Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor do I own any of it's characters, plot elements, or general ideas. It's sad, but it's true.
Harry stepped out onto his front stoop and closed the door of Grimmuald Place tightly behind him. The rain was beating down over his head in an almost constant downpour, and he instantly regretted the fact that he didn't own and umbrella. Some things seem pointless when you're a wizard, but much like Arthur Weasley, Harry retained a certain level of respect and appreciation for Muggle inventions.
He pulled his hood up over his head and buried his hands deep into the pockets of his hoodie and glanced down the street in both directions before muttering a few wards over the building.
Gotta love wandless magic, he thought as he sloshed down the stairs and began his walk towards the alley a few blocks over. There weren't many people out at all on this gloomy day and he found that he was entirely too thankful for his solitude. Lately, Harry couldn't get enough time to himself… or rather, time without random people sticking their noses where they didn't belong.
It had been a little over three years since he had defeated Voldemort, but for Harry, the battle would never truly be over. After he had died and come back, and it had all been said and done, Harry had expected his life to carry a sense of normalcy… for there to be a sense of peace about him that would somehow magically reconcile all the hardship he'd endured over the past seventeen years. But night after night, he got less and less sleep. The endless chase of being an Auror had been wearing on him more than he liked recently, and on days like this one, when the sun was nowhere to be found and his only companion was the dribble of rain running down his chest, there were few things that could console him.
Luckily, one thing that always seemed to do the trick was a visit with Hermione.
He reached the end of the street and turned, heading in the direction of a dark and foreboding alleyway. He pulled one hand out of its pocket and pulled the hoodie down a little further over his head, making sure that it covered his forehead and as much of his eyes as possible. He took two large strides and ducked behind a bin which was pushed snug against the side of one of the buildings. Taking one last glance at his surroundings, ensuring that he was away from prying eyes, Harry ducked his head and stepped forward, turning quickly on the spot and vanishing into thin air, leaving no more than a soft crack in his wake.
He shook his head of the droplets as he strode through the doorway and into the front landing of a very warm and very cozy flat. Harry shrugged off his sweater and ran a hand through his unkempt hair, not bothering to pay attention to where the specs of water were falling.
"Hermione!" he called into the foyer. He stopped for a moment and listened, one hand outstretched and holding onto the stair banister, the other reaching down to pull off the sogging trainers. There was a slight commotion coming from within the kitchen down the hallway, but there was no reply. Taking both his shoes and socks in hand, Harry crossed the hall and entered the sitting room in the front where a large fire was roaring.
The space was warm and inviting and Harry smiled to himself as he noticed there were several new photographs adorning the shelves surrounding the fireplace. He dropped his shoes and socks to the floor in front of the flames and leaned in closer to appreciate the smiling faces as they moved about in the frames. There were several that he recognized, old favorites or ones that he remembered taking, but there was a new one of himself and Ron that he didn't recognize. They were sitting outside the Burrow laughing at something… there was a sense of lightheartedness that brought warmth to his heart. It had been a long time since he'd seen that look cross any of their faces.
"Hermione," Harry called, hoping that she'd not be too startled by his presence. "You doing alright in there?" He stepped over to the sofa across from the fireplace and reached behind it, pulling out a little clothes rack from between it and the wall. Setting it up in front of the fire, he proceeded to pull his drenched hoodie over his head and drape it across the rungs, picking his socks up from where he'd discarded them and doing the same with each of them.
"I'm in the kitchen, Harry," she called. He smiled slightly and began to take his t-shirt off but her voice was followed by a loud crash. "Bullocks! That'd be the turkey. Could you give me a hand in here?"
He quickly yanked the tee over his head and tossed it on the rack before darting back toward the hallway and the kitchen. When he came up to the doorway, he couldn't help but let out a light chuckle at the sight before him. There was a mess of vegetables all over the floor, scattered about around the lifeless turkey. Hermione was on hands and knees, crawling about as she tried to pick up all the scattered carrots and potatoes, putting them back into a bowl. She looked up as Harry entered the room and he could see a little stream of tears beginning to run down her cheeck. Harry's heart sank at the sight but he couldn't manage to wipe the smile off his face.
"What are you doing on the floor?" he asked. Hermione glared at him and he quickly raised his hands in surrender. "Alright, alright, getting down to help," he said, trailing off as he too came down to his knees and began to pick up the scattered food.
"Harry, they're going to be here in ten minutes. This stupid turkey seems to have grown back its legs and keeps trying to walk off. Not literally, of course, that would be outrageous – heavens, I don't know what I would do if that happened. Thank Merlin I scrubbed the floors last night and thought to prepare the casserole as well. I thought I'd be able to lift the turkey out of the oven without a problem, but it was heavier than I'd thought. What took you so long? I thought you were coming over early."
She finally stopped her meticulous collecting and looked up to Harry long enough to take in his appearance. "Merlin, Harry! My parents are coming over for dinner and this is how you've decided to dress? Where are your clothes?"
"Hermione, calm down," Harry said, standing with the turkey and walking over to the counter where the empty dish was. "Have you looked outside lately? It's like a tsunami out there – I was drenched."
"And I suppose you've forgotten how to magically dry things?" she bit back, also standing and dumping the bowl of vegetables into a colander in the sink. She stopped with her hands resting along the counter, peering into the pile of vegetables and then looked to Harry. "I'm just nervous, Harry. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be so harsh on you."
"What's making you feel so nervous? You've got two of the most supportive and loving parents I know. Hermione, they only worry over you because they care."
"I'm just afraid that when they see Ron's not here… I suppose I just want them to know that I'm doing alright; I want them to stop worrying that I'm not happy. There is such a thing as caring too much, you know."
"You don't say," he mumbled, thinking back to how she'd always cared rather… aggressively.
"What was that?" she snapped, turning to look at him with a look that could rival McGonagall's.
"Nothing; I just want you to relax." He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, drawing her in closer. She was now flush against him, wrapper her arms around his torso and holding him in a loose hug. Harry leaned down and placed a gentle kiss atop her head. "It's going to be fine," he mumbled into her hair. "Ron doesn't know what he's missing."
"I'm afraid he knows exactly what he's missing and just doesn't care. That's what tends to make me worry. You know… there are times I wish I'd let them live out their lives, happy and carefree in Australia."
"You don't mean that, Hermione."
"But I think I do, Harry. Not all the time; that was a hard time for me. I think I'd miss them too much. But there's a part of me that wonders if it'd all be easier if I knew that I was… more on my own. If I knew that my actions, my decisions, weren't really affecting anyone but me. Do you ever feel that way?"
Harry stood and thought for a moment.
"I think that's something I've always wished wasn't the case for me. And I think that's what I love about the Weasley's so much. No matter how… overbearing they can be, I know that they're as close to family as I've got and I like knowing that someone cares. Either way, whether or not they were here or in Australia, you'd still have me to put up with." He gave her a tight squeeze, trying to tease the dreariness out of her. "What can I do to help?"
"You know you could start by putting some clothes on," Hermione said, leaning back and looking up at him. A smile began to spread across her face. "I don't think that my mum would appreciate your lack of dignity."
"Lack of dignity? Hermione Jean, its bloody pouring outside, I could have caught pneumonia, and all you're worried about is my dignity? I suppose it's a good thing I keep extra clothes at your place, yeah?"
"I suppose it is," Hermione responded, rolling her eyes as she pushed herself out of his grip and over to the refrigerator. She reached in and pulled out the casserole, taking it to the stove. Harry stood, arms crossed, and watched as she busied herself around the kitchen, a light smile of his own quickly taking hold of his lips.
"I'll get to it then; be right back." Harry was half way down the hall when he turned around and poked his head in the kitchen once more. "Do you still have that Weasley sweater you took from my place a few weeks back? I think that's warmer than any of the shirts I've got in your closet…"
"It should be there," Hermione said, looking back at him from where she stood at the sink. "I think your old Quidditch jersey might be in one of my drawers – just poke around until you find something."
Harry walked down the stairs just as there came a knock from the front door.
"Hermione," he called through the house. "I think they're here – should I let them in?"
"Yes," she said, coming out of the dining room and walking up behind him. "Go ahead and get the door, would you? I'm going to move your things out of the sitting room."
Harry took the few extra steps toward the door and looked to his left into the little mirror which hung on the wall. He took in his somewhat ragged appearance and sighed. His hair was a mess, as per usual, but thankfully he'd been able to find the sweater amongst some of Hermione's night things. At least that gave him a bit of a more put-together edge. For as much as he was consoling Hermione through her worries earlier, he certainly understood the pressure. Mr. and Mrs. Granger had never been anything but kind to him, and he certainly owed them a million times over for raising such wonderful daughter, but there was a certain level of… pressure they put on Hermione that never quite sat right with Harry. He just hoped they neglected to mention Ron's absence.
Harry tried to push down all of his own uncertainties and nerves about the evening and reached for the doorknob.
"Harry," Mrs. Granger said as she rushed in and out of the rain. "It's so lovely to see you! How are you? Oh it's been too long." Mrs. Granger leaned in and gave Harry a hug, the dish in her hands tottering slightly as it was squeezed between them. Harry gave her a light squeeze back and stepped out of the way so that she and her husband could enter the flat.
"It's good to see you again too, Mrs. Granger," Harry said. "I see it's still raining like mad out there?"
"Bloody tsunami, don't ya think, son?"
"Precisely what Harry said earlier, Dad; it's good to see you," Hermione said as she came into the foyer and gave her father a warm embrace. "And you, Mum. I'm so glad that you could both make it."
Hermione took the dish out of her mum's hands and ushered them all down the hall, and into the now clothes-free sitting room.
"What can I get you all to drink," she said, passing through the doorway into the dining room and dropping the dish off in the middle of the table. She came back to stand in the doorway, waiting for their preferences before making her way to the kitchen once more.
"Water would be just fine for me, dear," Mrs. Granger said sweetly, following Hermione through the rooms to help carry glasses.
"I think I'll take the same," Mr. Granger called after them. He and Harry had stopped in the middle of the sitting room and Harry was now watching Hermione's father as he carefully took in every picture that hung on her bookcases, every framed clipping from the Dailey Prophet, or article which had been entered into one of the new Hogwarts texts.
"It's amazing what the three of you managed to accomplish before the age of eighteen. I can't very well imagine what it must have been like, Harry."
Harry didn't say anything for a moment, but continued to watch Mr. Granger's steady gaze. Every time he encountered Mr. Granger in Hermione's home, he was dumbstruck to find that the man couldn't tear his eye off his daughter accomplishments. There was a true sense of unabated pride that ran through his veins when it came to Hermione and that was something Harry found quite admirable. Harry was thankful to see that Hermione was so well loved; despite any pressure they might put on her at times. As she'd said before, they cared a bit much, but it was only out of love.
"Well, sir," he finally said, breaking the silence that Mr. Granger had hardly noticed. "I've told you before, but I'll tell you again – because it's the god's honest truth –I'd have been dead before I turned twelve if it wasn't for Hermione. She's saved me more times than I care to count."
"My dear boy, she's saved us all more times than we care to count." He started to trail off, becoming ever engrossed in the newer picture that Harry had admired himself when he'd first walked in. "In one way or another, I truly believe that she's saved us all."
Harry stared at him for a moment, his head quirked to the side in thought.
"I'm sorry, sir, I'm not sure I follow."
"Son, when you're as old as I am – ah, yes, don't give me that look – thank you, but I'm a fair bit older than you might think. But when you've reached my age and you've accomplished as little as I have, you start to hit a rut. It's a difficult thing to imagine when you're young and alive, like yourself. It's hard to imagine that you'd ever become unhappy with the things you have… or the reverse, that you'd let yourself get comfortable." He stopped looking at the pictures and instead turned to look him in the eye. "Harry, don't ever get too comfortable. You've got to remember to live. You've defeated dark lords, you've loved and you've been loved… "
Mr. Granger stuffed his hands into his pants pockets and stepped a little closer to Harry, ducking his head so as to not be overheard by his wife and daughter.
"I can see the way you look at her, son, and I know that Ron thinks he's got dibs, but don't let it discourage you from putting yourself out there. She needs someone who's going to push her. Someone who's going to let her go her own way and support her while's she at it. He's a good bloke, don't get me wrong… I just don't know if he can do that for her."
"Mr. Granger…" Harry started, not really sure what to say, but dreadfully hoping that the conversation didn't stay on Ron for too long. Much to his relief, he was cut off by the other man's attempt to rectify what he'd been attempting to say.
"Look at me, rambling on and changing subjects. All I was trying to say is that I don't think I'd be as happy as I am right now if I hadn't married Hermione's mother and I know that I wouldn't be as happy as I am now if I hadn't been blessed with such a lovely daughter." His focus began to drift from Harry's eyes to somewhere behind his head, more than likely toward another picture. "She sacrificed a lot to save us that year. She's something else. Gets it from her mother, I suppose."
Harry was about to say something in way of reassuring Mr. Granger that he indeed had one of the greatest families Harry had ever set eyes on, but was interrupted before he'd started by Hermione and her mother coming back in from the kitchen, this time with the casserole in hand and a semi-rectified turkey as well.
"Soups on!" said Mrs. Granger from the next room over.
Harry followed Mr. Granger as they stepped into the dining room, gathering around the table behind their respective chairs. Hermione was standing to his right and looked over, giving him a light smile.
"Dig in," she said.
Then, for a moment, perhaps due to his conversation with Mr. Granger, or perhaps due to the slight ruffled nature of her hair, falling haphazardly around her face like she'd been in the middle of a duel with a pair of boggarts, Harry was struck by the wonder of this woman beside him. There was a slight jolt of heat that spread through his stomach and he couldn't help but smile back at her, a bit wider than he felt was warranted, but he didn't care. He let out a soft breath through his nose, almost in disbelief at his own naivety. He was suddenly wishing he'd talked to Mr. Granger about the photographs a long time ago.
Harry looked at her hard before winking and giving her a soft smile.
"It looks splendid, Hermione. Truly."
About halfway through his third helping, Harry started to feel the casserole coming back to haunt him and decided to call it quits. Pushing back his plate, he braced himself against the table and took in a deep sigh.
"I don't think I've eaten anything that good in months, Hermione. Why don't I eat here more often?"
Hermione's cheeks took on a light tinge of pink and she simply rolled her eyes at Harry's compliment.
"Honestly, Harry, I think you eat here at least four times a week. And I'm certain I cook at your place at least once a week."
"That'd be why I've started to get this gullet then, eh?"
Mr. Granger chuckled from his seat across the table.
"You can't blame the boy, can you? I reckon if I didn't have your mum cooking for me I'd be over about as often as him!" They all shared a good laugh which caused Hermione's cheeks to tinge a shade of pink that would challenge even Ron.
"Tell me, Harry," Mr. Granger started again. "What do you do the rest of the time? When you're not here with my daughter."
Harry was taken aback slightly by the intensity that now seemed to have penetrated their mirth. Gone was the jolly man who'd been laughing his bullocks off the moment before and sitting in front of Harry was the cross and protective father Harry had been waiting for all night. He was suddenly very eager to travel back an hour previous and take up their conversation by the pictures once more.
"Well, sir," he began, adjusting himself at his seat so that he sat in a fashion that felt a bit more… adult. "I work for the Ministry, as I'm sure you recall. I'm an Auror – I help locate and capture rouge witches and wizards. It's an intense position, and one that I regret to say keeps me busy a good majority of the day, but I've been taking myself out of the field more often recently. I guess I just feel like it's all gotten a bit stressful."
He stopped for a moment and watched as Mr. and Mrs. Granger took all of this in. Hermione was sitting patiently beside him, her face strong and supportive, but her tongue silently holding back any kind of comment. Part of him wished she'd chime in and back him up, make him feel reassured about his response… but he also figured it was good that she was letting him do this on his own. It made him seem proud somehow, that she felt his answers were well enough on their own and didn't need any of her doctoring. Mrs. Granger cleared her throat to speak.
"So what is it that you do when you're not in the field?" she said.
"Well, recently I've been taking care of all the paperwork. It started a few months ago when some things were getting filed wrong by one of our clerks – I stepped in to sort of shape things up and get them back up and running."
"And what made you decide to do it on a more regular basis?" Mr. Granger said, cutting him off. "I've always thought you enjoyed that high-energy lifestyle; moving from here to there and sorting out all of the bad from the good. I dare say it seemed to me that you were good at what you did."
"Well, I still do enjoy it, and I'd like to think I'm still decent at it. I like being able to see that I've done something to make the world a better place – that I'm actively participating in promoting the safety of both the wizarding and muggle world. But," he stopped for a moment and shifted his gaze from the Grangers to Hermione and back again. "Did Hermione mention my accident?"
"Accident?" said Mrs. Granger.
"It would seem she forgot to mention as much," Mr. Granger said, following his wife's gaze and landing on Hermione.
"Well, I – I didn't think you really needed to know, is all…" she said, a bit defensive, but overall more embarrassed that she'd forgotten to include them in such a detail more than anything else. "It was about a month ago… he was only out for a few weeks."
"Yeah, out of my state of consciousness I might add," Harry said, rather jovially. He looked over at Hermione who had now lost all sense of color and was picking lightly at her fingernails, looking quickly between her parents and Harry. "Well do you want to tell them, or should I?" Harry said jokingly.
"It's best if you start," Hermione conceded. "Tea, anyone?" All three nodded and Hermione got up to fetch the pot and a few mugs from the kitchen.
"Right," Harry started. "So I was out on a case – it's still active, so you'll forgive me for not being able to divulge any details – but my partner and I were about to enter this old dingy building. We'd already done loads of spells to make sure that the place was safe to enter, but I suppose we must've forgotten something or overlooked a nasty curse, because the next thing I know I'm –"
"He's getting shot straight through the chest with a beam of green light. I swear, when Macmillan told me that, I thought you'd been hit with the killing curse." Hermione said, cutting him off.
"Well Macmillan likes to be evasive. He's not the sensitive or thoughtful type… and I swear he's still got a thing for you." Harry's face took on a protective front that was not missed by Mr. Granger.
"He's bloody insensitive is what he is!" Hermione nearly shouted. She was getting worked up again, the napkin which had been folded gently over her forefinger not sat crumpled in her fist. "So, Dad, Harry got blasted with some curse that had been cast over the building and it rendered him unconscious for a good three days. That's why I started cooking for him. He stayed here after he woke up and was free to leave St. Mungo's; I'm sorry – I didn't think it pertinent to tell you."
"Didn't think it pertinent? That your best friend had been taken ill and you were nursing him back to health all on your own?" Mrs. Granger chimed in. "Harry, Hermione, dear, if I had known I would have helped – I could have come and stayed with Harry while you were at work."
"We were fine, honest, Mum. I took a short leave of absence from the Ministry." Hermione looked down at her plate, dropped the napkin onto its face and busied herself with the spoon in her mug. "I've had some days saved up. It was good for us I think; after not having gotten to spend time together in so long."
"And where was Ron in all of this?" Mr. Granger asked. "In fact, I thought the lad was supposed to join us for dinner tonight. Where is he?"
Harry's face began to grow hot and he knew Hermione's must have been growing one way or another as well. They hadn't really discussed what they'd say if Ron was brought up.
"Ron's been…" Harry started to reply, but he was cut short when Hermione jumped in with her own reply.
"Ron's been tied up at the joke shop a lot recently. He sends his regards. He and George have been working on getting some new products ready for the big re-opening they're having next week."
Harry stole a quick glance at Hermione and caught her eye for a brief moment. While there was a lot to be done at the joke shop for the re-opening, that wasn't exactly what had been keeping Ron away. Harry's mind was momentarily brought back to the rather large spat the two had a month or so prior and it almost made him sick to his stomach just to think of what Hermione's parents would do if they go word of it. This small dinner party had been planned for quite some time, and so he too had been expecting to see Ron… technically… but, obviously, all that had changed and they'd been kept in the dark. Harry tucked a mental note away for later; he'd need to really sit down and discuss the whole situation with Hermione at some point. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
The rest of the evening went rather smoothly. Hermione's parents helped clean up the rest of the dishes from dinner and she packed up a little plate of leftovers for them to take home, saying that this way her dad 'wouldn't have to worry if Mum forgot to make him dinner one night.'
They thanked the two profusely for a lovely night and hugged them each before leaving, Hermione pushing the door closed behind them.
She stood with one hand on the nob, the other on her forehead and just stared at where the door met the frame. Harry watched as her shoulders noticeably relaxed as she turned to look at him.
"I feel awful, but I've never been so glad to have them gone," she said, a bit out of breath. "When Dad brought up Ron I thought I was going to faint."
"Yeah," Harry started. "About that… I think there are some things we need to talk about. For example, what exactly happened between the two of you?"
Author's Note: Hopefully you like where it's going so far. Please review if you have the time; I'd love to hear any and all thoughts. It might be a bit before I'm able to get another chapter up, but please do hang with me! Thanks for taking the time to stop by, and I hope you've enjoyed it.