Title: Come Together
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: It's four years after the Trio has graduated from Hogwarts, and they're about to live together again for the first time. But will old friends remain old friends... or will they become something more? AU, Post-OoTP.
Author's Note: It's done. Can you believe it?
Chapter Eight: One Sweet Dream
one sweet dream came true today - The Beatles
When Hermione felt herself stop spinning, and the familiar Portkey-induced queasiness began to subside, she opened her eyes. And forgot to breathe.
They were standing outside in a forest clearing -- or at least, it seemed as if they were outside. On closer inspection, Hermione could detect the traces of a vaulted ceiling behind a spangled sky that was enchanted much like the Great Hall at Hogwarts. Silvery birch trees surrounded them on all sides, obscuring any entrance or exit, a mass of intertwined white branches fading into the darkness in every direction. Somewhere close by, a band was playing music, and the clinking noise of glass and conversation drifted over the trees. Someone shifted beside her, and Hermione realized she was still clutching Harry's arm tightly. She loosened her grip and looked up at him apologetically; he glanced down when he saw she had opened her eyes.
"Feeling all right?" he whispered. Harry knew how she felt about traveling by Portkey. It was similar to how she felt about traveling by Hippogryff.
"I think so." A noise somewhere near her feet made Hermione start, and she looked down to realize that Ron and Gabrielle had arrived at their destination in a somewhat more awkward fashion. They were sprawled unceremoniously on the ground, Ron apologizing as he attempted to untangle his lanky limbs from Gabrielle's white winter cloak. But Gabrielle was anything but angry; she was giggling uncontrollably and stopping every few seconds to plant a kiss on Ron's cheek, which was causing him to become even more flustered. She's with Ron, Hermione thought, feeling herself smile as she watched the two of them attempt to stand up again, and the full impact of what Ron had told her that cold December night finally struck home. She's really with Ron; they've been together the whole time. She was never with Harry at all.
Gabrielle was trying to compose herself and contain her giggles; she turned to Ron and began to dust him off as well. She was as tiny as Ron was tall, and Hermione guessed they were at least a foot apart in height, if not more.
"My fault, that," Ron said, looking down at Gabrielle and smoothing a hand protectively over the curtain of silver-blonde hair down her back. At the look in his eyes Hermione caught her breath. She'd never in her life seen Ron look that way at anyone before; he'd certainly never looked at her like that when they were dating at Hogwarts. She felt tears spring to the corners of her eyes. When Gabrielle looked back up at him, tilting her head slightly to meet his gaze, Hermione lost all reservations she'd ever had about the younger Delacour sister. The look in Gabrielle's eyes was one to match Ron's.
"Come on, we've got all night for that," Harry said jovially, and Ron and Gabrielle both jumped as if they hadn't realized they were being watched, Ron's ears a riotous shade of raspberry.
"So sorry, 'Arry," said Gabrielle, looking flushed and all too beautiful; but somehow, Hermione found her beauty altogether appealing at the moment. She realised with a pang of guilt that she had been assuming terrible untruths about Gabrielle for far too long.
Harry smiled. "I think the party's this way; this is just the Portkey entrance. We give our invitations to this bloke over here." He pointed to a spot at the edge of the silvery forest that Hermione somehow hadn't seen when they'd arrived. A house elf in a silver waistcoat was waiting by a gap in the trees that formed an arched tunnel. Candles had been placed at the archway's entrance, illuminating a path that wound its way into the forest.
"Brilliant," murmured Ron. "Is all this Whiggam's idea then?"
"Oh no," Harry said, leading the way towards the forest path. "There's a witch who manages the scheduling for the National Team, and she knows someone..."
"'Ermione?" Gabrielle had fallen into step beside Hermione, and was looking up at her with a slightly nervous smile. Hermione's insides, once so frigid at the thought of Gabrielle, were melting rapidly into a puddle of warmth. "I'm so glad we could go together to this party. Ron… talks about you all the time."
Hermione smiled, a genuine, worry-free smile. It felt wonderful. "I'm glad too. I'm really happy for you both."
Gabrielle brightened visibly at Hermione's smile. "I 'ope we can become friends," she continued timidly. "I know the three of you 'ave been close for so long... and I am much younger."
"I'd like that," Hermione said truthfully.
The trees on either side of the path had begun to thin, and the noise of nearby voices became abruptly louder as they turned a bend in the forest path and the celebration came plainly into view. Hermione and Gabrielle followed Harry and Ron out of the forest and into an enormous clearing crammed with formally dressed witches and wizards. Although they still appeared to be outdoors, the space was pleasantly warm; round tables with long purple tablecloths were grouped along the perimeter of the clearing. A band was playing some distance away, and space had been cleared for a dance floor above which thousands of gleaming fairy lights floated, suspended between the earth and sky.
Gabrielle let out a small gasp of amazement. "Ooh. Isn't it marvelous?"
"Really beautiful," Ron murmured. He had turned to watch Gabrielle's reaction, and Hermione immediately saw that he was not referring to the room. She hid a smile.
Harry cleared his throat and gave Ron a deliberate nudge. "Just go dance already."
Ron flushed and laughed, linking his arm in Gabrielle's, who was looking star-struck and positively fairy-like in the soft lights. "Capital idea. Gabby, love, may I have this dance?"
Gabrielle could do no more than nod, and Ron needed no further urging. He steered her toward the dance floor, waving over his shoulder as he vanished into the well-dressed crowd.
They stood in silence for a moment, watching Ron, Hermione feeling the electric presence of Harry next to her and knowing without looking at him that he was thinking about Ron and Gabrielle.
"We've lost him, you know," Harry said finally, his voice oddly light.
They edged closer together, and he wrapped an arm around her absently, still watching Ron's shock of red hair in the crowd. "We'll never lose Ron," she said matter-of-factly, but she was surprised to hear her voice break with emotion.
Harry's grip tightened imperceptibly. "She's so young."
"I know." This wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation; Hermione suspected it wouldn't be the last. "I've been watching them. She loves him, Harry, she really does. And he loves her back. I wouldn't want anything else for him."
"You're right, of course," Harry said, and the warmth was back in his voice; Hermione felt herself relax, wondering when it was that she had become so in tune with Harry that his emotions were inextricably linked with her own. "I just can't help worrying. He's Ron."
Hermione let out a breath, feeling her heart beat hard as she became aware of Harry's arm twined around her waist. In the distance, Ron came into view on the dance floor, twirling Gabrielle with reckless abandon. "That he is," Hermione murmured.
Someone coughed behind them and they both jumped.
"Pardon me," a familiar, treacly voice drawled. "I do hope I'm not interrupting anything. Harry, did you have an… announcement to make to your friends at Witch Weekly?"
They both whirled at the same time, Hermione acutely aware of the lingering warmth where Harry's hand had been resting on her waist. It was Rita Skeeter, much the same as always, although her hair was now a falsely cheerful shade of butterscotch.
Harry, all too used to Rita, didn't miss a beat, though he didn't make much effort to hide his annoyance at the interruption. He sighed. "Did you have a happy Christmas then, Rita?"
"Peachy." Rita turned her attention to Hermione, studying her with beetle-bright eyes. "You look unusually nice this evening." Rita gave them an even more impatient stare. "Are you sure you two haven't got something to tell me?"
"You should know us well enough by now, Rita," Harry said. "Do I need to send out a press release when I escort my best friend to a New Year's party?"
The words "best friend" echoed hollowly in Hermione's thoughts as Rita smirked and whipped out her quill. "'Best Friends,' eh? Is that what you're calling it these days?"
Another voice interrupted them, this one deep and male. "Harry. There you are." A short, stocky man with bristly salt-and-pepper eyebrows had appeared beside Rita; she looked chagrined at the interruption, but turned to the man with a saccharine smile. "Morris," she cooed.
More witches and wizards were appearing next to the man who was most definitely Morris Whiggam, party host, and more notably, coach of England's national Quidditch team.
"Hullo Coach," Harry said, his smile more genuine this time. "I believe you know Herm—"
But Harry was cut off as one of Whiggam's crew, a pointy-looking young wizard, put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Would you mind coming with us, Harry?" Whiggam said quickly, not seeing Hermione. "Most of the team's here now, they want to take photos, and the Prime Minister's waiting as well…"
"Er… yeah," Harry began, but as soon as he could speak he was gone, led away towards the misty line of silver trees by Whiggam and his crew, Rita Skeeter trailing eagerly behind them.
The dance floor was ablaze with the glow of fairy lights, and the band's silky-smooth rendition of "Witches in the Night" was drifting over the chatter of the crowd. House elves dressed smartly in silver waistcoats were circulating through the throngs of sumptuously attired witches and wizards, bearing trays of pumpkin fondue. The guests seemed to have stepped from the pages of Witch Weekly; and indeed, it seemed half the Witch Weekly staff had turned out to document each and every dress robe.
Once again, it was the perfect party on the perfect night. The party of all parties. And once again, just as in Origin Alley so many months ago, Hermione sipped her Foglifter and stood on the edge of the crowd, quite alone.
But this time, with so many of the trappings just the same, things were somehow different. She was still in love with Harry, but she had grown accustomed to the idea. It was a part of her, just like her wild hair and her curvy hips and her penchant for quoting Hogwarts, A History at inopportune times. And these things were all right, as well. She was never going to be any different, and she knew that Harry and Ron loved her the way she was. Maybe she was a fool to want anything more.
Hermione felt a lump rise in her throat, and swallowed it down with the last sweet-sour sip of her drink. It was New Year's Eve, and she was foolish to focus on something she could never have when she should be thinking about all that she and Ron and Harry had been through in the past year. Learning to trust each other again, learning to live together and apart; learning that things can't always be the same. Hermione smiled ruefully, setting her drink on the outstretched tray of the house-elf who had just materialized at her elbow. She always got somewhat maudlin on New Year's Eve. She remembered one year at school when Ron made her promise, as a New Year's Resolution, for God's sake not to make one of her saccharine We've-Come-So-Far speeches over breakfast the next morning.
"Is something… amusing you?"
That voice. Hermione felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end; her jaw clenched reflexively. She hadn't heard that voice for months now, but she recognized it immediately; silky, lilting, with just a hint of something gone sour. Hermione felt the last traces of cheer in her mood escape with the speed of a Niffler haring after a gold coin.
Surveying her from some feet away was Risa Talbot, the very same Risa Talbot whom Hermione had last seen in the Exploding Snap nightclub, Risa's pert features awash in the green glow of Harry's Dark spell.
Risa was flanked, as usual, by a group of offensively fashionable girls in offensively low-cut clothing. Risa herself was wearing a sensational concoction of lavender satin that left her slim shoulders bare; her glossy brown hair was swept into a bun studded with fresh purple flowers. Hermione noted dully that if she were able to see past her seething hatred, she might have admired Risa's spectacular attire.
"Hermione Granger." Risa had stepped closer, appraising her, not bothering to wait for Hermione's response. "It's been ages." She turned to the girl closest to her, who Hermione recognized with a sinking pang as one of the girls who had been with Risa in the washroom that evening. "Ashley, you remember Hermione, I'm sure."
But something odd was happening. Ashley was staring at Hermione with a quizzical, blank look, and soon six identical, blank stares were fixed on Hermione, as each of Risa's crew turned to look at her. It was an expression Hermione had seen before, one she recognized immediately, though she could not imagine why all of these girls would be exhibiting Memory Charm symptoms at the same time.
"No, I don't think we've met," said Ashley, with a disconnected drawl to her voice. "I would have remembered hair like that."
Hermione was thinking fast. Someone – Harry? – had done a powerful Memory Charm on these girls so they wouldn't remember his Dark spell. It all made sense now. That was why no one had ever mentioned that evening again – why it hadn't appeared in the papers. It seemed that Risa Talbot was the only one spared from the Charm – so that she would remember, Hermione guessed, and stay away from Harry. Hermione felt the slow warmth of relief creep through her as the pieces fell into place. She registered some amazement at the fact that it would have taken a very powerful wizard to cast such a spell, and she made a mental note to ask Harry exactly how he had managed it.
"You know, that night at Exploding Snap?" Risa cooed to Ashley, still beaming a pearly smile at Hermione. "The night our dear friend here did a funny little dance with Harry? It was such a riot."
Hermione felt hot anger simmer within her.
"Oh, you always go on about that evening!" trilled Ashley, as the other girls nodded. To Hermione's great surprise, Ashley leaned forward and took Hermione's arm conspiratorially. "If you ask me, I think Risa had a bit too much to drink that night. None of us have the faintest idea what she's talking about."
All at once Hermione's smoldering fury was replaced by another feeling, one entirely unfamiliar in all of her dealings with Risa Talbot. She stood in surprise as this new feeling overtook her. Then someone gave a helpless snort of laughter.
Hermione realized with a start that she was the one laughing. She felt her shoulders start to shake as she attempted to stifle the mirth that had somehow bubbled out of her unbidden. She flushed, bracing herself for the nasty barbs that were certainly to follow; laughing at Risa was likely high on the list of things that would not go over well with this crowd.
But it seemed her laughter was contagious. Risa's girls, having no idea what was funny, yet trying to look as if they were all in on the joke, began to giggle in unison. Soon the group of them were nearly doubled over -- everyone except for Risa, who looked alternately furious and humiliated. Hermione was positively giddy.
"Isn't she too much!" giggled Ashley, wiping her eyes and gesturing at Hermione. "Truly, dear, you must come out with us sometime. We would have such fun!"
"Truly, you should, Hermione!" said a much deeper voice at her shoulder, and Hermione nearly stumbled in surprise as Ron took her arm, seemingly from nowhere, and gave a half-bow of greeting to the still-giggling girls. "I know you'd have such a smashing time."
The false enthusiasm in Ron's voice nearly sent Hermione over the edge again, and she covered a fresh round of laughter with a cough and tried to steady her voice. "Oh, I would, but I'm terribly busy with my studies these days," she managed, beaming apologetically. This was almost fun. "But do let me know if you're planning another evening at Exploding Snap," she added, daring to meet Risa's furious stare. "I do love dancing."
"Speaking of which," Ron crowed, his face practically glowing at this exchange, "I wanted to ask you to join me on the dance floor, Hermione. Sorry to steal her away from you, ladies, but she's very much in demand." And with a broad grin and a jaunty wave, he took Hermione's elbow and firmly steered her toward the dance floor. "I need to talk to you," he murmured in her ear as she gave a falsely bright smile and an airy wave to the still-fuming Risa Talbot. "That was brilliant, by the way. What did you say to make all those girls laugh at Risa?"
"I have no idea," Hermione said truthfully, allowing herself to be guided onto the dance floor as constellations of fairy lights swam overhead. "Where's Gabrielle?"
"The witches' lounge," Ron said, placing an arm around Hermione's waist. "She knows I need to tell you something."
"What? Why – " Hermione began to panic at the grave look on Ron's face. "What's wrong? Is this about Harry?"
"Well, yes," said Ron. "But don't look at me like that! Honestly, it's as if you think the world is ending if Harry's involved."
"I have no idea why I'd think such a thing," Hermione deadpanned.
"Oh." Ron blushed faintly.
"What is it?"
"Right," Ron said quickly, slowing to a stop. Hermione realized he'd been whirling her in increasingly dizzying circles to the music. "Here goes." He took a deep breath and looked skyward. "Hermione, please don't hate me. God, please don't hate me."
Another deep breath.
"I think – I think you might be in love with Harry."
Hermione felt her knees turn to pudding. Her palms were cold and slick. The room was still spinning around her. "Ron -- "
"Let me finish," Ron said, with uncharacteristic gravity. "I wouldn't say this unless I was sure. But I know you, Hermione, and I've been putting the pieces together for a while. Something hasn't been right with you for ages, and now I think I know why."
Hermione was too stunned to say anything. She hadn't expected Ron to be aware of her feelings at all, preoccupied as he'd been with Gabrielle. What's more, he was Ron. Ron, who always seemed to be thinking about sandwiches, or Quidditch, or butterbeer. Ron, who was reliably clueless in all matters of the heart. He had somehow puzzled out her secret, like some game of Wizard's –-
Hermione blanched. Like a game of Wizard's Chess.
Bugger Ron and his bloody brilliant knack for Wizard's Chess, she thought uselessly.
Ron plunged onward, looking slightly panicked at Hermione's expression. "I saw you and Harry dancing at Exploding Snap, and you wereamazing together, and I think that put the idea in my head at first… and then the day after the World Cup semifinals, you were so upset, and you told me it was because of some bloke… so I thought I'd been wrong. But maybe I wasn't wrong," he added, looking at her searchingly. "Maybe the bloke was Harry."
Hermione's feet felt rooted to the dance floor.
"I think maybe you thought Harry had shacked up with Gabrielle that day," Ron said. "But he hadn't. Only it looked like he had, since she came to visit, and he hung up his tie for privacy. She'd just gone to visit him for a chat. I was the one who'd told her to talk with him in the first place." Ron's arms were still around her. "Because that was the day Gabrielle and I… so you see, he couldn't have…." He trailed off, flushing. "And then tonight… tonight it all made sense. Tonight I remembered your reaction when I told you Gabrielle was withme that day."
"My… reaction?" Hermione mumbled.
"Yeah." Ron was flushed with a mix of emotion and nerves. "It was a little odd at the time, but I couldn't put my finger on why. You were so shocked to find out what really happened. It seemed strange that you remembered that day at all, when Gabrielle came to visit… and then you were really quiet after I told you the truth."
Hermione had found her voice again. "I was… quiet?"
Ron gave her a nervous half-grin. "When Hermione Granger is quiet, something's not right."
Hermione felt tears sting her eyes, but she couldn't suppress a weak smile. "Sod off, Ron."
"No, really, Hermione." He looked down at her then, more brother than friend, and grasped her shoulders with warm hands. "Am I right? Please, please tell me. It's insanely important."
Hermione felt a hot tear slide down one cheek. She felt frozen, naked, entirely exposed. Her logic and reasoning had abandoned her, months of careful planning merely a delusion. She'd underestimated one crucial part of the equation: how well Ron knew her, and how much he cared.
She couldn't lie any longer; she nodded a weak affirmative. "It's insane, is what it is," she said quietly.
Ron's voice was hushed with disbelief. "I'm… right?"
Hermione nodded again. She couldn't look at Ron; she felt him gather her close, and she buried her head in lightly starched dress robes that smelled faintly of Gabrielle's perfume. Tears were streaming freely down her face now, but she no longer cared. Ron knew. He'd guessed brilliantly. It felt as if the final wall holding them apart all these months had just crashed down spectacularly, leaving only Hermione and Ron as they always had been, holding each other and thinking of Harry.
But Ron unexpectedly pushed her away, tilted her head up, and grasped her hands in his. "Hermione," he said urgently. "Listen to me. You've got to tell him. Now. Tonight."
Hermione shook her head, wiping tears away. "I can't. It's better this way, Ron, really – "
For a moment it looked as if Ron was about to laugh and cry all at once. "No, Hermione, listen," he said vehemently. "Harry told me something quite a while ago. He swore me to secrecy, but right now I'm going to break my promise, because I've got a damn good reason."
Hermione felt as if her brain was stumbling along three steps behind Ron's words. "Harry told you… what?"
"He loves you, Hermione." Ron's voice cracked with emotion. "Harry's in love with you, too."
Hermione could never remember what Ron said to her after that. She only vaguely remembered what she might have said to him in return. She only knew that her heart had begun to hammer so hard against her chest that she thought it would burst clear through her ribcage and up into the glittering fairy lights above.
She saw Harry, then.
He was on the other side of the dance floor, standing quite alone. He had abandoned his dress robes, his crisp white shirt now noticeably less crisp, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He had been watching the two of them, his brow furrowed with concern. When he saw Hermione look in his direction, he took a tentative step toward her. All right? he mouthed, his eyes not leaving hers.
Hermione nodded slowly, and let go Ron's hands, which she had been gripping tightly.
Ron had seen Harry as well. "Go on," he whispered, his voice as shaky as Hermione's nerves.
And then Hermione's head cleared. She blinked back tears. This was Harry. Her friend Harry, and although they had changed immeasurably since that first day on the train, there would always be a glimmer of that boy in his eyes, the one swimming in his cousin's castoff clothes, the one who had been tangled up in her heart and mind for as long as she could remember. She could tell him anything. She always had. Some things never changed.
He'd begun to walk towards her and they met somewhere in the middle of the dance floor, the band playing something honey-smooth and slow. Hermione's heart was still hammering; the look in Harry's eyes was worried, questioning.
"What's going on?" he said quietly. He held out his hands and drew her toward him, but stopped abruptly when he saw her face. "You've been crying."
Somehow she had the courage to look up at him and smile weakly. "I have. But it's okay. I mean – I'm all right."
Puzzled, Harry held her at arm's length. "Are you sure – "
"Yes," Hermione said, finding her voice at last. "Harry, I… "
The band stopped its song; her voice was drowned out by the polite applause of the crowd. "And now," said the bandleader, "please join us as we begin our countdown to the New Year…"
They stepped apart to applaud, but now Hermione closed the space between them, taking Harry's gentle, rough hands in her own. His eyes went wide behind his wire-rimmed glasses. "I have to tell you something," she said, her heart continuing its wild racket in her chest. Despite what Ron had said, she was still terrified. No matter what happened now, regardless of Harry's response, everything was about to change.
Maybe change was good.
"I've been feeling something for a long time, and I've been afraid to tell you," she said. "It's the reason I was so distant for a while. I've been scared of what might happen to us if I told you."
Ten, chanted the crowd.
Harry's eyes were locked onto hers, intense, searching, and she felt herself fall, like always, into their green depths. Everything will be all right, she told herself. "You can tell me anything," he said quietly.
Hermione could scarcely speak over the lump in her throat. "I want you to know, Harry, that whatever happens, I always want to be friends."
Eight. "You don't need to worry about that."
They both smiled nervously. Her stomach was in wild knots. Now or never, she thought. You're a bloody Gryffindor, Hermione. Act like one.Seven.
"I love you, Harry."
"I love you, too –- " Six.
"No," Hermione said quickly. "I mean, I'm in love with you."
Harry's round glasses reflected a whirl of fairy lights as time skidded to a stop. Dawning realization crept into his eyes. He blinked. "You're…what?"
"I'm in love with you," Hermione said again, and it felt absolutely wonderful. She wanted to shout it from the stage, from the roof, from the top of the Houses of Parliament. Had she only known what it would feel like to finally say this -- "I'm in love with you, Harry. I don't know when it started. I think maybe I've always felt this way, and I only just realised it last year."
Harry could only stare. He looked as if he didn't believe she was real. His eyes clouded. "But what about… what I am?" he managed, barely a whisper. "What's… part of me now?"
"It doesn't matter," Hermione said, unable to stop herself from smiling. She felt as if she'd been freed from Azkaban. "I love you, Harry, and if you're part Kneazle, or part serpent, or part Lord bloody Voldemort, I don't really care. You don't have to feel the same way about me. But you're my best friend, and I thought you should finally know."
Harry's hands were still in hers, and now his eyes were glassy and wet. "Hermione," he said huskily. "I… don't know what to say. I…"
"…I'm in love with you, too."
It was the single best kiss in the history of magic.
Fireworks rocketed into the air from all directions, and Hermione couldn't be sure if they were real or merely in her head because they were still there when she closed her eyes. He was kissing her, and she was kissing him, and they were twined together under the fairy lights in a desperately happy and sobbing knot, and she felt streamers and confetti brush her upturned face as Harry tangled his hands into her hair and kissed each glittering dot that had fallen on her cheeks, and then he picked her up with strong arms and spun her around, and they laughed helplessly, and his lips met hers again. The world dissolved into a din of blaring horns and hoarse shouts of Happy New Year and somewhere in the distance the band swung into Auld Lang Syne.
And then Harry dropped her abruptly. His eyes flew shut in pain, his hands clenched white-knuckled as the band's song was drowned out by a howling wind and the fireworks and glittering streamers were blotted out by a whirl of sudden darkness. Harry had bent nearly double, his body glowing that eerie green of Hermione's dreams, and Hermione felt a panic unlike any other she'd felt in her life. No, she thought desperately, not now, not Harry –-
The wind blew itself out like a candle, and the vast room and surrounding birch trees were plunged into darkness. The band blared to a halt. The glow that was Harry was gone.
The hall was silent.
Harry's deep whisper came out of the dark, and a single globe of light flared from the tip of his wand. Hermione could see his face in light and shadow, and he grinned at her, the particular grin Ron always talked about, the one that meant Harry had just caught the Snitch. He glanced upwards and swept his wand into the air, and the hall was bathed in twinkling light again as a fresh wave of sparkling confetti rained down onto the hundreds of guests within. The crowd caught its collective breath, and then someone began to applaud. Soon the hall was thundering with cheers as the fireworks recommenced and the band began to play once more.
Hermione felt her knees go weak. Harry reached for her and held her close, shaking his head in disbelief. "It's okay," he whispered; she could tell his heart was pounding hard, could feel it clear through his shirt. His hands were trembling. "I don't believe it. He's gone."
Harry's words hit Hermione like a bludger. "Gone?" she echoed.
"Voldemort," Harry said, and Hermione could tell it was true, because it was now apparent that he had been deftly concealing a burden that had been far worse than he'd ever let on. He was smiling unreservedly, no strings attached, no hidden darkness, no flicker of green light in the far corners of his gaze. He looked happier than she'd seen him in years.
He looked happier than she'd ever seen him, in fact.
"His power… whatever was left of him… it was like something drove it out," Harry said, his brow furrowed. "Like a really strong spell. But I didn't see anyone cast anything –-"
"Maybe he couldn't stand the thought of you kissing me," Hermione said teasingly, nearly faint with relief.
"Maybe not," Harry said earnestly, his eyes locked with hers. "Maybe that's exactly what happened."
Then he covered her in kisses, and they cried a bit more, and mostly they laughed.
"You know," Harry said after some time, brushing a long, curled streamer from Hermione's rumpled hair, "if you've felt this way for ages, and I've felt this way for ages…" He trailed off, chuckling. "We must be the two densest people in the world."
Hermione laughed. "Denser than Crabbe and Goyle, you think?"
A blinding flash made them both jump. Harry swore, pressing his palms to his eyes. "Harry…" cooed the voice again, and when the flashbulb spots finally cleared from Hermione's vision, she saw Rita Skeeter's butterscotch coif and plumed quill swim into focus. Rita was flanked by a huddle of photographers, and apparently they'd decided that Harry and Hermione had reached their privacy limit for the evening.
"What's all this?" Rita purred, surveying the two of them. "If this is what best friends do, Potter, I need to find myself a new best friend."
Harry exhaled in frustration, running a hand through his hair so that it stood up at odds with itself, revealing his jagged scar. "I'm sorry about this…" he muttered to Hermione.
"It doesn't matter," Hermione said quickly, squeezing his hand. "It's just part of your job, you know."
"My job?" He glanced over at her as the flashbulbs went off once more.
"You know, playing Seeker, saving the world in your spare time, that sort of thing," she said, managing a frozen smile for the cameras. "You do put on a good show."
Harry laughed then, wiping his eyes. "I haven't been looking at it that way," he said thoughtfully, putting an arm around Hermione's shoulder and pulling her close. "Harry Potter, one-man band. Entertainer to millions. Rita," he called, waving at the journalist, whose quill was still scribbling madly. "Rita, I've changed my mind. I would like to issue a press release this evening. Er, this morning!"
Rita's eyebrows shot up behind her horn-rimmed spectacles, and she scurried six steps closer. "Harry, what on earth have you been drinking? You've never issued a press release in your life."
"Never mind that," he said, and with a swift flick of his wand, Rita's quill and notebook had flown into his other hand. "Harry Potter –" she began, huffing in protest. "Is this some kind of trick? That quill is irreplaceable –"
"Hang on, Rita, I'm just borrowing it," Harry said genially, pocketing his wand and beginning to write. "Harry Potter, Seeker for England, The Boy Who… fill in the blank here, Rita… Harry Potter is officially IN LOVE with his longtime friend and schoolmate, the absolutely brilliant and beautiful Hermione Granger, Fellow in Magical Medicine, and…" He turned to Hermione, who was gaping. "How do you abbreviate that last degree you earned?"
"Oh honestly, Harry, really…" Hermione had flushed scarlet.
"Never mind. Here, Rita," he said, handing over the notebook. "I'm sure you can come up with something fabulous. Just put in the fact that we're in love."
"Very much in love," Hermione added, beginning to enjoy the situation in spite of herself.
"Yes, yes. Very much in love," Harry repeated, squeezing Hermione's hand.
"What are your immediate plans, then?" Rita said, a smile creeping across her pink-lacquered lips.
"We plan to, um…" Harry was now at a loss for words, and the crowd of journalists had begun to chuckle.
"Shag each other senseless?" piped up one of the junior reporters helpfully.
The entire group roared with laughter. When Hermione finally found the courage to look back at Harry, she saw that he'd flushed pink. "Now hang on," Harry said evenly, grinning and holding up a hand in protest. "The Daily Prophet is a family publication, remember. Ron's mum reads this sort of thing. You can just say…"
"We plan on enjoying each other's company," Hermione supplied brightly. "In every way possible."
The reporters roared again; Harry snaked a hand around Hermione's waist. "We'd best be on our way, then," he said. "I'd like to get to work that plan immediately."
"Thanks, loves," Rita said, shooing them away with a wave of her quill. She caught Hermione's eye and gave her a warm, almost motherly look. "Congratulations, both of you. It's about bloody time."
"Oi! Harry! Hermione!"
The distant sound of Ron's voice seemed to bring Hermione back to reality. As the reporters trailed off, chattering to themselves, she saw that the band was packing up, the dance floor had emptied, and the guests were drifting toward the edges of the hall, their dark, heavy dress robes receding into the silvery birch trees. How long had she and Harry –-
"Think you two will be returning home sometime this year?"
Ron was standing on the edge of the dance floor, Gabrielle on his arm, a fair distance away. Ron. Hermione couldn't wait to talk to Ron. She felt like spending two days camped on his couch with a hot cup of tea, just so they could finally talk about everything that had happened in the past hour.
"Sorry, mate," Harry called to Ron, leading Hermione from the dance floor. "I can't seem to stop smiling," he muttered to Hermione as she stifled a snort of laughter. "D'you think he'll suspect something?"
"Ron?" she said, noting as they drew closer that Ron was grinning from ear to ear, and Gabrielle's smile was just as wide. "Never. He's as clueless as they come."
"Isn't he, though? Thank God for that," said Harry, one eyebrow arched in mirth, and Hermione knew then that Harry had guessed what Ron had told her that evening. She'd have to fill Harry in on the details later; it had been a fairly masterful bit of deduction on Ron's part.
Ron and Gabrielle were practically jumping up and down when the four of them reunited at the edge of the dance floor. Hermione took one look at Ron's flushed, beaming face and let go of Harry to fling her arms around him. He caught her in a breathless hug. "I'm so bloody happy," he said into her hair. "It feels like it should have always been this way."
"I know," Hermione said, smiling up at him. "It does."
Harry put a hand on Ron's shoulder. "I know what you said to Hermione," he said sternly, straightening himself to his full height. "You know, mate, I swore you to secrecy. I said I'd curse you halfway to Little Whinging if you told her how I felt."
Ron's eyes grew wide. "You can't be serious –-"
"I'm not serious at all," Harry said, grinning.
And then the three of them were tangled in a six-armed embrace, and it was just like all those months ago when they'd first moved to Orthagon Alley, before parties and Quidditch and exams and engagements and suppers together and apart. The Trio at last. Some things would never change, and for that Hermione was immensely grateful; there were no two people she loved more in the world. There would always be the three of them, but now –-
Some things did change, and that was okay too.
In fact, it was fantastic.
"Gabrielle," Hermione said, breaking apart to look at the wide-eyed young girl who was standing nervously a few steps away, not wanting to disturb their reunion. Hermione smiled at her and held out a hand.
"Care to join us?"
Many thanks to all the endlessly patient readers who stuck around for four? (six?) years to read the final chapter of this story, which snowballed into something far beyond my original plans. I published the first chapter of Come Together in 2002, and thought it would be a short little piece of H/Hr fluff.. Little did I know that the story had plans of its own, and it is now the longest thing I've ever written (and completed!), college and graduate thesis projects included. Since starting CT, I've had two kids (!), who are wonderful, but who are also the primary reason I haven't been able to finish the fic until now. And with each successive HP canon book that was released, I felt like the HP world was leaving CT farther and farther behind. At long last, with the canon series complete, I was able to return to CT and view it as a true AU story, rather than something in line with canon, which is how it was originally planned.
When I started CT I spent lots of time on the FictionAlley boards, and many of the folks there were very inspirational, especially those of you aboard the HMS Pumpkin Pie. I haven't had time to visit in years, but you all were the reason I started this fic in the first place, so thanks, everyone. Thanks also to my LJ crew, who have listened to me gripe about finishing this fic for, literally, years!
Will there be a sequel? At this moment, no plans for one, so please don't ask. But I wouldn't rule out the idea in the future. (The very distant future...)
And most importantly, hope you liked it. Hope it was worth waiting for. I welcome reviews and criticism of all kinds, although I can't promise to reply promptly.