, hard enough to make stars dance in his eyes. Stabs in his chest told him he'd broken ribs. He was flipped onto his back, and lost all control of his limbs.
"Little boyflies, all stuck to the floor." Hermione giggled. "Will you rise to the occasion?" She cackled like Lestrange.
"Hermione, we have to get out of here! Let's go!" He pleaded.
She dropped her weight squarely on his crotch, her knees squeezed his sides. "We have to get out of here, let's gooooo!" She mimicked him in a whiney voice. "I've got a better idea, lover." She ground her crotch against his, and he had the natural reaction despite how badly he wanted not to.
"Hermione please, we have to go!" He begged.
"Hermione, please!" She cackled again.
Her face went from sadistic glee to frightened then, and her normal voice said "Harry? Is that you? You have to get out, Harry, I can't hold her for long."
"Hermione!" He shouted. "Fight it! Fight her! Get us out of here!"
"Harry, I-" Her face twisted back to sadistic glee.
"Fight it! Fight her! Get us out of here!" She mocked. "You can't go anywhere unless I say so, fuckstick. I finally coaxed that cunt to the surface, and I have you to thank, loverboy. Now you can watch me kill her." She grinned in his face, and her eyes were madness and rage.
"No Hermione, no! Run! get away! Get safe!" He warned.
"Harry?" She asked, frightened again. "Harry, she's closing in, I can't... I can't..."
"That's right! You can't! I WIN, BITCH!" She screamed with a triumphant grin while looking down at him, and rammed her wand into her right eye. Blood sprayed all over his face and into his mouth as he screamed.
Hermione fell onto his chest and didn't move.
The research had told her it would happen, but knowing you're going to throw up once a day or more for weeks and actually having to do it were two horrifyingly different things. She'd done the research, both on what to expect and how to minimize it. Luckily for her as well, she was a witch and had access to potions that negated the negatives. She had also researched the glamour charms necessary for hiding her bloated midsection when she became big enough to show, but she didn't have to use them just yet.
The end result was that she sat in the hospital next to Harry, working her way through a library's worth of books. She knew the exact date of conception, so she knew how much time she had left before she would be too pregnant to move around. She knew she had to get somewhere safe before then, as she couldn't just suddenly appear in public with a baby. In magical Britain, that was a scarlet letter and there was no way back from it. She would be ostracized, she would never get a decent job, and very likely she would be forced to leave. As it happened, that was what she was planning in any case. She still had yet to find her parents and un-obliviate them. There would be a hell of a lot of anger from them. They would feel betrayed and manipulated, but once she explained and told them that she'd done it for their safety and that it had worked, they'd be able to talk it out. It would take time, but she was sure they'd be able to understand. If she showed up very pregnant as well, she knew for a fact her mother would never turn away the opportunity to spend time with a baby.
She was six weeks along already, and according to the schedule she had written out that left her approximately thirty weeks to either find a cure for Harry or wait for him wake up on his own. After that, it was international portkey time. That was assuming her pregnancy adhered to standard gestation times. Not all of them did. She really hoped hers did, she had so much to do. In fact, it might be better to move the date back to 28 weeks just for a wider margin of error. She didn't want to be walking around looking for her parents and have her water break in the street.
She put the bookmark in the book and set it on the stack next to her chair and went to stand beside Harry. She rested her forehead on his and wished for the umpteenth time that he would just open his eyes and look at her. She ran her fingers through his hair and breathed him in, then kissed him again and stood up straight, stretching. One thing she had noticed besides the fact that some smells made her queasy now was that Harry seemed to have the opposite effect. Even when she came into the room already queasy from something outside, just smelling him made her stomach settle immediately.
There was a tightness just below her bellybutton as she stretched, and it brought a smile to her face. She put her hands over it protectively.
"I hope you can smell your daddy too. I want him to wake up and be with us, but if he doesn't, we may not get much more than remembering his smell. You can rest assured I'm doing all I can though. I want him with us more than anything."
The alarm on her cellphone rang then, just a double beep to let her know it was time to eat something. She had made a list of all the healthiest things to eat when pregnant and made a schedule of five small meals per day of only those things. Sometimes she really just wanted a bacon sandwich, but there was no chance of that for another thirty-two weeks at least. She took a small tub of Greek yogurt out of her bag and mixed fresh strawberries, blackberries, and peanuts into it, then sat back in her chair to eat.
The unthinkably potent shields continually wore away before breaking into a fine shimmering mist. To the left, a screaming horde ran after Neville across the bridge before being swallowed by the canyon as the bridge detonated. Harry felt a stab of pain for the loss of Neville. He was a good man. A true friend. A hero.
Hermione grabbed his hand as they raced through the castle toward the third floor girls' toilet. They had to get a basilisk fang in order to destroy the cup. They reached the bathroom, but as he spoke the parseltongue password, Hermione was ripped from his grasp.
"Harry!" She screamed, but it was too late. A pack of werewolves had her in their teeth and her clothing shredded just before she was torn apart and eaten. Her empty eyes stared at him briefly before the werewolf drinking the blood from her throat carried her head off into the hall.
"NO!" He screamed as he ran after it.
He ran into the courtyard where Voldemort was addressing the school in his overly-loud whisper. Some of the students were covering their ears against it, but he and Hermione didn't have time for that. They ran down the ruined stairs, jumping over the parts that had crumbled. A squad of death eaters with Tom at the front had made their way to the very steps of the castle, and neither he nor Hermione were inclined to allow them further. Harry opened with a barrage of cutting curses, and was delighted to see several death eaters fall, one without his head.
"Harry!" Hermione screamed. She was dangling in mid-air, her wand on the ground as the orange curse hit her and she screamed and screamed with her limbs jerking in ways they were never meant to. Her left foot exploded and she screamed. Her right foot exploded and she screamed.
Harry screamed and flooded the death eaters with Bombardas, but they just wouldn't go down.
Hermione's right arm exploded and she screamed. Her left arm exploded and she screamed. Her left knee. Her right knee. Harry tried to throw himself into the path of the oncoming curses, but she was too high up. Her torso dropped to the ground like a sack of grain as her face came to rest on his shoe.
Harry screamed and fired death from the end of his wand, but the giants were just too resistant. His magic wasn't having any effect.
"Harry! Achilles tendon! Bombarda! Both together!" Hermione called out to him. He nodded, and raised his wand.
"Bombarda maxima!" He yelled as Hermione did the same from fifty feet away.
The giant's tendon snapped with the sound of a shotgun, and it bellowed thunder as it fell.
"Hermione! Run! This way fast!" He yelled at her, but Hermione stood transfixed as the giant fell directly toward her.
"RUUUUNNN!" He yelled. He ran as fast as he could, but he wasn't getting any closer to her. She turned her head to look at him as the shadow fell on her. She reached her hand out toward him, and then she was gone, replaced by the side of a giant.
Harry screamed and fired at the giant over and over, but he had to take cover. He was too vulnerable out in the open. The dragons swooped low over the castle, breathing flame over the defenders.
"Harry! get down!" Hermione fired curses at an upward angle, and he knew there had to be a dragon bearing down on them. He ran with his head down until he could take her hand, then they both ran toward the doors. Other students were fighting death eaters in the courtyard, and there was no way through .
"Hermione! I'll cover you, run along the side wall and get to safety!" He shouted over the battle noise.
She nodded, and ran flat out with her wand in hand, firing curses as she went. Harry fired at the death eaters as well, but it was to no avail. A dragon landed on the courtyard wall and breathed fire directly at her. He watched the flames consume her beautiful hair and clothes, and her skin blackened before bursting into flame itself. She turned to look at him with empty, charred eyesockets before the dragon grabbed her in its claw, bit her in half and chewed.
She ran her hands over her invisible bump again absently, marveling at the life growing inside her, then cursed herself for doing it. She couldn't be caught doing that, she needed to stop. She looked over at Harry again, with another silent wish for him to come back to her. Not for the first time, she considered coming back to Britain once she was settled in Australia and stealing him. The care would be at least as good there, and she found she couldn't bear the thought of not having him near her, even in a coma. Only twenty-two weeks left.
She scritched her nails through his beard, scratching his face gently because she'd read that beards generally itched their owners. She kissed him again, and sat back down. The current book was "Darkeste Darkenesse: Werste of Spelles", and seemed to be a historian's account of the magics used in various battles from the ninth century until the fourteenth. She curled her legs under her and went back to reading, only to sit bolt upright three paragraphs later.
She found it!
"There are spelles of suche unfaylinge wyckednisse so as to be considred allways faytal, and chife amoungste these are The Killinge Curse, and Dispayre Unto Deathe, whiche is the specialte of the Selwyn Grimoire. The Killinge Curse is well-nown, and covred in other textes. Dispayre Unto Deathe - Desperandum Admortem - is considred far darker due to its methode of forcinge the viktim to livve threwe the werst nytemares his minde may conjure. Desperandum Admortem, lyke The Killinge Curse, has no nown countre."
Her sudden elation curdled and rotted in her chest, sending chills through her.
No known counter.
She sobbed once, a hopeless bark of pain, and tears flooded from her eyes. The book fell from its perch and joined it brethren on the floor, forgotten as she wailed into her handkerchief.
It was half an hour and multiple bouts of rage and despair before she finally settled. She had nuzzled her face into his neck, and felt safety and comfort in his smell and the tickle of his beard on her skin.
"Well, if there's no known counter, then I'll just have to find one." She kissed his neck and stood beside him.
She tried a cheering charm first, and there was no effect on Harry. She hadn't expected any, the cheering charm was a topical thing, a mood band-aid. She already knew a Finite Incantatem wouldn't work, that had been the first thing the healers had tried. She tried Finite Somnium, but again, there was no effect.
What would counter nightmares? What was the opposite of terror and despair?
Love and Happiness, obviously. She could kick herself for being so dim. She almost sat back down to look through the books again, but instead of putting her wand away, as she thought of Dementors. They were beings that took away happiness and left despair.
She turned back to Harry and thought of holding onto him as they sailed into the night on Buckbeak's back. She filled herself with the memory, feeling the warmth of his body in her arms, smelling the back of his neck, seeing the smile he turned on her. She felt the elation that she and Harry had saved both Buckbeak and Sirius, and that knowledge filled her with satisfaction and accomplishment as well.
She called it, and her silver otter burst forth from her wand to gambol and cavort through the air as it slid down an invisible slide from the wall shelf into Harry's chest. He seemed to take on a healthier glow for a moment, and the faintest ghost of a smile graced his lips before fading.
It was something. It was more than he'd shown in the last eighteen weeks, and she was disappointed it hadn't worked, but it also showed her she was on the right track. She had used her most powerful happy memory, what else was there? Maybe if she used Harry's happiest memory? She didn't know what it was he used for his Patronus, they'd never had a chance to discuss it.
Maybe there was a Patronus variation? She knew Expecto Patronum was used against Dementors, and Kingsley had used a Loquitur Patronum to warn them all during Bill and Fleur's wedding. Was there something else? Something she didn't know? No, that was impossible. She'd researched everything about patronuses after saving Sirius, so she wouldn't be unprepared again.
That the patronus had nearly worked was undeniable, that was definitely the right track. Her own happiest memory wasn't enough, so what else could she give him? She'd already made love to him, that was a brand new happiest memory... what if she took all the happy, loving memories of him and rolled them into a patronus? Expecto Patronum meant 'expected intercedence', and Loquitur Patronum meant 'Interceding talk', so...
She filed through her memories for all the times Harry had made her feel loved, all the times he'd stood up for her, all the quiet smiles, all the times she'd stayed at his side when they were in danger and he'd treated her as a partner, all the times he'd said something dumb on purpose just to earn a reprimand from her, the feeling of having him inside her, and she capped it off with a vision of the two of them holding their baby together. She suffused herself with every ounce of love she felt for this amazing man.
"Amare Patronum." She whispered.
A glow appeared at the end of her wand as a life-sized golden double of herself appeared beside the bed. It looked at her, then nuzzled Harry's neck and hugged him as she sank into his chest.
"Hermione!" Harry shouted. "Hermione!"
He was lost in blackness. He couldn't tell if he was in a large cave with no light or if his eyes were glued shut. He felt his eyes, and they were open, so he was simply lost and alone in the dark. He had no idea how, but he had to find Hermione. Had to. He began walking carefully, gliding his foot along the ground to make sure he didn't trip on anything.
"Hermione! Don't leave me!" He shouted. Had to find her. He couldn't bear to lose her again.
A golden speck appeared in the distance, and grew brighter.
He headed toward it, having no other direction to go, and it grew brighter faster. After an unknowable amount of time, the golden glow resolved itself into Hermione.
She turned around and started walking back the way she came.
"Hermione! Don't go!" He shouted. He forgot about trying not to trip and started running after her. "Hermione! Wait! Don't leave me again!"
She outdistanced him, and began to recede. She got smaller as he ran even faster, panic pumping his legs for all he was worth. He could make out a brightness in the distance, and she was headed toward that. She was being taken away from him again. He couldn't allow that. He needed her. She had to stay with him, he had to make sure she stayed with him.
He crashed at breakneck speed into the light Hermione had disappeared into, yelling for her.
Harry's eyes slammed open and he reached out in front of him.
"No Hermione! Don't go! Don't leave me, I love you! I can't lose you! Not again!" He shouted.
Her hands jerked to cover her mouth as tears poured from her eyes immediately.
He was awake!
She stepped into him and wrapped her arms around his head as she held him to her. His arms snaked around her and held her tightly.
"Don't leave me again, Hermione. Not again. I couldn't take it. I love you, Hermione. I'm so sorry I never told you. I'm so sorry. I was so stupid." He shifted his grip on her, and his hand slid over her swollen stomach.
His eyes went wide.
"Too late... I'm too late. I lost you. I lost. I'm too late." He whispered. He let go of her and buried his face in his hands as great wracking sobs tore their way free of his throat. It was the sound of Harry breaking. She knew that sound, she had made it when he died.
"Harry." She said softly. "Harry." She tried to make her voice carry every ounce of love she felt for him. "I love you too, Harry. I always have." She pulled his head to her belly and held him there as she stroked his hair. "I'm sorry too, I should have been braver and told you sooner."
He held her again as his sobs quieted. She was surprised how much it hurt to see tears on his face.
"You can't tell anyone yet, but this is our baby, Harry. Mine and yours. I promise I will explain, but keep quiet for now, the healers will be here in seconds." She kissed the top of his head.
He looked up at her, confusion shining through the tears.
She smiled at him and nodded. He nodded back, and the door opened to admit a team of four healers. All of them stopped mid-stride when they saw Harry awake.
He waved at them after wiping his eyes.
"What... what happened?" A medwitch asked Hermione.
"I found the spell that was used on him, but there was no counter, so I made one." She said.
"You made a counter?!" One of the older healers asked, incredulous.
The healer in front, who had walked in first, held up her hand and the others stopped talking.
"Miss Granger, what was the spell affecting Mister Potter, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Desperandum Admortem. Apparently it's a Selwyn family curse. The book said it was made to force the victim to live a constant nightmare until they died."
"It works." Harry said, looking up at Hermione. "I lost you over and over and over."
She turned to look at the others. "Heard of it? Anyone?" They all shook their heads, and the chief medwitch turned back to Hermione. "What did you do to counter it?"
"Well, I tried a patronus to begin with. I reasoned that if it's composed of a happy memory and can drive a Dementor away, it might be able to counter despair. Unfortunately, the best one I could conjure only put the ghost of a smile on his face and didn't do anything else. it did affect him though, so I started thinking about what might be able to get rid of despair. It took a while, but next I tried putting every scrap of love I could into a patronus and called it 'Amare Patronum'. It conjured a golden... well, a golden me, and a minute or so after it went into Harry, he woke up."
"Interesting. Would you mind casting it again once we look Mister Potter over?"
"Alright." She would really rather just get Harry and get out of there.
She sat down in her chair again and waited patiently for the healers to test Harry every which way.
"Well Mister Potter, congratulations are in order." The chief medwitch said minutes later, after dozens of diagnostic spells. "Apparently you have no survived two unsurvivable curses. I would like to keep you for observation overnight, but there's no real reason to keep you here."
"If it's all the same, I would really rather go home with Hermione. I think I've been in this bed long enough." Harry smiled at the medwitch as best he could, but his eyes sought Hermione's face.
"Very well. I will owl you with a date and time for a follow up exam if that's alright with you?"
Harry nodded. "That will be fine. Thank you."
The medwitch turned to Hermione, who then stood up and pulled her wand out. She concentrated on Harry, on his face, his smell, the feel of him beneath her, the way he protected her, way he made her laugh when everything seemed bleak.
"Amare Patronum." She said. As before, her wand tip glowed and a golden version of herself coalesced and wordlessly hugged herself inside Harry.
Harry hugged her as well as she melded into him, and ended up with his arms wrapped around himself as tears poured from his eyes.
"Oh Hermione..." He said, his voice twisted by his constricting throat. "I can feel you. I feel your... all this time..." He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and then reached for his glasses on the side table.
"Thank you, Miss Granger, Mister Potter. That was very educational." The chief medwitch said. The other healers echoed the sentiment. The instant the door closed behind them, Harry cast locking spells and silence at it. He didn't give a single wisp of a care that he was in a backless hospital gown either. He crossed to Hermione and cupped her face in his hands and kissed her as lovingly as he possibly could.
"I can feel your love like a second heart beating in my chest." He said between kisses. He sank to one knee and looked into her eyes with tears coming from his own.
"Marry me, Hermione. Please. I can't bear a single moment without you."
She leaned forward and kissed him, desperate to have the moment last forever. "Yes, Harry. Of course yes."
They kissed for long minutes until Harry ran his hands over her stomach again. Tears filled his eyes as he looked into hers. "I'm going to be a father." He whispered. The look in his eyes was awe.
He sniffed and ran his hands over his face to wipe the tears away. "I need to get dressed and we need to get out of here so you can tell me about -" He looked at her stomach.
She wiped her own tears and nodded.
Harry's clothes were cleaned and folded on the side table and had been for months. He pulled his underwear on without bothering to hide from her, and she blushed harder at the rush of desire she felt from watching his behind as he dressed.
When he was finished he helped her shrink all her books and stow them in her bag, and then without any warning wrapped his arms around her again and nuzzled his nose into the crook of her neck. She hugged him back, content just to be able to. He kissed her there a moment later, causing her to shiver, and took a deep breath.
"Sorry. Just needed to... Just needed to." He smiled at her.
"I know exactly what you mean." She kissed him deeply, then took his hand. "Are we ready to go?"
Harry nodded. "I'm thinking of renting a room over the leaky for a day or two. We can't go to Gr - to Sirius's place, it's still an absolute bin."
"That should be alright, but not for long. We were ambushed in Diagon after all."
Harry nodded. "I had forgotten that. Let's just use one of their private rooms to chat and then head to muggleside for the night."
"That sounds better."
They left the hospital then, amid stares and whispers, and Apparated to The Leaky Cauldron. Harry paid Tom for the use of a private room, and once they were inside, they both cast multiple locking spells on the door, and multiple privacy shells and silence barriers and even Muffliato on top of it all.
"Alright, I think we should be alright to talk." Harry said.
Instead, Hermione dropped her glamour charms. Her swollen stomach and breasts plainly evident even beneath the loose fleece jumper she wore.
She could see the wonder in his eyes as he looked at her, and she nodded at the question in his eyes as he reached for her belly. He ran his hands over it and pressed his cheek to her bellybutton.
"Hello beautiful." He talked at her navel like it was a telephone. "I hope you're just like your mother. I love you both more than I thought possible." He looked up at her with tears in his eyes, and then stood and kissed her. He took a few deep breaths and wiped his eyes.
"It's not how I pictured it, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled." He kissed her again. "So... what happened?"
She took a deep breath and let it out. "I'll start at the beginning and tell you everything instead of skipping about."
Harry smiled at her and took a seat. She curled up next to him.
"After you jumped in front of that spell and I watched you fall - I thought you were dead there and then, by the way - I... I sort of... lost my mind a little. I remember not stopping until Selwyn was... past dead. I couldn't tell you what spells I used, or even if I used spells. Anyway, after I was sure there weren't any others lying in wait, I Apparated you to St. Mungo's and we were admitted immediately. Healers were everywhere for an hour or so, taking readings, trying to figure out what had been done to you. Your magic was draining and they couldn't explain it because there were no records of what you'd been hit with. They had no idea what was happening. So, they decided after an hour to put you in a magical coma, to try and reduce the amount of stress on your body and your magic, and that did slow down the drain a lot. I freaked out. I went to every library I could find for books to try and find out what the spell was that hit you. Well, you saw the stacks of books in your room."
"Thank you, Hermione. I can always count on you."
"Yes, you can. I love you, Harry."
He kissed her.
"So I'm sitting in that chair the first day or so, alternating between reading furiously and crying hysterically. Ginny showed up on the second day. She hung around for a little while, long enough to talk about what had happened. I'm pretty sure she looked under your gown while I was in the toilet, since your covers were rumpled when I got back. I was only gone a minute. She didn't talk much after that, she just looked put out, and left a few minutes later. I haven't seen her since. Ron showed up in the fourth week to try and drag me away, down to a pub for dinner and drinks. With you lying all but dead in front of us. Fucking arsehole. He pulled his usual 'what about me' - only this time he actually said "What about me?", and that was the last straw. I told him to fuck off and never come back. I realized then that he had only really ever said 'what about me' in some form or another, and I was so completely sick of it. You're free to go try to be mates with him again if you want, Harry, but I'm done with him. Neville and Luna, on the other hand, have both been in at least once a week, despite what they're both going through, dealing with the aftermath."
"How is Luna?"
"We were able to talk to each other about... about our stays in Malfoy Manor. I think she'll be alright in time. It might help... well, I was thinking of asking her to be the godmother."
"That's perfect." He kissed the top of her head again. "And Nev as godfather?"
"He seems the best choice."
"Good. I'm happy with that."
"So..." She took a deep breath and let it out. "A few days after Ron's visit, I was sitting quietly and reading, still looking for anything to help you, and I happened to be watching you, and you... stopped breathing. You died, Harry. The lights turned red, healers showed up in a panic, and I couldn't do anything. You were just slipping away from the world, and it seemed like nobody but me and the healers gave a shit. You were dead for three minutes, Harry. The three longest minutes of my life. Thankfully, the healers were able to keep you from leaving me completely. I resolved then and there that I would not allow you to leave me with nothing. You're too brilliant to not leave -" Her voice hitched, and she choked back a sob as she wiped her eyes. Harry turned to cradle her in his arms and stroked her hair. "Too brilliant to leave the world without leaving something of you behind. I went to Knockturn that day and bought a fertility potion. I waited until after the medwitch had made the night rounds, and locked the door, much like we've done with this room, and then I... I sort of raped you. Sorry."
Harry laughed and kissed the top of her head again. "You're the only one I'd trust to do so, love. Thank you for staying with me and making sure nobody else did."
"I can think of a few who might've."
"So can I, that's why I'm thanking you."
Hermione turned and kissed him, smiling. His eyes held nothing but amusement and gratitude.
"My plan was to spend another twenty weeks at most with you, looking for a cure. After that I would be getting too close to birth to do anything but go to Australia and look for my parents. I figure it will take a few weeks for them to forgive me, but at the very least our baby will have me and his or her grandparents. I was going to come back afterward and steal you, keep you in a private room in a hospital and keep looking for a cure. I got desperate and lucky instead, and here you are."
"It shouldn't have taken all this for me to tell you I love you, Hermione. I'm so sorry for that. I should have told you months and months ago when I figured it out. We could have been in Australia this whole time."
"Don't second guess, Harry. Things worked out, we're okay. Our baby is okay. When... when did you know? When did you figure it out?"
"When we were dancing in the tent. When you finally smiled it was like the sun turned on. It was the most natural thing in the world to just lean in and kiss you, and I wanted to so desperately that when I started to, I freaked out."
"Me too!" She said. "The crashing realization that I loved you and wanted you froze me completely, then I started thinking about Ron and what I was going to say, and by that point you had already stopped smiling, and I was afraid that I'd damaged our relationship by wanting -"
"And then Ron came back and the Horcrux and everything else happened. I didn't spend three days in the attic at Grimmauld being depressed over everyone dying, Hermione. I should have, and I feel guilty that I didn't. I spent those days not getting off the sofa because I thought I'd lost the only chance I would ever have with you."
"That was four months ago, Harry. My fiance." She smiled and kissed him. "I love how that sounds. You can put that behind you. It took us too long, but we got here in the end."
"I've missed all the funerals then. I... I'd like to stop at the graves before we leave for Australia."
"Of course, Harry." She hugged his arms around her.
"As for the future, I will have to go to Gringott's and apologize and pay for damages. I hope there's enough in my vault."
"We will go, Harry. Both of us. There is no you or me anymore. There's US."
Harry smiled as a warm feeling spread through his chest. "You're right of course. I think that should be our first stop, as that will let us know the state of our finances, and will make subsequent choices possible or impossible."
"Right. That's decided then. We should probably do that immediately, as it will tell us if we can afford a place to sleep tonight. I'd rather not go back in the tent."
"I wouldn't mind really. We could make some good memories there for a change."
"I would love to Harry, when I'm not bloated and ugly."
He tightened his arms around her, and rubbed his hands over her belly. "Hermione, you have never been more beautiful." He kissed the top of her head. "And I always thought you were beautiful. Well, after I started noticing beautiful, of course."
She began shaking in his arms, silently crying and holding his arms tighter around herself. He squeezed her and kissed the back of her neck, behind her ear, her jaw, and her mouth when she turned to him.
"We should get to Gringott's." He whispered. "We need to know what we're doing for a place to sleep because I desperately want to make love to you."
"Oh Harry..." She turned and got on her knees between his and kissed him deeply. "I'm already so..." She kissed him some more as she tugged his shirt upward. "Get your clothes off, the goblins can wait."
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
Kissing Hermione was nothing at all like kissing any other girl. He had known she was a girl since they'd met, and he'd gotten used to her intruding on his sexual thoughts since the middle of last year when he'd figured out that he loved her. Having her pull his shirt off and moan into his mouth while she tasted him tasting her excited him in ways he had no words for. Without his permission, his hands cupped her breasts and pulled at her clothes. An electric fog settled on his mind as she consumed his mouth and fought to free him from his own clothes. He had kissed other girls - Cho, Ginny, and a couple others he couldn't name during some of the quidditch parties. He had enjoyed them, thought they were exciting because kissing was new.
It took one kiss from Hermione to show him how utterly lacking they were. He could feel the love and desire she had for him, he could see it in her flushed skin and frenzied eyes. He finally managed to pull her clothes off, and stared in absolute wonder at the beauty in his lap. he didn't even remember to be embarrassed at having a raging erection in front of her. Her perfect face framed by soft curls, slightly wild from snogging, her kissable neck flowed into her kissable collarbones which supported her perfect breasts. They hung from her chest as perfect globes of creamy white skin, topped with dark pink nipples that he ached to tease and lick and kiss.
So he did.
"Oh god, Harry!" She whined as she crushed his head to her chest. His tongue danced over her left nipple while his fingers brushed the right, and he squeezed them gently as she moaned. He decided immediately he would never ever get enough of her moaning. It was absolute addiction.
"That's perfect." She breathed. "That's perfect, don't stop. Oh god, don't stop."
Her hands were both wrapped around his erection, her cool, smooth, soft fingers gliding up and down him maddeningly. Hermione shuddered and let out a soft groan from deep in her chest, then her eyes opened and look into his. She shifted her weight forward, and guided his now painfully hard length between her legs, then gently settled her weight down on him. The softness of her and the heat that enveloped him was nothing he was prepared for. A deep groan resonated from somewhere at the bottom of his lungs, matched by one from Hermione. They were one. He was inside her. Only the fact that she smiled her love at him from her perfect face lit from inside with happiness and satisfaction kept him from thinking it was somehow wrong. Anything that felt so good had to be wrong. Somehow.
She shifted her weight and brought her hips upward. The sudden loss of her heat made him desperate to get it back, but only for a split second. She lowered herself onto him even further, groaning as she did. Her hands went to her stomach and she shivered with delight. He put his hands to use gliding over her skin - her waist, her ribs, the curves of her breasts, her collarbones, her back, her gorgeous, taut behind. She shivered again while he did, and her breath came faster. She caught her lower lip between her teeth, and the sight of it made him involuntarily grunt and thrust upward into her. She gasped and clenched her hands into claws on his chest, her nails dug into his skin like she was trying to hang on by them.
"Yyeeesss. Mooore." She moaned. She kissed him again.
Harry knew joy, seeing her respond like that. She was enjoying him, and it put such a light in his heart he couldn't have chosen to stop if he wanted to. He continued gliding his fingers over her skin, teasing, rubbing, and pulling gently on her beautiful body as he gently thrust into her in time with her own motions. She gasped with every thrust, she ceased to breathe and began to pant.
"Oh god Harry!" She gasped. Her fingers began to quiver on his chest, then her arms. He gripped her behind in a tight grip, and her forehead slammed into his chest. "IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyou."
Harry thrust upward again twice more, and that was all he could stand. His mind shattered, leaving a white-hot moment out of time as his body pulsed and pumped his essence into her as he growled. Hermione seemed to break at the same time. Several short screams tore from her throat, pulsing in time with her thrashing.
They both lay still for a short time afterward, unable to form a coherent thought.
When Harry returned to earth, Hermione lay on him, panting and sweating and naked and beautiful. He cradled her to him as the most precious and cherished thing in the universe, and kissed her wherever his lips could reach. Long minutes passed before Hermione roused and nuzzled into his neck.
"Mmmm." She sighed contentedly. "So much better when you're awake."
Harry didn't realize he was crying until he looked at her. She looked out of her glowing cinnamon-chocolate eyes and frowned before kissing his tears away.
"What's wrong, Love?" She asked softly.
"Absolutely nothing." He smiled. "I just... I can't believe how good you make me feel. I never want to not be inside you."
"Mmmm" She nuzzled back into his neck. "That's what I want too."
"I would ask you to marry me right now, but you already said yes." He smiled and kissed her neck.
She chuckled softly. "Always and forever, Harry. You and me. No matter what."
"Always and forever, Hermione. You and me. No matter what."
They snuggled together for a long while, until they looked around and realized they'd just made love in a rented lounge.
Hermione looked at him somewhat sheepishly and kissed him before levering herself off him and the sofa.
"Sorry." She said.
"Attacking you. It must be the hormones or something, I was just so..."
"No. Never EVER apologize for making me feel like that. Just don't. I don't care why, I don't care where, I don't care when. I will happily make love to you. No apologies."
She smiled and kissed him. "Alright then, same goes for you."
"It still feels like the top of my head is missing."
"We should find it before we go." She smiled and crinkled her nose at him in a way that made the sun seem pale and insignificant.
Harry grinned at her and got off the sofa as well, and helped her put her clothes back on. They cleaned each other and the room as well as they could with just magic, and made sure there weren't any smells or... leftovers... before they turned to leave.
He took her hand and kissed her fingers as they walked out of the Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley, and didn't let go of her hand even as the goblin teller looked up at him over his glasses.
"Can I help you?" The goblin asked.
Harry bowed. "I hope so. I'm Harry Potter, I'm here to apologize and pay for any damages caused by our actions."
The goblin looked surprised for just a brief second. "Come with me, I will show you to your account manager."
"Thank you. I have an account manager?"
The goblin didn't answer, he just led them to the right through a door behind a conference room, and through several hallways carved from solid rock. The goblin opened a door in the middle of a long hallway full of doors, and bid them take a seat.
"Manager Gutspike will be with you shortly." He said, then closed the door behind him as he left.
Before either of them could think of anything to say about the situation, the door opened again and another goblin walked in. This one was taller and wider than the previous one, and though neither of them had much insight into goblin facial expressions, this one seemed very pissed off.
"Mister Potter." He growled as he walked in and stood behind the desk they were seated in front of, "Why have you never answered a single owl you were sent? Why am I only meeting you for the first time after your eighteenth birthday?!"
Harry frowned. "I've never received an owl from Gringotts. Not one. Not ever."
The goblin looked around at the room as if expecting something, and then sighed. "Very well. We will have to investigate the causes of our owls being waylaid at a future date. You told Thumbhammer you wish to apologize and make reparations, yes?"
With that, Harry focused again and took a deep breath. After a quick look at Hermione, he bowed.
"Yes. I am very sorry for the actions we took against your bank and your people, and not just for the physical damage we caused. If I had been more educated in the magical world, I might have known to just come and ask to speak to someone in charge about our suspicions of a dark object in the vaults, but I let myself be affected by the prejudices of those around me, and for that I am deeply ashamed. I place myself at the mercy of whoever is in charge both for monetary repayment and any punishment the goblin nation sees fit to bestow."
"We place ourselves at your mercy." Hermione frowned at him.
Harry frowned back and looked at her now-hidden belly with hard eyes, and she understood the message. She wasn't just her anymore.
"You would claim sole responsibility and absolve Miss Granger and Mister Weasley of any guilt?"
Harry looked back at Gutspike. "I would. I know neither of them can afford much. I just hope I have enough in my vault to cover the damages."
Gutspike pushed a sheet of parchment across the desk and laid a quill on top of it. "Just sign at the bottom, Mister Potter, and sole responsibility will be yours."
Harry picked up the parchment and read it, and it did indeed say that he was claiming sole responsibility for the break in and out. it did not say anything else, and that was why he read it. He signed the bottom with the quill provided, and Gutspike took the parchment back. It disappeared with a click of his fingers. Gutspike then showed a great many spiked teeth in a shark-like grin.
"Your grandfather would be most proud of you, Mister Potter. Most proud." He clicked his fingers again, and four ledgers and a beautifully polished, ornately carved wooden box appeared on the desktop.
"You knew my Grandfather?"
"I took over from Steelgrunt as Potter account manager during his time as Lord Potter. Your grandfather was a brilliant man - which brings me to the objects on the desk." He opened one of the ledgers and spun it so it faced Harry. "The personal Potter account vault."
Harry looked at the number at the bottom of the page, dumbfounded. It was in constant flux, gaining and losing galleons every few seconds, but there were eight digits in the number. Harry just looked up at Gutspike, uncomprehendingly.
"It says you don't have to work for a living, Mister Potter."
Harry just nodded dumbly.
Gutspike took that ledger and closed it, then gave him another. This one had nine digits at the bottom. "The Potter business vault account." he said.
"That's... unbelievable." Harry said. He looked to Hermione for help, his eyes wide, but she could only frown back at him, clearly worried.
"These are all copies of the main Ledgers I keep here in this office, they are yours to keep. The other two ledgers are the inventories of the Potter Items Vault and the Potter Library Vault."
Hermione's hand clamped onto his forearm as Gutspike said 'library vault'.
Gutspike picked up the ornate wooden box and made a series of complicated gestures overtop of it, culminating with a click of his fingers. An unseen latch let go, and the lid of the box rose a fraction of an inch to indicate it was open.
Gutspike opened the lid and turned the box to face Harry. There were two rings inside the box, one thick one with a large square emerald and a gold crest on top of the emerald, and a smaller one that was the same, but more feminine.
"Your House rings. Yours is the larger, of course. By putting the ring on your finger, you agree to be weighed by House Potter and will either be accepted or rejected. House Potter has always suffered from the attentions of greedy connivers, so you should know that none of them who put the ring on lived." Gutspike flashed them another shark grin.
"Is this..." Harry stared, and Hermione could see he felt lost. She could see the little boy who had never had candy before. He was still inside Harry, and it brought tears to her eyes.
"Is this really for me? I'm not sitting in someone else's place?" He asked.
"Well, if you're not Harry Potter, I suppose you should be prepared for a gruesome death. If you are Harry Potter, then it is your birthright, yes."
Harry looked at Hermione, who nodded and smiled in support. He reached out and plucked the man's ring from its place, and slipped it on the ring finger of his right hand. It grew warm, and suddenly shrunk to fit his finger perfectly. For a few seconds, nothing happened, and Harry looked to Hermione, who could only look back at him. Then a soft green glow began at the ring, and grew to encompass both him and Hermione.
Gutspike gaped at them, and when the glow faded, he immediately scribbled some notes.
"Well. That was unexpected. Apparently House Potter is enthusiastically behind your ascension to Lordship. Congratulations, Lord Potter."
"Uhh.. Thank you." Harry's mind reeled. "Can I ask you a... well, maybe a personal question, I'm not sure."
"I can always choose not to answer, Lord Potter, please go ahead."
"Well, this isn't the question, but first could you just call me Harry please? This Lord Potter thing is making me feel weird."
"Delighted, Harry. Your question?"
"Do you know anything about magical marriages? I mean, I don't even know if goblins get married or are monogamous or anything, and I don't mean to give offense, I just don't know."
"I am happily married, thank you Harry. As long as Magic recognizes your intent to be married, almost any ceremony will do. I understand wizarding ceremonies can run the gamut from simple to complicated, egalitarian to binding. Goblins are very forthright and generally aren't fond of dithering, and our ceremonies reflect such."
"Thank you." Harry said. He looked at Hermione. "I know we'll have to have another wedding, with your parents and the dress and flowers and the whole thing, but I really want to put that ring on you right now."
Hermione only pulled him into a hug and kissed him quietly.
Harry turned back to Gutspike when she let go. "Could we get married? LIke right now? Would you show us the goblin ceremony? Please?"
Gutspike was quiet for a moment. "You would marry a witch with a goblin ceremony?" He asked quietly.
"Unless you can think of a reason not to, Hermione?" He asked her.
"No, I would be happy to. I have to admit I've never researched anything about magical marriages so I'm in the same boat with you, Harry."
Gutspike drew a deep breath and let it out. "Then would you allow me a moment to gather witnesses? I can assure you I will vouch for their integrity."
"That would be fine with me." Hermione said.
"Me too." Harry agreed.
"Shame there's no way to get Luna or Neville here in a few minutes." Harry said after Gutspike left the room. "We'll have to invite them to the next one. I could see Nev being my best man."
"That would be brilliant. Would you get married in Australia? I mean, we should have it soon..."
"Absolutely. We'll talk about it of course, but I don't want a lot of people there. I don't think we'd have a lot of people there anyway. Your mum and dad of course, Nev, Luna, George and whoever he wants as a date, Bill and Fleur you think?"
"Well, as much as I don't want to see Ron or Ginny after these last few months, we probably should invite Mr. and Mrs. as well."
Harry nodded. "I do owe them a fair bit for getting me away from the Dursleys and being a decent family model." Harry nodded.
"As it will be our wedding as well, I won't have any difficulty asking anyone to leave if they cause problems. I'm sure I probably won't even get the chance with my father there." Hermione smiled.
"Good. We'll talk about it more later." Harry said as Gutspike re-entered the room with four other goblins.
One of them approached harry and Hermione. "Gutspike says you wish to be married right now in a goblin ceremony, is this so?"
Harry stood and shook the goblin's hand. "Yes sir. We are only really semi-knowledgeable about muggle marriage customs. I thought that because Gutspike knew my grandfather that he's been around for a while and would know a lot more about magical marriages than either of us. I hope it won't cause any offense if we do this?"
The goblin let out a grating, pulsing hiss that he realized was probably laughter. "Offense to whom, Lord Potter? Certainly not to the goblin nation! To witches and wizards, well that is less clear."
"We were only really worried about causing offense to your nation, sir. Witches and Wizards have been causing offense to us since we arrived." Hermione said.
All five goblins laughed at that.
Gutspike handed Harry a wickedly sharp dagger, hilt first. Harry accepted it, and Hermione stood beside him.
"What do we do with this?" He asked.
"Each of you must cut your palms, deeply enough that blood flows easily, but try not to cut through any tendons. Once blood flows, clasp hands so that your blood mixes, and say 'You are mine and I am yours.' Magic will show you whether your marriage is valid." Gutspike said.
"Time is gold, Lord - excuse me, Harry."
Harry nodded and looked at Hermione. "I have Dittany in my bag." She said as she smiled at him.
"I love you." He said.
"I love you." She replied.
Harry cut his palm slowly, gauging how deep the cut was before completing it. It stung. Blood welled to the surface and began to pool in his palm as he handed the dagger to Hermione hilt first. She cut her own hand the same way, and Harry offered his hand with its little pool of blood. She put hers overtop of his, and some of the blood dribbled out between their fingers.
"You are mine and I am yours." He said as he looked into her beautiful cinnamon chocolate eyes.
"You are mine and I am yours." She said as she looked back into his emerald ones.
Their hands began to feel warm, and a silver nimbus surrounded their hands. It began to spread up their arms, across their chests and down their bodies until they were entirely aglow, then the nimbus deepened to a warm golden colour, before flashing to an intense white. A tingling warmth blossomed on Harry's forehead where his scar was, and he watched Hermione's eyes widen as she looked at it. Just as the glow became too much to look at, it faded away to nothing, leaving them wondering exactly what that meant. The cuts on their hands were gone, as thought they'd never been there.
"Congratulations, Lord and Lady Potter." The new goblin said. It was the same one who had greeted them before. The other four seemed to be content not to speak.
"Thank you, er...?"
"Thank you, Ragnok. And thank you all for coming, especially when time is gold. Thank you all for letting me know about all this. I had no idea..." Harry said. He picked up the Potter ring from out of the carved box, and slipped it onto Hermione's finger. Just as his had done, it resized itself, and emitted a bright green glow over both of them.
"Brilliant." She smiled at him.
"I daresay that might have been worth waiting for." Ragnok said, and hissed laughter again as he and the other three exited the room.
"Our Gratitude." Gutspike said. "Was there anything else I could assist you with?"
"Thank you for everything so far, Manager Gutspike. What do I owe for the damages? I'd like to get that taken care of before anything else."
Gutspike waved a hand. "Seven hundred twenty-one thousand, four hundred five galleons, three sickles and a knut. It was handled when you signed the responsibility form."
Harry frowned. "You mean before I looked at the ledger?"
"Yes." Gutspike replied.
Harry blinked and looked at Hermione, who looked just as lost as he felt. "Okay then... I guess we'll need some money... also, we may be in Australia for an extended time. Is there some way to contact you or will I be assigned a different account manager? How does that work? Sorry for taking all your time, I'm... I should have come a long time ago. Sorry."
"No need to apologize, Harry. Certainly not on my account."
"I just feel like I'm eleven again and suddenly being told I'm a wizard and have no idea what to do. I don't know anything about money except that I can buy things with it. I don't even know what questions I should be asking. Does Gringott's offer economics courses for idiots or something?"
Hermione's hand gripped his and didn't let go.
"Unfortunately for you, we do not. If we did, we might find ourselves out of a job."
Harry smiled. "Hadn't thought of that. Good point. I guess I'll have to learn as much as I can -" He squeezed Hermione's hand and smiled at her, "We'll have to learn as much as we can on our own then. Does Gringott's have debit cards or anything like that? We will probably have to switch between galleons and pounds or ...what do they use in Australia? Pounds?"
"Dollars." Gutspike replied.
"Yes, we'll have to switch back and forth fairly often, I imagine."
"Your House rings will function as... debit cards... within magical spaces and will deal in Galleons. For the non-magical spaces and different non-magical currencies, we have Gringott's wallets. If you'll excuse me, I'll be right back with some."
"Thank you, Gutspike." Harry said.
Gutspike strode out of the room again and returned a few minutes later with two black dragon-skin wallets, one in bifold style, and one clutch style.
"The wallets themselves are one hundred galleons each, and the conversion and banishing services they're linked to are a further ten galleons per month. You have simply to speak the amount you require to the wallet, and after a short delay, the requested amount will be sent into the wallet." Gutspike said when he returned.
"That's brilliant." Hermione said, eyeing the clutch.
"We'll take both. Thank you, Gutspike."
"If I wanted to buy a house in Australia, that's far more money than muggle authorities would accept in cash - how would I go about that?"
"Simply send a macaw to your local branch of Gringott's, or visit. Arrangements would all be made locally."
"Brilliant. Thank you again, you've been just great." Harry held out a hand to the goblin, who shook it.
Hermione picked the clutch up off the desk and tucked it under her arm, then also shook the goblin's hand. "Thank you so much, Manager Gutspike. You've been a great deal of help."
"Thank you for finally visiting, before I had to declare you dead." Gutspike did that hissing laughter thing again. Was that a joke? Harry showed his teeth in an uncomprehending rictus, and quietly followed Hermione out of the bank altogether.
He stood in the center of Diagon Alley and reeled. He held Hermione's hand as though he was about to fly away like Aunt Marge had done so long ago. She smiled at him, and knew his brain was not answering the phone, she could see it in his eyes. Of course she could. They had just done this yesterday... Fortescue's was open now. Part of one building was brightly painted as though it were brand new. He had kissed Hermione. Made love to her. She loved him too. She had just married him. He was married. To Hermione.
Harry stopped outside Gringott's with a wild look on his face. She could see he was having a moment of realization. She'd had several in the weeks when she'd first started to show - those moments where the gravity of what you were doing slapped you in the face. She still had no regrets.
He gripped her hand almost painfully, as though he were afraid he was about to fall off the planet. She stood next to him - next to her husband - and rubbed his back as it seemed he were about to start hyperventilating.
Harry was alive. He was awake. He loved her. He loved their baby. She breathed heavily herself, but more to prevent tears than due to to any reality-defining epiphanies. She smiled at him when his eyes finally focused. She could almost see reality spinning around his head like a whirling disc that screeched to a halt when he looked into her eyes. His grip on her hand relaxed, and he took a deep breath, then kissed her fingers.
"Come on." He said. "I owe you a mint chocolate chip." He grinned, and the world was bright again. Always thoughtful, unfailingly kind, and he loved her. There was nothing she couldn't do.
"Just a small, Harry. Too much isn't good for..."
Harry's eyes fairly glowed as he stepped into her and held her gently. "I'm sorry, Hermione. I nearly forgot." He whispered. "Thank you for being a wonderful mother. I... I can't help but feel like this is all a dream... I can't... I'm not allowed to feel this good. To be this happy." He brushed her hair behind her ear, and twirled his finger in one of her curls, almost abashedly.
She took his face between her hands and looked him in the eyes. "Harry James Potter, you had better get used to it, because both of us will be counting on you. Nobody but nobody has earned more happiness than you, Harry. You deserve every second of every happiness that exists in this world, and I aim to see you get it. I love you, Harry. You and me, forever and ever."
Tears glistened in his eyes as he kissed her then, and the feel of his soft lips beneath the scruff made her toes tingle.
"You and me." He whispered. "Forever and ever."
They held hands as they entered Fortescue's, and there were no eyes that were not looking at them as they ordered. Mr. Fortescue took a few minutes to get to them, he seemed to be the only one working, and business was nearly as brisk as usual.
"Ah, Mister Potter." He beamed when he saw them.
Harry held up her hand in his. "And Missus."
Florean's eyebrows rose. "Congratulations!" He grinned.
"Thank you." Harry beamed back. She'd never seen him smile so fully. "Two small mint chocolate chip, please."
Florean scooped their small dishes of ice cream and handed them over, and waved Harry away when he tried to pay. "Nonsense!" He said. "I can't do much, but a free bowl for newlyweds is an honor and a privilege."
"Thank you, Mister Fortescue." Harry smiled at him, and then smiled at her.
"Thank you, Florean." She said, and smiled at both of them.
It took ten minutes to eat the ice cream and most of it was gooey by the time they hit the bottom of the bowl. Both of them kept looking at each other and talking without speaking for long moments at a time, and so the ice cream melted.
"How do you feel?" Harry asked her.
"Happy." She smiled back at him.
He smiled back, but shook his head. "Good to know, but I meant physically. You feel up to going to the ministry, getting a portkey and just leaving? We can get settled once we get there and start looking for your parents first thing in the morning?"
"Physically I'm fine. I could do with a long night's sleep, but letting myself get too run down isn't good for... so I don't. Not that I'm not thrilled, but why the rush?"
Harry shrugged. "I started thinking about your parents, about how mad they're going to be when we undo it. Then I realized we're kind of on a schedule, and the sooner we find them and do it, the longer they'll have to get over that and reconnect with you... us, before..."
"So you want to leave right now so my parents have one day longer."
"Essentially. I know once they get over it you'll be happier."
There it was. The fundamentally Harry part of Harry only wanted to make her happy. Harry was a terrible liar, so she knew that was his real motivation, and it felt like getting everything she wanted on Christmas morning for no other reason than he wanted to see her smile. She still didn't think she deserved him, but they were married now, it was too late to back out.
She nodded. "Alright. Let's go then. Sooner we get there and get settled the sooner we can have a shower." She looked at him through half-lidded eyes, and let her desire to be warm and wet and naked against him show through.
He stood up immediately and held out his hand as his eyes flared with understanding.
She might not ever understand why he found her desirable, but the fact that he did felt absolutely brilliant.
The ministry hadn't changed any in the year or so since they'd been there, and thankfully there were no courtrooms or kidnappings or disgusting potions this time. They joined the queue that started just inside the doors to the International Portkey office, and resigned themselves to at least a half-hour wait.
"Have you got quill and parch- what am I asking, of course you have quill and parchment." Harry smiled at her. "May I use some? I figure we should write a couple notes, it'll be easier to do here than in Australia."
"Neville and Luna?" She asked.
"Yeah. And Mrs. Weasley. Did she ever come visit?"
"No. Ginny the second day, then Ron after four weeks when I told him to fuck off."
Harry slid his arms around her just beneath her breasts and held her close. "Sorry for that, Hermione. Not in a fault way, just that it couldn't have been fun or easy."
She hugged his arms around her. "Not fun, but surprisingly easy. After everything, it had been a long time coming. I want to question whether he was ever really a friend or just putting up with me because of you, but maybe that's unkind. Then again, he had the gall to literally ask 'what about me' with you lying there mostly dead."
"Whichever it turns out to be, we have each other now and we'll face whatever comes together." The words the horcrux said to Ron haunted the back of his mind, but Hermione didn't need to know, and it was better left in the past.
"Mmm. Well said, husband." She kissed him quickly, then dug parchment and quill from her bag. He had to use her back to write on, so she held the inkpot up for him to dip the quill into. When the three notes were finished, he showed them to her as he re-stoppered the inkpot and cleaned the quill.
"Those are good. Well done." She kissed him.
After she put it back in her bag, he kissed the back of her neck and made her shiver. "I'll just drop these off to owl post and be back in a moment."
She nodded, and he strode quickly back through the doors and into the Atrium.
She was nearly at the desk when he returned more than twenty minutes later. He strode up to her and kissed her forehead. "Sorry I'm late. I got the mail issue sorted, so hopefully I won't miss another of Gringott's owls."
"Oh. Good. I guess I could put up with you being gone that long for a good cause." She smiled and kissed his cheek.
Harry gave her an odd look, and she applied her mind to what she'd just said.
"Sorry, Harry." She looked up at him. "I guess after nearly losing you... I don't want to let you out of my sight for fear I won't see you again. I don't mean to be clingy, but..."
He wrapped his arms around her again. "I understand. I can't say I'd be any different if it were reversed. Sorry for worrying you."
She smiled and looked into his eyes again. "No apologies, Harry. I love you, so I'm going to worry, no matter what. Much as I expect you will."
He quirked one side of his mouth in a roguish grin. "Less than I would if I didn't know you could wipe the floor with pretty much anyone. War heroine."
She snorted. "I think most of that was luck. I'm looking forward to getting settled so we can have a training routine. We can always be better."
"I agree, and that's a brilliant idea. Have I mentioned you're brilliant?" He kissed the back of her head.
"Not nearly often enough." She winked at him.
The line moved forward, as sometimes happens in queues, and they found themselves at the desk, facing a bored, highly undervalued witch by the name of Amalthea. At least, that's what it said on her nametag.
"Destination?" She asked.
"Sydney, Australia." Hermione answered.
"Date of travel?"
"Immediately if possible, please."
Amalthea nodded, and wrote the destination and time on a slip of parchment that looked pre-prepared.
"Twenty galleons." Amalthea said in the same monotone she'd been using since they arrived. She slid the invoice - the pre-prepared slip of parchment she'd been writing on - across the desk toward Hermione, who touched her ring to the signature portion of the slip. A house crest blazed into being there, and PAID appeared across the top of the invoice in green ink.
Amalthea paid no attention. Rich purebloods were all alike.
"Booth two." She said, and waved them off.
"Thank you." Hermione said with a smile, but Amalthea was already looking past her to the next customer.
"Destination?" They heard her ask as they walked away toward booth two.
As soon as they closed the door to booth two, a piece of broken ceramic appeared on the tiny table. Hermione picked it up, and when Harry touched it as well, they were on their way.
Molly folded the Prophet back up again and set it on Arthur's chair. He'd want to finish reading it when he got home. It was a load of rubbish as it always was, but he liked it nonetheless. She thought about preparing dinner, but then realized that yesterday's leftovers were still waiting. She kept forgetting that it was just the two of them in the house now, and constantly made far too much food.
She thought about doing some cleaning, and then decided she couldn't be arsed. What would be the point anyway? it was only her and Arthur now. Even Ginny was on the other side of Britain in Holyhead for training camp. Ron and George were in Diagon, and Bill and Charley were where they'd been for ages on the continent.
She took a deep breath and sighed. She would have to find something to do with herself soon. She climbed out of Arthur's chair and looked around for a moment. She supposed she would have to start cleaning anyway, there wasn't anything else to do. She pulled out her wand and raised it to cast, but there was a TAPTAP at the window.
An owl! Lovely!
She opened the window and went immediately to the stasis cabinet for a tidbit of chicken for the bird. She took the note from its holder on the bird's leg, then fed it the chicken.
"Thank you!" She said happily. The bird dove back out the window and was gone.
It was addressed to her!
She unrolled the parchment and smoothed it out with her wand, and settled at the table to read.
Dear Mrs. Weasley,
I will be in Australia by the time you read this. Right now I am uncertain whether I will be coming back, so I wanted to say thank you before I left. Thank you for being there for me when I needed someone, thank you for making me feel like part of the family, thank you for coming to see me when I was in a coma.
If I don't see you again, I hope you have a wonderful life.
She read it again, and then again.
Harry had been in a coma?
Neville closed his textbook and sighed.
The curtains hung limply, their colour faded. Somehow the immense stones of the castle let the cold wind through, and clothing didn't seem to help. Conversations were quiet and halting, like silence had a will of its own and didn't like interruptions. They had all helped to vanquish a terrible evil, but it felt like all that had really happened was their friends had died.
Their friends had died, and that was going to take some getting used to. He knew that. He just didn't see how coming back to school so soon was a good idea. yes, he wanted to study and take his N.E.W.T.s, but two months to get over friends dying? That was asking a little much. Even though the castle was repaired and you would never know there had been a battle at all, there was simply no joy present. Seventh year was supposed to be your crowning glory, the year when you were top dog and supposed to show all the squirts how things were done. Instead, the seventh years were ghosts. Nobody saw them, they didn't want to be seen. Nobody cared about house points or Quidditch or anything really. Even Neville just wanted to pass his tests and leave.
A tapping sound broke him from his reverie and called his attention to the window. A couple of the younger kids looked up, but it was Neville who put his book on the table and went to open the window.
The owl hopped inside as a blast of cold air entered with it, and it stuck its leg out at him. He gave it a couple of owl treats from the jar on the desk by the window, and took the message from its holder. The owl then dove back out the window with its treats and Neville shut the pane behind it.
The message had his name on it.
Curious, he unfurled it and read it right there.
I woke up this morning at about seven. Hermione and I were married about ten, and we left for Australia about half eleven. We're likely in Australia by the time you read this, we're here to find and restore Hermione's parents.
I want to thank you for coming to see me and Hermione while I was out of it. She won't say it, but I can tell your and Luna's visits were very helpful for her, so thank you for that. Please don't tell anyone what I'm telling you in this letter, we're only letting people know who we count as true friends, and only you and Luna have lived up to the title.
We will be having another wedding soon, so that Hermione's parents can attend, and I'd like it if you'd be my Best Man. We do have something else to ask of you as well, something official and House Potter-ey, but we'll wait until we see you for that. Best not to put it in print.
We'll send another note when we get settled here, when we have someplace to receive mail and such and let you know where we are and how to reach us.
Thanks again, Nev.
Your friends, Harry and Hermione.
Neville started laughing and crying at the same time.
Harry was alive. Not just not dead, he was awake and moving a million miles an hour again. Some of the gloom lifted. Some of the colour came back into the red and gold. He could just see the terrified expression on Harry's face as he stood there and married Hermione. Shit, he married Hermione.
"Good on ya, mate. Good on ya. About bloody time." He said to himself.
Every eye in the room was fixed on him as he wiped his eyes and grinned.
"Harry's awake." He said.
The oppressive silence shattered.
Luna smiled in satisfaction as the mauve-coloured mist she'd sprayed settled over the knotty hole in the bark. She gave it a little push with a blown breath, and almost instantly several dozen chittering maroon creatures fled the tree as quickly as they could in the direction of the lake.
"Truculents three, Lovegood one." She said with a smile. "At least now the potion works."
From her vantage point at the top of her tall ladder, it was easy to see the owl flapping toward her.
"Who would be sending me mail way out here, I wonder?"
She tucked the small potion mister into her jacket pocket, and climbed down the ladder. At least someone was thinking of her enough to send a letter, and that made her happy.
Several small green stalk-like figures appeared on the branches of nearby trees and just sat, waving side to side happily. She hoped they would be able to save this tree. Hopefully the truculents hadn't infested it too long.
The owl landed on her ladder and stuck its leg out toward her. She slipped a bit of jerky from her bag and offered it in exchange for the letter. It CHKCHKed happily, and then took off again, back in the direction it had come. She watched it for a moment, then waved with a smile.
The letter had her name on the front, but she expected that. She was the only one out here, after all.
I woke up this morning at about seven. Hermione and I were married about ten, and we left for Australia about half eleven. We're likely in Australia by the time you read this, we're here to find and restore Hermione's parents.
I want to thank you for coming to see me and Hermione while I was out of it. She won't say it, but I can tell your and Neville's visits were very helpful for her, so thank you for that. Please don't tell anyone what I'm telling you in this letter, we're only letting people know who we count as true friends, and only you and Neville have lived up to the title.
We will be having another wedding soon, so that Hermione's parents can attend, and Hermione would like to know if you'd be her Maid of Honour. We do have something else to ask of you as well, something official and House Potter-ey, but we'll wait until we see you for that. Best not to put it in print.
We'll send another note when we get settled here, when we have someplace to receive mail and such and let you know where we are and how to reach us.
Thanks again Luna,
Your friends, Harry and Hermione.
"Well, that's nice. I'm glad you're finally better, Harry." She said happily. "Maid of Honour sounds nice. I hope it isn't too complicated." She turned to the bowtruckles sitting in the treebranches.
"Do you think I could be a Maid of Honour if I'm not a virgin?"
"Aauuunnnghh..." Hermione moaned. "How did you get so... unnnghh... good at that Harry? Don't ever stop. Sweet merciful Merlin don't ever stop..."
Harry chuckled. "Have to, I'm done with that one. You have another foot, you know." He set her left foot down on his lap and picked up her right. He started with gentle squeezes, then added circular motions, and when her foot was warmed up, he added pressing his thumbs into the muscles on the bottom.
When he was finished with her right foot, she snored.
Harry smiled, and quietly picked up a magazine to flip through while she napped. He would have preferred a book on economics and managing money, but they hadn't had a chance to go to any shops yet.
He put the magazine down as a thought struck. There was some other reading he should be doing...
He pulled out his wand and concentrated, and two of the large Gringott's ledgers obediently floated to him from the far desk. The opened the cover, and the first page was a table of contents, broken into five categories: Homes and Properties, Large Items, Jewelry, Intellectual Property, and Investments. Harry figured he should read it all, so he flipped the page and started at the beginning, Homes and Properties.
There were only five Homes and Properties listed:
Potter House, 1 Potter Way, Dorset. Familial Seat. Complement: 8
Unnamed Residence, 7 Gryffindor Common, Godric's Hollow.
Chalet Potter, Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland. Complement: 4
Villa Potter, 107 Fangrias Dr. Mykonos, Greece. Complement: 4
Potter Island, Grand Bahamas. Complement: 12
His family owned an island. A whole island. In the Bahamas.
He closed the ledger again. Maybe he wasn't ready for that after all. He took several deep breaths, and hoped he finished freaking out before Hermione woke up. It was so much more fun to watch others freak out than it was to do it yourself.
Not for the first time, he marveled at his wife. His wife. Sewer of sunshine ribbons, bane of mint chocolate chip, oracle of his heart and mind. How on earth had he ever thought of her as just a friend? He shook his head slowly and thanked Merlin and Magic for showing him how unspeakably precious she really was. He carefully placed his hand on her swollen stomach and just rested it there. He felt so feeble, so inadequate, so unworthy in the face of what was happening inside her. It had taken years too long to even admit he loved her. How was he going to suddenly become a good father? A good husband? Hell, a good man? Tears started rolling down his cheeks, and as much as he was looking forward to it, awed by it, he had to admit even just to himself that he was terrified.
At least he didn't have to worry about putting food on the table or where his next paycheque was coming from. There were a lot of men who had it a lot harder than he did. He watched Hermione's perfect breasts rise and fall for a long time, studied her beautiful, peaceful face as though he'd never seen it before and never would again.
'You're married to the Research Queen, Potter.' He thought to himself after a long time just watching her sleep. 'You'd better pull your fucking finger out and get doing some of your own.'
He set his jaw and nodded to himself. As soon as she woke up.
He used his wand to summon parchment, quill, and ink, and used the ledger as a writing table.
We, Lord and Lady Potter;
Harry James Potter and Hermione Jean Potter, being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath all our worldly possessions to our yet unborn child.
In the event that we are all killed, all worldly possessions are to be evenly split by their agreement between Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood, minus 100,000 galleons, which is to go to Arthur and Molly Weasley.
He signed his name, and left space for Hermione's signature next to his.
He had no idea if it was valid, or if that was even how things were done. He would go to Gringott's later and see if they had a better idea on how to protect their assets, but in the meantime it would do. He'd show Hermione when she woke and see if she had anything to add.
He used the wand again to put the Will on the table, and summoned Hermione's bag, then summoned her camera out of it. He floated the camera a decent distance away, pointed at them, and lay his hand carefully and gently on her stomach again before snapping the picture, then put the camera away again, and went back to writing.
6th September, 1998
I'm sitting on a sofa in Sydney Australia with your mother. I just finished rubbing her feet and she was out like a light. We got married this morning - maybe it was yesterday in England due to time difference, I'm not sure. I just took a picture of us, all three of us, though you're not visible yet of course. I just want you to know that I don't really know what I'm doing. I'm lost right now, facing the most important thing I've ever - we 've - ever done, namely raising you. My own parents were murdered when I was a year and a half old, so I haven't really had any examples of how to parent properly, and I'll apologize for that now. I'll get things wrong, that much is a certainty. I'm immensely thankful that I have your mother, however. She's so completely brilliant, so incomparably wonderful, I'd be an utter wreck without her. I love her so much that sometimes I still can't believe she's real and loves me back, and we've been together since I was eleven. I love you the same way. We don't know if you're a boy or girl yet. We haven't even discussed names, but you're the central fact of our lives now, and we love you more than it's possible to say. We love you more and more every day. We can't wait to meet you.
I don't know how possible it's going to be to write to you often, but I'm definitely going to try.
All our love,
Your father, Harry James Potter.
Hermione stirred as he was waving the letter in the air to dry. She took her feet from his lap and sat up next to him to kiss his cheek.
"What's that?" She asked as she rested her cheek on his shoulder.
"A letter to the baby. I was doing some thinking, and if something happens to us... I don't want him or her to have nothing the way I did."
She pulled his face to hers and kissed him. "You beautiful, wonderful man. May I?" She held her hand out for the letter.
"Of course." He kissed her again, and she felt something new beneath the usual kiss. A new level of tenderness, of... vulnerability. She searched his eyes, and for the first time since she'd come to know him, she had no idea what he was thinking. There were several different emotions running through him at the same time, and she couldn't read him. It sent a thrill up and down her spine and ignited a deep hunger for him in a way she'd never experienced.
She tore her eyes away from his and read the letter.
Her hand went to her mouth as she read, tears dripped freely from her cheeks, and when she finished it her arms went around his neck and she sobbed into his neck.
"I love you." She cried, "I love you so much."
He held her close and pulled her into his lap, and they sat there like that while he rubbed her back and kissed her while he let his own tears mix with hers.
"I realized I have a lot of research to do. I don't even know how to be a decent man, for Magic's sake."
She sniffed and wiped her eyes and then nose on his shirt. "You're wrong, Harry. I don't love you in spite of who you are, I love you because of who you are. You are already a better man than most could dream of being. You're brilliant, this is just proof." She held up the letter. "You keep being you and everything will be wonderful."
"I... Do you really think so?" He asked softly, almost afraid.
"I know so, Harry. The simple fact that the baby's welfare is foremost in your mind proves it. The fact that you care about being a good man, a good father proves it. We'll go find some books, do some research. We still need information, since this is new to both of us, but information alone can't make you what you aren't. For us, it will just help us figure things out along the way. You're already a brilliant man, and you're going to be a brilliant father because of it."
"I hope so. I wasn't kidding about how lost I'd be without you, Hermione. Merlin, I'd be dead a hundred times over without you. I know you're going to be a brilliant mother, and I have that to live up to."
She barked a laugh. "I think I'm going to be terrible, so that just means we're the same. I'll depend on you to let me know if I am being terrible. Just not in front of the kids please." She kissed him.
Harry hugged her tight to him. "Kids..." He repeated. "I like the sound of that."
"I'm so happy being with you, Harry. I... I have to admit, I'm more than thrilled, but also more than a little scared."
He chuckled and kissed her neck. "Me too. Over the moon and completely terrified."
"One day at a time. Watch each other's backs. Stick together and we'll be fine. Same as always." She smiled at him.
He rested his forehead against hers. "You're amazing, Hermione. I should have told you that a long time ago."
"Yes you should have." She grinned and kissed the end of his nose. "But I'll settle for every day for the rest of my life."
He took a deep breath, smelling her hair and skin and let her fill him up. "I was going to go to the shops as soon as you woke up to get some books for research, but it's dark out and the clock says it's nearly eleven, so..." He stood up with her in his arms and set her gently on the bed. "First thing in the morning we can grab a few books, some breakfast, and then go parent hunting. Sound good?"
"Sounds wonderful. There's only one thing wrong."
"What? What is it?" He frowned, clearly trying to think of anything that might be wrong.
"You've still got clothes on."
He smiled at her and shook his head, not believing he fell for that. "Well that's because you haven't taken them off yet."
Wendell Wilkins loved his life, really he did. He lived in a beautiful place, he was married to a beautiful woman who loved him as much as he loved her, and he found his work rewarding and satisfying. He was his own boss, his wife was her own boss, and together they ran an efficient, lucretive practice. He had everything he'd wanted, everything he'd worked for.
He really had no idea why he felt something was missing.
It wasn't as if he had forgotten something, either. He had completed an inventory of all their possessions when they moved last year. All their equipment for the practice was under constant inventory control. He double-checked with Monica last night that he wasn't forgetting anything she had asked of him, and as he thought, he hadn't.
It was just a feeling. Not a nagging 'you've forgotten something' feeling either. It was like an emptiness inside him. It had a shape, like something had been there once and now wasn't, but he couldn't tell what the shape was, so he had no idea what might be missing. It was a vexing feeling. It was only ever a quiet background feeling, so it was only really when he was still and calm that he really noticed it. Still, he had noticed it, and when things were quiet, it grated on him.
"That's it for today, Doctor Wilkins." Sherry said as she walked past. "Your four o'clock just cancelled."
He smiled and nodded at the receptionist. "Thank you Sherry!" He put away the sterile instruments first, then stowed the drill bits and polishing compounds and rinses and fluoride pastes. He peeled off the nitrile gloves and tossed them, then washed up. Sherry was back at the front desk when he walked out.
"I'm off then." He said as he passed. "See you in the morning."
"Good night, doctor." Sherry smiled.
The drive home was less than ten minutes, and one of the reasons he loved the town they lived in. It was big enough to have an active town center, and small enough to be comfortable and not congested.
Monica was already home when he arrived, and that put a smile on his face. Maybe he'd cook something nice, set the table with some candles and flowers. He did love to see her when she woke up satisfied. He stopped quickly at the florist, and was still home inside ten minutes.
"You're home early." She said from the sofa. She was curled with her legs under her, nose in a book and a glass of red next to her on the side table.
"My four o'clock cancelled. I thought I might make us a nice dinner. A little carbonara, some wine, some candlelight..." He handed her the bouquet he had behind his back, and went to fill a vase so they could sit on the table. She put the flowers in the vase after he set it on the table, and took a moment to arrange them to her liking.
He kissed her cheek, but she stopped him and kissed him fully and squeezed his behind, then spun away and took her seat on the sofa again with a smile.
"Saucy." He grinned at her.
"I feel better." Harry said as they exited The Book Grocer hand in hand.
"I think that's the first time I've ever seen you exit a book shop with a smile." Hermione teased.
"These books I actually want." He smiled at her. "I kind of wish we could go back to first year and start again, just you and me, and actually try to do well. I do feel a little bad about it now."
"Really?" She raised her eyebrows.
"I didn't focus hardly at all. I let myself be led by the poorer influences because I'd never had friends before. I didn't really understand I should be asserting myself. Not until later."
"Well, you know now, and I'm thrilled with your newfound drive." She kissed his cheek. They crossed the street to Town Hall building, and up the stairs into the library. The place itself was very sleek, with white flooring and furniture. It wasn't a particularly large library, but they weren't there for books. Hermione led him over to the banks of computers. She sat in front of one and opened a browser window. She typed in an address and then typed in what she was looking for. Seconds later, there was a list of results.
"That's amazing." Harry whispered to her."We have to get one of these. Will you show me how to use it if we do?"
"Of course, Harry. I think it's a good idea as well, the internet is only going to get better." She clicked on a link, and it showed a list of people named Wilkins in Australia. It was a phone book for the entirety of Australia, not just Sydney. She scrolled the screen downward, and near the end found Wilkins, W & M. There weren't any others that were W & M.
"That's most likely them." She said, and wrote down the name of the town.
"Toowoomba." She corrected. "Hopefully that's them. Let's see where Toowoomba is." She opened another browser and typed the name of the town in, and clicked on a map. That map was very small and didn't show much detail, so she closed that one and opened another that was larger and had lots of detail. "It's west of Brisbane. It's five hundred miles up the coast."
"Are there any pictures of Toowoomba? I can do Hogwarts to London. That's over five hundred."
She typed 'pictures of Brisbane' into the browser, and a number of nice pictures.
Harry pointed at one. "There, that's the town hall, we can do that."
Hermione nodded. "We should go check out of the hotel then."
Harry nodded. "Can you look up something halfway between here and there? Coff's Harbour maybe? Any landmarks there?"
She turned back to the computer and did another search, and came up with pictures of a fun park famous for it's enormous banana. It was easy to picture.
"That's good." He whispered as he kissed her head. "I thought better of it because it's all of us. Safer to go in two jumps."
They walked the two blocks back to the Hilton, but didn't bother going back to the room. Everything they had was in Hermione's beaded bag, so there wasn't any point. Harry paid at the desk as they checked out, and they headed to the public restroom.
Harry closed the door behind them as they both crowded into one of the stalls. "You ready?" He asked.
"I hope so, I'd rather not vomit on you."
Harry grinned. "I'm washable. Besides, it would be just one more of your fluids I've had on me."
Hermione snorted. "Prat. Just go." She grinned, but Harry saw the pink in her cheeks.
Harry cast notice-me-not on them, then kissed her forehead. "I love your fluids."
They Apparated with a soft pop, and appeared in front of a thirty-foot banana with the words "The Big Banana" on it.
"That's a big banana." Hermione said, then they Apparated again and appeared in front of the Toowoomba town hall.
"All okay?" Harry asked immediately.
"Yes, we're both fine." She kissed his cheek and looked around. "There's a hotel just over there."
"Brilliant." Harry held her hand as they walked the block to the Shamrock Hotel.
"Good morning." The man behind the counter greeted them when they walked in.
"Good morning." Hermione smiled.
"We'd like a room please." Harry asked.
"Lovely!" The man said, and tapped some keys on the keyboard in front of him. "How long will you be staying and do you have a preference for room type?"
"Two days to start with, you think?" Harry asked Hermione.
She nodded. "We can always add more on."
"Tonight and tomorrow night, and single room with a large bed please." Harry said.
"Your names?" The man asked.
"Howard and Hestia Black." Harry answered.
The man tapped some more keys on the computer, then pulled a room key with a large plastic tag attached to it that had 214 on it in big black numbers. He slid the key across the counter to them.
"Two fourteen, just up the stairs to the left there." He pointed out the door they had come in.
"Thank you, mister...?" Hermione said.
"Gordon Roddy. Just Gord though." He smiled.
"Thank you Gord." Hermione smiled back. "We're here for some dental work from out of town, I don't suppose you'd know where Wilkins Dental is?"
"Crikey!" Gord said with a grin. "They're just up Ruthven street here out front, then left up Margaret, across the bridge and just past the mall on the opposite side. Lovely couple, my wife and I get all our work done there."
"We've heard good things as well, that's why we came." Harry smiled. "Thanks for the info."
Gordon nodded. "No worries. I won't say enjoy it, but it'll be good as it can be."
Hermione smiled as she and Harry left out the door again and up the stairs toward their room. She smiled at the though that her parents - if they were her parents - were well-liked by the community. She knew they were good dentists, she'd known that her whole life. It was something else to find that they carried good practice and good will with them. She chewed her thumbnail as she waited for Harry to open the door.
The room was clean and decent, with a queen sized bed in the center. There was a TV and small coffeemaker on the desk with some packets of coffee waiting. It was a well-run hotel, but the 'hotel smell' lingered in the background, beneath the perfumed cleaning products. Harry closed the door behind her, and enfolded her in his arms. She stiffened, not expecting it, and then relaxed and hugged him back.
"You only chew your nail when you're really stressed. Talk to me." He said. He held her head to his chest and stroked her hair, and she calmed despite herself.
"We're close." She sighed. "We don't know if they are my parents, but if they are, then we just follow them home and... somehow..."
"Easy. I'll come up with a way to distract them and keep their attention focused on me. You just keep calm, keep breathing, and focus on your parents. You know what to do, you know how to do it. Just relax and focus. You're brilliant and you'll be fine, Hermione."
She relaxed and snuggled into him. "You're right, of course. When it's time I won't let my emotions get in the way, it's just... I miss them. I know they're going to be angry. Angry and hurt."
"That's why after we confirm it's them - or not them - I should go to Gringotts straightaway and get us some muggle identifications and maybe a credit card or something. If it is them, we'll get a nice little house close to your parents and just be a family. If it's not them, we continue on and find them, then get a nice little house close to your parents and just be a family."
She squeezed him tightly and smoothed his hair back from his face. "Love you." She smiled.
"Love you." He smiled back, then noticed her smile had turned to a frown. "What is it?"
She pulled his head down, and smoothed his hair back away from his face as she inspected his hairline on both sides of his forehead. Her frown didn't go away.
"Harry, your scar is gone."
It was Harry's turn to frown. "What?" He let go of her and strode to the large mirror over the dresser on the far wall. He pulled his hair back and checked his hairline. She was right, his forehead was smooth and unblemished by any marks at all.
Hermione took her wand out and cast a few things at him. "You don't have any glamours or anything on you, you're completely clean. Your scar is just gone, like it never existed." She pulled his shirt up and looked at his torso. "You still have these scars though. And the one from the basilisk fang."
"Did I have it yesterday?" He asked, deep in thought.
"Yes. Well... maybe? I didn't look. I know you definitely had it when you woke up in the hospital, I remember looking at it before bawling my eyes out."
"Weird. I wonder what -" Harry's eyes went wide, and he grabbed her left arm and pulled her sleeve up. Her forearm was smooth and unblemished and beautiful.
Hermione frowned, wondering what he was doing, but when she saw her arm her hand went to her mouth and tears filled her eyes.
"Dark magic." Harry said. "Something we did in the last two days purged us of dark magic and healed us." He pulled her forearm up and kissed the spot where her scar had been.
"Well there's only two things we've done in the last two days that it could have been - the wedding or the house rings. The sex was pretty magical, but we did that before you woke up, so I know that's not it." She kissed his cheek.
"Whatever it was, I'm ecstatic you don't have to carry that word around with you. That angered me no end. I wanted to kill her myself."
She wrapped her arms around him again. "It was just a scar, Harry. It didn't mean anything. To me it was just a reminder that ignorance and hatred go hand in hand. In the end the pureblood nonsense is just another symptom of the stupid side of human nature. A reminder to learn and grow and be more than our base selves."
Harry was quiet for a while, he just held her and rocked side to side slightly.
"It's never going to end." He whispered finally. "We can stay here and be happy as a family, go unnoticed and just live... or we can go back and fight the ignorance, intolerance and hatred. We'll be targets again, and we may win, but it will be a lifelong fight. It may be a fight we hand off to our children. I... I don't know if I want that for them."
"If we don't fight, if we don't push back against it, we leave them a world no better than it was when we came to it."
He looked at her and smiled, then kissed her. "I know. Right now it doesn't matter, we have more pressing matters, but we'll talk about it. I truly am torn and unsure what would be best in the long run. As long as whatever we decide to do we do it together, I'll be happy with that."
"Good. Me too. Are you ready to go see if we found my parents?"
Harry nodded. "Nervous, and excited."
She smiled. "Good. Me too."
It took them fifteen minutes to walk the few blocks. It was a nice two-story building of red brick amongst a dozen others just like it, and only distinguished from the others by the sign over the door that read "Wilkins Dental". Harry held the door for her as they entered.
"Good morning, welcome to Wilkins Dental." The receptionist greeted them.
"Good morning." Hermione smiled at her. "My husband and I are new to the area and just shopping around for medical services. Do you have time to tell us about the practice?"
Harry nudged Hermione's elbow and nodded to a signboard on one wall with pictures of a man and a woman and name plaques beside the pictures that listed their credentials.
Hermione gasped when she saw it despite herself, and made a quick nod to Harry, then turned back to the receptionist with a smile.
They carried on a normal conversation and received brochures about the services available, and left a few minutes later, but Harry could tell Hermione was quivering with the strain the whole time.
When they had exited the building and were alone in the parking lots, she whispered "That's them." She breathed heavily and clung to him.
"Only one little bit left to do then." He wrapped his arms around her and held her for a long moment.
Hermione wrapped her arms under his and clung to him with her hands on his shoulders from behind, and let go of the tears she'd been holding in.
"I can't help it, Harry. What if I'm doing more harm than good to them? What if they're happy and better off as they are?"
"Rubbish." He said with his lips on her hair. "There is no life you've touched that isn't better because of it. You're bloody brilliant. If you suddenly forgot our little one, wouldn't you do anything to get him or her back? No matter what?"
"Yes." She said without hesitation. "I'd be frantic."
"For that matter, I'm fairly certain they'll want to be part of his or her life as well. That's two lots of magic they'd be missing, you and the baby."
"It feels kind of creepy following them home." She said after a moment.
"No, it feels really creepy. How else are we going to get them alone in private though?"
"I know it's probably the best way, it just feels a little icky."
"Yes it does. How long have we got until they're done for the day?"
"The receptionist's schedule said their last appointment is four in the afternoon."
"Let's go to Gringott's then and get our identification and whatnot worked out, we can Apparate back here for then. That way we can - well, you can undo their memory changes, then when you're visiting with them tomorrow I can pop out and get us a house."
Hermione nodded. "Alright. I'd just be wandering around town for six hours stressing otherwise."
Harry took out his wand and concealed them from muggle sight, then Apparated them back to Sydney, taking two jumps again.
Hermione cast a quick Magum Revelio when they arrived, and they found a concentration of magic in the downtown core. It was a short walk, and the entrance to the magical portion of Sydney was in the back room of shop that sold crystals and incense and things, called The Dreamtime.
Magical Sydney turned out to be much like magical London, except larger, brighter, and much more friendly.
Inside Gringott's, they were introduced to their Australian Affairs Manager, Flense.
"How may I assist you, Lord and Lady Potter?" She asked.
"We're needing muggle identification, Australian first, but likely British as well. We'd also like to acquire a muggle credit card. Does Gringott's work through any established muggle banks?" Hermione said.
Flense merely opened a drawer in her desk and took out two large envelopes, then slid one to each of them. "Gringott's does work through several muggle banks. It will take me a moment to procure the required credit card, the fees and payment for which will automatically be converted to galleons and extracted from your vault. Gutspike took the liberty of preparing those packages for you, in anticipation of your need. Please excuse me a moment." She quickly strode from her office, and returned a few minutes later. Harry and Hermione had looked at their passports, driver's licenses, birth certificates and health cards for both countries, and were sitting quietly holding hands when she returned.
"Here you are." Flense said as she placed a plastic card in front of each of them. One card had Harry's name on it beneath a long number, and the other Hermione's.
Harry picked his up and put it into his dragonskin wallet. "Thank you, Flense." He stood and bowed to her.
Hermione did the same. "Thank you."
"Thank you," Flense replied. "It was a beautiful wedding. May your happiness flow as well as your gold."
Harry flashed her a grin as they left.
"I guess we're famous among goblins now?" Hermione asked when they got outside the bank.
"I guess. I did have a question for you, though. It occurred to me when I saw your name on the card - do you want to be Hermione Jean Potter? Or maybe Granger-Potter? Or just stay Granger?"
She stopped in her tracks. "That's a good question, honestly. I hadn't thought about it." She bit her lip the way she did when she was thinking deeply, and it tugged at his heart the way it always did. "I want to be Hermione Jean Potter." She said firmly. "I know you won't ever put pressure on me to conform to your family because I already am your family, so I don't need to retain my own name as a way of keeping my independence."
"I love your independence."
"I know." She grinned. "Plus, this way we have the same initials."
Harry laughed and hugged her. "We will, too! I hadn't even thought of that."
"Besides, I like being called Missus Potter. It feels good."
Harry beamed at her. "Well then, Missus Potter, shall we get a bite of something and then peruse a few bookstores?"
She kissed him. "Brilliant."
They passed the remaining five hours eating and reading. Harry was fascinated by the contents of 'What to Expect When You're Expecting', and devoured it. Hermione got less reading done, though she did read through a couple of chapters on memory charms and their reversal, just to brush up. A significant portion of her time was spent watching Harry and his changing expressions as he read. She smiled quietly to herself as she wound a curl around her finger and tried to focus on anything but how gloriously sexy Harry was while studying intently.
She reached her limit by half past three, and put her book away back on the shelf. She loved how the book shops here had cafes and reading areas inside them. It was genius. She then barged her way into Harry's arms and sat on his lap. it took three kisses to make him put the book down, but he was smiling for the last two.
"Alright, alright. I can get back to this later." He smiled at her and put the book back in her beaded bag. "Shall we go then?"
"The sooner we deal with my parents the sooner we can be alone." She blushed, but didn't try to hide her desire.
Harry kissed the side of her head. "Told you you were brilliant."
She stood up so he could, and they made their way out of the book shop. As soon as they were outside, Harry Apparated them to the Big Banana and then back to the parking lot of her parents' practice.
They only had to wait fifteen minutes before Hermione's mother came outside to her car. Harry re-cast their Notice-me-not and Disillusioned them both, then Apparated them into the back seat of her car.
It wasn't much of a drive, only about seven minutes, but the town was beautiful, even the town center. Hermione's mother drove into a very nice suburb called Rangeville, and less than half a minute later, into a driveway on Boshammer street.
"We should stay like this, unseen. I'll undo their memory charm and we can get out again. Leave a note and come back tomorrow." Hermione said after her mother had exited the car.
"I don't think that's a good idea and neither do you." Harry objected. "If they suddenly remember you their first thought is going to be getting to you or at least contacting you, same as yours would be if you suddenly remembered me. We could definitely sneak in like this, work the charm, and then sneak out again to show up on the doorstep. I'd go along with that."
Hermione sighed. "I know. You're right. I just... nervous and scared."
Harry patted the space next to him until he felt her, then slid his hand down her arm to take her hand. "Relax and breathe, Missus Potter. The sooner we get them back the happier we'll both be. I love you, Hermione. Your parents love you."
Her hand brushed across his chest and she climbed into his lap and held him to her. She could feel his heartbeat with her chest pressed against his left side. Slowly, gradually, they synchronized until there were two hearts with one beat.
"Thank you Harry." She whispered. "I want to go back in time and throttle myself for not demanding you be my boyfriend when I was twelve. It hasn't been a week and I have no clue what I'd do without you." She kissed his neck. "Let's go get our family."
"We can't yet, your dad isn't ho..." A silver Mercedes drove up beside them and Hermione's father got out and went in the house. "...oome yet. Okay, let's go get our family." He Apparated them into the house, and Hermione cast Silencio on their feet.
"As soon as you finish, I'll Apparate us to just outside the front door." He whispered so only she could hear.
She squeezed his hand in agreement.
Wendell and Monica Wilkins looked like a nice couple. Hermione's mother had dark brown hair, nearly black, and Hermione's warm chestnut eyes. Her father had brown hair as well, with slight highlights of auburn, and his hair was kept short, but it was immediately apparent that's where Hermione's frizzy tendencies came from.
Her mother was on the sofa, legs curled beneath her, and it tugged at Harry's heart she looked so much like an older Hermione as she read a medical journal. Hermione had her mother's cheekbones and nose, but the shape of her face came from her father. She was a perfect blend of the best traits of the two people in front of them, and it confirmed what Harry already knew. Hermione was one in a billion.
Mister Wilkins appeared in the living room from up the stairs, in different clothes than what he'd come home in. He wore baggy shorts and a t-shirt around the house, apparently. He crossed the room and kissed his wife, and beside him, Harry heard a quiet "Commemini!"
The air around both their heads seemed to twist and a slight glow came from behind their eyes. It only lasted a second, and left both the Grangers looking at each other and their home in confusion.
"What-?" Her mother asked.
"Where-?" Her father asked.
Harry Apparated them to the front porch and looked around quickly. He cast a visibility ward on the porch so they wouldn't be seen appearing out of thin air when he dropped the disillusionment and Notice-me-not.
Hermione's face was scrunched up, holding back tears when he could see her again, so he reached out and pressed the doorbell.
The door opened and Mr. Granger stood there, shock on his face.
"Daddy?" Hermione asked in a small voice.
Malcolm Granger stood quietly with his wife of twenty years, trying for the life of him to piece together how in hell he'd come to be wearing his 'slobaround' gear in someone else's house. Eleanor was equally confused. She had been in her favorite comfortable reading pose, and clearly relaxed and at home. Yet, they were in someone else's house.
The doorbell rang then, and a stab of panic shot through him. Was he trespassing in someone else's home? Was that them? Were they about to be arrested?
He held a hand out to tell Eleanor to stay put, and cautiously made his way to the front door. His shoes were there, looking for all the world like he'd just come home from work, and he didn't see any shoes he didn't recognize on the rack. He peeked through the window in the front door, but couldn't see anyone. They must be too close to the door. On the up side, he didn't see any police cars either.
He gripped the handle and made a silent wish to not be arrested, then opened the door. His daughter stood there. He knew it was her. Something slammed home inside him, like a tectonic plate thunderously slipping into a stable position. Something was wrong though. Something was off. He knew his baby girl better than anyone, and he knew straightaway something was wrong. She was whole, she was healthy, but there had been something. He had missed something. Her face was a little older. More mature. Her figure slightly rounder. Less teen, more twenties. Her eyes had new depth to them.
"Daddy?" She asked in a small voice.
"Hermio -" He didn't have time to even finish her name before she slammed into him and squeezed him hard enough to make his ribs creak.
"I love you too, Queenie." He told her.
"Let's go inside, we have a lot to talk about." She said when she let him go.
He couldn't really argue the fact, but he did wonder if hanging out in a strange house was a good idea.
"Daddy, this is Harry. Harry, my dad Malcolm Granger." She said. He had wondered about the lad standing there if he was honest. He knew that name though. Wasn't the boy she wrote about constantly for years named Harry?
Harry stuck out his hand, so Malcolm shook it. At least the lad had a good firm handshake.
"Yes, well. No sense standing on the porch, come in, come in." He told them.
Hermione entered first, followed closely by Harry. Eleanor and Hermione crashed together halfway between the door and the sofa, and Eleanor smoothed Hermione's hair down and kissed her head over and over.
"I missed you mum." She said when she let go.
"I missed you too, dear." Eleanor said. "Who's your friend?"
"Mum, this is Harry, Harry, my mum Eleanor Granger."
"Pleased to meet you finally, Ma'am." Harry said, and stuck is hand out.
Instead of shaking it, she turned to Hermione. "Is he that Harry?"
Hermione lit up from within as she blushed a bright, deep pink. "Yes mum, there's only one Harry."
"Well then, it's a pleasure to finally meet you as well, Harry." She said as she swept him into a hug.
Malcolm frowned. Yes, Hermione had been going on about the boy for ages, but Eleanor didn't hug hardly anyone. Did she know something he didn't? He started to think maybe she did, and it sparked a flame in his chest. If this kid had done something to his baby girl...
"I would love to say it's wonderful to have you home again, dear, but I'm not even sure where we are. It certainly isn't home."
"That's what I need to talk to you about. Please, sit down. You too dad." Hermione seemed... commanding. Adult. In control. He felt a pride begin to clash with his anger. Never one to not humor his daughter, he sat beside Eleanor and waited for Hermione to continue.
"You remember I told you about the dark wizard who was supposedly dead but wasn't really?"
"I... Sort of?" He said. "It wasn't very clear."
"On purpose, daddy. In case the letters were being read."
"Oh. That's not right." He frowned harder.
"No, but it's also not the half. That dark wizard did come back to life, and gathered his followers. Horrid, horrid people who loved to torture and murder and rape and thought of people with no magic like yourselves as nothing but sheep for sport."
Eleanor gasped. "And these people are allowed to just roam free?"
"There are police, but this dark wizard was a lot like Hitler, and his message was very seductive to certain people. He had followers inside the Ministry who helped them make raids on people like you and dad and me. Even if we were in a protected home."
"Bloody hell." Malcolm said. "We had no idea it was so serious! We're getting the hell out of England immediately!"
Eleanor gripped his hand and nodded.
Hermione looked at the floor the way she'd always done when she was guilty. Harry stepped forward and rubbed his hand on her back. She looked at him, and they shared a conversation in a glance.
They shared a conversation in a glance.
The flame inside him raged. They had definitely done something. Little bastard!
"You're in Australia, daddy." Hermione took support and comfort from Harry's gaze, and returned to looking like a proud, confident woman. "The war is also over now. The dark wizard and most of his horrid ilk are dead or in prison.
"We're... Why are we in Australia?" Eleanor asked.
"Those followers -one of their favorite things to do is harm the families of those fighting them. The best way - the only way I could protect you was to remove myself from your memories. I changed your memories and your names and moved you here. You live here, you have a practice here. This is your house."
"You did WHAT?" He thundered. It didn't help that the little bastard kept touching his baby, but Hermione had rooted around in his head? In Eleanor's!?
"It was the only way, daddy. I had to keep you safe."
Malcolm stood, his hands clenching and unclenching as his jaw worked to contain his anger.
"What exactly did you do to us, Hermione?" Eleanor was angry too. She only ever used that icy tone when she was livid. Usually at him.
"I altered your memories. Changed your names. Removed myself. Changed every picture of me in the house to not show me. I'm sorry mum, but I had to. It worked. You're safe, you're well-liked in the community, and you were always who you were, just... without me to endanger you. I couldn't protect you any other way."
He could see Eleanor analyzing the information.
"There's more, too mum. Nothing about you, but about me. Me and Harry..."
Hermione pulled out her wand, and waved it over herself. She shimmered briefly, then expanded. Her stomach bulged and her breasts grew, but she didn't put any fat on her face. She wasn't fat. She was pregnant.
"YOU LITTLE BASTARD!" Malcolm yelled. He threw as much rage as he could behind the punch, and felt good when it connected solidly with Harry's jaw. Shouting started behind him, but he ignored it.
Harry hit the floor, but Malcolm wasn't done with him. He reached down and grabbed the front of his shirt to hold him in place for another, but for some reason he couldn't move.
Harry reeled from the unexpected blow. He knew Mister Granger would be angry. Of course he'd be angry. He hadn't counted on Mister Granger being affected by the elapsed time. He probably still thought Hermione was sixteen. Mister Granger picked him up by the front of his shirt, but couldn't land another blow. Behind him, Hermione had her wand pointed at him and Mr. Granger locked in place. Harry had to smile at her silent Immobilus. Brilliant witch. Brilliant.
She came over to him and touched his cheek. It was already tender, but he didn't think anything had broken.
"Are you alright love?" She asked him, frightened. He stood up and removed his shirt from Mister Granger's frozen fist, then carried the immobile man back to the sofa.
"I'm alright, Hermione." He said as he straightened. "It's just another scar to me. Besides that, the poor man doesn't understand he's only hurting you. Are you alright?"
Hermione kissed his cheek where her father had punched him. "A bit shocked, but fine."
Missus Granger took a deep breath and let it out. "Why don't you continue, dear, and fill us in on what we've clearly missed."
She nodded to her mother and launched into the tale of the end of the war, the Battle of Hogwarts, the final death of Voldemort - with a small backtrack to fill in the hunt for Tom's anchors. Then the aftermath, the burying of the dead and the mourning of the people they'd lost. She dipped into her 'relationship' with Ron briefly before describing what had happened during their grocery run and the ensuing four months of coma and research.
Missus Granger looked surprised to hear Hermione talking about her feelings for him, the ones she'd repressed before he'd awakened, but seemed to understand why Hermione had 'sort of raped' him.
Hermione dripped tears when she told her mother about finding out there was no cure for his condition and her refusal to accept that end, and again when she described his awakening and admission that he loved her as well.
"So then the first thing we did was get married - just a magical marriage, we are planning on having a real wedding soon, but we had to come and find you first. I'm so sorry mum, I've been so scared to come and see you, knowing what a horrible thing I did to you and dad."
Missus Granger stood and wrapped Hermione in her arms. Hermione immediately broke into sobs. Missus Granger smoothed her hair and held her again, and Harry understood why she liked it so much when he did it.
"Nonsense, dear. You did what you had to do. You protected your family. Your father and I are a little put out, of course, but I think that's mostly because that's supposed to be our jobs, not yours. I'm proud of you, Hermione. So very proud. You stood up and fought real life horrors at terrifying risk to yourself. Then you sacrificed your own life to preserve Harry. You're a real-life hero, Hermione. I'm terrified of the things you've seen and done, but immeasurably proud."
Hermione held her mother and cried, unable to speak for minutes. Even harry had tears in his eyes imagining his own mother saying something like that.
"Thanks mum." Hermione said finally.
"Accio tissue." Harry pulled a tissue from the box on the side table and handed it to Hermione.
"Thank you too." She smiled and kissed him before she dried her eyes and blew her nose.
"Could you do something about your father, dear?"
Hermione nodded. "Sorry." She released the spell on her father, and he relaxed into the sofa.
Mister Granger immediately stood. Instead of attacking, however, he stuck out his hand at Harry.
"Sorry, Harry. It appears I was in the wrong again. I don't like that my baby girl is pregnant, but that clearly wasn't your fault. I shouldn't have attacked you, I apologize." He said.
Harry shook the hand. "I imagine my own reaction in your shoes might be very similar."
"Ha!" Mister Granger laughed sarcastically. "I'm the adult, and you're the one showing wisdom and compassion, son. You must be all of what? Fifteen? Sixteen?"
"Uhh... Actually, I'm eighteen. It's Nineteen Ninety-Eight, sir."
Mister Granger's eyes widened. "My baby is nineteen?"
"Not for another couple weeks, daddy." Hermione said as she stepped in to hug him again. "Thank you for apologizing."
"Nonsense, dear. It's the right thing to do when you're wrong."
"I missed you dad." She smiled.
"Actually, that reminds me." Harry said. "Could I see your identifications please? Driver's license, passports, bank cards, credit cards, library cards? Everything you have."
Mister Granger frowned, but fetched his wallet from upstairs anyway.
"What for Harry?" Missus Granger asked.
"To change your names. With a small compulsion on them for whoever is viewing them to think that the card is correct and the name is wrong in the computer. Should get you set to use your own names again. Will have to do it on the plaque in your office too."
"You can do that?" Missus Granger seemed surprised.
"It's a simple spell, mum. I can't wait to show you everything now that we're allowed to do magic."
"Your daughter is the smartest, most talented, most brilliant, most powerful witch in Britain." Harry said with a grin.
"And you're not biased at all." Hermione grinned and kissed him.
"Most beautiful, too." Harry grinned at her, and her cheeks pinked.
Harry worked on Mister Granger's identifications, Hermione worked on her mother's, and they were finished in a few minutes.
"It really is amazing what you can do." Mister Granger said, awe evident in his voice.
"This is nothing, dad. We'll give you a proper show later. We should probably ward the house later as well." Hermione said as she looked at Harry. Harry nodded back. It was a good idea.
Harry ticked items off with his fingers. "Go to dinner, Ward the house, buy our own house, check out of the hotel, furnish our house, plan a wedding, and spend time with your mum and dad. Did I miss anything?"
"Buying your own house could take a while, you can stay here until then. We have a guest room. it would help us get to know you, Harry." Missus Granger said.
"We need to get some kind of international mail thing happening as well, so we can write Neville and Luna again and let them know more." Hermione added. "Let's start with dinner and sleep though. Mum, dad, would you come to dinner with us please? Also, if you could suggest a restaurant..."
"I'll go change." Mister Granger said, and trudged up the stairs again.
"Also, you can pick up the bill, Hermione." Harry leaned toward Missus Granger with a conspiratorial whisper. "Turns out your daughter is also one of the richest witches in Britain. She has her own island in the Bahamas."
"WHAT?!" Hermione and her mother both demanded in unison.
Ginny's head hovered in the green flames, but her eyes looked at the floor.
"I thought Ron told you." She lied.
When had her youngest become such a horrible person? Lying right to her face!
"You've visited, of course. How is he?"
"He's in a COMA, mum. He's either still in it or dead."
"That's a very touching, considerate attitude! How was he when you visited last week then? How was Hermione? The poor dear must be beside herself with worry. You know she pushes herself too hard."
Ginny's face went flat and angry like a cat's. "I don't care how that bitch is, mum. I'm done with her. She had the gall to insinuate I don't love my Harry. She can rot."
Molly dropped the pretense. "I talked to Luna. She said you only ever visited him once and told her he was a lost cause. That you gave up on Harry because he was no use to you. Honestly, after listening to you lie to my face, I'm inclined to believe her. What happened to you, Ginevra? Luna said you don't talk to her anymore either."
"Oh fuck off. I don't have time for this shit." Ginny's head disappeared, and the green flames vanished with a pop.
Molly stood in the living room with her lower lip quivering. A stiff breeze could have blown her over.
She took her wand and went into the back garden and blasted gnomes for an hour until Arthur returned home from work.
"Mol?" He called, "Mol!"
She re-entered the house, still fuming.
"How did it go?" He asked.
"How did it go..." Molly growled, her eyes ablaze with fury. "First your youngest son brushes off two people who saved his life multiple times because he 'didn't feel like the hassle'. Then your daughter LIED straight to my face! She called Hermione a bitch, and didn't deny that she'd said she had no use for Harry! When I called her on it, she told me to FUCK OFF, and left! As though HER MOTHER was a mere annoyance!"
Arthur's eyes went flat and hard. "I see." He said threateningly.
Neville waved to Susan and Hannah as he entered the Great Hall. Susan waved back, but Hannah did so with a smile.
"Good morning, ladies." He said as he sat at the Hufflepuff table across from them.
"Mornin' Nev." Hannah said. Susan mumbled something he didn't catch, but clearly she felt like she needed more sleep. It made him wonder what she did when she should be sleeping.
"How's your first week?" He asked instead, just before biting into toast with jam.
"Not terrible." Hannah smiled. "Unlike some people, I like to keep fit and get to bed on time."
Neville had to admit he loved watching these two pick at each other. They were best of friends and had been for years and years before they even came to Hogwarts, and their jabs were always fun and good-natured. Especially when it was Hannah. She was so bright and kind, it was incongruous to see her verbally jousting her friend, and that made it all the funnier.
"I guess the question then is who's keeping you up at night, Susan? Or are you keeping yourself up at night? Hmmm?"
Hannah broke out into fits of laughter at his innuendo, so he took that as hitting fairly close to the mark. he didn't really want to know, obviously, and he hoped she didn't actually tell him, because he would blush furiously and have to go somewhere else until he calmed down. it was one thing to joke, but both Susan and Hannah were beautiful, well-developed girls, and Neville was only human.
Thankfully, Susan just blushed and and called him a git.
Neville finished his toast with a chuckle.
"Mail's here." Hannah noted, her eyes flicking to the ceiling and the owls swooping through the room.
A horned owl landed in front of Neville, and he reflexively fed it a half rasher before taking the message from the holder on its leg. The owl flew off again immediately.
"Love note from a secret admirer, Nev?" Susan leaned over the table and raised her eyebrows at him in an attempt at revenge. Sadly for her, Neville had had a full night's rest and felt healthy and fully awake.
"Everyone knows you're my only admirer, Sue, and you're not very secret about it." He winked at her, and Hannah dissolved into giggles again.
"Ugh." Sue said. "I give up, I'm going to class." She picked up her bag and stalked away before Neville even had the chance to open the message.
We bought a house! Can you imagine?! It's a small place just for Hermione and I, but it's rapidly becoming wonderful. We had a floo connection installed, including an international destination to Potter House in Dorset, so now whatever mail you want to send, just send it to Potter House and Cassi will send it through to here.
We found Hermione's parents! They're fine. It took a couple of days, but they're loving having her back in their lives again, and it's a wonderful thing to watch. They've accepted me as well, more than I ever thought they would, especially after her dad punched me in the face when we met. It feels strange to have a family after so long with just you guys. I mean, you guys are family too, but... you know what I mean!
Speaking of! I'm planning a birthday get-together for Hermione's birthday next week. I've written to Headmistress McGonagall as well, asking permission for everyone there that we're inviting to attend. I know you're of age now and don't need permission technically, but I thought she might appreciate being kept in the know. Please write back soon and let me know if you can come, I'll write back again and come collect you and your date (or dates!). The location is a secret, but you'll need swimwear! Also, let me know what's going on there, will you? How is seventh year? Have you started studying for N.E.W.T.s yet? Hermione and I are going to start studying after the wedding and take ours at the Ministry. We both think it would be a shame to put up with all that studying just to not take them.
Have a great day and talk soon!
Neville shook his head. "Damn Hermione is good for him." He muttered.
He couldn't believe how happy Harry sounded. It was completely unlike him to be so relaxed and easygoing and sociable, even in a letter.
Right! he had to come up with a gift for Hermione, and then decide who if anyone he wanted to take with him. If he was honest, he might ask Susan and Hannah. He liked them both, he was fairly sure they liked him... the only fly in that ointment was the word "date". Would they take it as a date? Would they both come if they did? Which one would, if not? Would it be better to just invite them as friends? Would either of them be disappointed if he did?
Sometimes, being eighteen sucked.
"Wot you mean, "Oh, he's in a coma?!" George frowned at Ron. "Like 'Oh, yeah he has a blue shirt, it wasn't worth mentioning."
Ron looked over at George. George, who never stopped working for anything or anyone, had stopped working and was standing there while his cauldron overheated, frowning death at him.
"What?" Ron said in a hurt little voice, "Not like he's much good now."
"Excuse me?" George said with a sharp edge to his voice. "Not much good now? Meaning he was good for something before now?"
"Well, he's just lyin' there, inne? He's got whatserface there all the time anyway."
"What's her face? WHAT'S HER FACE?! I can only assume you mean Hermione, and judging from your stupid attitude and red face she decided not to put up with your trollshit anymore. Good for her! How long has Harry been in a coma, Ron?"
Ron shrugged as though trying to dislodge George from his back.
"HOW LONG RON?!" George took a step closer and shouted right at his head. Ron's shoulders came up to protect his head and he stared indignantly at his now-enraged brother.
"Like s...th...ble" He mumbled quietly.
"SPEAK UP!" George shouted again. His hair was beginning to spontaneously spark.
"Like since the battle!" Ron blurted sulkily.
George stood there silently quivering with the urge to punch Ron. "Get out front and watch the shop. I'll be back in a bit." He growled. He went upstairs and threw floo powder into the fireplace, then stepped into the green flames. "The Burrow!" He shouted.
His mother was in the kitchen cleaning up when he arrived, His father in his favourite chair reading the Prophet.
"George! Nice to see - what's wrong, son?" Arthur stood up from his chair when he saw the murderous look on George's face.
"Did you know about Harry?!" He demanded.
"No son. Mol, where'd you put the letter?" He raised his voice so Molly could hear him in the kitchen.
"On the table by the floo!" She replied.
"Go read it, George. That's how we found out."
George crossed back to the table beside the floo and picked up the piece of folded parchment there. He folded it back up and replaced it when he was finished.
"At least we know he's not still in a coma." George said with a calmer voice.
"I've talked to Bill already, he and Fleur are going to see if they can turn up a way to contact Harry at work. Gringott's is sure to know how." Arthur said. "We would have notified you when we heard anything." He laid a hand on George's shoulder.
"Good. We owe Harry so much... everyone does. I still see him fighting Voldemort sometimes when I close my eyes. And then Ron just now let slip 'oh yeah, he's in coma', like it's nothing important."
"Ginny was more mercenary and horrid about it. We've had them both on floo call this morning. I'm currently trying to forget about it and calm down before I do something rash." Arthur said. "When your mother told me what they'd said, I nearly cast them out on the spot."
George's eyebrows shot up. What could Ron and Ginny have said or done to warrant that? On second thought, he didn't want to know. He might just go back there and hex the life out of Ron. "That's... serious."
"If either of them had been here I'd have hit them with such a stinger they'd not have sit for a fortnight." Molly said as she came to hug George.
"Good." George said and hugged his mum. "I should get back, let me know what you find out."
"Will do, son." Arthur said.
George flooed back to the the shop and started his batch of Skiving Sweets over again. He wondered the whole time it was brewing what Magic's name had gotten into Ron and Ginny.
He hoped Harry didn't hate him for not coming to visit.
For the second time in two days, Neville found himself staring at an owl, though this one was over dinner rather than morning mail. He gave the bird some ham, and unrolled the message to read it.
He didn't recognize the handwriting.
Just wondering if you've heard from Harry and Hermione at all? Hermione's birthday is next week and I've no way to get presents to her. Harry and Hermione might not be very happy with my family right now, but that doesn't mean I'd forget her birthday. If I give her presents to you could you see she gets them?
Please let me know, Cheers
Neville shoved as much ham and broccoli into his gob as he could, and headed for the owlery while still chewing. Once there, he fired off a quick note to Harry at Potter House, told him about George's note and what it said, and asked Harry for ideas what to get Hermione for her birthday. Obviously the answer was books, but a little information on what she was interested in at the moment would be helpful.
He just hoped Harry responded quickly so he could get things done. He actually missed Hermione's colour-coded schedules in that respect.
It wasn't a scream, exactly. It wasn't a shout either, per se. It was the uncontrolled forcing of all the air in her lungs through her voicebox due to abdominal spasms, and it was absolutely Harry's favorite sound in the universe. Her hair was stuck to her forehead and cheeks with sweat. Her skin, from the tops of her gorgeous breasts to the crown of her head was flushed a dark pink, and she panted until another spasm forced more air into that sound. When the series of waves that made that sound had passed, she collapsed limply. Harry kissed her throbbing bud one last time, and it made her limbs twitch.
"No more..." She breathed. "Let me rest... Dear Merlin..."
She rolled onto her side, and Harry crawled up to lie beside her, cuddled into her from behind. He kissed her behind her ear, and she snuggled backward into him, arm wrapped over his and resting on her belly.
"Oh my GOD Harry." She breathed as she calmed down. "I thought you were good at massages..."
"So you liked that then?" He couldn't keep the smug satisfaction out of his voice no matter how hard he tried.
She just elbowed him in the chest weakly.
"It's amazing what you can learn with a little research." Harry said, with a grin. His beard glistened in the sunlight.
"You need more practice. LOTS and LOTS of practice. Forever." She giggled.
He squeezed her gently, and kissed her neck. "Any time you want, Hermione. I love making you make those sounds. I love feeling you clench. I love absolutely everything about you. It makes me... Like growly and hungry and happy and cartwheely on the inside."
Hermione grunted and struggled, but managed to turn over to face him, and kissed him soundly, deeply, and cared not one atom about tasting herself. "I love you so much, Harry I sometimes can't stand it. I feel like I'm going to explode, and yet you make me love you more and more every single day." She kissed him again, then snuggled into his chest. "So if I explode one day it's your fault. Just so you know."
"I guess I'll have to keep giving you lots of little explosions so you don't wipe out half the town. I guess that makes me your safety valve operator."
Hermione giggled, but the giggles grew into full-blown laughs before dying down again.
"My very own Bomb Technician." She kissed him again.
"Destined to defuse you by setting you off constantly. Now THAT's a job I'll do forever." He smiled back at her, and the richness of the love flowing from his eyes made her heart clench.
"I love you too, Hermione. Forever and ever." His voice was a low rumble, and the look in his eyes as he said the words would have turned her insides to jelly if they weren't already. He stroked the hair away from her face and kissed her forehead while she cuddled against him, and she felt his love wrapped around her like a blanket as she drifted to sleep.
Harry cuddled her until he was certain she'd fallen asleep, then carefully extracted himself and pulled the blanket over her.
He silenced his feet and the door as he crept out of the bedroom, and started making breakfast. He knew she'd wake up hungry, and if he was honest with himself, he just plain loved caring for her. He started cutting up some fruit to make a nice fresh fruit cup, then stowed that in the 'fridge' - actually a cleverly disguised Stasis Cabinet - while he made batter for whole-grain pancakes. it put a piece of the sun under his heart to make her breakfast in their kitchen, in their house. He finished the batter and reached for a fyring pan when the floo flared green and a couple of letters came out.
"Thanks, Cassi." He whispered at the fireplace.
He set the frying pan over medium heat and poured the first pancake, then picked up the mail. One was from the Daily Prophet - probably another request for an interview. he set that one aside, and recognized Neville's writing on the other.
Hey Harry! (Don't show this to Hermione!)
I've just had an owl from George Weasley. He says you both might be angry with his family at the minute, but he still wouldn't forget Hermione's birthday, and wanted to know if he could send me gifts to send on to her. I'm not sure who you've invited for Hermione's party, but I would have thought he'd be one of them? True, I never saw him visit, but I thought George was a decent bloke? I'm not sure how things are anymore, so I'll leave that with you.
My own question is about what kind of books Hermione would like to read right now? Obviously books are the first choice of gifts for her, but what topics does she fancy right now?
Hope you write back soon,
Your mate Neville.
That was a bit of a surprise. Apparently George still thought of them as friends, which raised a number of questions. Did he think they just wouldn't be angry at being abandoned to a coma for four months? Admittedly, that was a very Ron standpoint, and to date George had not ever displayed it. If not, then did he even know about the coma? Harry knew he had been inconsolable after Fred's death, so it wasn't like he could blame George for that grief. Neville said George had said that they might be angry with the Weasleys in general, so George clearly knew he'd been in a coma and abandoned, but George was also not the kind of person to abandon his friends. Was it possible he only just found out? If he'd been neck deep in grief over Fred, it was possible.
Harry flipped the pancake and pulled the desk drawer open to get paper and a pen.
Hermione is interested in physical fitness and runes and wizarding traditions related to growing up in wizarding society - things that neither of us would know, being muggle-raised. Thanks for asking!
As for George, if you wouldn't mind, tell him he can bring them himself if he can arrange for time off from the store. I'll meet everyone at the Leaky at ten in the morning on Saturday the 19th, and bring you all to the secret location by portkey. Tell him to bring swimwear and a date if desires. He could always transfigure himself some swimtrunks, but a date is a whole different matter! Ha ha!
Your mate Harry
P.S. Actually, never mind telling George anything, I'll send him a note right now and tell him myself. Need to stop being lazy!
Harry folded that note up and set it aside, then put the first pancake on a plate and put it in the 'fridge'. He poured the second pancake and started on the note to George.
My apologies for not writing sooner, I've been a little preoccupied. Thank you for remembering Hermione's birthday, that means a lot to me personally. I will happily fill you in on everything that's been going on, but it's best not to put it in print. If you can take time off from the shop, I'll be picking everyone up at the Leaky at ten in the morning on the 19th and taking you all to a secret location for Hermione's party. If you can't take time off from the shop, then we'll pop 'round and take you to dinner some time later. You can send any mail for us to Potter House in Dorset, the head house elf will make sure we get it.
Hope you're well,
He stuffed both notes in separate envelopes, wrote the names of the recipients on them, then flipped the second pancake. He waited until the second pancake was finished, then put it on the plate with the first and shut them in the 'fridge'. That done, he threw a pinch of powder into the Floo.
"Potter House." He said. The green flames flared, and he stuck his head through.
"Cassi?" He called.
Cassi appeared with a soft pop a second later. "You called, Mas- Harry?"
Harry grinned. "Excellent work, Cassi! Keep trying, you've almost got it!" Cassi looked pleased at the praise, but held her posture, waiting for orders.
"Would you please deliver these two notes? Neville Longbottom will be at Hogwarts, probably in the Gryffindor dorms, and George Weasley will be in Diagon Alley, at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes."
"Certainly, M - Harry."
Harry grinned. "Thank you so much, Cassi!" He tossed the two envelopes into the flames, and they shot out next to his head on the floor.
"I'll see you Saturday, keep up the brilliant work!" Harry pulled his head back through and waited for the world to stop spinning before he took breakfast to Hermione.
"So I'll be gone Saturday, would you mind popping into the shop late afternoon and checking if Ron's burned the place down?"
"Of course George. Give them our best." His mother said with a sad smile.
"Actually, you can do it yourself. Harry said if we send messages to Potter House in Dorset that they would get them, so at least we can write now."
"Oh good!" Molly Weasley smiled with joy. "Did he say anything else?"
George shook his head. "No, he said there's more to tell but it was best not to put it in print, but that we'd talk on Saturday. Apparently Hermione told Ron to piss off months and months ago, and he's still sulking about it. Actually called her 'whatserface'."
Molly TSKed. "I don't understand where we went wrong Arthur! What happened to our youngest?!"
Arthur sighed. "I don't know, Mollykins, I honestly don't. I don't even know if there's anything we can do to correct it either. They're out of the house and making their own money. The only things we could do are write a letter to the prophet so everyone knows, or cast them out. I'm honestly not sure if either would have any effect."
"Ginny might care about the Prophet article, but she also wouldn't hesitate to get retribution." George said.
"I think we need to sit them both down and talk to them." Molly said. "Find out what their problems are. Maybe they need a mind healer."
"Maybe Ron just needs to grow up, too. I think as long as they're both nowhere near Harry and Hermione that'd be for the best." George said. "I don't even want to think what it means for Britain if those two decide to stay in Australia."
"It means it will be up to the rest of us to change things for the better." Arthur said sadly. "As we should have done before Harry happened along and didn't."
"Exactly." Molly said. "Bloody doomed."
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
19th September 1998
It's your mother's 19th birthday today. In about half an hour I'll go back to England to pick up our friends and take them to the island. Hopefully you'll grow up with us going there for visits on weekends and such. I find it very beautiful there, very peaceful and relaxing. It feels safe and distant from the troubles that have defined our youths. Just like our home here in Australia, it feels like your mother and I (and of course you) could just stay there and live happily ever after.
You and your mother and grandmother are out right now getting their hair and nails done. I think your mum is stunningly beautiful even at the worst of times, but I think she is secretly coming to like pampering herself just a little. Even better, it gives her time with her mum, time to repair the connection that was interrupted because of all the nonsense in Britain. I hope that a little of your mum's happiness filters down to you, so you know she feels good.
Your Nan and Grandad are in on your mum's surprise with me, and it's brilliant to have them helping. Your Grandad is already on the island, I dropped him this morning, and since there wasn't really anything to do, I expect he's in a hammock sipping a drink, and that makes me grin. When your mum and Nan get done with their girl time, your Nan is going to have your mum read the note I've left for her- it's really a portkey, so your mum will be totally surprised. I'm practically dancing with excitement just thinking about the look on her face. She's going to be shocked and surprised first, then she's going to glare death at me for shocking and surprising her, then she'll relax and be all smiles because everyone cares for her so much. I love your mum so much kiddo, sometimes I can't stand it. Don't tell her this, but sometimes I think there isn't anything I could ever do to be worthy of her love. She's... well, you've heard me say she's brilliant before, but that seems so pale, so meaningless when put next to the reality of her. All I can do is my best, every day, all the time, and hope it's enough.
Oops! It's almost time to show up to collect our friends, so I'll close this out now.
Harry tore the letter off the pad of paper and folded in in letter form before sticking it in the box with the others. A pinch of powder and green flames later, he stepped out of the floo in the foyer of Potter House.
"Good morning Hhhharry." Cassi popped up beside him.
"Cassi! You did it!" Harry scooped the elf up and spun her around as he laughed. The elf's ear flapped over her eyes, but she laughed as well.
"Thank you!" He said as he put her back down.
"Cassi's pleasure, Mas- Oh fiddlesticks!" Cassi pouted.
Harry laughed again. "Don't force yourself, Cassi, you'll get it. Hopefully we'll be family for a long, long time. You're doing brilliantly, be happy and proud. " Harry grinned at her.
"Cassi will keep trying, Ma...Harry." She smiled cautiously.
"Is everything ready?" He asked.
Cassi nodded vigorously. "The invitations are on the table in the front hall - except for the one you made - and everything else has already been delivered to the island, MHarry. Fritt said the island elves already have all the decorations up, food and drink made and waiting at the arrival point, including the cake."
Harry grinned. "Brilliant! Thanks, Cassi. I'm off to collect people at the Leaky then, I'll talk to you soon."
Cassi didn't say anything else, just bowed as he left.
Harry picked up the addressed envelopes from the table in the front hall and walked out the front door, through the front gardens to get past the wards. He Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron, and waved at Tom as he entered.
"Merlin's magic, it's Harry!" Tom smiled his gap-toothed smile from behind the bar.
The familiar whispered mutterings that included his name behind his back rippled through the place, and though it still rankled, he ignored it. Today was Hermione's birthday, and nothing was going to foul his mood. Not even Rita Skeeter showing up and sitting next to him could shake his happiness today. It was still quarter to ten, so he bought a butterbeer from Tom and took a seat at a booth in the back.
Neville was first to show up, trailing Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones. Harry waved, and they came to sit down with him.
Before anyone could say anything, Harry grinned at Neville. "Nev, you sly dog! When I said date or dates, I didn't know you were such a playboy."
Hannah and Susan both pinked. Neville went lobster red, but still fired back. "Well, now there's no Harry Hero in the castle, someone has to pick up the slack."
Harry laughed and shook hands with Neville and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good one Nev! Good to see you again." He turned to Susan and Hannah, "And you ladies again as well, I apologize for the sexist comment, it was joking only. How have you been? How are things in the castle? N.E.W.T.s going well?"
"Actually yes and no." Susan said. "Nice to see you again as well Harry, sexist comment excluded of course. Truthfully, there aren't enough professors this year. There's still no potions professor or Defense professor -"
"Though I think we all got plenty of training in that already. I don't think there will be anyone who has difficulty with Defense this year." Hannah interjected.
"But... Even though there aren't enough professors, the lot of us have sort of all banded together and are learning and teaching each other from books, so it's actually not turning out too badly. We don't really have any way of gauging how ready we are for the tests, so we're kind of just full-on all the time. It's exhausting, but that's kind of the point." Sue finished.
Harry sat up straighter. "Well, glad to know Hermione and I are in good company then. We're doing the same thing. Neither of us is quite sure what we want to do with ourselves after we pass, but we're both sure we want to pass."
"Nevermind that anyway, what's going on with you?" Hannah asked. "Nev said you were in a coma or something?"
Harry nodded. "For four months, give or take. Some sewage with a dark mark hit me in the back with a curse. One more instance of me being dead without Hermione. She's saved my arse so many times she probably owns it more than I do."
"Where is she, anyway?" Sue asked.
"She's getting her hair and nails done with her mum. She has no idea she's coming to her birthday party. I left a note for her that is actually a portkey, and charmed it to let me know when she picks it up, so we can all get ready to yell 'surprise!'."
"Oh that's evil!" Hannah giggled. "I love it!"
"Who's evil?" George asked as he approached. Harry stood and shook his hand before George sat with them. "Harry, good to see you up and about, mate. Sorry for not being there." George looked uncharacterisitcally contrite, almost as though he was afraid of him being mad at him. There was also no trace of humour in his words or visage.
"George, it's okay. I was a little miffed when Hermione told me, but I realized you had your own hell to get through, and it's no slight against you. I get it." Harry didn't even want to think about what it would be like to lose a twin.
"Thanks Harry, but truth is, neither Ron nor Ginny mentioned anything at all. Ron only let it slip two days ago in passing, like he'd forgotten cheese at the shop or something. I won't repeat what he said about it when I pressed him."
"Ouch." Neville said.
"I would be saddened by that, and might be later, but not today. Too much happiness going on today." Harry smiled at George, but his eyes held disappointment as well. "Bringing anyone with you?"
"Angelina. She should be here soon."
"Brilliant!" Harry smiled for real. "You look good together."
George smiled humbly, and Harry recognized the look immediately. Good! Wonderful. He hoped they stayed happy together. Angelina was a great woman, and Harry knew she liked George a lot already just from Quidditch.
"Where are we going, exactly?" Sue asked.
Harry blushed and scraped his fingertips through his hair. "Actually, that's... kind of embarrassing to say, so I'll just let you see when we get there."
"Harry. Mate." Neville raised his eyebrows at Harry. "You should keep the naughty things for when you two are alone. Having guests would make things awkward for everyone."
Susan, Hannah, and George all burst out laughing, followed shortly by Harry, after his blush had time to manifest.
"You genuine wanker." Harry grinned at Neville.
"Neville Longbottom, you've made Harrykins blush. I'm bloody impressed!' George shook Neville's hand.
"Thanks, George. It's amazing what a little death-defying battle will do for your self-confidence." Neville grinned.
Angelina and Luna arrived together then, and Angelina sat next to George. Luna stepped up to Harry and pulled him to his feet for a hug.
"Thanks, Luna. I missed you too. How are you?" Harry smiled as he hugged his friend.
"I'm quite well, thank you Harry. I'm glad you are as well. You were dreadfully thin two weeks ago. The tan agrees with you too."
"Thanks." Harry smiled. "I love it in Australia. It's so warm and bright all the time. Hermione and I go jogging every morning just to enjoy it."
"It sounds nice." Luna smiled. She leaned closer and whispered so only Harry could hear. "Can I still be a Maid of Honour if I'm not a virgin? It's been worrying me all week."
Harry held back the chuckle that bubbled up. "Yes absolutely. You'll be fine, Luna, it's just a title. I guarantee no-one will check." He whispered back.
Luna smiled brightly and sat down next to Hannah. Just as Harry returned to his seat, Bill and Fleur approached the table as well. Harry stood again and shook Bill's hand.
"Thank you both for coming." He smiled. Fleur kissed his cheek in greeting, and Harry returned it. "Brilliant, you're all here, we can go." He pulled a length of rope from his pocket and gave one end to Bill, and the other to Susan, who was on the far side of the group. "Everyone grab hold."
Harry waited until everyone was holding the rope, then activated the portkey. After a few seconds of spinning, their feet touched down softly and securely on white sands. Harry stowed the rope back in his pocket with a grin. Banners floated between the trees that said 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY HERMIONE', and the arrival area was flanked by tables covered in white linen tablecloths and laden with snacks and drinks of all kinds, including fresh fruits and pastries. A smaller table held gifts as well, off to the side.
"Where are we?" Angelina asked as she took in the scenery.
"A tropical island in the Bahamas." Harry answered. "Please make yourselves at home. There are lounges and towels and such on the beach, facilities and such are inside the house, or you can use one of the huts along the beach. Enjoy, relax, and have fun. I'll let everyone know when Hermione is inbound so we can all yell surprise and annoy the magic out of her."
"Brilliant." Bill smiled. "Have you figured out yet that you love her?."
Harry grinned. "It took too long, but yeah. I absolutely do. More than anything."
"Awww. That's great! Congratulations, Harry." Hannah smiled. "I'm glad you finally realized it."
"Only took what, six years?" Susan chuckled.
"I'm... extraordinarily dense, I guess." Harry smiled sheepishly. "Umm.. if you see another man wandering around, that's Hermione's dad, just so you know. She'll show up with her mum, right there inside that circle on the sand. When I yell that she's coming, Apparate back here so we can yell surprise. Please."
"Easy enough." Neville nodded. "Is there a spot to change?"
Harry pointed to the shacks in the treeline along the beach. "Just use one of the huts there, they're actually mid-sized houses on the inside. There should be surfboards and other fun stuff inside them as well. Help yourselves! I'm going surfing straight away, we have probably an hour or more to wait."
"What's surfing?" George asked.
"Get your beach kit on, and I'll show you. You're gonna love it." Harry grinned.
Her mum held her hand while the hairdressers snipped away with the scissors. "I have to admit dear, last week at this time I was extremely dubious about the whole situation. I know you want your education, nothing will stop you from getting it, I know that. My worries for you were the other half of your life, and you've completely outstripped any hopes I had for you. Harry is absolutely wonderful and I'm just over the moon you're both so happy with each other."
"Thanks mum." Hermione squeezed her hand before she let go. "He is the absolute best, and he shows me how much he loves me constantly. Sometimes I can't stand how much I love him back, I feel like I'm going to explode with it."
"Good." Her mum said firmly. "I hope you never stop feeling that way."
Well, she had been going to ask how to deal with the feeling, but... truth be told, she was rather enjoying it. She imagined going back to being without it, and she found it raised the hairs on the back of her neck in panic. Damn harry Potter for making her love him so much it hurt! He'd hijacked the entire rest of her life, and she was looking forward to it with a smile and constant tingles.
Hermione sighed. "Me too honestly. I hope I make him feel the same."
"You do, dear. You do."
"How can you tell?"
"I've seen him watching you sleep. Sometimes he cries with a smile on his face, like he can't keep it all inside. Just like you."
"Mum, stop, you're going to make me cry now."
"You're both going to make me cry, and I'm fine with it." Janine said, looking at both of them in the mirror. "Sounds like one fantastic man."
Hermione smiled back at her as she blinked back the tears. "You have no idea. Best in the world. One of a kind, and I nearly missed him with my stupid fear. It took him nearly dying for me to pull my head out."
"It sounds like you're happy now though, so all for the best. Bring him by and show him off next time." She grinned.
"If she doesn't, I will." Her mum winked at her. "I love him like a son Hermione, but he does have lovely hindquarters. Reminds me of your father when he was still fit."
"MUM!" Hermione half-shouted.
"Well he does, and I'm happy for you, dear. Surely you've noticed the neighbors watching you jog in the morning."
"Missus Carsdale has opera glasses, dear. You can see most of them at the window as you pass.'
"Now you really need to bring him along." Janine giggled.
Hermione fumed. "This is why we don't do more things together, mother." The nerve! Her own mother! checking out her Harry's behind! Yes, of course she did the exact same thing, but that was different, it belonged to her! He was hers and she was his, that's how it was! And the bloody neighbours! Even Janine wanted an eyeful! Well tough bloody luck! Harry was never leaving the bedroom again!
Hermione settled back into the chair in a huff, glaring at the world, until she saw her mother's mouth trying not to curl upward at the corners. She could feel her face heat up as she realized her mother was teasing. Her own mum was taking the piss out of her about Harry.
"I can't believe I fell for that." Hermione sighed. Probably because Harry did have a great arse, and she did enjoy watching him. Mum had probably seen her doing so, too.
"I've waited a long time to tease you about boys, darling. You were away at school, and nothing was very jovial then, was it?"
Hermione sighed again. That was too true to be comfortable.
"Remind me never to make either of you mad." Janine said.
"That goes double for me. That was the slickest take I've ever witnessed. " Theresa nodded.
"I missed you too mum." Hermione admitted after a long silence. "But I'll bury anyone looking at my man."
"I'll help you carve the tombstone, dear." Her mum smiled at her.
Thankfully, her mother only chose to tease her mercilessly once, and by the time their manicures were finished, Hermione's mood had gone back to being effervescent. When she and her mum stepped back to the front counter to pay, Janine, Theresa, and Wanda (the manicurist) all came to see them off.
"Thank you all, and sorry about my overly-humourous mother." Hermione apologized.
"Thank you all, and sorry about my daughter's overly-hidden sense of humour." Her mum apologized.
All three of them smiled, and she smiled at her mum as well, who smiled back at her. She had really missed her. She'd almost forgotten how brilliant she was at teasing.
"Nonsense, you're both brilliant." Theresa said.
"Please come back soon, we'll miss you both." Janine said.
"The two of you make me want to call my mum and go do something fun." Wanda said.
Hermione paid the bill and smiled at them as they left, then took her mothers hand as they walked back to the car.
"It was pretty good. Had me fuming for a minute there." She admitted.
"Thank you for letting me get away with it too. I missed you dearly, Hermione."
Hermione stopped before they got to the car and hugged her mother. "I missed you too mum. There were times I thought I'd never see you again."
"Stop, honey. You'll make me cry again." Her mum hugged her back tightly, then kissed her head as she let go. "Let's go see what kind of trouble our husbands have gotten into while we've been away."
She giggled. "Our husbands. I like that. Makes me warm all over thinking he's my husband."
"We only have a month and a bit to completely arrange your wedding, you know. Something we should start getting sorted." They got into the car, fastened their seatbelts, and drove away.
"I don't want a big fairytale do, mum." Hermione said. "Just a few close friends and family, and a few of the professors from school. It won't be that difficult. We won't need a florist for flowers or to hire seating or anything like that, Harry and I can do that ourselves in an hour or so."
"You still have to decide on a venue, send invitations, find someone to officiate, shop for a dress, get the dress fitted, have a hen night with your girls - "
"That probably won't happen - the hen night I mean. I only have one real female friend, and she would think catching actual hens and maybe decorating them with radishes was a great hen night. I wouldn't trust any others."
"I'm sorry, Hermione, that makes me quite sad... And extremely interested to meet this girl."
"Her name's Luna, mum. She's my Maid of Honour - or at least I hope she will be, I've not heard her answer yet."
"That's a lovely name."
"She's a lovely girl. Honest, sweet, and brilliant. She was the only girl who came to visit us in the hospital. Ginny came by once, saw Harry wasn't of any use to her anymore, and left and never came back. I used to think she was a friend too."
"Jenny is Ronald's sister?"
"Yeah, that's her. I'll be happy to never see either of them again."
"That's sad. You find out who your friends are when the excrement impacts the pneumatic rotary."
"Neville and Luna, definitely. They both dropped in at least once a week when they could. Bill and Fleur dropped in three or four times, and I know how hard it was for them to get away, they work for the goblins. Honestly I'm fine without a hen night, mum. I would really rather just marry my Harry as quickly as possible and spend all my time with him. I imagine I'll make more female friends later, now that we're not on the run from evil wizards. "
Her mum pulled the car into their driveway - hers and Harry's, and turned off the car.
"I know you will, sweetheart, you're a wonderful woman. Always beware of false friends and those who want to use you, of course, but I have no doubt you already know that." She squeezed Hermione's shoulder before getting out.
"Moreso now mum, thanks." She smiled at her mum before unlocking and opening the door. "Harry! I'm home!"
A spike of worry thrust itself into her guts, somewhere below the baby. She ran upstairs and checked the bedroom to see if he was napping, but he wasn't. She ran back downstairs and checked the back garden, but he wasn't there either.
"He left a note." Her mum said, holding up a piece of parchment. She handed it to Hermione, but kept hold of the top corner of the page.
For some reason, she felt like she needed to read it out loud, so she did.
"My darling, my Hermione,
I'm not really running late.
I've just gone somewhere summery,
Somewhere we can't Apparate.
You're coming here to be with me,
Soon as you say Activate."
There was a tugging sensation, then they were spinning. Their feet touched down on warm white sand, and the sight of a large manor house surrounded by palm trees barely had time to register before she was nearly deafened by a thunderous
The shout was followed immediately by laughter. She looked around at the people in front of her, only half-registering faces while her shellshock prevented her mind from functioning properly, then she found him. The one face she wanted - needed - to see, and he grinned at her, suffused with warmth and love, and she finally came back to herself and engaged her brain.
That dirty rotten sneak! He'd Compulsed the parchment so she'd read it out loud and activate the portkey on it! She could feel her jaw clench and her eyes narrow.
"You PRAT!" She shouted at him.
He laughed, and the laughter was shared by everyone else standing near. He enfolded her in his arms, and her anger simply evaporated. It was impossible to be outraged while wrapped in love. He kissed her head, then her neck.
"You look fantastic." He whispered to her. It made a shiver dance down her spine. Then his arms were gone, and Luna was standing in front of her.
"Luna!" She smiled, and hugged her friend.
"Happy Birthday, Hermione." Luna smiled dreamily after her hug.
"Thanks Luna. Thanks for being here too. I know you're probably busy."
"The Frumpanells can wait another day or two. Friends are important."
Fleur replaced Luna for hugs, and gave her kisses on the cheeks as well. "Bonne Fete!" Fleur smiled. "Merci pour la invit - Sank you for inviting us, Je suis so 'appy you are bose en bonne sante!"
"Thank you, I can't tell you how wonderful it is to have Harry alive and well again. Thank you for coming! This is wonderful!"
She hugged Bill and George then as well, then Angelina and Neville and Susan and Hannah.
"Thank you all for coming, this is the best surprise party I've ever had. Where even are we?" She looked around again. It was definitely somewhere tropical, and everyone had been here a while already as well, considering all the women were in bikinis and all the boys in shorts. All of them were blindingly white. Not a thimbleful of tan in the bunch. Like they were all pigmentless shrimp who lived at the bottom of the ocean where the sun never reached - which wasn't far off, they were British. At least Fleur looked like she'd maybe heard of the sun once or twice.
Her dad jogged over then. "Happy Birthday, Sweetie!" He shouted, then wrapped her in a hug.
"Thanks daddy. Have you met my friends?"
"Oh yes, Harry introduced us and we all went surfing for a bit. Do you want cake or presents first?" Her father looked more excited than she was.
Her mother grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him away. "She's nineteen, Malcolm, not ten! Happy Birthday, dear." Her mum guided her dad over to the snacks table.
"Your parents are great. It's easy to see how you got to be so... you." Hannah smiled.
She smiled back, heat rising to her cheeks. "Thanks. I missed them more than I thought I did." She thought about her mother looking at Harry's behind, and tried to stuff down the anger that rose. Definitely burying anyone coming on to her husband.
Harry smiled and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "Do you want to relax first or do all the presents and such?"
She ignored the urge to turn and start snogging him. "Can we get all the birthday stuff done so we can go relax and have fun?"
"Oui!" Fleur clapped. "Nous d'abord!" Fleur's wand appeared in her hand and one of the brightly-coloured gifts floated to Hermione.
"I love magic." Her dad said as he stood behind her mother, arms wrapped around her just as Harry had done to her. She smiled at them and snuggled backward a little into Harry, then opened the brightly coloured box Fleur gave her. Inside were four thick rolls of off-white cloth, surrounding a large leather-bound book entitled "Wizarding Traditions Through The Ages". She ran her hand over the cover of the book, enjoying the feel of the old leather and the smell of old parchment. Her fingers brushed against the cloth, and she stopped to feel the cloth again. She thought the rolls of cloth were there to protect the book, but she recognized the feel of the cloth. It was cotton. A particularly silky cotton. She pulled one of the rolls of cloth out of the box, and she could tell immediately it had been shrunk. It was a bolt of Egyptian cotton. From Egypt. She handed the box to Harry and gathered Fleur in her arms, crushing her thanks into her bones.
"Thank you so much! This is brilliant!" She let go of Fleur and crushed Bill next. "I am going to make so many things with this! And have a lovely read doing it!" She kissed both their cheeks and then retreated back to Harry's embrace. She wasn't lying either, she was absolutely going to make at least two maternity dresses out of it. She just wasn't about to tell that to anyone yet.
Fleur and Bill grinned widely and held hands, and Neville floated the next gift to her.
"This one's from me." He smiled.
"Thanks Neville." She grinned back at him, and tore into the package. Inside was a book titled "SAS Physical Training Manual", and three bars of Honeydukes Finest. She unwrapped one of the bars of chocolate immediately and took a bite out of it, then hugged Neville.
"Perfect, thank you Neville!" She grinned as much as possible with a mouthful of chocolate. "Where did you get an SAS training manual!?"
"I asked Gran who were the most fit people in the world, and she said ICW Hit Wizards were, but when I went into Flourish and Blotts and asked the owner, he said it was Muggle SAS, so I ordered it from him."
"It's brilliant, we're going to use it straight away." She beamed.
"Well on that note, open mine next!" Susan grinned, and floated another gift toward her. She flashed a smile at Susan, and of course it was another book.
"ICW Hit Wizard Training Manual!" She laughed. "Thank you Susan, we'll use that straight away too!" She hugged Susan as well.
"Too many books! time for something else." Angelina floated the next present to her.
"Well at least I know it isn't a book." She grinned. It was nice of Angelina to make the effort just because she and George were in a relationship. She was honestly thankful to the woman for caring for George in general. After Fred's death, she was undeniably instrumental in George even being as alright as he was. She knew now exactly how she'd feel if Harry died and wouldn't wish it on anyone.
When she finally got the wrapping off the box and the lid off, there was a smaller box with gold WWW on the top, so that was likely a selection of Wizarding Wheezes. There was also what looked like a bicycle seat and a bit of folded maroon cloth. She pulled the seat out, and on the underside there was a label that read "Sure-Safe Broom Seat".
"Aww, thank you!" She smiled. She didn't like flying, but a lot of that had to do with feeling like she was going to fall off. If she couldn't fall off, it would be great to go cruising with Harry and have picnics and such. It would be one more thing they could share. As long as they didn't go too high.
She put the seat back in the box and puled out the maroon cloth, and it turned out to be a Gryffindor Quidditch jersey. She turned it around to show everyone, and nearly started crying. On the back in gold was the name Potter, over the number 7. It wasn't just a Quidditch jersey, it was Harry's Quidditch jersey.
"Wow, where did you find that?" Harry asked.
Angelina grinned. "Most of them ended up in the far corner of the courtyard after the Quidditch locker room got blown up. Yours somehow made it all the was to the edge of the forest."
She hugged the stuffing out of Angelina. "Thank you so much, that's wonderful and thoughtful of you. I'm going to wear that to bed forever."
"I always thought the two of you looked great together, I'm so glad you're finally there and both happy. Congratulations." Angelina whispered while they hugged.
She had to smile even as she felt more heat in her cheeks. She shouldn't by this point really, but it was embarrassing how blind she'd - they'd both - been. "You and George too. Good luck." She whispered back. Angelina had a warm smile and her hazel eyes immediately sought out George.
"Me next!" Hannah smiled brightly, and another gift floated in front of her. Harry had arranged all her opened gifts on the table and was cleaning up the wrapping paper, so she shot him a thank you glance. The sparkle in his eyes told her the message was received.
Hannah had given her another book. Sometimes it was a blessing being predictable. She did love books, even now. They weren't her only friends anymore, they weren't even the only source of information anymore, but they did hold a special place in her heart.
"Wizarding Traditions Across the Globe!" She grinned hugely. "I'm beginning to think some little bird told everyone what I'm looking forward to researching! Thank you so much, Hannah. I can't wait for a few minutes to myself now." She hugged Hannah while she grinned back at her.
Hannah glanced over at Harry and then winked at her. "Hopefully you don't get too much time alone."
She laughed, if only to cover the additional embarrassment. At least Hannah was somewhat subtle, unlike Lavender and Parvati. They probably would have asked her if she wanted to take that much time away from her favourite broomstick. While accurate, it was also crude.
Luna gave her her present next, and from the wrapping, it was also a book. It was a book-shaped object, wrapped in multiple different colours and textures of paper, and decorated with ribbons and bows. Luna put it in her hands and hugged her softly and sweetly,
"Happy Birthday, Hermione. I hope you like it." She said, and stood back with her hands clasped in front of her.
"Thanks Luna." She said with a smile. She unwrapped the thing carefully to preserve the wrapping, and found a large album inside, with a thick leather spine and silver cover. The cover of it was a picture frame, and the picture on the cover was of herself and Harry, on the Hogwarts Express, sitting on a seat and sharing chocolate frogs. She touched the picture, brushed her fingertips over it. She didn't remember anyone with a camera. It had to have been taken first year, judging by their faces and her hair.
"Luna, this is... how?"
Luna smiled even wider at her. "Pensieve." She said. "Keep looking."
She opened the cover and flipped through several pages. All the pictures were of just Harry and her, spanning their entire time at school from the first train ride to the battle and after, including both of them in the hospital.
"Luna..." Her vision went blurry as her eyes filled with water. "This is beautiful..." She handed the book to Harry and embraced Luna again. "Thank you so much."
"It's my pleasure, Hermione. I'm so happy you're happy finally."
"More than I ever imagined." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
"I'm happy for that, because I think it's only my gift left." Harry said.
He came to stand next to her and took her hands in his.
"Mine is just a small gift," He said as he looked into her eyes, his emerald irises alive with joy. "I hope you'll wear it for a long, long time though." He pulled a small black box from his pocket and dropped to one knee as he opened it. "Hermione, will you marry me?"
She knew it was a performance for their friends, they were already married after all, but she could also see that he didn't care. He meant it. He was asking again, all over again, just for her sake. Her chest clenched and squeezed water from her eyes all over again, and her answer was still the same.
"Yes, Harry. Of course yes." She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him thoroughly. When she let him go, he slipped the gold, diamond and emerald ring on her ring finger.
Their friends cheered and crowded around to clap them both on the back. The girls hugged her again, and she heard Neville say "You made that look too easy, mate."
"Well it certainly took long enough." She grinned at Neville, and hugged Harry again.
"Sorry I made you wait, Hermione." Harry smiled and kissed her again. The now-familiar tickle of his beard and softness of his lips started her engine humming and urged her toward more, but she let him go with a brief pang of disappointment. There would be time for that later. Lots of it. And a massage. Just thinking about it put a smile on her face - or would have if she hadn't already been smiling radiantly.
"You can make it up to me later." She said pointedly.
"Happily." He said with a smile, but his eyes promised a long night. She swallowed and tried not to think about it.
Neville lay in a lounge in the shade on the beach and found it difficult to believe how much he could relax in just an hour. Harry had said he and Hermione were married already, but seeing him propose and the look on her face when he did - it was obvious he had asked all over again, and it put a smile in Neville's chest. He tried to imagine what they were both feeling, but he couldn't come close. He liked Hannah a lot, but not really more than he liked Susan or Luna. Come to think of it, he liked Luna quite a bit more, but she had made it clear she had no designs on marriage or even a relationship anytime soon. That was just as well too, if he was honest with himself. A part of him wanted to rise to the challenge and prove that he could be the one for her, but a quieter, wiser part of him told that part to calm down, it wasn't a competition no matter how much he hated the thought of her with someone else. They had spent an unforgettable month together, and given each other everything. He knew he couldn't keep up with her, and he didn't want to hold her back or make her grow to resent him. He'd seen Ron do that to Harry and Hermione, and it was not pretty. He definitely didn't want anything in common with Ron. Hermione had never explicitly said anything, but from what she had said around the subject, apparently Ron was no longer welcome near the happy couple at all. He supposed he shouldn't really be surprised by it though. If Harry and Hermione had finally woken up and seen each other, they might have applied that clear vision to Ron as well. He hadn't understood why they tolerated him for so long in the first place. Ron was a sulky, jealous, temperamental manbaby with an inferiority complex. He was glad the redheaded git wasn't coming back to school this year.
A soft crack sounded to his right, and when he looked, there was a house elf there dressed in white shorts and collared shirt with a palm tree logo on the left breast in green.
"The Master and Mistress would like a word, if that is alright with you, Lord Longbottom. I have been instructed to bring you directly to them if you are willing."
Wow. He would have to ask Harry how the house elves got so eloquent. That was just...
"Er, yeah, I'll go. Thank you." Neville sat up and took the elf's offered hand. A second later, he was standing in a study next to Luna, facing Harry and Hermione.
"Thank you, Critt." Harry smiled at the elf. The elf blushed and disappeared.
"Your elves are remarkably well-spoken." Luna said.
"I suspect it's my mother's doing, but I won't know for sure until we're able to go through the journals in the library vault at Gringott's." Harry said. "Apparently she shared the same view of house elf 'ownership'" Harry made air quotes around the word, "that Hermione and I do."
"Well let me know what you find out, will you? I'd like to help improve their lives also, and I could start at home."
Hermione grinned at him. "We will, Nev. Thank you. And you of course Luna, if you want."
Luna just smiled and waited patiently for something. She was so unique. Pretty and unique, and he was sad he wasn't the one for her. Sad, but he also hoped she found happiness. Merlin help whoever hurt her.
"Well... I guess there's no real segue for this, so..." Hermione leaned against Harry and he held her hips gently. She pulled out her wand and waved it over her front. She shimmered for a second, then her breasts grew and her stomach looked as though she'd swallowed a kettle.
Luna squealed in delight and hugged Hermione, then knelt and put her cheek against Hermione's bulging stomach.
It looked like... Could it be though? Hadn't they just gotten together after Harry woke up like a week or two ago? How could...? A terrible realization happened somewhere in the back of his mind, and he beat it down while waiting for them to speak.
Luna nuzzled Hermione's stomach for a moment, then spoke to it. "Hello, baby! She cooed, "I'm your Auntie Luna. How are you feeling today?"
"We don't want anyone else to know just yet, since we just 'got engaged' today, so I'll be wearing glamours for a while, maybe for the whole thing." Hermione explained.
A different house elf arrived and set tea on the desk, served four cups, then disappeared.
"What we wanted to ask you both that we couldn't put in the letter is... we wanted to know if you would both... if you would be the baby's godparents?" Harry asked, a hopeful note in his voice.
"Yes!" Luna said immediately, beaming.
He had to smile. He thought he knew Luna. They had shared an awful lot of themselves with each other, but here, now, confronted with a burgeoning life... she seemed to almost glow. He had to stamp down images of his arms wrapped around Luna's waist and caressing her swollen stomach like Harry was doing to Hermione. A warmth in his chest surprised him, his own deep want for that to be true. As for Harry and Hermione's child... how could he ever not want to be part of that family?
"Absolutely." He said.
Hermione hugged Luna, and the two of them held each other and radiated happiness.
"Brilliant." Harry said, and offered his hand and smile. He looked more like an adult in that moment than Neville had ever seen before. It was just a glimpse, but the future it showed him was Harry as a powerful, deeply understanding man. A good man, who worked for the improvement of every life he touched. Neville knew he would be there as well. A friend - a genuine friend - like that didn't come along every day.
"Congratulations, both of you." Neville said, returning Harry's handshake and grin. "I'm thrilled you're both happy... but there's a fly in the potion."
"Oh?" Harry's eyebrows rose.
"Would you tell us the story? The timing is wrong and has you in a coma. I would not want to think anything negative of you Hermione, let alone line theft. It simply isn't who you are. You would never do a thing like that, so I'm assuming there's a story."
Harry and Hermione shared a look, then grinned back at him.
"Genius and brave as anything, Nev. I'm glad to call you a mate." Harry said.
Luna looked at Neville as if seeing him for the first time. It was only for a second, but he thought he saw something new in her eyes as she did.
Harry pulled his wand out and conjured two sofas, facing each other over a low coffee table, and moved the tea to the coffee table.
"It's your tale, love." Harry said, "Why don't you tell it?"
"It's yours too." She said back.
"I love the look in your eyes when you do it though." He smiled.
She kissed him. "You mean you're lazy and don't want to." She stuck her tongue out at him.
Hermione waited for Harry to get seated on the right sofa, then sat down next to him and leaned on him with her legs curled under her.
"It's not much of a tale, really." Hermione said. "I... I suppose it was line theft. And rape. I raped Harry while he was trapped in a nightmare."
"Don't be like that, sweetheart. This isn't a courtroom. The why is important." Harry wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulders and squeezed.
"Alright. It still hurts, you know." She looked up at him and then back at Luna and Neville. "I was in the hospital, researching. It was just a normal night, maybe a month after Harry had deliberately stepped in front of the curse meant for me."
"It was meant for you?" Neville asked, at the same time Luna exclaimed,
"You stepped in front of it?!"
"Even if I'd never told her before then, I loved her. Of course I stepped in front of it." Harry smiled. "And yes, that piece of shit Selwyn prefaced the curse with 'Say goodbye to your mudblood.' Stupid arsehole. If I hadn't been an utter bonehead, I'd have had my wand out and destroyed him before he ever finished the sentence."
"But Harry didn't have his wand out, I did. He did a damn stupid thing and stepped in front of me before I could react." Hermione said. "So that's how he got to be in the coma in the first place. One night about a month later - a few nights after I told Ron to fuck off and never come back - Harry died. I was looking at him, watching him, wishing for him to wake up, and he just stopped breathing and died."
"I'm glad I know this has a happy ending already, because you're scaring the life out of me." Neville said. He felt Luna's hand slip into his and their fingers interlace.
"Me too." Hermione continued, "The lights all went red, a team of healers showed up after a few seconds, and I couldn't do anything. I sat on the floor crying my eyes out and begging them to save him. He was dead for three minutes while they worked on him, and they managed to get him breathing again and stable again, though still in the coma."
He let out a heavy breath. "Honestly, I can feel my fingers and toes tingling now, thanks for that fright, Hermione." He said. Luna's fingers clasped around his hand reassuringly.
Hermione nodded. "That's some clue what I went through then. Three minutes I was dead inside, absolutely shattered. It took me hours to cry myself out and pull my head together, and I decided right then that I would not let Harry leave this world with nothing to show for his having been here. If I couldn't save him, if I couldn't heal him, then I was going to do the one thing I could do to keep him with me. So yes, I went to Knockturn and bought a fertility potion and raped Harry with the intention of conceiving a child. I just never cared anything about his line or his money or anything but having him with me. Hell, we didn't even find out about his House or money until after he'd woken up."
That made sense. Neville could understand that, and that was what Hermione would do. He calmed down on the inside then, and almost didn't notice Luna slide into his side and lean her head on his shoulder.
"Romilda Vane actually tried that once in fifth year I think. Sent potioned chocolates for Valentine's. Powerful stuff. I was lucky Ron didn't have a well-developed sense of personal property, or she might've succeeded." Harry said quietly. "I was also lucky it happened to be the one person I wanted to marry who ended up succeeding. Without Hermione there by my side constantly, who knows what might have happened. I've said it before and I'll say it again, thank you love. I'd be dead or worse without you."
"That explains a lot, actually." Luna smiled. "And seems much more like a thing Hermione would do. That's the second thing that worried me."
"Second thing?" He asked.
"The letter asked if I would be Hermione's Maid of Honour, and I didn't know if I could still do that if I wasn't a virgin." Luna smiled a little smile just for him, her ice blue eyes warm with the memory.
"Oh. Can you?" He looked from Luna to Harry and Hermione and back.
"Of course. It's just a title, not a requirement." Hermione said. "It just means Luna will stand with me when Harry and I get married, same as you'll stand with Harry."
"Oh, so it's like a female best mate. I get it. Muggle-style weddings are a bit different, I guess."
"Can I see the memory of your magical wedding?" Luna asked, "I have some more work to do in the midlands, but I could take some more time in a couple of weeks."
"Of course! That would be great, Luna!" Hermione grinned. "Let me know when you can come, and we'll spend the morning getting pampered and the rest of the day sharing memories. Harry says Potter House has a lovely old pensieve built into a table."
Luna grinned at Hermione and squeezed his hand. "I'd like that." She said.
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley, that was delicious." Angelina smiled from her seat next to George.
"You're very welcome, dear, but please call me Molly." She smiled back. "Mum is fine too." She beamed a little extra brightly, and George rolled his eyes.
She laughed and smiled back at Molly. Truthfully, she wouldn't mind it. George was a good man, and they got on brilliantly, but it would be his choice, and she was content to wait for him to make it. For now. The only down side to being a Weasley, far as she could tell, was having to deal with Ronald. Sure, he did the job George asked him to and did it well enough, but he didn't do it proactively. He made George tell him to do something before he'd do it, no matter that it was a daily task and he knew it needed doing. The few times she'd been around to help out at the shop when business was booming he'd been the same, and let her take the brunt of customer interaction and the bulk of the work. She didn't mind though, it helped George and made him smile.
Even at Sunday dinner, he didn't think to thank his own mother for the meal, he just arrived, stuffed his face, and made passive-aggressive comments now and again. It was a constant wonder how two brothers a year and a bit apart could be so completely different after being raised in the same family, the same house, and under the same rules. If she hadn't had to deal with Ronald, she might've felt sorry for him. He clearly didn't understand the world he lived in.
"Thanks for dinner, mum." George stood up from the table and kissed Molly on the cheek.
"Nonsense, dear. You know you're always welcome." Molly said.
"And I'd be a prat if I didn't thank you for your efforts anyway." He hugged her.
Molly looked over at Ronald, but he was staring at something in the living room.
"Wossat?" Ronald asked, without indicating what he was talking about or who he was asking.
When he naturally didn't receive a response, he got up from the table and went to stand at the floo. He picked up the thick, cream-coloured card with gold lettering she recognized as being an invitation to Harry and Hermione's wedding. She and George had both received one as they'd left Hermione's birthday party last weekend.
"What the fuck is this shit?" Ronald demanded.
A stinging hex hit him in the rear almost instantly.
"Ronald! Language!" Molly admonished.
"How long has this been going on?!" He ignored his mother and the stinger. "When did he wake up?"
George frowned at his little brother, and she could tell he was mad. After hearing what Ron had said to George about Harry in the shop she was too, it just wasn't her place to get involved in the family squabble. That wouldn't stop her from enjoying it of course, but she wasn't going to get involved.
"If you had actually given half a crap about the people you claim to be friends with, you might already know the answer, Ron." George said. "You didn't, so you don't."
"Oh get stuffed. How long?" Ron demanded again.
"I don't see that's any of your business, son." Arthur said firmly. "Especially not after what you said about them."
"Wot yer mean what I said about them?" Ron frowned and looked at George.
"I told them, Ron. I told them about our conversation in the shop."
"You wanker!" Ron started turning red at the ears.
"Oh yes, I'm the wanker for not giving a shit that my best mate might be dead for all I know. I'm the wanker for treating Hermione like a house elf and then being surprised and upset that people know about it."
"You had no right to go blabbing to mum and dad, you greasy tattler!"
"Tattler?" George's eyebrows rose. "What are you, five? Do you really not understand what an absolute bin you're making of your life? Not only have you utterly alienated the two best people it's my privilege to know, but they also happen to be the most influential people in the entire country. You're just bloody lucky it's not in their nature to go out of their way to ruin you, little brother. All they want is to be left alone to be happy, so you can be bloody sure anyone who knows anything will never talk to you about it."
"Why, Ron?" Molly asked softly. "Why? You used to be such good friends. You used to be such a good boy, and now you're acting... You're acting like a Malfoy. I don't like it."
"Oh that's it, take their side against your own son! Your own flesh and blood!" Ron screamed. "Fuck you! Fuck you all! I fucking hate you!" He pulled the invitation off the mantle and tried to tear it in two with his bare hands, but it wouldn't rip. He threw it on the floor where it lay open, and Harry and Hermione smiled and gazed lovingly at each other before they smiled and laughed at themselves while looking at the viewer.
Ron drew his wand and pointed it at the picture. "Confringo!" He shouted. The blast from his wand simply bounced off the invitation and blew out the back wall of the Burrow. Wood and sharp slivers sprayed for meters in every direction across the back garden.
"RON! STOP!" Arthur shouted.
George had his wand out and pointed at Ron. "Expelliarmus!" He said. Ron raised his wand to fire another curse at the invitation, but his wand flew out of his hand and into George's.
"Give it back!" Ron demanded.
"Incarcerous." George said, and Ron was wrapped in tight ropes from head to foot. His forward momentum was preserved, and Ron fell flat on his chest. His cheek slapped on the floor before he came to a stop. "Silencio."
Ron started shouting and squirming on the floor, but he couldn't go anywhere and made no noise.
George turned to look at her. "Sorry about that. Looks like we'll have to cut tonight a bit short. I need to go dump idiot here at the shop and then help fix the back wall."
The poor dear did look sorry too. He was such a sweetheart. It was kind of a shame his parents were sitting just there, she wanted to snog his sweetheart face.
"Nonsense." She smiled at him. "Many hands make light work. Let's leave Ron to cool off and go fix the back wall. You can talk about what to do with him after."
"You're sure you don't mind?" George asked her, eyebrows raised.
"Of course not." She smiled at him. 'You can't buy entertainment like this' she added in thought only. She got up and returned the invitation to the mantle before heading to the back wall. She stopped in front of the huge hole in the wall, and took George's hand in hers before they started the repairs.
Ginny followed formation and took the passed quaffle when it was passed, executed her S-curve, then passed it on as she'd been told. She wanted her place on the team, so she learned the stupid, pointless drills, she flew in the stupid, pointless formations, and learned to handle the quaffle they way they wanted it handled. She played the good little chaser, but just wait until she got into a real game. Then she'd show them.
"Pick it up, Appleby!" Gwenog shouted from above. She had no time for girls who couldn't bother to show up in shape. Stupid Appleby was chunky, too fat to be a chaser, and her big stupid fat cow tits weighed her down and got in the way. She was sure Appleby would be kicked before the end of the week.
Practice ended after another series of drills, and Ginny made sure she was seen still ready to keep going. She also helped other hopefuls with their gear and such, just to be seen as a team player. She could put up with pretending to be nice until she got onto the team. She would make sure they knew they needed her on the team, maybe score a few century games, then she could act like she deserved better. They'd respect her more when they knew they needed her more than she needed them. Once her name was synonymous with winning she could write her own ticket and make team owners and captains fight each other over signing her.
Once she finally got back to the dorm, she found an owl waiting for her. She took the message and unrolled it. It was from Ron, she could tell straight away from the horrible writing.
Did you get an invitation? Are you going to go? I can't believe they're snubbing me like this. I guess years of friendship just doesn't mean anything to some people. Doesn't matter, I don't need them anyway. How's training camp? Has Gwenog got a boyfriend? Let her know how brilliant I am.
She crumpled the note and tossed it to the floor as she pulled her wand and Vanished it. How on Merlin's Magical Earth did she ever get born to the same two people as that flobber-brained imbecile? At least have the thought to explain what bloody nonsense you were banging on about, moron!
She huffed at his stupidity and flopped on her bed. She picked up the Harpies' playbook and started flipping through it. It was never explicitly said, but she suspected they would be tested on the plays in the book at the end of camp to see how many girls actually bothered to learn them. No way was she going to get cut from the team for lack of studying. She'd make up her own plays later, and other hopefuls years down the road would have to study them.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in!" She said as she raised her voice so whoever it was on the other side could hear.
The door opened and Gwenog walked in, then closed the door behind her. She took in the fact that she was reading the playbook, and actually smiled.
"Good. Keep reading." She said. "Good work on the field. Keep it up."
That was HUGE. She was right about having to know the plays, even though nothing was ever said. Not only that, but the captain wanted her on the team. She was practically there already. As long as she didn't fuck up horribly, she could be a Harpy this time next year.
"What's up, Captain?" She asked casually. Gwenog wasn't the kind of woman who showed up in the dorms at all, let alone just to gab.
"Weasley, rumor has it you're a friend of Potter's." Gwenog said.
"Yes..." Where was this going? Did she want to know about their relationship? Was she going to say she couldn't be a Harpy if she was Harry's wife?
"How good a friend? I mean... do you think you could get me an invitation to his wedding?" Gwenog looked at her with pink spreading across her cheeks. Hope gleamed in Gwenog's eyes.
But... Harry hasn't asked her yet...
A horrible sinking feeling bloomed in her chest. Was that what her idiot brother banging on about? Even worse, was she going to have to pretend to be okay with it now in order to secure her place on the team? Wait... was Gwenog a FAN?! She couldn't even ask her what she was talking about, because a real friend of Harry's would already know. She needed to get to a floo. Immediately.
"I'll have to go ask. I'll need access to a floo for that."
Gwenog nodded. "Good. Come with me, you can use my floo. If you can manage it, I'll owe you one." Having Gwenog Jones owe her one was something she'd dreamed of. It was rarer than Crumple-horned Snorkacks and more valuable than diamonds. Still... She wondered if Gwenog would still owe her one after she stopped the wedding. No fucking WAY was Harry marrying anyone but Ginevra Weasley.
"It's none of my business, but why do you want to go?"
Gwenog blushed a deeper pink, and looked at the floor. "It's stupid, but I... I'm a huge fan."
Oh for fuck's sake.
"Alright, the sooner I go, the sooner I'll get back." She got up off the bed, and followed Gwenog across the training grounds to her house.
"George!" He heard a voice call from upstairs. it wasn't Angel, she was with her family. Feet pounded down the spiral staircase, and he glimpsed long red hair.
"Hey little sis!" He called. "Thought you were at training camp?"
"I was. I am. have you got a Prophet kicking around?"
"On the testing table, behind you."
Ginny snatched up the paper and started reading the front page.
"WHAT THE FUCK?!" She screamed. "The fucking bookworm!? Merlin fuck a duck! Can't trust that fucking moron to do one simple fucking thing right, not even get his end away! Fucking worthless! I'll hex the bitch's face right fucking off!"
"If you're talking about my friend Hermione like that, you can just leave." He told her.
"What?! You'd side with that thieving bitch over your own sister?!"
"Hermione has never stolen anything in her life. You, on the other hand, seem to be under the delusion that Harry Potter belongs to you."
"He DOES! He's mine! He's my birthright, and I'm going to be Lady Potter! We're going to have little redheaded babies with gorgeous green eyes and every bitch in the world will wish she was me!"
He just looked at her. It was cute when she was six. It ceased being cute long before her current seventeen. "Uh huh." He said. "You better be joking, because if you aren't, I'm going to take you to St. Mungo's right now."
Ginny looked at his face and blanched. "Er... Yeah. Just a joke." She tried to grin, but it was horrible. His sister was a horrible liar.
"What do you want, Ginny?" He asked.
"What makes you think I want something? I can't just show up and read your paper?" She huffed.
He just stared at her more.
"Okay! Fine! Look, I didn't know that Harry came out of the coma, okay? I was busy and we're not allowed to get the paper during training. The point is, you know who my boss is, right?"
"Actually I have no idea if the Harpies are even owned by one person or a family or a board of governors or what."
"That would be the owners. My boss is my Captain, Gwenog Jones."
"And I fucking hate having to say this, so if you tell anyone, I'll hex you into tiny pieces, understand?"
"Gwenog asked if I could get her an invitation to the wedding."
An invitation?! He started laughing. That was the most ludicrous thing he could have imagined coming out of his sister, and he'd been prepared for a lot.
"Stop laughing!" She demanded. "This could guarantee my career, George! Could you at least take it to them and ask? The paper says the Minister is going to be there, so why not?"
"The Minister is going to be there because he's a friend, Ginny. Harry and Hermione have known Kingsley as long as I have."
"So ask them if they can meet Gwenog and see if she can become a friend. I'd do it myself, but..."
"But you abandoned them both in the hospital when it suited you."
Ginny's face turned red, though he couldn't tell if it was anger or embarrassment.
"Why are you being such an arse? Please, George! It would mean a lot to me, and it's bad enough having to fucking tolerate such a thing in the first place. I should be out stopping it right now! It's fucking galling to have to ask at all!"
Never one to pass up an opportunity, he thought about it.
"I'll tell you what Gin. I'll go talk to both of them right now and plead the case, on one condition."
"Leave the wedding alone. Don't try to interrupt it, curse it, or affect it in any way. Give up on Harry Potter right this second. Abandon your childish claim on him and any thoughts of retribution against Hermione. Do that, and I'll go talk to them right now and try my best to get Gwenog her invitation."
Ginny went white in the face and looked like she was concentrating on not throwing up.
"Fine." She whispered finally.
Well. That was unexpected.
Ginny obviously really wanted to play for Holyhead. Good! If she could get over her childish obsession with a Harry Potter that had never lived at all, she'd definitely be better off in the long run. He knew exactly how much it hurt when a crush failed, but it was one of those things you had to go through to grow up. Besides that, Hermione was likely to put Ginny in the hospital if Ginny so much as raised a wand against either of them.
It was after business hours, so he put stasis lids on the test cauldrons and removed them from the heat.
"Alright then." He got up and hugged Ginny. "I don't hate you Gin. You're my sister and I love you. It's because I love you I want you to give up on your Harry obsession. It isn't healthy."
She started trembling as he held her.
"Have you been checked for potions and the like recently?"
"Because being so obsessed isn't like you. You never know, Dumbledore was great at Alchemy, he might have slipped you something when you were young. Mum might have as well, thinking she was helping. It's just something to think about."
"Nothing like that." She said quietly, but slowly stopped trembling. "We got full screening before being admitted to camp. Anyone with something active in them got refused."
"Oh. Well good, at least we know you're not potioned." He hugged squeezed her and let go. "Right, I'm off then. I'll owl you with what they said."
"Actually, it would be best if I could tell her straight away. Do you mind if I wait here?"
"No, of course. Don't mess with the testing, but help yourself to whatever's in the kitchen. I'll tell you how it went when I get in."
She smiled at him, and looked like herself for the first time in a long time. "Thanks George." She said.
As soon as the green flames died away, so did her demure, contrite expression. Her features scrunched and twisted into a vicious sneer.
"As fucking IF! Potter is MINE!" She hissed at the empty floo.
She needed to think. No way would she give up the prize of a lifetime, but at the same time she was in a tricky situation. She needed a way to steer Harry toward her and away from the UglyBucktoothedBookworm. There wasn't any such thing as a love charm, and she didn't have time to create one, so how to get a potion into him? She needed access to Harry, or at least some of his hair. If she had some of The Bookworm's hair, she could make an aversion potion keyed to her. That would help him get over Bitchy, Brown and Boring while he lusted after Racy Red.
And Ron! The fucking idiot was supposed to be handling the fucking Bookworm! She couldn't believe he'd fucking bumbled everything - no, scratch that, of course she could. He was a fucking idiot. It was just infuriating he'd performed as usual when everything had been spinning along perfectly short months before. Part of her was curious what he'd done to make TheFrigidBeaver reject him, but she had far bigger fish to fry at the moment.
George was right though, they'd never let her close to them, not now. It would take apologizing and lots of time to work her way back close to them, time she didn't have. If they even bothered to meet with her in the first place.
Wait, the shop was in Diagon! She had time for a quick snoop around Knockturn, maybe she could find a solution there! She grabbed the keys off the hook by the wall and locked the door behind her before she set off at a jog toward the Alley. She pulled her wand and changed her hair to black and her eyes to brown before she got there, it wouldn't do to be recognized. She had no compunctions whatsoever about doing highly illegal things with highly illegal tools, but damned if she didn't also want to get away with it. She was Ginevra Potter, future Quidditch Goddess! Azkeban was for losers.
She didn't bother with any shops lining Knockturn, no, she'd been there enough to know that the really good stuff you had to get from the side alleys. You had to ignore the needy folk meant to look like beggars to scare off the tourists and walk like you had a purpose. The first two side alleys she explored were filled with the usual tripe, monkey's paws, knives and ropes and things charmed to murder muggles and make it look like a suicide. Ginny had no time for it, she was after a potioneer.
She found one such potential store down the third alley she tried. The place was called 'Anaisa's Pies', but there were nothing but bottles in the windows. The interior was decorated somewhat opulently, with richly appointed furniture and gold-inlaid marble countertops.
"What can Mama Anaisa do for you today, chile?" A large woman with enormous breasts and gold rings dripping from her fingers asked her. The woman had an easy smile, a relaxed bearing, but she could see cold hard steel in the woman's eyes.
While the shop didn't overtly display anything that could be construed as illegal, none of them did. They all had to pass occasional Auror raids, after all. All the juicy contraband items would be safely hidden - which meant there was no recourse but to spill what she wanted to the woman.
"I'm after a way to deliver potions at a distance. Love potions. Maybe a revulsion potion as well." She said. She didn't have to say what she wanted to deliver exactly, but by doing so, the woman would know she was up to illegal things and wouldn't hold back when showing what she had. It also told the woman she wasn't an undercover Auror. She would have preferred to keep her business private, but one had to bow to necessities.
"Ah, young love. Sometime it need a good push, ya? You wait here, chile. Mama Anaisa bring you sometin' right quick." The large woman ducked into a hidden back room faster than she thought was possible, leaving her to dance and fidget and worry about whether George had returned or not.
Thankfully, the fat, enunciation-challenged woman was only gone a minute. When she came back, she put a thin black enamel case on the counter. It had a pointed steel tip on it, and practically oozed darkness.
"Dis li'l trinket be all kinda wondaful fo' you, chile. Dis heeah a Switchin' Siphon. Look like a wand case, no?" She picked the thing up and showed her the back end of it. The very end rotated open, and as it did, part of the round body of the thing opened to reveal space for two standard-sized phials. "Put yo' outgoin' on de left heeah, put yo' empty on de right, and yo' wand up de middle. You cast a switchin' spell troo yo' wand, and presto. You give love, you get blood. If you can see him, you can catch him."
Sweet murdering Morrigan.
"It's perfect." She breathed. "How much?"
"Twenty-five for dis beauty, an' dat include yo' 'young love' discount." The fat woman grinned at her.
It would take almost everything she had. She would be eating nothing but dorm meals for the rest of the month, but she wouldn't starve. She could pilfer ingredients from her mother's stores at the Burrow and brew the potions herself, so that wasn't an issue.
She pulled out twenty-five galleons and handed them over.
The fat woman took out a box from behind the counter and fit the Switching Siphon into a secret compartment in the bottom, then closed it and put two red roses on top to complete the illusion.
"Mind de torns, honey." The fat woman smiled at her.
Ginny didn't bother with anything further, she clutched her prize and strode out of Knockturn and back to the shop as quickly as she dared.
Harry's eyebrows seemed to have a levitation charm on them, as they hovered somewhere halfway up his forehead.
"Wait, wait." Hermione held up a hand and shook her head, trying to wrap her gorgeous brain around what George had just said. "So Ginny actually agreed to drop the whole Harry obsession and stay away from our wedding entirely if we talk to this Jones girl?"
"Yeah. Surprised the magic out of me, too. I didn't ask for any binding vows or anything, but she has to know if she goes back on her word at this point she'll be banished from the family at the very least. It was all dad could do to stop mum casting her out after she told mum to fuck off."
Harry laughed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh. It's not funny. Really, it isn't. I just can't help seeing your mum's face at that point."
George grinned. "Don't restrain yourself on my account, Harrykins. I had a good chuckle myself."
"Not that that isn't amusing in a horrifying way, but I can't get over the question of why this Jones woman wants to meet us. It had better not be another fangirl thing, I'll put her in the ground no matter who she is." Hermione snuggled closer to Harry almost possessively.
Harry leaned over and kissed her cheek, then rubbed her back with one palm. "Fair point, love. We've both had quite enough of that kind of nonsense."
"Hey, whatever you two decide is up to you. I've done what I said I would do, I've tried my hardest to get Jones a meeting with you two. What she actually wants is an invitation to the wedding, but I laughed when she said that. Ginny seems to think that because Kingsley is going that it's somehow a public event."
"Well you're right there." Hermione nodded. "No bloody way we'd let a stranger anywhere near the place."
"Exactly as I thought." George nodded. "A meeting would be the best she could hope for. Anyway, that's my duty done, I should get back to the shop and let you lovebirds talk about it - or snog about it, as the case may be." He grinned and stood.
Harry stood and shook George's hand, and Hermione give him a hug. "Four months of snogging to make up for, on top of the regular snogging. It's a full schedule." She grinned.
George chuckled and threw some powder into the floo before disappearing in a flash of green flame.
Hermione sighed then. Why couldn't people just leave them alone?
Harry wrapped his arms around her from behind and kissed her neck. She absolutely loved that, it made her engine purr to life immediately. She also hated it because it made her engine purr to life immediately. It was like having a big red START button on the side of her neck. It wasn't much of annoyance though, she grabbed his elbows to keep him against her, and arched her back, pressing her bum against his front. He growled in his chest, and that was his big red start button. For some reason, he loved her behind. She loved that he loved her behind, there was nothing quite as satisfying as feeling him harden between her cheeks.
He attacked her neck again while he ground himself against her, and she giggled both at the tickles his beard gave and the fact that she was teasing him. She spun away out of his grasp and placed a chaste kiss on the end of his nose.
"We should talk about this first." She smiled sweetly. His face was a mask of lust and disappointment. Normally she would pounce on him just because she hated that face, but it served him right for pressing her start button. Besides, she had already planned to shag him stupid after dinner.
He let out an exaggerated, exasperated sigh. "Alright fine. You're going to pay for that later though." His eyes held the promise of delightful punishment.
"You might too." Her eyes bored back into his.
He smiled at her. "You know how I feel about something like this. It's obvious this Jones is some kind of fan or something. Even worse, it sounds like she's using her position to get what she wants out of Ginny, even though she really doesn't have anything to do with it. I'm against it just on that score."
"I completely agree, love. You know I do. On the other hand, we've also been looking for excuses to be out in public to get everyone used to the idea of us being married, and there really isn't any harm in meeting someone for a drink somewhere public. We can even surround the area with our friends and Aurors if we want. We're under no obligation whatsoever, and if she turns out to be a fangirl or a bore, we can just leave. There really isn't anything to lose."
"Nothing to gain either though." He grumped.
She put her elbows either side of his neck. The curve of her baby bump just brushed his stomach. It instantly dispelled his dourness. "You're just being pessimistic and grumpy now. If it turns out she's not a fangirl and happens to be a good person, we can always use more friends."
Harry mumbled something.
"Hmm?" She looked into his eyes.
"You're right, of course. As always. Like you're brightest witch of the age or something." He grinned his sardonic, lopsided half-grin. The one he saved just for her, just for when he knew she was right and admitted it. Fortunately for him, it drove her mad.
The smile dropped from her mouth, and a feral gleam overpowered the reason in her eyes. She bent her elbows, sliding her hands to the front of his shirt.
"Well I was saving this for after dinner, but..." She flexed her arms and tore the shirt from his torso, then raked her nails down his chest.
Two hours. Two fucking hours she'd been sitting here after George returned! George had been all smiles after he got back, but without an answer. "They'll discuss it" he'd said. She should be studying the playbook, but no, she had to sit on George's sofa and read old Quidditch magazines while The Nattering Boyfriend-Stealing BeaverBitch probably yammered at her poor Harry non-stop until he was suicidal. Her fingers itched to try her new toy out, but she needed to stop back at the Burrow before then. Preferrably Disillusioned. She needed potion ingredients. Maybe it was something of a blessing in disguise that PushyBushy was being so relentless. The later she showed up at home, the less likely she was to run into her mum or dad.
She contemplated getting another cup of tea, but she'd already had two and didn't want to need the loo just as she was gathering ingredients.
A house elf popped into existence next to George then, and waited patiently for him to finish stirring his potions before he turned to face it.
"Mistress Hermione Potter sends this note to Mister George Weasley." The elf handed George a folded piece of parchment, then bowed and Disapparated.
Mistress Hermione POTTER?! That jumped-up, thieving, ugly, bitchy, presumptuous, saggy old HAG! Ginny ground her teeth together to keep from screaming.
"Well, looks like your boss gets a meeting, at least." George said, before he handed her the note.
Please let Ginny know I'll meet with Miss Jones at the Harbourfront Bistro in Holyhead, Friday at noon(ish).
"You told her I was the one asking?!" She accused George.
"Well, unless you're really someone else, then you did ask." He raised his eyebrows at her. She clucked her tongue against her teeth, but she knew she couldn't push George for anything else. When he started making light of things you'd never get anything out of him. He and Fred had perfected the light-hearted deflection, and now that Fred was gone, George only used it when he was done with a conversation.
"Well, I'd have preferred it otherwise, but thank you George." She gave him a quick squeeze.
"See you for Sunday dinner?" He asked after giving her a goodbye squeeze.
"Maybe, not sure. I'll have to ask. I only got to leave today because it was at the Captain's request."
George nodded and went back to his work. She threw a pinch of floo powder in the fireplace. She Disillusioned herself while masked by the roaring green flames, and whispered "The Burrow."
As she came to a stop in the living room, she quickly shook the ash off and cast Silencio on her feet.
The lights were all off. A smile spread across her face. She was in luck!
She quickly unlocked her mother's potioneering cabinet and pulled what she'd need. Some of the rarer ingredients were in a secret compartment at the bottom, in the back of the cabinet. Her mother didn't know she knew about that.
She had just levered the secret compartment panel out of it's seating when sounds started filtering down from upstairs. One of the unfortunate consequences of the design of the Burrow, coupled with its construction materials, was that sounds from just about anywhere carried. They carried very well. It was her mother's voice that carried down to Ginny just then.
"Oh yes! Like that! Just like that! Spank me, minister! I've been naughty!"
"Oh yes you have! You know what we do to naughty girls here!" Her father's voice came next. The sound of flesh slapping flesh also carried throughout the house.
She could feel bile rising in her throat. Worse, no matter how hard she tried to block them, images bloomed inside her head.
She shook her head and swallowed repeatedly, trying to fight against it. She hurried to force the secret panel out of its place, and desperately collected a vial of powdered moonstone and several Ashwinder eggs.
SLAP! SLAP! "OOooh!"
SLAP! "Take it! Take your punishment, you filthy girl! Hahaha!" SLAP!
She replaced the panel quickly, then had to pull it off and replace it again because it was crooked and didn't fit properly. The whole time she could feel herself turning green as her stomach rebelled and the images kept assaulting her brain. After a hateful eternity, the Merlin-damned panel slid into place and she closed the cabinet and re-locked it.
SLAP! "Ooh my arse too!"
SLAP! "Your everything belongs to the Minister of Naughty Affairs!" SLAP!
She ignored everything else and ran for the floo with her stolen ingredients. She only just had time to stumble onto her hands and knees in Gwenog's living room before her stomach inverted and her dinner made its way to freedom.
It wasn't fair.
Best mates were supposed to stay best mates. They were supposed to share things and not pick over every little galleon or bit of chocolate or broom or cloak. He'd shared his whole family, including his baby sister! Literally everything he had he'd shared, and he thought they had an understanding about the girl. He had dibs! Harry knew he fancied her! Yeah, it was only for her delicious arse, but still! He knew! That meant he had dibs, fair and square! Hermione with Lavender's knockers - that would have been a marriage right there, right quick. An arse like that and those udders? Yes fucking please! It was a bit of a shame Lavender had to go and get herself raped and murdered during the battle. He'd been upset for a while afterward, bloody shame that. Especially after she'd started to come around again after dumping him the first time. Really though, why did all women have to run their bloody mouths all the time? Why couldn't they just understand what was what and leave it at that?
Ron sighed. Wonder if George would share Angie? She had great arse too. He'd been looking at it for six years already. He looked over at her and George on the sofa, careful not to turn too much toward the living room. She had a decent rack too, more than a handful. She was no Susan Bones, mind. Susan had the best rack at school, bar none. He'd already tried to make nice with her and Hannah - bloody puffs always traveled in packs, and she and Hannah were always together. So much so, he rather thought they preferred the company of other ladies. He was fine with that, as long as he got to be the filling in the sandwich, so to speak. That was a thought that kept him up nights.
He accidentally turned too far toward the living room, and caught sight of that bloody white card again. Fucking sitting there on the mantle screaming "Ha ha you sad tosser, now you're Ronnie no-mates!" He could deal with the girl leaving, he'd never miss the screaming, nagging, sit straight, play-nice, learn something, read more, clean up all the time. The only thing he'd miss about her was that incredible arse - but Harry, man. Harry was supposed to be his Best Mate. They were supposed to be famous and go to mental parties and get smashed and leave every woman panting and wanting more. That was the real casualty in all this world-gone-mad, his beloved plan. They were supposed to be wicked naughty playboy gods, dripping in ladies and gold.
Nobody bothered to ask what Ron wanted though, did they? It was that fucking card's fault, too. Sitting there mocking him in his own bloody home. Wait til he got his wand back, he'd show it. Fucking arsehole card.
His own wand was under lock and key, but he didn't need to use his own. He could use someone else's! It wouldn't work as well as his, but well enough to incinerate that bloody card.
A slow grin began to spread across his face.
Bill descended the stairs after giving his face and neck a good scrub, and he felt ten times better. Something about being underground just left him feeling clammy all the time.
Fleur was in the kitchen making dinner - that had been a surprise as well, his mother had actually asked if Fleur would mind making dinner. If he didn't know better, he'd accuse mum of being an impostor.
He strolled into the kitchen and kissed his wife on her head just quickly - she was busy after all.
"Anything I can do, hon?" He offered.
Fleur flashed a smile at him. She already had everything planned out in her mind and was using the opportunity to prove that she could handle a kitchen for her own family. it was evident in her eyes.
"Non, mon amour. J'ai tout juste tellement." She spared a second to kiss him and slap his behind as he left her to it.
He smiled and took a seat across from Ron at the table, loath to intrude on George and Angie's quiet time on the sofa. He watched Fleur work for a moment, still lost and amazed and thankful for whatever he'd done to deserve a brilliant woman like her. She was everything he'd never known he'd needed and more, and she showed him on a daily basis how she thought he was the same for her. Every moment together was a joy, even arguments.
He became aware then that Ron was also looking at Fleur, and not in a brotherly way. Bill reached across the table and cuffed him upside the head.
"Oi!" Ron frowned at him, then saw his glare and assumed his 'little-scamp-with-his-hand-in-the-biscuit-barrel' grin. As though that was somehow going to excuse him from checking out his wife.
"You going to keep your eyes where they belong or would you rather not be able to chew solid food?" He asked the little clown.
"Uhh..." Ron stammered, as he realized his ploy hadn't worked. He looked down at the table for a moment as his cheeks went red, then looked over at George and Angie on the sofa. "Say Bill... What wood you reckon your wand's made of?" He asked. He was trying very poorly to hide a sneaky grin, like Ron was stitched up at the thought of his own brilliance as he tried to pull one over on him.
After what his parents had told him about Ron and the wedding invitation, it wasn't difficult to see where Ron was headed with it, especially after dad had locked Ron's wand away.
Bill sighed and took his wand out, careful to keep it out of Ron's lunge-and-grab reach.
"It's Hawthorn, thirteen inches, with Stupefy."
Ron's head banged onto the table as he lost consciousness.
"Everyone - go ahead and eat without us, we might be a while. I'm not willing to let stupid here burn the place down trying to incinerate an invulnerable portkey invitation, so I'm taking him to St. Mungo's to have him checked for alchemy and potions and have a mind healer look at him."
"Aww, bless." Molly said from her favourite chair. She had claimed tenderness from overwork as the reason for letting Fleur cook dinner, so he didn't expect her to get up as she'd normally have done.
"Thank you son, we'd not have the means for another couple of weeks." Dad said from his chair, but came over and gave him a quick hug.
"It's nothing, Dad. Maybe start thinking about what to do with him if it turns out he's not got something wrong with him."
"Oh. Yes, that's a fair point, really."
Bill picked up his little brother with one arm around his neck, and half-dragged him into the floo. A pinch of powder and green flames later, he stepped into the St. Mungo's receiving area.
"Welcome, what's the trouble?" The Welcome Witch asked.
"I'd like to get my little brother checked out by a mind healer and also checked for potions and other influences." Bill smiled at the hard-working medwitch.
She nodded and jotted a note on a tablet. "Just have a seat over there." She pointed toward an empty waiting area.
"Thanks." He shuffled Ron over to the nearest bench and sat him on it, then stuck him there with a sticking charm so he wouldn't fall over or slide off.
At least there looked to be a few magazines he hadn't read yet.
It was near to half an hour before they were approached by a middle-aged woman in green Healer robes.
"Good evening, I'm Healer Higgins. You're here for your brother is it?"
Bill shook the woman's hand. "Bill Weasley. Little brother Ronald. He's had some issues recently, some obsessive and idiotic behaviour, and I'd like to see if he's being affected by anything. Once we know he's not potioned or poisoned, I'd like him to see a mind Healer because if he isn't potioned then he has a lot of explaining to do."
The Healer smiled at him. "Well, the first part is very easy. Is he stunned?"
"Yes, I did it, to get him here without the shouting and nonsense. Also a sticking charm to the bench so he didn't fall off."
She nodded. "Very well, we'll ignore those then." She took her wand out and made some complicated patterns over Ron's limp form. A coloured display sprang into being in the air above him. Information scrolled upward, and the Healer paid close attention to it.
"Your brother has some lingering dark magic on him." She said. "It's strange though, it's just an echo. It's very difficult to detect, but also means that it isn't affecting him in any way. It's like he's wearing a smudge of soot from a dark magic fire he got too close to. Apart from that, your stunner and sticking charm, he isn't being affected by anything. Well, nothing magical at least."
"Brilliant, thank you Healer Higgins." Bill smiled.
"Sorry I couldn't be more help, Mister Weasley." She smiled back.
"No, no. You have been, definitely. Knowing he's not being dosed is a big help. It means it's down to the mind healer now. Thank you again."
"Good luck." She said, and went further into the hospital.
Bill sat back down next to Ron and waited another few minutes before he was approached by a thin, well-groomed man in purple Healer robes.
"Good evening, Mister Weasley is it?"
"Yes, Bill Weasley." He shook the man's hand.
"I'm Mind Healer Grimsby. I assume your brother is likely to complain if you wake him up?"
"Loudly. Without end."
Grimsby chuckled. "Let's get him into my office before waking him then, shall we?"
Bill nodded and cast a quick Nullumpondus on Ron, then carried him to the Healer's office. The office was down in the basement of the building - a place Bill had never been before. There were several house elves coming and going through the halls of the basement, carrying towels or bedsheets or clothing. Grimsby led him to a secluded corner of the building, and opened a thick oak door set into thick concrete walls. The inside of the office was quite pleasant, neutral-coloured walls, soft, plush sofas and chairs, and a very nice cherry wood desk. There were several plants throughout the office as well, and natural lighting. It didn't feel like it was in a basement at all.
Bill set Ron in a comfortable position on a sofa.
"Would it be better if I stayed or waited upstairs?" He asked.
"It might be best if you waited upstairs, truthfully. I've found people are more willing to open up when they don't feel they have to be a certain way."
Bill nodded. "I'll wait for his return upstairs then." He left the pleasant office and went back to the waiting area. He really wanted to go home, but having any kind of diagnosis would be beneficial, so he stayed. He was bored out of his mind and paced the room more often than he'd like to admit, but it was only about an hour until Ron and Healer Grimsby returned.
"Wanker." Ron said sullenly, and went to the floo. He dropped a sickle in the dispenser and got a pinch of powder, then used it to return to the Burrow immediately.
"So, is there anything actually wrong with him?" He asked Healer Grimsby when Ron had gone and the green flames disappeared.
"Oh absolutely." Healer Grimsby nodded sadly. "Unfortunately, there really isn't anything I can do unless Ronald wants to change. Right now he doesn't. He sees the world as hostile to him personally. He is the hero of his own life, beset on all sides by inequity and betrayal."
"Well, he would say that. His own actions have alienated everyone who's cared about him."
"Oh indeed. That much was very clear. My estimates place his mental age at about eight years old. Perhaps nine. I could very likely make an entire career out of just getting his mental age to match his physical, but again only if he wanted to make the effort."
Bill sighed. "Thank you for making the effort to evaluate him in any case, Healer."
"My pleasure. I don't get many patients honestly, and your brother was so interesting I've waived my fee. Enjoy the rest of your evening, Mister Weasley."
"That's stellar of you, Healer Grimsby, you as well."
Grimsby smiled and strolled back toward his office.
Bill stood quietly for a moment, and let the Healer's diagnosis sink into his mind. What it came down to, ultimately, was that Ron was Ron. He could be more than he was, but probably wouldn't.
He just had to try and explain that to his parents.
The Harbourfront Bistro was a large, bright place with modern furniture and most of the wall facing the harbour was windows. The view of the water and the boats bobbing on it was very pleasant. Gwenog had been there before, for team functions and occasionally with her dad, though he was getting a little old to be making the trip to Holyhead just to see her anymore. Sure, wizards and witches lived a very long time, but what nobody ever said was that they're just as susceptible as everyone else to the ravages of poor living. Seventy years of fried everything and beans counting as a vegetable had left him barely mobile. Sure, he was more powerful magically than ever, but magic didn't make up for a lack of physical activity. Gwenog was actually rather proud she'd made that observation, and that her chosen career kept her quite trim. Even when she decided she'd had enough of Quidditch in ten or twenty years, she'd be damn sure to stay in shape.
It was on the heels of those thoughts that Gwenog caught her first sight of Hermione Potter, and that sight made her instantly feel old, fat, and weak. Hermione didn't stride into the restaurant haughtily, she didn't slink in trying to go unnoticed. No, Hermione Potter simply appeared in the chair opposite her. Silently. Not a single other person noticed.
Hermione wore a comfortable dress in navy blue with short sleeves, and Gwenog was amazed by the state of her arms. Her wiry, developed muscles were plainly visible with her every movement. She appeared in her chair like she'd been there for a few minutes, and calmly trained her gaze on Gwenog. To say she was intimidating would be both true and massive understatement. The power Hermione radiated was beyond anything she'd ever experienced.
"Your wand please." Hermione held out her hand as her eyes bored into Gwenog's
Now hang on just a minute...
"What do you want with my wand?" Gwenog frowned.
"Very well. Have a nice life, Miss Jones." Hermione said as she pushed her chair back and began to stand.
"Hang on, I'm suspicious, not stupid." Gwenog fished her wand out of its holster at the small of her back and handed it over by the tip.
Hermione sat back down again and accepted her wand, then placed it on the table in front of her. "One might argue that suspicion precludes stupidity, provided the suspicion is founded in critical thinking rather than fear. Which one are you?"
Gwenog had to smile. The woman didn't disappoint. "Would I be here if it was fear?"
Hermione's gaze softened some, though it could by no means be construed as a smile.
"Why are you here?" She asked. "Why am I here?" It wasn't an accusatory tone, though. It sounded as though she was genuinely asking, rather than using the question as a prelude to leaving. Well, if she really wanted to know... that was the point of wanting to see her in the first place, really.
"First off, let me clear the pitch. There are no doubt hundreds of wizards and witches dying for a moment of your time, who think that because they have wealth or fame that you'll grant them whatever they want - I see that all time myself. That's not me. Thank you for coming, for granting me a moment to speak to you as a person instead of an icon. I read the papers, and I read between the lines. The fact that the Prophet has less than a thimbleful of actual information on you and your fiance says to me that you are both intensely private people and don't give a snitch for fame. That being the case, I knew there would be no opportunity to meet you otherwise. No Ministry dinners, no League appearances... you want to live your own life on your own terms, especially now that you're finished doing what no-one else had the spine to. The Ministry exists to safeguard the lives and rights of the constituent wizards and witches. As such, there should never have been a Voldemort problem in the first place. It should have been slapped down as just another idiotic supremacy cult. The fact that it wasn't says that the Ministry as such doesn't really exist anymore. It's nothing but a seething cesspit of corruption and pandering.
"So, that in mind, I am here to offer you and your fiance my deepest and most humble thanks and apologies, for not at least helping you do what you have done. Every single one of us carries a deadly weapon with us at all times, and yet couldn't be arsed to communicate with each other or congregate to stand up for ourselves. I'm here to thank you for the depth of your personal responsibility - a responsibility I share, and yet did not discharge. You're here, I guess, because you're a nice person and decided to give me a chance? I'm less sure on that count."
Hermione seemed to consider her words with her head cocked slightly to one side, like she was running through all the ramifications of what had been said. "There are many people we blame for the situation that tarnished our childhoods - and those of our parents - but you aren't one of them. You are correct in your summation of the reason our actions were needed, and I find it refreshing to encounter someone who sees it clearly, including your own responsibility. Thank you, Miss Jones."
"Please, call me Gwen."
"Alright Gwen. I admit I find it refreshing to talk to another woman who actually uses her mind, as you clearly do. The entirety of Magical Britain seems to have never heard of forethought or responsibility or common sense, so thank you for that as well. I find myself at something of a loss for where to go from here. I was honestly not expecting an apology or a thank you. Did you have anything else you wanted to talk about? Have you eaten here before?" Hermione seemed to relax somewhat.
"I imagine you get a lot of desperate people saying thank you like they would to someone who kept the owl post running, or who kept the floos working. 'Without you we'd be sunk!', that kind of thing. The kind of thank you people only give when they finally realize everything could've been completely tits up and now isn't. Lazy, ignorant thanks, without a shred of Mea Culpa. Sorry for that. Yes, I've eaten here a few times. The food is quite good. I'm partial to the prawn sandwich."
"Lovely. have you eaten lunch yet?" Hermione leaned sideways slightly, and said something under her breath that she couldn't catch.
"No, not yet." Gwen admitted. She thought the point was to come and have lunch and talk, but now she saw that lunch was only ever going to happen if Hermione decided to stay. She supposed she couldn't really blame the woman.
The waiter came over and delivered menus then, without saying a word. Gwen thought it odd, because the wait staff always introduced themselves and made friendly conversation, it was part of the job. Did Hermione just use a wandless Confundus on the man? Her estimation of Hermione's power shot upward like a Firebolt.
Hermione looked over the menu, but Gwen had already decided on her favourite. Hermione looked up from the menu toward the waiter, and the waiter immediately approached, pad and pen in hand.
"I'd like the lime and coriander chicken with vegetables please, and a full order of fish and chips, but the fish and chips is to go." She told him.
The waiter turned to her then, so she ordered the prawn sandwich. The waiter nodded, and went to the kitchen.
"The fish is lightly breaded and very crispy, but the batter doesn't stay that way long and doesn't reheat very well, so you're aware." Gwen said. She assumed it was either for her fiance or for dinner, and either way it was good information to have.
Hermione actually did smile at that, but it wasn't a warm, friendly smile. It was the smile a spider gives a fly caught in its web.
"It won't have a chance to go cold, it's for the Hit Wizard with his wand at your back."
Gwen felt a soft poke at her back, between her shoulderblades. She slowly turned to look, but there was no-one behind her.
"Disillusioned, of course. We are in public." Hermione added.
Gwen hadn't thought she could hold Hermione in any higher regard, but she had been mistaken. Even with her incredible power and obvious fitness, she didn't take any chances. No doubt she had learned that the hard way, and Gwen felt another stab of guilt over that. What an absolute thrill to talk with a woman who thought her way through confontations before they ever became confrontations. What must it be like to debate with her? To discuss magical theory? Gwen felt herself getting excited at the prospect of having an intellectual conversation with someone who could actually hold one. A smile spread across her face.
"Harming you or anyone is the farthest thing from my mind, but you never can be too careful. I appreciate the lowering of your guard, thank you."
If she wasn't lowering her guard, she wouldn't have told her about her backup. Gwen abandoned her "Captain" persona completely then, it would have been a hindrance and an insult to Hermione's intelligence. It was dead useful for making teammates perform well, and keeping fans at arms' length, but at this table it simply wasn't needed, and it felt like a breath of fresh air to drop it.
Hermione's smile warmed considerably, and Gwen could tell she'd impressed her by recognizing the reality of the situation.
"Your public persona doesn't portray your intellect. Is that intentional or a consequence of attempting to fit in?" Hermione asked.
"A consequence. It started as a way to get the team to do what they're asked and follow formations, and just developed into a mask to hide behind in public. I've had to deal with reporters a lot, especially when I was first starting out. It's useful, but does have its downsides."
Hermione nodded. "It's nice to meet the real you then. You and I actually met once when I was in fifth year, at one of Slughorn's parties. I... thought you were a bit full of yourself, honestly. I'm glad to see it was just your 'public face'."
Gwen chuckled. "Sorry for that. I do tend to project quite a bit. I'm glad you gave me another chance for conversation."
"These days conversation is in short supply. I haven't met another woman I could have a conversation with since I met my friend Luna."
"Luna's a nice name, not very common. Her surname wouldn't be Lovegood, would it?'
"You know her?"
Gwen smiled. "I used to babysit her sometimes after her mother died. I grew up down the village in Ottery Saint Catchpole."
"Well. Small world. She never mentioned you, I'm sorry."
"There's no reason she would. If she even remembers me, I was young and far more concerned with Quidditch and my own social life. One more regret. How did you meet?"
"School. Luna was in the year after me. She actually made friends with Harry first, but she's a great person. One of only two who visited us in the hospital regularly. My best friend and Maid of Honour."
"Wow. Yeah, small world. What happened with the hospital if you don't mind me asking?"
Hermione immediately tensed, her face ceased to show emotion, but her eyes flashed with pain. For a second she thought she might have committed a terrible faux-pas, but the young witch took a deep breath and deliberately relaxed.
"Death eater hit Harry in the back with a curse. It was... not good."
"Merlin, I'm sorry."
"It's fine. It turned out alright, but the worst four months of my life."
"Four months?! Sweet Magic. My worst crash was only three weeks. Even then I nearly went out of my mind being forced to rest. I can't imagine what kind of hell four months would be."
"Worse because it was Harry and I was left to research a counter to the curse as well as defend his unconscious body while going out of my mind with worry. Luna and another friend Neville were wonderful during that time."
"Defend his unconscious body?"
"Even though I was next to him every moment, I still foiled one possible attempt on his line."
On his line? Oh dear Merlin, some filthy witch actually tried to get to his broomstick?!
"I... I can't even... Who... no, there are probably dozens... That's just... I'm so sorry. That's horrifying."
"Thank you, but that's been the last several years, honestly. Life hasn't been pleasant since... well, ever really. Not until this last month."
"See, this is exactly why I wanted to meet you and say thank you. I hope the rest of your lives are pure bliss to compensate. So unfair. I wish I had come to you and offered to help when it still mattered."
The waiter brought their food out, without any sign of the fish and chips, which made sense if it was to go, they'd wait until they were finished their dinner to bring it out so it was as fresh and hot as possible. After discussing such painful events, Gwen was pleased to see the food put a smile on Hermione's face. The prawn sandwich was just as good as she remembered, and neither meal lasted long.
"You were right, the food is quite nice." Hermione said as she put her knife and fork down and pushed the plate away.
"Been living in Holyhead for almost ten years. My dad loves this place, when he can get here. Hasn't been able to for a few years now. I've been trying to figure out a portal system in my spare time, but I haven't gotten very far with it." Gwen told her somewhat sadly.
"I'd be surprised if you had. The Department of Mysteries hasn't come up with a workable solution yet, at least not one I could see when I was there. A wonderfully ambitious thing to try, though. You might be farther ahead to experiment with Vanishing Cabinets. You might have to test them frequently, but at least they're currently possible."
"True. I should probably secure a practical solution while working on the pet project."
"Makes me want to figure something out for international travel. Something besides the bloody floo." Hermione looked distasteful at the mention of the floo network.
Gwen chuckled. "Not a fan of the venerated floo network?"
"Not in the slightest. If it were an independent, autonomic network that worked without needing a department in the ministry to actually function, then maybe. As it is you can have your escape route cut off in seconds. I fully intend to look into an alternative, but it's on a back burner for now."
"Let me know when you do, I'll share my notes on what I have so far. I'd love to have your input on it. I'm no Hermione Granger, but if I can help with your project then I'd love to as well."
"How far along are you? Is it still theoretical or have you finished the Arithmancy?" There was a joy, an excitement to Hermione's eyes that Gwen found just wonderful. This woman probably studied the proofs for Gamp's Laws in her spare time, looking for mistakes or loopholes. It made Gwen want to go home and swim through more calculations.
"Sadly I'm still chewing through the Arithmancy. I got bogged down inside Brazzleton's spatial corollary, trying to reduce distance to zero. Seeing your excitement makes me want to go bang my head against it some more though." Gwen smiled.
"Are you free next Friday?" Hermione asked as her eyes bored into Gwen's.
"I certainly can be. Normally there's practice every day, but we're weeks from an actual match, so nobody will bat an eye if I miss one." Everyone knew Gwen was wholly devoted to the team, and she only missed a practice occasionally.
"Good. I'll send a a proper invitation between now and then. I must admit you're not what I expected, Gwen, and I'm pleasantly surprised. I don't meet many people, and even fewer I'd meet a second time."
"Likewise... do you prefer Miss Granger or Mrs. Potter?"
"I prefer Mrs. Potter, but you can call me Hermione, Gwen." She handed Gwen's wand back to her.
Gwen flashed her a smile. "Likewise, Hermione. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet you. I look forward to discussing our projects."
Hermione motioned to the waiter and he brought her a container, presumably with fish and chips inside. She accepted the container and slipped the waiter a twenty. He left again without saying a word. Gwen found herself wanting to know how she did that.
"Enjoy the rest of your day Gwen, and don't worry about lunch, it's taken care of." Hermione smiled at her as she simply disappeared - no Disillusionment, no Apparation, just gone.
Gwen found herself admiring the younger woman and thinking about what she was doing with her life as she left the restaurant. Somehow Quidditch just didn't seem so important anymore.
"That was a bit surprising." Harry said when they arrived back to Potter House. "I thought for sure you were done in the first ten seconds there."
"So did I," Hermione smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You were brilliant though. She probably thinks I'm some kind of wandless magic master now. What did you do to the waiter?"
"Just a silent Confundus. Nothing special." He kissed her tenderly. "I'm thrilled you think she could be a friend. You want to know what Luna thinks of her, that's why you'll invite her for Friday, right?"
She kissed him tenderly again, eager for more. "When did you get to be so smart?" She smiled softly at him, love and lust evident in her eyes.
"When I finally realized you were the best thing that ever happened to me."
Hermione laughed and kissed him again. "Bloody flattery." She put the fish and chips in his hands and kissed him again quickly. "Go eat, then you can get back to the flattery. My back could use you when you're done too."
He grinned back at her, "Alright love. Go have a read or something and I'll be with you in a minute."
He sat in the kitchen and enjoyed the piping hot fish and chips with a root beer, but it didn't take him more than fifteen minutes. Hermione was curled in her favourite spot on the sofa, legs tucked under her, writing on a lapdesk she'd glued to the arm of the sofa with a sticking charm.
"Gwen's invitation for Friday?" He asked.
"Finished that in the first minute, stuck a portkey on it to get her to the Apparation point outside the Wards, and asked Cassi to deliver it. This is for the baby." She smiled at him and ran one hand over her ever-expanding stomach.
"It makes my insides warm to hear you talk about the baby like that. I'll wait until you're finished before I ask if I can read it. Do you want to finish first or come back to it after your back?' He stood over her and kissed her forehead.
"Just give me a few minutes, I'll come up and join you in the bedroom. I need to get changed anyway. I like this dress, but it's not great for lounging about."
"Same for the dragonhide. Great in a fight, not so great for wearing around the house." He took the dragonhide vest off, which left him in a sweaty T-shirt, then took that off as he made his way up the stairs. He waited until he was in the bedroom to remove the dragonhide pants.
Hermione was waiting for him naked on the bed when he got out of the shower. He dried himself quickly with magic, and went to the dresser to get clean clothes.
"Don't bother." She told him. "I want my delicious naked slave boy to massage me."
Harry laughed. "As you wish, my queen." They would definitely be exploring the roleplay later. For now he was delighted to fulfill her desires. He took the vitamin and emollient cream from the nightstand and warmed it by rubbing it over his palms before he got down to massaging her back. She lay on her side with her knees at ninety degrees, and he started gently as he massaged the tired muscles from her neck to her behind. When he was done that side, he grabbed her hipbone and rolled her over to her other side, then went around the other side of the bed to repeat the performance. When he was finished, he rolled her onto her back and worked the cream into the skin of her stomach, then gently moved to each breast, then down to her stomach again, then more cream for her hips and buttocks and thighs. The cream was fantastic for allowing skin to stretch and thus preventing stretch marks, but it also smelled good and let his hands glide over her skin.
By the time he had finished his ministrations he was full-on and ready to service her other needs, but Hermione was fast asleep.
He folded the comforter over her and lay down beside her after kissing her stomach and their unborn child.
"I love you kid, but you're really taking a lot out of your mum, and I'm a little put out by that." He whispered.
He lay down next to her, and she unconsciously snuggled into his heat. He kissed her head and wrapped an arm around her protectively.
A nap was fine too.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
Gwen had to admit, she dearly loved a cold beer after a hot soak. She had made the cold beer a daily tradition long before the hot soak though. When she had started, eager and frenetic as these young recruits, she hadn't needed the soak, just the beer. The long hot soak hadn't become necessary or wanted for years. She had spent far too much time and far too much beer being exuberant in her youth, when, looking back on it, she could have been helping make the country safer for these girls and ones like them. She doubted any of these girls thought about anything beyond the game and the fans and the fame, same as she had done.
She drained the last of her beer while it was still tooth-numbingly cold, and set the bottle on table next to the sofa.
It would be her last.
After talking with Hermione, Gwen had gone on a tear through her old notes and several advanced Arithmancy books, and even some treatises on theoretical Arithmancy that hadn't been proven. She hadn't made any real headway on her project yet, but in researching she had come across several books on caring for one's body and brain, and she had been horrified to learn that alcohol diminished one's cognitive capacity over time. She had been fairly certain that such degeneration only happened to Muggles, but she was no fool. If there was even a chance it happened to Witches too, that was the end of that.
After tomorrow's practice, she would be switching to fruit juices and something the Americans had come up with - iced tea. She was planning on experimenting with it to get it right later that very evening, but it was tradition that the Captain celebrate a good practice with the team, so she was in the Crash Pad with the rest of the girls, smiling as they danced and imbibed a little too much. Sadly, one of those who enjoyed herself a little too much on a regular basis was Ginny, who liked to ensconce herself next to Gwen. Gwen didn't have any greater-than-thou attitude, but Ginny felt herself perhaps a bit closer to her than Gwen was comfortable with.
True to form, Ginny slid onto the sofa next to her and promptly belched flames.
"Scuse me." She grinned. "Firewhiskey's great. You're great too. Thans for bein a great Capn, Capn." Ginny's eyes were large and glassy, and her cheeks pink.
"You're welcome." Gwen answered.
"Bein Missus Potter is gonna be great too. We're gonna have lill redhead babies with green eyes and isss gonna be great. I'm gonna be a great Shaser and be famous and great."
"You're going to be Missus Potter?" Gwen arched an eyebrow.
"Yup. Harry soopt in, killt basisk, killt Tom, rescute luv uff s'life - thass me. We're dessiny. Dessint." Ginny frowned, "Desstined." She enunciated it slowly. "So he blongs t'me. Isss luv."
Ginny giggled then, and hid her smile behind a hand. "No no nononono... no. Nope. Can't say it."
Gwen had to admit she had a great deal of trouble imagining the man who could inspire the love of Hermione Granger getting together with a party girl like Ginevra Weasley. Yes, Ginny was drunk, but it struck Gwen like Godric Gryffindor dropping Rowena Ravenclaw for... well, for Ginny Weasley. It made no sense at all and was more than a little unbelieveable.
Gwen turned toward Ginny. "Can't say what? He's coming to visit you? That's where you go at night when you think nobody will notice you're gone?"
Ginny's grin fell. "No," She pouted, "Should be out gettin him back, but stuck here. Wanna play! Luv the team, Luv you. You're great, team's great. Gotta stay. Buuuuuutt... I fink he'll come to me, even if he disshes BookyBeaverBoringBushyBissh atth'altar."
Ginny threw her head back and laughed at that, and it wasn't a warm laugh. "Leave her inna wedding dress. Yeah, thasss good. Mmmm. Wanna nuther firewhiskey! You want one? I'll gesshu sum!"
Gwen held a hand out. "No! No thanks. I'm good."
"Okay! I'm gunna gessum. Lemme know iffyu wannwun." Ginny got up and made her way unsteadily back to the bar. Gwen knew Ginny was close to being cut off, so she didn't bother to try to steer her away from the booze. She'd learn her lesson tomorrow.
It would be a little sad to see her go, but she wouldn't be the first talented hopeful to miss making the team due to inability to manage themselves. Still, Ginny had brought up an interesting story, and she looked forward to hearing what Hermione had to say about it on Friday.
Now that she had found someone she could be herself with, Gwen found she was looking forward to that more than anything. It made her wonder what Potter was like as well. The paper had made him out to be some gloryhound - but also a saviour, an attention seeking brat, and a host of other obviously false personas. Gwen couldn't help but think that anyone who could win a mind like Hermione's had to also be incredibly keen. She looked forward to seeing the two of them together, though she really had no way of knowing when or even if that was going to happen.
She really hoped it did though.
She took a look around at the Crash Pad, and she knew the place. She knew the sofas, the chairs, the comfy pillows, the bar, the fireplace, all of it. She knew it like the back of her hand - but for some reason the place she had spent so much time in felt false now. It felt... hollow. Yes, that was the word. It lacked meaning. It was still comfortable enough as a place, but she didn't belong there anymore. Like it was part of the mask that had come off and she was loathe to put back in place.
Would it really be so bad if she didn't play Quidditch anymore? She had tons of money, enough to live on comfortably for the rest of her life if she didn't go crazy with it. She could spend time with Dad while he still had time, devote some real time to a worthwhile project and really get stuck in. The more she thought about it, the more it appealed. She realized then that she'd had enough of Quidditch life.
She stood up and left the Crash Pad, but paused at the door to say goodbye to it and all the memories it held. She didn't bother to say anything to the rest of the girls, they were too drunk to care anyway at this point. After a last look around, Gwenog went home to check when her contract expired.
"What's this?" Malcolm frowned at the little multicoloured sphere with its coruscating, shifting hues. It hung from a silver chain, clearly made to wear as a necklace.
"Something Harry and I have been working on in our spare time. Granted that's only been a few days with planning the wedding and everything else, but we thought it was important because it will help us spend more time together as a family. It's a magic battery." Hermione beamed at her father. "It was Harry's idea, really. I think he would just love to have someone to fly with."
Malcolm looked at his daughter yet again gobsmacked at the incredible wonder of which she was capable.
"It should enable you to fly a broom and work the floo and other things that don't require active magic, but we haven't actually tested it yet." She quirked one side of her mouth the way she always did when things weren't exactly how she wanted them.
"How?!" He blurted. "I mean, we know you're a genius Hermione, but this... Would this let us see your school?!"
"In theory, yes, it should. In theory, this would be like a surrogate magical core. Everything checks out math-wise, but until we test it we won't know for sure."
"When will you get to test it?" He asked. He hadn't dared to hope of seeing her school for years - not since she was eleven.
"Not until tomorrow at least. It was draining to make, and then we had to fill it, so we're both a little exhausted right now. Tomorrow we'll make a test monkey and hopefully the battery will react well to being bonded."
"What's that mean? Bonded?" He was talking magic with his baby! And understanding it! Finally!
"Well, in order for the magic inside the battery to respond to your will, the battery has to be bonded to you, and that will take a little of your blood to do. That's why we want to test it first and make sure it works properly first. It would be dangerous and foolish to just assume it works simply because the Arithmancy says it will."
"And Arithmancy is the magical engineering, so to speak. The math underlying the spells and whatnot?"
"You were listening!" She beamed at him. Oh, for the days when she looked up at him as though he knew all the secrets of the universe...
"Of course I was listening. It might take me a bit longer than your mother to understand, but I always listen, sweetheart. Well... when I'm not focused on punching your husband, that is. Sorry."
Hermione laughed and hugged him. "Already forgiven Dad, you know that. Though, speaking of... have you and Mum had a chance to talk about the whole England/Australia thing yet?"
He sighed at that. Now that he remembered their former life, he had to admit it had been a good one. He and Eleanor had grown up in England, it was their home... but he really didn't want to go back. There was something about living with so much sunshine - something neither he nor Eleanor had ever had before - that made them feel alive in a way that they never had before. It was a joy to get out of bed in the morning.
Neither of them had ever had any issues with depression or not wanting to get out of bed, but even when they stayed up too late and were cuddled together under the blankets, here the day called to them. They were happy here in a way they never had been in England. Every day felt like a vacation - especially now that Queenie and her man were around. He felt satisfied like never before and that was not something he ever wanted to give up. Fortunately for him, Eleanor felt the same way. They had tentatively broached the subject over dinner last night, but the real discussion hadn't happened until the wee hours during the happy afterglow.
"We have, and we think we're going to stay here. For the most part. We can afford to cut back on the number of clients at the practice, and maybe look at taking on a couple of associates to handle the extra load if we need some sudden time off. Your mother and I genuinely love it here. Since you two have the floo thingy, we can always turn up at Harry's Manor when we feel neglected." He grinned at her.
She squeezed him in a hug. When had she gotten so bloody strong? "We'd never neglect you on purpose, but there will be a large distraction soon. I rather imagine you might be coming to visit just for his or her sake." Hermione smiled at him with mature eyes as she rubbed one hand over her belly.
"Have you talked names yet?" After getting over the initial shock and getting to know Harry, Malcolm had to admit he had no fears left and he was looking forward to a little one to spoil. Maybe even moreso than Eleanor.
She crinkled her nose in a way that said they hadn't, and that she was putting it off even though she knew they shouldn't. She had done the same thing all through primary school. Usually about talking to other kids rather than her homework.
"No..." She said. "I know we should, but..."
"But what, sweetie? It's not like you put things off."
"Truthfully I'm a little afraid of it, Dad. What if Harry wants some hideous, weird name like Albus or Severus? What if he hates the idea of having a child named after a favourite literary character? What if -"
"Honey, Harry is your husband. He's a good kid, and he loves you. Do you really think he won't listen to what you want? It's not a snap decision, Hermione. Your mother and I talked about your name for nine months." He smiled gently at her and poked her in the shoulder to get her to breathe.
She opened her mouth to say something else, then closed it again, and wrapped her arms around him. Best feeling in the world.
"I have been going a little mental over it haven't I?"
"Don't make the mistakes your mother and I made when we first started. Talk to each other. About everything, even if it doesn't seem like it warrants. You both already know you're there for each other when the big stuff happens. You need to apply that to all the little stuff, too. You both need to the be the one person you can each tell anything to."
She looked at him as her lower lip quivered and her eyes started to water. "I missed you so much, Dad. I missed your advice." She smiled and dried her eyes with the backs of her fingers.
"I missed your magic, Hermione. You were always magic, even when you didn't have any."
He hugged her again and kissed the top of her head and thanked his lucky stars for having her there to hold at all.
2nd October, 1998
Hard to believe it's only 37 days until I get to officially marry your mum (again). I'm so happy and so excited I nearly wet myself every time I think about it. Yes, you're already on the way, and there will be some people who will want to make you feel bad about that. They'll say that your mum and I had to get married because I got her pregnant with you, they'll call you a bastard or some other such rubbish because they want to hurt you and make you feel bad. Don't listen. I have loved your mother for years and years, and she feels the same about me. I only ever wanted to be with her, and both of us wanted - want - you more than anything. We love each other and we love you. The circumstances surrounding your conception both break my heart and fill me with such love and admiration for your mum that it still makes me cry sometimes. You won't understand our feelings for a long time, but you do deserve to know the truth, so that's what I'm going to write to you today. I hope you come to understand it and how much we love each other and you when you're old enough.
Your mum and I had hard childhoods. We grew up in a time when witches and wizards killed each other for power and money and incredibly stupid ideas. We had to fight terrible, evil people just for the right to survive and live our lives as we choose. One of those people nearly killed me. Only your mother's love, dedication, and smarts saved my life.
Even so, while she sat by my side in the hospital one night, I did die. I stopped breathing and it took healers a long time to get me to start breathing again. That was when your mum decided you needed to exist. She felt helpless as she watched me die, and the only thing she could do about it was to have you. Your mum broke rules and laws and did the impossible, kiddo, just so you could be born and it makes me cry just thinking about what she went through.
Your mum is the most brilliant witch in the world though, and a few months after you became you, she found a cure for me. She saved me by making you, and then she saved me so I could be around to love you both. I'll never get over that.
So when some idiot inevitably tries to make you feel bad about who you are and when you were born, you look that idiot straight in the eye and you feel sorry for that person. They were never loved as much as you are. They were never wanted as much as you are, and their actions are making them even less loved and wanted. You be you, kiddo. And know that your mum and dad love you more than anything.
Sorry, I still get a bit weepy over the whole thing (don't tell anyone!). In other, happier news, your mum is out right now with your Auntie Luna and a woman who I think has the potential to be another of your Aunties. She's smart like your mum and plays Quidditch professionally, so I guess if you're reading this and you figure out I'm talking about your Auntie Gwenog, then I guess we'll know how it turned out. If she turns out to not be your auntie, then I guess that'll be a bit more sad, but I hope she is. She seems like a good person.
I'll wrap this up now, your Uncle Nev and I are taking your Nan and Granddad for their first flying lesson in a few minutes. I can't wait to teach you how to ride a bike and fly and iceskate and all kinds of brilliant things.
See you soon, kiddo.
Luna stepped quietly out of the floo and smiled. Even though the floors were multicoloured inlaid stone and the walls plaster wainscotted in teak and the staircase polished marble, it still felt warm and inviting. It felt like Harry. Maybe it was the ancient racing brooms on display plaques here and there. Maybe it was the subtle reds and golds hidden within the decorations. Then again, it felt like Hermione too. Open shelves stuffed with books pressed between carved stone quill bookends. The center table held quill, ink, and pre-cut sheets of parchment on a blotter. Maybe it was the scent of vanilla and flowers, mixed with Harry's wilder pine-meets-the-ocean smell.
Whatever the reason, Luna felt immediately at home. A soft pop sounded next to her.
"Welcome to Potter House, Auntie Lovegood. Please follow Cassi to the sitting room." The House Elf bowed and walked toward the hallway on the far side of the foyer.
"Nice to meet you Cassi, you can call me Luna if you like. Thanks for taking care of my friends."
"That bes Cassi's pleasure, Auntie Luna." Cassi smiled at her as she let Luna past her into the sitting room. She could see Harry's black mop of hair moving backward and forward slightly, and she could hear Hermione moaning, but she couldn't see her. Luna hadn't ever seen two real people having sex before, so she was a little curious, and quietly stepped around the side of the sofa to get a better look.
Instead, she saw Harry working his thumbs into the soles of Hermione's feet.
"Hey Luna," Harry smiled at her, "Come on in, don't be shy."
Luna flushed slightly at that. She had had a crush on Harry not that long ago, and an invitation like that sent her mind all kinds of places. She knew there was no chance of anything like that happening, so she calmly put those thoughts aside for later. "Hey Harry." She smiled at him. "Is that pleasurable or painful, Hermione? I can't quite tell."
"It's uhhh... It's bliss, Luna. Especially after lugging an extra twenty pounds around all the time. Would you mind, love?" Hermione looked at Harry.
"Mind what?" He looked up as he finished and cleaned the oil from her foot before he let it go.
"Would you do Luna's feet?"
"Well, if you don't mind loaning me out, love. I know how possessive you get." He winked at Luna.
"He does have a point, you know." Luna grinned at Hermione.
Hermione levered herself up and swung her feet back to her slippers before she reached over and kissed Harry deeply. "Prat." She stood and moved to the chair beside Harry, and motioned for Luna to take her place on the sofa.
Harry took a moment to rub the muscles of his hands while Luna took her shoes and socks off, and then poured some more oil on his hands to warm the oil up. Luna lay back as Hermione had done, and put her feet in his lap.
Harry immediately laughed. Luna's toenails were all different colours.
"Is something funny?" She asked.
Harry shook his head. "Nope. Everything is exactly as it should be, I just should've guessed."
"Yes, you should have." She smiled. Harry grinned and took her left foot in his hands. His hands were surprisingly rough, but also gentle. She knew her feet were clean as she'd showered not half an hour ago, so she relaxed, lulled by his rhythmic squeezing. Then he started actually massaging, using his thumbs and knuckles to squeeze and stretch the muscles in her feet. There was one particular spot that usually cramped when she was on the ladder for too long, and when Harry worked on it, she found herself making the same noises Hermione had, without meaning to. She heard Hermione giggle and looked over at her, but she was smiling as she watched.
"I know, right?" She grinned.
Harry switched to her right foot after he decided her left was finished.
"I think we may not need a spa day after this, Hermione." She smiled back.
"I get one every day, thanks to Manslave Honeybuns. He pampers me mercilessly. Today is mostly about just having some girl time. I miss you and wanted to spend some time with you, but I also want your opinion on our third party member."
"You already know my opinion on Harry, Hermione." Luna said. Why would she want her opinion on someone they already discussed at length?
"Not Harry. We're going to spa time with a witch I met last week. I trust your opinion and I want to know if you think we can trust her. I like her, but I only met her once."
"OhOoohhhh." Harry had hit that particular spot on her right foot. "Ahem, I'll be happy to help if I can." She smiled back at Hermione while biting her lip.
Harry finished her right foot, and cleaned them both off, then dried them on the towel he'd used for Hermione's feet.
"Thank you both, that was quite lovely." She wondered if maybe Harry would teach that to Neville... Neville? Why had she thought of him just then? Hadn't she decided they were finished? He wanted his plants and to settle down and maybe teach, she wanted to explore everything everywhere, find what didn't want to be found. They were too different, and she didn't want to keep him waiting for her when he had so much to give some lucky girl who... The thought of him with someone else was unexpectedly painful. Deeply painful. Was she wrong? Or did she want him anyway, and damn the consequences? Strange...
"You alright Luna? Did I hurt something?" Harry asked, his brow furrowed.
Luna smiled back at him. "No no, nothing like that. I just realized I'm in need of some girl talk."
"Well that's handy." Hermione smiled.
"Oh." Harry and Hermione both said in unison. The Wards had just alerted them to a presence.
"Guess your third just arrived." Harry said as he gathered up the oil and cleaning cloth and towel. I'll be upstairs. You've got your -"
"Yes love, I have the emergency portkey, my backup wand, and everything else." Hermione smiled at him. "Have fun tinkering while we're gone. We'll let you know when we get back."
Harry leaned down and kissed her soundly. "Have fun. Love you."
"Love you too, sexy." She smiled back at him, then watched him walk away. Luna watched too.
Hermione sighed when Harry bounded up the stairs, then stood up and walked to the front hall to pick up her purse and jacket.
"So where are we off to?" Luna asked her.
"I wanted to try something different, so I booked the three of us spa treatments in the magical area of San Diego California."
Luna squealed and hugged Hermione. "I've never been there!"
Hermione laughed. "Me either, this will be new for both of us." She opened the front door and closed it behind them after Luna was out. "It's a fair walk to the edge of the Wards, I thought we'd meet her halfway."
They met near one of the fountains, and as they watched the witch approach, Luna couldn't help but feel there was something familiar about her.
"Good afternoon!" Hermione waved to the witch.
"Good afternoon!" She waved back. She was shortish, slightly shorter than she was, which made Hermione the giraffe of the three, at about five-eight. The new witch was also clearly fit and athletic, though not nearly as toned as Hermione was - which might just be Hermione's illusion. She couldn't see the baby, after all.
"I hope you don't have anything against spas or having your nails done." Hermione said, "That's the plan to begin with. Afters will be back here for showtime."
"Wow," The other witch raised her eyebrows, "That's not something I've done in a very long time. Also, what's showtime?"
Hermione simply smiled. "I had hair and nails done with my mum a few weeks ago, and I found it quite nice. That was the first time, and we managed to talk more during that hour than we had previously, so I thought it might be a different sort of venue for getting to know each other, when we all look equally ridiculous."
Luna smiled at that. Hermione loved equal footing, even though it was difficult to find something to be equal to Hermione about.
"I'm game if you are." The other witch smiled. "Nice to see you again Luna. You turned out quite pretty."
Luna's smile faltered. She thought there was something familiar about her! Where though, and when?
"Clearly we've met, but I don't remember - " She started.
"No, I didn't think you would. You were only five or six, and I didn't have nearly as much hair back then. I used to babysit you sometimes during the summers."
Images bubbled up from memory then, games of tag, being cuddled because she didn't know where mummy and daddy were, secret broomrides around the house.
"Gennug?" She asked.
The other witch's face grew into a broad smile. "You always had trouble with doublewes."
Luna stepped into her and hugged her second-ever friend. "I missed you! What happened to you?"
"Recruited out of seventh year, been playing for Holyhead ever since. Never really stopped to think about anyone but myself while I was young, and by the time I wasn't so young, it had already been a long time. Glad you turned out alright though. I was sorry to hear about your mum. She was a lovely witch."
Luna let her go and took a step back. "Thanks." Mum in the garden, mum hunched over her workbook, mum happily singing while she cooked. The images were never far from the surface, even though she'd dealt with most of the grief. The mum-sized hole in her heart was always there. Father did his best, but... "You would have been a year older than Hermione then, you didn't need to be a replacement mum."
"I'd have come anyway if I'd had a thought in my head. I was always partying. Or healing."
"Let's have the discussion in comfort and not standing in the garden." Hermione suggested as she held out a squashed soda can she'd pulled from her purse. Luna could tell Hermione had seen her reaction to Gwen talking about her mum and was steering things in another direction. She was such a great friend. Luna smiled briefly to Hermione, and placed her index finger on the Portkey. Gwen pinched it between her finger and thumb, as did Hermione.
"Let's go have fun." Hermione said, and the familiar yank-and-spin grabbed the three of them. They landed quietly in the middle of a shopping district. The sun was out, without a single cloud to sully the pure blue dome above them. To their left was the pacific ocean, and a well-maintained stone staircase leading down the cliff face to the golden sand below. Under their feet was a patch of green grass that surrounded a fountain. They could tell that most of the shops around them were muggle, but there were also a couple that stood out as magical, including the one directly behind them called The Golden Portal. Its doors were round, gold, and displayed a constantly shifting view of different places on their surface. Almost none of the people walking around acknowledged its existence.
Hermione tucked the portkey back into her purse and strode toward The Golden Portal. She pulled one of the doors open, and stepped aside. "I'm told blissful relaxation awaits, so after you."
Luna smiled. "After Harry massaging my feet, I think any more might send me into a coma."
Gwen's eyebrows climbed. "Harry Potter massaged your feet? This morning?"
Luna nodded. "After Hermione loaned him out, of course. He's a wonderful friend and a wonderful masseur. Doesn't Hermione look Happy?"
"I absolutely am, even if I don't look it, and there's a good reason for that." Hermione smiled knowingly.
"Okay, wow. I thought... I don't know, that he'd be out slaying evil or diplomacizing dragons or something." She stepped past Hermione to join Luna in the reception area, and Hermione let the door close behind her as she entered.
"We keep those things for the weekends. You should always do something fun on the weekend." Hermione said seriously.
Gwen just stared at her, stunned. Slaying evil and talking to dragons was fun? What did they do during the week?! She closed her mouth and took a breath as she felt very very small, then noticed Luna trying not to smile.
She was taking the piss. Hermione Potter was taking the piss. Some rational part of her mind told her that of course Hermione took the piss, she was a witch just like she was, had friends just like she did, and joked around just like any other witch. She was Hermione Potter though, so she just did it better. Still, it was a sobering realization to Gwen - not that Hermione was a normal witch, but that Gwen herself had made the mistake of thinking that she wasn't. She had been caught up in the same hype and nonsense as everyone else, and had been looking through starry-eyed goggles.
She smiled sheepishly back at Hermione, and nodded. "Nice one. Hook, line, and sinker, that was."
Luna giggled to her left. "It's so much fun to just hang out again."
Hermione broke into a grin, and then stepped up to the reception counter. The young witch behind the counter looked up expectantly.
"Party of three, appointment is under Hermione Potter."
The young witch's eyebrows fell flat. "Hermione Potter. Right. You're the fourth one this week." She tapped some keys on the computer. "Well, you do have a reserva-" She looked up from the computer screen to see Hermione holding up her House Potter ring. The young witch's eyes went wide and she stumbled over herself trying to apologize. "Mrs. Potter! For real! I'm so sorry, we have people trying to claim they're you or your husband constantly, my apologies! just follow me, and we'll get you situated."
She bustled out from behind the counter and down the hallway to a frosted glass door, which she held open for them.
Ahead and to the right, Mrs. Potter, you'll see a plate above the door that says 'Rainforest Room', that's your first destination. We have you down for a half hour's whirlpool hot tub before your massages. You'll find robes, towels, and modesty suits in the changeroom before you get to the pool."
"Thank you." Hermione smiled at the girl. "You really get people pretending to be me?"
"Yes ma'am, all the time." The attendant had stars in her eyes as Hermione passed her.
"Nobody willing to help, everyone willing to cash in." Gwen muttered as she followed Luna down the hallway to the Rainforest room.
The Rainforest Room was exactly what it advertised. Small palm trees, vines, Passion flowers, orchids, tiger lilies, and baby banana trees filled the space, with beautifully crafted wooden walkways between sections. Signs on some of the trees told what lay down what path. To their left were changing areas and open cubbies as well as lockable ones. Flashes of colour among the already brightly-coloured plants told of toucans and parrots and other rainforest fauna.
Hermione stopped at the door to take it all in.
"Is there a problem, ma'am?" The attendant asked worriedly.
"No! No. Your website said it was a rainforest themed room, but... this is brilliant!" She smiled at the worried witch again.
"Oh good. We do our best, ma'am. If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate, my name is Gloria. Enjoy your stay, Missus Potter."
"Thank you, Gloria. It's Hermione, pleasure to meet you." Gloria grinned hugely as she closed the door to the Rainforest room.
The quickly changed into the provided 'modesty suits', which were in fact nothing more than black bikinis. Gwenog put a brave face on as they walked the cedar path toward the whirlpool, but she didn't even own underthings that small and felt very naked.
Luna seemed disappointed when they arrived at the whirlpool.
"What's the matter?" Hermione asked her.
Luna stuck her bottom lip out. "It said whirlpool. I was expecting a giant swirling vortex of fun."
Hermione and Gwen both laughed, and Hermione hugged her. "Sorry to disappoint. It's more like an underwater massage."
Gwen was first into the pool. She descended the stone stairs into the frothing, churning water with one hand on the stone that made up the back wall of their little grotto. "It's so warm!" She exclaimed, her face stretched by her surprise.
"The whole point is to relax." Hermione instructed. "After this there will be massages and nail and skin treatments, then home for food and showtime."
"Yay!" Luna grinned. She didn't bother with the stairs and just jumped into the middle of the pool. The middle of the pool was deeper than the rest though, so she managed to splash water up her nose. Even so, Luna only grinned and lay back to float in the center of the pool. "Ahhhh." She sighed.
"Now," Hermione grinned as she sat on the stone bench, up to her neck in the warm, turbulent water, "I am dying to hear all about your parties and healing." She said to Gwen.
"Yes!" Luna made her way to sit next to Gwen on the opposite side. "I want to hear all about the first boy you kissed too."
Gwen laughed. "Graham Kingsbury, fourth year in the Three Broomsticks. Massively disappointing."
"Aww. Sorry." Luna frowned. "Neville Longbottom, this year in the Great Hall, just after the battle. Made my nethers tingle something fierce." She grinned at the memory.
"Ha ha! Way to go Luna!" Hermione giggled. "You do look really good together."
Luna smiled back at her, but it wasn't Luna's usual smile. There was something overshadowing it.
"Yeah, good job!" Gwen agreed. "How is he? I mean, is he a keeper? The ones I've kissed that made me tingle were all coreless bludgers in the end. I'd love to find one I could respect that made me tingle."
"That's one of the things I want to talk about, but first I want to hear Hermione's first kiss." Luna waggled her eyebrows at her.
Hermione's grin fell. "I was... I was really stupid, if I'm honest. Very first kiss ever was Harry, on the train back to school third year. It should have been the only one, but I was young and dumb. It was nice, but he was asleep at the time. I figured it would be the same if he was awake or asleep because he's the same person awake or asleep, right?" She quirked one corner of her mouth. "It made sense to me at the time. Anyway, after that was Viktor Krum at the Yule Ball fourth year, then Ronald Weasley in the Chamber of Secrets during the battle. Krum was alright, but it was like kissing a Grindylow that you know is just waiting for you to drop your guard so it can eat you. I couldn't get away from him fast enough. He also kept calling me Hermoninny, and that annoyed me no end. Ronald was a spur-of-the-moment thing. We'd just destroyed one of Riddle's... one of Voldemort's artefacts, and there was this huge scary burst of magic as it was destroyed, and I was so happy to be alive just then. Ronald on the other hand started getting grabby and I had to smack him after I'd just kissed him. He started calling me his girlfriend after that and expected me to suddenly turn into Lavender Brown and start following him around and making loveydovey faces and cooking and cleaning up after him. I'm sorry I waited as long as I did to tell him to shove off. Then... Then there was Harry. Awake this time. I could feel him before... When our lips touched, fireworks. In my head and my knickers. The first time his tongue touched mine I swear to Merlin a lightning bolt hit the both of us and I nearly mounted him right there on the hospital bed. So yeah. Might have been Harry and only Harry since third year if I hadn't been so bloody stupid."
"Aww, that's nice though, it worked out in the end, and you're getting married next month!" Luna smiled.
"That's what I'm talking about." Gwen nodded. "That's what I want. I don't think I'm going to find it on the pitch, either. I'm twenty-six, that's a decade on the field. If it was there to be found I think I would have by now."
Hermione reached out to touch Gwen's shoulder in sympathy. "Sorry, but I think you're probably right. I can't see a mind that could keep up with you playing Quidditch for a living - though you're living proof that it does happen. You might be better off looking for an intellect with a nice bum rather than the other way around."
Both Gwen and Luna laughed at that.
"I think you might be right." Gwen grinned. "So, what's up with Neville then?" She turned to Luna.
Luna sighed. "Maybe nothing, maybe everything. We were intimate for about a month, and that was wonderful. It was lovely to see his passion directed at me rather than a greenhouse, and I was quite happy with the sex. It took a few tries to get him over his fear of hurting me, but after that it was brilliant. Too brilliant, almost."
"Too brilliant?" Hermione frowned.
"I didn't want it to end. I knew it would, it had to. I want to go scour the world for rare or even unique animals. That's what my life is going to be. Neville will always be tied to his greenhouses and his plants. He loves that, and I couldn't deny him that. I broke it off with him after the month, and he understood why. I understood why - at least, I thought I did."
"What happened?" Gwen asked.
"At your birthday, when you told us your secret. Neville figured out there was something wrong and instead of jumping to conclusions, he maturely asked for an explanation."
"I remember." Hermione nodded.
"It's just... that maturity, that confidence and poise... that was new. It hurt. It physically hurt my chest that I had missed him becoming that. Yes, it was also hotter than fiendfyre, but it felt like I had been kicked when I realized that I had given that up on purpose. Then this morning he just snuck into my thoughts completely out of the blue, while I was getting a massage from Harry bloody Potter. I mean, I had a crush on Harry since second year, I should have been thinking about... well, you know. Instead I was wondering if he would teach the foot massage to Neville."
Gwen looked between Hermione and Luna. "You have a crush on her husband? And you're okay with that?"
Hermione smiled. "Luna's my best friend, and she knows both of us. I know nothing would ever happen, neither Harry nor Luna would ever do that to me. Also, pretty much every girl has a crush on my husband. I don't like it, but it's not like I can do anything about it."
"Oh. Yeah, I suppose." Gwen was glad there wasn't any kind of threatening undercurrents between the two. The aura of love and trust between them was so completely alien and so utterly wonderful. In the locker rooms it was more like a shark tank - the words might be the same, but most of the girls went out of their ways to poach each other's boyfriends. If any of them ever caught a whiff of Lord Harry Potter-Black... the frenzy would know no bounds.
"Luna..." Hermione placed her hand between her own breasts, "Does it feel like a glowy ball of excitement and anxiety and hope and fear and a ton of different things right here?"
"Yes!" Luna's eyebrows jumped.
"Do you keep expecting to see his face? Like he's going to just show up while you're showering or off in the field, or just at the strangest times?"
"Yes! It makes no sense! What is it?"
Hermione sighed, and could tell from the look in Gwen's eyes she had the same sympathy. "You're in love with Neville. You'll need to talk to each other and see what you can work out, because those feelings don't go away. Trust me, I know."
Luna sighed. "Shit. That's what I hoped... and feared... it was."
Gwen put an arm around Luna's shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "I'd give a lot to feel that way. Enjoy it!" She held her fist out in front of her, "Then go subjugate your man. Take him! Own him!" She grinned.
Luna and Hermione giggled.
"Sorry, slipped into Captain Persona there for a second." Gwen apologized.
"Well she's not wrong." Luna beamed as she hugged Gwen back. "Do you think I should grind him into the bed before or after we talk things over?"
"Well, if you do it after, it might be a happy taste of things to come. On the other hand if you do it before, he might be a little more... open to suggestion." Gwen winked at her.
Luna laughed. "Hermione?"
Hermione just blushed as she tried not to smile. "Before, during, after... bed, table, floor... you know."
Luna and Gwen both burst into gales of laughter.
Gwen wiped her eyes when the guffaws had dwindled into chuckles. "You lucky witch! You're both lucky!"
"I suppose we are." Luna smiled happily.
Gwen wiped tears from the corners of her eyes before her gaze settled on Hermione. "I'm sorry, I can't hold it in anymore. Why, if you don't mind me asking, are you getting married next month when you're already married? I mean, you're wearing the Potter House ring, and you couldn't do that if you weren't married. I suppose your last name would have already been changed at the Ministry as well or nobody would recognize you as Mrs. Potter. Potter-Black, rather." Gwen asked.
Hermione smiled. "That's going to be the first thing I show you during showtime. I had a chat with Manager Gutspike the other day and he was kind enough to copy his memory of our magical wedding. I thought it would be better to see both of us rather than just Harry or me."
"Aww, you didn't have to go to all that trouble!" Luna pouted at Hermione, "But I'm glad you did!" She grinned. "Yeee! I can't wait!"
"That's what Showtime is? You're going to share memories?" Gwenog's jaw dropped of its own accord.
"Potter House has a lovely old Pensieve built into a stone table. Luna asked to see our magical wedding, so that's how today started."
"Brilliant. I can't wait to see this. I heard that Dumbledore had Pensieve when I was at school, but I've never seen one before."
"Me either." Luna said.
"Well... are you feeling warm and relaxed? We could move on to the next treatment if you want." Hermione suggested.
"Yes!" Luna jumped up and made her way to the stairs out of the pool.
"As for the why... for my parents, mostly. Harry and I married magically without them. That's fine for the magical world, but my parents are both non-magical, so the ceremony will be to include them in our lives. Also so there's nowhere Harry can get away from me. He's mine in every world." She smiled fiercely as she followed Luna and Gwen out of the pool.
Gwen chuckled. "I was about to say that's really sweet of you about your parents, but that smile - that smile right there. That makes me feel sorry for anyone with designs on him."
Hermione quirked one corner of her mouth again. "Sadly, that's a lot of people you're feeling sorry for then. But really... you should. I'll protect him and us with everything I have."
The look she saw in Hermione's eyes made Gwen's guts go cold and her knees weak. She had no doubts whatsoever as to the outcome of that protection. This was the woman who had killed Death Eaters by the handful and faced down a Dark Lord. She shivered, then put an arm around Hermione's shoulders.
"I'll clean up the leftovers, if there are any. I know I'm late to the party, but my wand is yours if you want it."
Hermione stopped and stared at Gwen, wondering if she was aware she'd just offered what could be construed as an oath of fealty. "I appreciate that. I would love to have more friends." She smiled and gave the witch a squeeze.
Gwen squeezed her back and smiled. She couldn't help it. After so long being The Captain, after learning to guard everything she said and did all the time because the rest of the girls would seize on it as teasing bait or worse... The simple, honest trust Hermione and Luna displayed was just too overwhelming. Too enticing. Too bloody wonderful. It felt so good to just be Gwen again. It felt doubly good to be accepted by witches she could respect.
Gloria was standing in the hall waiting for them when Luna opened the door.
"Oh, hello again." Luna smiled at her.
Gloria waited until Gwen and Hermione were within earshot. "Hello again," Gloria smiled, "If you'll follow me, I'll lead you to your masseuses, we have you booked in the Cloud Room."
"That sounds lovely." Luna said dreamily.
"It is one of our most popular rooms," Gloria turned and walked backward to smile and explain, "Do you have a preference for aerial vista?"
"Pardon?" Hermione frowned.
"Here we are." Gloria opened a thick wooden door and led them into a completely white room. Even the twin massage benches in the center of the room were completely white. Gloria took out her wand and tapped a panel on the wall by the door. "Aerial Montana." She said, and clouds appeared at knee level. After a moment there was a break in the clouds and the entire floor of the room was replaced by an aerial view of grey mountains and green grassland.
"Oh." Hermione said. "Oh that's just lovely."
"So did you have a preference for aerial vista?" Gloria repeated with an understanding smile.
Luna turned to look at Hermione, but Hermione shook her head. "I had a lovely massage this morning, thanks to Harry. This is all you and Gwen. You know I can't lie on my stomach due to my... stomach issues. Not for a while, anyway."
Gwen's smile fell. "You didn't say anything. Are you alright?"
"Perfectly fine." Hermione replied with a smile, "Already taken care of by multiple healers and concerned parents. I just can't lie on my stomach for a while."
"Oh." Gwen still frowned, but let it go. She was concerned, but didn't think Hermione counted her enough of a friend yet to listen. Besides, she was Hermione Potter. She knew what she was doing. "Sorry then. I guess we'll have to come back when you can."
Hermione grinned at that. "That is a definite yes. Now go on, hop up and enjoy it. You've got -" She turned to Gloria, "What's next, body scrubs?"
Gloria nodded. "Yes ma'am, with scents that can be chosen at the time."
Hermione smiled at Gloria again. "Definitely coming back again later." She turned back to Luna and Gwen, who had disrobed and lain on the massage tables and were draped by soft white towels over their behinds. "Nails and faces are last, I'll join again for those."
"Aren't you going to be bored just waiting?" Gwen asked.
Hermione smiled at her. "I brought my laptop. I have some calculations I want to go over and some simulations to run."
Gwen chuckled. "I should've guessed."
Hermione just smiled at her and pulled a comfortable-looking divan from her bag the size of a teabag, then enlarged it in the corner of the room.
Gwen and Luna received muscle-melting massages, and every soft moan or groan from either one of them caused Hermione's mouth to twitch into a smile despite her concentration.
Two different witches entered the room when the massages were done, and waved a number of samples under Gwen and Luna's faces. Luna chose honeysuckle and vanilla, and Gwen chose lilac and coconut. Each of their chosen scents was combined with a mound of rough salt, which was then expertly ground into their skins as gently as possible, with special care given to rough spots such as their heels and elbows.
When that was all finished and the two bodyscrub witches had left the room again, Gwen and Luna both lay there a long moment.
"I can't even describe it." Luna said finally. "It's like I want to go to sleep but I have way too much energy. And I don't want to waste smelling this good."
"I haven't felt this feminine in a long time. Maybe ever. I can't remember." Gwen agreed.
"Ready for the face and nails then?" Hermione asked as she closed her laptop.
"Ready for a hot date." Gwen sighed as she forced herself off the massage table.
Hermione shrunk the divan and stowed it and her laptop back in her bag while Gwen and Luna got dressed, and Gloria showed up again as they were about to leave the room to look for her.
"Everything satisfactory, Missus Potter-Black?" Gloria asked hopefully.
"Everything is lovely so far, thank you. Nails and face next?"
"Yes ma'am, if you'll follow me, I'll take you to one of our application rooms. We have a large Application room for ladies just stopping by to have their nails done, or nails plus face, that's our most popular treatment, but we also have several private Application rooms for private parties such as yours. Feel free in the future to request one when you book your appointments."
"Oh, that's nice. Thank you for that. We will definitely be returning." Hermione smiled.
"In that case, please see me at the front desk before you leave, we can also set a passphrase for you to ensure that in the future we know it's really you."
"Oh, well done. That should help whoever is booking."
"We aim to please, ma'am." Gloria smiled and opened another door after leading them through several corridors. This room had three dentists' chairs in it - Hermione recognized them immediately - and soothing forest sounds playing over unseen speakers. "Please have a seat, your specialists will be with you in a moment." Gloria bowed and shut the door behind her.
"So?" Hermione asked as she took a seat, "Worth coming back do you think?"
"Yeah..." Luna said, "But not without friends. Having both of you here really makes it a good day."
Gwen smiled, touched by Luna's honesty. "Agreed. I could see popping in for face and nails and popping out again if you have somewhere important to be, but it's the company that makes the experience."
"Yes, exactly." Luna nodded solemnly.
"Good, that's one more thing off the list." Hermione smiled.
Three more witches entered the room then, carrying trays of bottles, vials, and pastes.
"Good morning ladies." Said the last to enter, as she closed the door behind her. "I'm Natalie, this is Amanda, and this is Kim. Is this your first time with us?"
All three seated witches nodded.
"Excellent!" Natalie smiled. "Before we get started, there are a few options you get to choose from. First, your nails. Our nail options include making them grow very quickly, making them grow very slowly, making them extra pliable so they won't break, but they will bend quite easily and won't be as useful, or making them extra strong so they won't bend but will break if you try to lift an erumpent with them. Those are just the potion options, of course. We can also make them look any way you like, though the Statute of Secrecy does forbid moving pictures."
"We'll be back next month, so I'd like the slow growth extra-strong, please." Hermione said with a smile. "Umm... and not too sharp please? I'd like to keep my husband's skin where it is for now."
Natalie, Amanda and Kim all laughed. "A cute one, is he?" Amanda asked with a wink.
Hermione grinned back. "I could show you, but then I'd have to Obliviate you."
For some reason, that made them laugh harder.
"Alright, slow growth extra strong for you, you ladies?" Natalie asked Gwen and Luna.
'Slow growth extra strong sounds great to me." Gwen smiled.
"I'd like no growth and extra strong please. They're just right for field work just now." Luna said.
"Excellent, now for the facial options. We have three, first is a mild exfoliant and revitaliser, that's the most popular. It leaves your skin feeling fresh and looking healthier. Next, there's the Smoothener potion treatment, it cleans out your pores and shrinks them slightly while clearing away any rough patches, but it will change your appearance some. Since it is in effect repairing the skin on your face, it will make you look a little younger. Third and last option is our most popular with the older ladies, it's a heavy duty version of the Smoothener, called Rewind, and it will actually take ten years off your face. The exfoliant and revitaliser is non-magical, so it will only last until your skin recovers, usually a few days to a week. Both the potion options last for roughly a month."
"Uhm... I'd like the Smoothener please." Gwen said in a small voice. Her cheeks pinked as well.
"I'll go for the exfoliant and revitaliser this time." Hermione said.
"Same for me please." Luna added.
Natalie rubbed her palms together and grinned. "You ladies just relax into your chairs and leave the rest to us. Once we've treated your nails and have your facials under way, we'll show you some samples and ask what you'd like your nails to look like, but that's the final step and takes no time at all. Think about it, talk about it, but above all, relax!"
None of the three witches felt particularly talkative, despite the good-natured efforts of Natalie, Amanda, and Kim - except where the colour of their nails was concerned. Luna decided she wanted a different colour for all ten of her nails, with a different coloured flower on each. She smiled brightly to herself when she saw the finished product. Gwen decided on dark forest green for hers, with a tiny gold eagle claw on each. Hermione went with plain scarlet on her hands, but on her toes she asked for the same scarlet, with a gold letter on each toe that spelled Gryffindor - but the O was actually a tiny gold snitch. She thought Harry might get a kick out of it.
When they were all finished, Hermione, Luna, and especially Gwen stared in wonder at the change to Gwen's face. Not her features - those were the same, but her skin was no longer a different colour on her cheekbones, and the tired, leathery texture brought on by a decade of windburn had completely vanished. She looked like she was fresh off of the Hogwarts Express. Gwen looked in the mirror with shock and disbelief. The change had happened so slowly, over ten years, that she had completely forgotten what she had looked like when she still lived with her parents. She ran her fingers over the smooth, taut, light-caramel skin of her cheeks, as though to make sure her reflection was really her own face.
"That... I don't believe it!" She goggled.
Kim smiled at Gwen's reaction. "Your facial skin has a load of damage on the high points. Do you play quidditch a lot?"
"Uhmmyeah." Gwen answered, only half-attentive.
"That explains it, it looked like wind damage. You can reverse that damage with regular application of the exfoliant and revitaliser treatments, but that will take time - a few months, probably, but you shouldn't bother starting that until you're no longer taking the damage. Otherwise you just won't make any repairs."
"I could look like this all the time?!"
"Well... yeah," Kim smiled, "It's your face. You just need to look after it."
"Thank you." Gwen said softly, still captivated by the change.
"Anytime." Kim finished replacing all her equipment on her tray and got up to join Natalie and Amanda on their way out.
"You look great!" Luna smiled at Gwen, "Not that you didn't before, but we could all be yearmates now."
Gwen jumped out of her chair and pulled Hermione out of hers, into a fierce hug. "Thank you. This was such a brilliant idea! I had no clue..."
Luna grinned and joined the hug. "This isn't even the fun part yet! I can't wait for showtime!"
"Come on then, the sooner we get back the sooner we can start." Hermione grinned.
Gloria was waiting for them in the hall. "Everything was satisfactory I hope?" She asked as they exited their Application room.
"Brilliant!" Gwen gushed. "I can scarcely believe it!"
Hermione smiled and nodded to Gloria. "More than."
Gloria seemed to suddenly relax. "Oh good! I'm so glad you enjoyed yourselves. If you'll follow me, I'll take you back to the entrance, unless there's something else you'd like to try?"
"We need to get back, actually." Luna said with an anticipatory grin.
"Right this way." Gloria smiled and led them to the front counter. She turned to Hermione after she'd ducked behind the front counter. "Have you thought of a passphrase you'd like to use?" She asked.
"Yes." Hermione answered. "Amare Patronum."
"Can you spell that?"
Hermione spelled it for her, and Gloria noted it down in her file on the computer.
"There, now whenever anyone tries to impersonate you they'll be asked for your passphrase."
"You should also note that I will never pay with anything other than my House Ring, so anyone paying any other way is not me."
"Thank you, good to know as well." Gloria typed that bit of information into the computer.
"I'd also like to book the same time for November seventh, if I may."
Gloria nodded, and booked their next appointment. "How many?"
"At least three. Probably more, as I'm reasonably certain my mum would enjoy it as well."
"Excellent, you're all booked." Gloria pulled a sheet of parchment from the printer and set it on the counter in front of Hermione, who bit her lip and deliberately looked away, eyes closed, as she touched the face of her House Ring to the bottom of the parchment. Gloria filed the parchment once the Potter-Black seal sprang into existence and the computer registered the invoice paid.
"Wonderful," She stood and bowed again to the three witches. "It was an honor and a delight to have you, please do not hesitate to visit for any and all needs we may meet."
"Thanks, it was nice to meet you Gloria. We'll see you on the seventh, if you're working." Hermione smiled at the witch and calmly exited the building, though Luna could tell from the white around her eyes that Hermione was freaked out by the deferential treatment.
"Why'd you close your eyes?" Luna asked as they looked around for a secluded spot to portkey from.
Hermione stopped and sighed. "Harry. Made me promise not to look at the bill. Neither of us are used to having money, let alone wealth. He treats it like it doesn't matter because it doesn't seem real. I do the opposite and worry over every knut because it doesn't seem real. I mean, we've looked at the ledgers, we both know there's a ridiculous amount of money there, but..."
"Why doesn't it seem real?" Gwen asked with a frown.
"Because they didn't earn it themselves." Luna answered for her. "They're just like that, both of them."
Gwen laughed. "Guess how many other witches I've met who would feel the same? I'll give you a hint, you can count that high on no hands."
"That's why you're my best friend, Hermione. You're smart and nice and just lovely through and through, and you give the best love advice and I want you to be my baby's Godmother, when I get around to having one of course." Luna gave her a thrashing great hug in the middle of the populated commercial plaza.
"Aww. I love you too Luna." Hermione smiled and hugged her back.
They found a spot behind one of the restaurants that had their huge garbage bins in a solid brick enclosure, so they portkeyed back to Potter House from there.
They appeared in the garden behind the house, and Cassi appeared a moment later.
"Welcome home, Mistress." She said with a bow and a large grin.
"Thank you Cassi, it's wonderful to be home." Hermione hugged Cassi briefly. "Would you let Harry know we're back and that we'll be going straight to the library please?"
"Of course, Mistress." Cassi bowed and vanished with a soft pop.
Gwen marveled at the place as Hermione led them to the library. It was just as fine as the other pureblood mansions she'd seen, but unlike those museum showpieces, it was warm and inviting. It was a living space, meant to be lived in. There was no ostentation, no overt display of wealth whatsoever. The wealth was there, obviously, but it was utilitarian as well as ornamental. It was a Pensieve in the library instead of gold on the ceilings. It was the beautifully polished solid oak table Hermione put her bag down on, instead of custom-designed furniture no-one wanted to use.
Hermione turned to a blank wooden wall and put her hands on it, then slowly spread her hands apart. The solid wall became several bookshelves, as tall and thick as the rest of them in the library, and continued to part until there was space enough to walk between them. Each bookshelf held not books, but small glass vials filled with a silvery liquid, each labelled with tiny script. The parted bookshelves must have also had or concealed several exquisite extension charms, as there was now a whole other room beyond the shelves of vials. Hermione beckoned to Luna and Gwen as she walked between the shelves into the revealed room. A large stone table, edges covered in subtly colour-shifting runes dominated the space. There were no chairs or seating of any kind.
Hermione went to the only shelf in the room that had any space on it, and fingered through several vials before she selected one and returned to the stone table. She touched her House Ring to the top of the table, and the flat, polished stone table top simply floated into the air. It hung in the air, spinning lazily, about ten feet up. Beneath the stone tabletop was a... liquid of some kind. Its surface moved and refracted like water, but Gwen was positive it wasn't water.
Hermione poured the silvery liquid from the vial into the table, and it spread quickly and became a picture. It looked like an office of some kind, with Hermione and Harry - at least she assumed it was Harry - standing in it.
"The table can project the memory into the air above it if you touch certain runes in the right order, but I find it's a better experience to be inside the memory." Hermione explained, "I haven't seen this one yet, so we'll all be seeing it for the first time. Just stick your finger in the liquid."
All three of them put their fingers in the table at the same time, and each felt the sinking, melting, falling sensation of being pulled into the memory. She and Harry stood on the far side of the desk as Gutspike led them through the ceremony, but Hermione's attention was on the other Goblins in the room. She had missed it the first time, because of course her attention had been elsewhere, but this time she noticed the somewhat bored, annoyed expressions of the other Goblins shatter into disbelief and awe as the shining glow encompassed Harry and her. She made a mental note to find out what that meant later. She would also have to get her parents in there to see it during the reception sometime.
She turned her attention back to Harry's face as the memory came to a close, and smiled to herself at the now-familiar expression of love on his face.
They appeared back in the library then, Hermione had a warm, hungry feeling in her chest and a smile to match. Luna quietly shed tears while smiling at her, and engulfed her in a hug almost immediately.
"That was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." She sobbed.
Gwen's expression closely resembled that of the Goblins - if a whole lot easier to read. She looked stunned.
"Thanks Luna." Hermione said quietly into Luna's hair.
"Ahem." Gwen cleared her throat, "I have a memory you should see. It isn't nice, but you should see it. I also have some of your mum Luna, if you want to see them."
"Yes!" Luna let go of Hermione and attached herself to Gwen. "Thank you!"
"The thing is..." Gwen continued, "I've never even seen one of these before, so I have no idea how to get the memory from my head to the table."
"Well first you take off your Luna jacket..." Hermione smiled. Luna grinned at her and let go of Gwen to wipe tears from the corners of her eyes.
"You'll need your wand, of course." Hermione explained, "Get the memory firmly in your mind, see and hear every detail. Put your wand to your temple, and concentrate on copying that memory to your wand, then slowly pull your wand away from your head." She pulled a rack of empty vials from the shelf an picked one up. "I'll do one so you can see."
Gwen nodded, thanks evident on her face.
Hermione closed her eyes and concentrated, then pulled wispy silver strands from her temple that coagulated on the tip of her wand. She scraped the silver droplet into the empty vial, then put her wand down and quickly labelled the vial 'Meeting Gwen'. Then she handed Gwen an empty vial.
"Thanks." Gwen pulled her wand out and touched the tip of it to her temple as she concentrated, then pulled silver wisps out that stuck themselves to the tip of her wand in a silver droplet. She opened her eyes and broke into a huge grin. "I did it!"
Hermione and Luna both grinned. She put the memory into the empty vial and labelled it "Ginny Crash Pad' Hermione dipped the tip of her wand into the liquid of the table, and the memory of her wedding quickly collected on it. She pulled it out of the table and replaced it into its vial, then filed it away again.
Gwen tipped her memory into the table, set her wand and the empty vial down, then joined the other two inside the memory.
It wasn't a long memory, only a couple of minutes, but when it ended and they found themselves in the library again, both Hermione and Luna looked ready to spit fire.
"I can't believe what's she's become. She used to be so nice." Luna ground her teeth.
"BookyBeaverBoringBushyBitch!" Hermione's jaw worked, and her fists clenched and unclenched. "Cassi!"
Cassi appeared instantly.
"Would you please ask Harry to come join us, he needs to see this memory."
"Right away, Mistress." Cassi popped away.
"When was this, Gwen?"
"Two nights ago, after Wednesday practice."
Hermione's glower darkened even further. "Leave me at the altar... little..."
Cassi and Harry appeared in the room then, and Harry went immediately to Hermione.
"What is it? What's wrong?" He asked.
"Watch that memory. You'll see." Hermione fumed. Harry kissed her forehead and stuck his finger in the Pensieve.
"Thought it might upset. Sorry." Gwen apologized.
"No, don't be. You had nothing to do with it, of course. Thank you for showing this." Hermione gave a sad, half-angry smile to let Gwen know she bore no blame.
Harry came out of the memory then, drew a deep breath, and sighed. "Can't say I'm surprised, honestly. Disppointed, but not surprised. When was this?"
"Two days ago." Hermione growled.
Harry sighed again. "Look on the bright side, love." He smiled at Hermione. "Maybe she'll show up with Ron and I can punch them both into orbit."
Gwen's jaw dropped. "You can do that?!" It was out before she could stop it. Her brain caught up to her and told her 'He killed Voldemort, dummy! Of course he can do that.'
Harry chuckled and held his hand out for her to shake, so she did. "Nice to meet you, Miss Jones. No, of course I can't do that, but I'd dearly love to try."
"Oh." She said in a small voice while feeling dumb, "Right."
"I can't believe she actually thinks... No, of course I can, she's just like Ron, she doesn't think, just runs her stupid mouth. I'm sorry, love." He wrapped Hermione in a tender hug and held her head to his chest.
"You know she's going to try something at our wedding, don't you." She told him.
"Of course. Thanks to Miss Jones though, we know it's coming. I'd guess probably something potion-related."
"Um, it's Gwen. Please." Gwen smiled.
"Harry." He smiled back. He let Hermione go and put his hands on her shoulders, and looked into her eyes. "I was in the middle of making some food for you, I'll go finish and bring it up. We can talk about wedding security later when you're finished with showtime?"
Hermione took a deep breath and let it out, then kissed him. "You're wonderful and I don't deserve you."
Harry laughed and kissed her again quickly. "Right back at you, beautiful. You're mine and I'm yours." He smiled and strode away toward the library exit. "Back in a few minutes."
Hermione took another deep breath and let it out, and Gwen could fairly see her recover her equilibrium. How on Merlin's magical earth were they so normal? They were drippingly sweet newlyweds, same as any other, except for the small fact they'd killed an Immortal Dark Lord.
Luna rubbed Hermione's back and still looked angry.
"Thank you for that, Gwen. Really. We'll revise our plan for the wedding and tighten security some. I might even just add Wards that stop Ginny specifically from getting anywhere near the place. I'm sure her mum would help."
"Anything I can do, just ask." Gwen offered.
Hermione smiled at that. "I will, thanks. Let's lighten the mood some before we get to memories of Luna's mum..." Hermione breathed heavily for a moment, and forced Ginny out of her mind as she fingered through the vials again and selected a new one. "This one is when mum and I went to the hairdressers in Toowoomba and she embarrassed the magic out of me..."