A/N: Written for my SalPal, Palmetto Blue. Because she loves the Harmony.
[Updated Nov 2016]
Most Important Lie
The halls of Hogwarts were alight with movement and noise in the aftermath of the great battle.
A few Order members left had returned to the Ministry of Magic to announce Voldemort's fall; the government of the Wizarding world needed to react quickly. Most of the Death Eaters had been captured once their Lord perished by a rebounded Killing Curse, but some had escaped, and that needed to be addressed immediately. The Malfoy family had gone along with Kingsley Shacklebolt willingly; the Auror insisted that he knew they had switched allegiances during the final battle—wandless or not—and, even though it was clearly to save their own skin, he would do what he could to see that they were treated accordingly.
Inside the castle, family members were gathered together in private classrooms that had been sectioned off for the current housing of the fallen. The Weasley parents remained with their lost son, Fred, if only to keep his living twin afloat in the land of the living. The rest of the clan had separated themselves, offering their skills elsewhere. The hospital wing was overflowing into the long end of the Great Hall where many—Bill and Fleur Weasley included—volunteered to assist in the aid of others. Charlie Weasley had offered to go with Hagrid to meet with the centaurs to offer gratitude for their help in the final battle. Despite the fact that Minerva McGonagall insisted that the reconstruction of Hogwarts wait until all had had a chance to rest and recuperate, Percy Weasley followed Neville Longbottom out into the large courtyard to begin clearing away the large masses of rubble that had been blasted off of the castle.
A desperate need for sleep had overtaken them, and no one complained when it was obvious that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had left for Gryffindor Tower to sleep. Ron and Hermione moved ahead, whispering to one another before hugging tightly and then parting—Hermione up the stairs to the boys' dormitory since the girls' had been turned to rubble in the battle, likely due to a giant who lost his balance.
Ginny smiled awkwardly at Harry, watching as his eyes followed Hermione up the stairs. "Go on."
He turned and frowned at her. "Gin—"
She smiled sadly. "You not waiting around for me this past year is the least of my problems, Harry. It's all right. You deserve something good." Then she turned and left the tower, offering him a kiss on the cheek in parting before leaving to rejoin her family downstairs.
He gazed at the staircase, desperate to get inside his old dorm and collapse onto a large four-poster bed. It had been so long since he'd slept in a proper bed. Even at Shell Cottage, the spare rooms had been occupied by an old wand maker, a crippled goblin, and a healing Hermione. Harry had slept on the sofa.
The common room looked as it always had, but Harry had not realised how much he had missed it over the past year. The warm red and gold tones of the room were welcoming, and, as if nothing had occurred floors below them, a fire roared in the corner where the large hearth stood intact. The stairs to the boys' dormitories were untouched save for a few scattered books, quills, and forgotten robes. The opposite side of the common room was a very different story; the walls around the girls' dormitories seemed to have collapsed in on themselves—the staircase nothing but crumbled stone.
Ron sat on the sofa near the fireplace. As exhausted as he was, Harry felt he owed it to his best friend to stick around. The boy had just lost his brother. "What's with you and Hermione?"
Awkwardly running a hand through his hair, Ron exhaled. "That kiss . . . Y'know, with Hermione?" he said, thinking of the moment hours earlier. "That was—"
"Life changing?" Harry offered.
"A mistake," Ron corrected. "Awkward as hell and . . . Battle changes everything doesn't it?" he asked. "Besides, you're a right shit liar, Harry."
Harry swallowed, knowing exactly what Ron was referring to. A locket, a sword, and a promise. She's like a sister to me. A lie. Not the first lie he had ever told Ron, but it was very likely the most important of their lives. Harry had known that he needed to lie in that moment for all their sakes; the war was more important, and awkward feelings and broken hearts could wait.
Apparently, they were waiting for now.
"She loves you too," Ron said. Harry shook his head and his friend rolled his eyes. "Mate, d'you think you can stop being a bloody martyr for once in your life? You did just come back from the dead, y'know. You can be happy."
"Not if it hurt someone—"
Ron shrugged. "I'm fine. Tough skin you know," he said with a smirk. "Besides, I'm thinking more about my next hot meal than I am about witches. Maybe when we all go home to—" He stopped talking. They both knew how that sentence finished. Go home to bury the dead. "Go on. I'm sick of the two of you anyway. Spent most of the year looking at nothing but the pair of you."
Harry clapped his friend on the shoulder in gratitude. Words would never be enough. Not for . . . Not for everything that Ron had done and was still doing for him.
He made his way up the stairs, searching in each empty room until he found the one Hermione was in, sprawled across a mattress, and laughing—or crying, he wasn't sure. "Hermione?" he whispered.
"It's over," she said, laughing as she wiped the tears from her face. She rolled over on the bed and smiled up at him. Scooting back, she patted the space beside her. It was not the first time they had shared a bed. When Ron had left them alone in the forest, Warming Charms were not always enough to keep the chill away, especially once they only had one wand between them. Body heat was necessary, and so they had cuddled together, desperate to block out the cold weather and the war—clinging to one another for warmth and hope.
Harry sat down and chuckled at the way Hermione stretched along her side of the bed like a cat, soaking up the sun. The sound of his own laughter felt strangely foreign to him, so he treasured the moment as though it were sacred. Grateful to her for the gift, Harry reached out and pulled her into his arms quickly, breathing her in as though she provided him with the very breath in his lungs and he had gone too long without it.
They fell together without a word, without asking about Ron or Ginny as though they each knew the answers and did not want to bring up the subject. Instead, they basked in the afterglow of a victory against Voldemort and a future filled with hope.
Hermione held him close, cautious to release him in any sense of the word. "Get some rest, Harry," she insisted. "When was the last time you got actual sleep?" she asked him, pulling away only to look in his red-rimmed, bright green eyes, her fists clutching the front of his jumper.
"Sleep?" Harry blinked his tired eyes at the word and then tried to focus as he chuckled. "Umm . . . Actual sleep?" The concept was too hard to grasp. "This bed is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," he said, leaning his head back against a pillow and breathing deeply as she rested her head on his chest.
When she remained silent for too long, he pressed his lips to the top of her head and closed his eyes. His heart beat hard in his chest, and his stomach twisted, terrified. He had just defeated the Darkest wizard in history but this . . . this scared him properly. "You come a close second," he mumbled against her hair, unable to pull his face away from it even if it meant depriving himself of oxygen for a few minutes.
He heard her sigh, a sweet and happy sound, and she pressed closer to his side, wrapping an arm across his chest.
Harry groaned loudly as he pushed himself into the warm, soft covers. He went to kick off his shoes but winced at the movement. Hermione immediately sat up, looking down at him with the same worried expression he had been seeing for the past seven years. "Are you hurt?"
"Just sore. But only everywhere." He smiled softly and opened his arm again to her.
Without any hesitation, Hermione crawled back into his embrace, curling herself into the crevice of Harry's arm, exhaling with great relief as she felt his hand tug her closer, his lips pressing another kiss to the top of her head. They stayed just like that for several long minutes—Hermione stroking her small fingers against the fabric covering Harry's chest, and Harry tenderly running his fingers through her curly hair.
Despite being as utterly exhausted as he was, he could not find himself able to sleep. He had found this amazing moment of contentment, and he was not willing to let it go for anything. His heart beat hard just looking down at her, wondering if this was what life could be like now that there was not a psychopath on the loose looking to kill him at every turn.
"You left me," Hermione finally said, and Harry's body tensed in reaction. "You walked into that forest, and left me," she whispered. "I understand your reasons, I really do, but now that it's all over, I have to admit . . . kind of angry about it."
"Is there any way I can make it up to you? If you like, I could stop a war, or destroy a Dark wizard," he suggested with a grin.
"Just never leave me again."
Harry clenched his eyes tightly at the sadness in her voice, and he let the brief guilt wash over him. He knew why he had done it. He knew why he had gone alone, leaving everyone else behind. He wouldn't regret leaving her and going to his death. Not now that it was all over and she was safe in his arms. "I don't think I could leave you again if I tried," he said, running his fingers along her spine affectionately.
Harry nodded. "Mostly because you're kind of lying on top of me, and I can't move." He gave a throaty chuckle and grinned as she sat up to glare down at him.
"Is that so?" She beamed, ready to dish out a little pent-up snark but was unable to as he caught the words on her lips with his own before she ever spoke them. She whimpered at the feel of his kiss—his lips gliding over hers, one of his hands reaching up to cup the back of her neck tenderly. It was not awkward like her recent kiss with Ron was, but instead it felt like the inevitable happening. Like something that should have happened months ago, there in that tent, just the two of them. But they had been too worried about the war—too broken by fatigue and starvation. Hermione held herself against him, tracing the seam of his lips with her tongue until they parted.
Harry met her movement for movement, months and months of pent up desire pouring itself into this kiss because words were not enough. He would never be able to tell her how much he had wanted her, longed for her, obsessed over her.
Wordlessly, Hermione reached for her wand, never pulling her lips from his. She swished it around the curtains, drawing them closed around the bed, affording them what little privacy was available. As if to further her obvious intentions, she pulled away from him for the briefest of moments to flick her wand and whisper, "Muffliato," silencing their quarantined area.
Harry stared up at her in wonder with heavy-lidded eyes. He pulled himself up to sit, tracing a finger against the outline of her jaw, admiringly. She set her wand down behind her, moving her shaking fingers to touch the hem of his jumper anxiously. When she moved to pull it up from his skin, Harry grasped her hand within his own, bringing it instead up to his mouth where he placed a tender kiss to the inside of her delicate wrist.
"I love you." The words fell from her mouth, a hint of fear and trepidation lingering on her tongue at the declaration.
Harry did not let her words sit between them. He had no reason to allow her to wait him out in worry that he would reject her. There was no need for games. They were not children anymore, and he did not even believe himself capable of keeping her at a distance any longer.
"Marry me," he muttered in reply.
Hermione's bright eyes widened. "Are you out of your mind?!"
Harry laughed loudly. "Possibly," he answered, rubbing his tired face with a free hand. "It's been a really, really long day."
She shook her head and echoed his laughter. "I think you need to go to sleep."
"Doesn't mean I'm not serious," Harry insisted. "You know I love you, Hermione, don't you?"
His gaze met hers, and the silly smile fell away from her mouth. She swallowed hard and searched his face for any hint of delusion. "Harry—"
"I'm done, Hermione. This is it for me. You're it for me. I'm not saying today or tomorrow, but you need to know my intentions." His words were clear, and his gaze never broke away from hers. She needed to know he was serious.
"I feel like I'm being deprived of something shiny that should go along with this half-arsed proposal Mr Potter." Hermione smiled down at him, the playfulness back in her eyes as she tried to break up the tension between them. "And there's that whole we're still teenagers thing, and you're also likely suffering from some sort of head injury."
"Killing Curse," he said in agreement. "Hurts like a bitch. No one tells you that." Wrapping both of his arms around her, he pulled her back against his chest. "Fine. Forget marriage—"
"Because it's insane."
He nodded. "Because it's insane. Girlfriend?"
"I can handle being a girlfriend, I think," Hermione eventually replied, rubbing circles against the skin of his forearm with her thumb.
Harry yawned. "I can live with that."
"You know, if you just wanted a shag, you could have asked," Hermione teased, her cheeks pink as she spoke. "You didn't need to break out proposals. Now I'll be expecting grand declarations every time we're together. You really should have kept the bar low for yourself, Harry."
There was a long moment of silence as Harry tensed behind her.
"Harry?" Hermione finally asked, concerned.
"You said 'shag'. I'm trying to decide if I can live another hour without sleep."
Hermione burst into laughter, and Harry joined in, albeit a little pained with the movement. He leant up and kissed her forehead before pulling her back to him once again, closing his eyes and letting the exhaustion take over. She cuddled tightly against his frame, her fingers dug into the fabric of his clothes, watching closely as his chest moved up and down with each breath.
He was alive.
He loved her. Wanted her.
Somehow the pain of war seemed to hurt just a little less.