Chapter One: The Long Arm Of The Law
"Hermione, I beg of you. I'm begging. Look at me, here. On my knees. Begging."
She refused to look, glaring at the parchments she was trying (and failing) to read. "Harry, get off my floor," she demanded. "I'm not doing it. Not after last time."
She heard Harry's knees scuffling closer, and sighed when she felt his clasped hands fall against her knees. "Do you know how long it's been since I've been alone with my wife, Hermione?" he asked, slow and deliberate. "All those lonely morning showers-"
"Don't you dare," Hermione breathed, lowering the parchments finally to smack the stack repeatedly into Harry's wincing, grinning face. "We had a deal. We don't tell each other about our sex lives with our friends."
"I can't help it. The built-up randiness is killing me. And Ginny. She hasn't even had a chance to use that vibrator she got. James and Albus takes up her every waking moment. And I'd know, because it's very loud," he added, eyes narrowing a bit as he regarded her. "The vibrator. You can hear it throughout the whole house."
Hermione screamed in disgust, throwing her stack of parchments on the table. Because this was clearly war. She leveled an impressive glare on him for a moment before the fire in her eyes dampened to something calculating and smug. "Ronald's penis has freckles," she said, coolly.
Harry gagged impressively. "No, don't!"
"And his testicles have-"
"No!" he shouted at her, lunging forward to cover her mouth with his hands. She continued to speak under them, and he was pretty sure he heard 'pubic' in there somewhere. "No, no. Don't. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I take it back. She doesn't even have one, I swear."
Hermione stopped speaking, glaring at him suspiciously, and he slowly lowered his hands.
"Please," he whispered. "Bill's out of the country, Charlie's busy with work, Percy's got his head up his arse, Molly just feeds them cotton candy until they puke, and I can't trust George not to give them something that blows up the house. There's only you and Ron, and Ron will only do it if you do it with him."
"That's because he hates changing nappies," she grumbled.
"I promise, I promise, I've inspected James' room thoroughly and he has no traps, joke toys from George's shop, nothing. Nothing will happen," he beseeched her.
"He turned my hair blue," Hermione huffed. "I had to go to work like that for three weeks."
"Technically," Harry pointed out, in an unsure tone, because correcting Hermione was never the best way to get her to do a favor. "You should blame George for giving him that color bomb in the first place. It was an awful thing to do. Damn him. Damn that George straight to the fiery abyss," he added, almost plaintively, as he grew increasingly desperate.
"Oh, shut up," she said, crossly. "You laughed yourself sick for days."
He widened his eyes a bit, putting a bit of a pout on. Slowly, his hands returned to their clasped position as he silently entreated her unimpressed glare.
But, as always, Hermione felt her stubborn nature crack under the force of his pleading. There was little Harry could ask for that she could refuse; some people assumed it was the war that made them like that, but their old schoolmates recalled often that they'd always been like that with each other – almost like long-lost twins finding each other after eleven years away. They'd stuck their necks out for each other well beyond the normal range of mere friendship.
Her breath left her in a gusty, annoyed sigh. "Fine, I'll watch James and Albus with Ron," she agreed.
Harry's grin flashed. "You're so brilliant, Hermione. And kind, and wonderful. And so pretty when you're scowling."
"Don't push your luck," she said, sourly.
The next Friday found Hermione meeting Ron for a quick coffee before Flooing to Grimmauld Place. She brushed at his jumper, earning a blinking glance, and explained, "Scone crumbs."
Ron flashed her that easy, humorous smile she'd fallen slowly in love with over the years. It didn't make her stomach flip anymore, but then, she rather thought the fireworks of early love were overrated, anyhow. Everyone always suggested that people should 'marry their best friend,' after all. Lives tended to stretch a lot longer than actual romances.
As soon as they entered, Ginny was running down a list of things Ron was not to do, making the ginger-haired man groan in agony. "Aren't you going on a date?" he reminded her. "Go, I won't kill my nephews, I swear. And Hermione's here, anyway, to keep me from being dumb, remember?"
Ginny shot him a wary glare and turned to Hermione. "That list stands. No broom flying, no levitating, no sweets before dinner, and don't let him swear in front of them. James has said nothing but 'bloody' this and 'bloody' that since the last time Ron watched him," she complained.
Harry began ushering her to the fireplace. "Time's wasting, Ginny," he cajoled, grinning brightly at his friends as he shoved her protesting form into the fire. Before following, he muttered, "And I aim to make the best of it."
Then, he was gone.
After a moment, Ron grumbled, "That comment best not have meant what I think it did."
Hermione burst out laughing. "I suppose I've no comment, then."
Ron groaned in disgust, pulling a face. "I'll never get used to it. Never. She could be eight children in and I'd still be of the opinion they were conceived immaculately."
"Actually, did you know, the immaculate conception was likely not meant to have referred to a virgin giving birth-"
"Stop, no. No boring Muggle facts in front of my nephews," Ron warned her. At her indignant squawk, he grinned, the corners of his eyes creasing as he crowded her space all of a sudden and planted a kiss – soft, and warm, and familiar – before releasing her and heading towards James' room upstairs. "Who wants a lolly?" he bellowed up the stairs.
"Wh- Ronald Bilius Weasley, no, you will not!" Hermione screeched after him, tearing up the stairs herself.
Six hours later, Harry and Ginny slunk in through the Floo with their hands intertwined, their hair a mess, and sleepy-contented smiles on their face. Ron glared at them, lips pursed, from the couch.
"Ew," Ron intoned, pointing at Harry. "And ew," he added, moving his finger to Ginny.
"Grow up," Ginny chortled, her smile widening.
Hermione grinned, her heart feeling full – full of this moment. Her friends, and her boyfriend. She felt happy, and she immediately felt herself beginning to analyze that happiness, and tried to stop the process before she chased it away. Pushing to her feet, she grabbed Ron's hand. "I'd hug you both, but I don't want to collect any wayward fluids," she said, eyebrow raising as she regarded them both.
"Oh! Ew," Ron whined. "Hermione, why?"
Laughing, she bid her goodbyes to her friends and pulled him into the Floo, to her place. Somehow, she managed to make him set aside his residual feelings of disgust for the evening, and they spent a good hour doing just what Ron imagined Ginny never did.
The next morning, she woke up early, as usual.
Unusually, though, Ron was awake and watching her. Jolting a bit at the realization, Hermione blinked at him, awkwardly smiling at the serious look on his face.
"Morning, love," he murmured.
"Good morning," she returned, her voice a little hoarse from sleep. "I can't believe you're up this early. It is early, isn't it? What time is it..."
"Half six," he assured her. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but couldn't find the words to get it out. After a few moments of trying, he gave up, looking strangely defeated and a little sad.
Frowning, Hermione rolled towards him. "What's wrong?"
He struggled a bit more, and finally settled on, "Do you ever think about why we never moved in together?"
"What?" she asked, dumbly, blinking.
"I mean, we've dated almost four years," he reminded her. They'd started up right after the war ended with them as victors, but Hermione had gotten cold feet, and had broken things off before they really started. She'd gone to university for a time after getting her parents back – a magical university, in Barcelona, Spain. They'd written to each other plenty, as did she and Harry and Ginny, but it had just been as friends.
When she'd come back, sporting a tan and feeling a lot freer than she had in a while, the relationship seemed to already be in place, sparking off right where they'd left things off. It had been explosive (in that good way), and full of laughter.
It had been nice.
She shifted on the bed, pulling the sheets around her a bit, fiddling. "I didn't know you wanted to take that step," she finally said, haltingly, feeling a twinge of guilt. She'd guessed he had, but she was so particular about her personal space. After leaving the dorms of university, she'd sworn never to have a flatmate again.
His mouth pulled in that crooked smile. "You didn't?" he challenged wryly, although his voice was soft, almost fond.
She shot him a guilty look. "You know I love you."
"I love you, too. But, sometimes, I just... I think, that maybe... this isn't working."
Stunned, Hermione just stared at him. He swallowed, hastening to try and explain himself.
"Not the love part, because obviously that's real. And not the time we spend together, because obviously I wouldn't trade that for anything else in the whole world," he continued. "It's just that sometimes I think... maybe we're trying too hard to make this more than just a friendship."
"This is..." She swallowed. "A very odd conversation to have naked, in my bed."
He winced. "Sorry. But can you honestly tell me you don't feel it, sometimes? Like maybe we're just together because it's... because we know it, already? Because we expected to be, and so did everyone else? We know all the words to each other by heart, by now. I'd reckon I even know you better than Harry does, and up until a year ago I didn't think it was even possible to know you better than Harry does." He chuckled at the notion, equal parts proud and self-deprecating. Then, he sobered, his brown eyes finding hers again. "But I don't excite you, do I?"
She swallowed again, her throat feeling strangely raw. She couldn't exactly refute what he was saying, and the fact that he was saying it meant he probably felt similarly, but it still hurt to think of possibly letting this relationship go.
It felt... pleasant. Like a warm blanket. Like friendship, she realized.
"And I don't excite you," she whispered, the realization hitting her hard. His smile was wry, a little twisted by some inner guilt, and she closed her eyes as she let it sink in. She'd been so full of herself, then, hadn't she? Thinking that he'd been over the moon for her, letting herself play a little bit the martyr in continuing the relationship even though it wasn't exactly exciting or adventurous or even all that romantic.
But in reality, he'd been in the same boat, wondering how to navigate the feelings they'd had for each other as teenagers that had failed to mature along with them.
Her inhale was shaky, and his arms suddenly flew around her. "Don't cry, 'Mione, don't," he begged. "You know I can't bear it when you cry."
"I'm trying not to," she whimpered, her face growing hot with embarrassment.
They fell silent, and for a while – an hour, or maybe longer, she figured – they just held each other in her bed, seeking comfort and knowing that the sobering reality of The End was fast approaching.
In the end, he'd left without breakfast, both of them feeling too awkward. The kiss before the Floo had been heartfelt, full of apologies, and perfect for the both of them. They couldn't exactly resolve what they were going to tell their friends, and Ron suggested meeting up for coffee at the usual time and place in a few days to figure out the particulars.
She'd agreed, feeling strangely relieved that apparently breaking up as lovers didn't mean they were going to have a temporary or even semi-permanent ban on seeing each other. Even if it wasn't as lovers, or boyfriend and girlfriend, or even husband and wife... she couldn't bear to just see him walk out of her life entirely.
And thank God he seemed to feel the same.
Molly had taken the news the hardest, of course. They'd kind of expected that. She'd immediately burst into tears, which prompted a guilt trip of such epic proportions that Hermione felt the words "just kidding" start gathering on her tongue, just to see the horrific sobbing end. But then Ron had folded his hand on hers and smiled at her, a reassuring and almost amused twist of his lips beneath those sad eyes, and she felt stronger.
Everyone but George and Harry seemed shocked by the turn of events. George's response had been to clap his hands and declare, "That Angelina owes me a Galleon!"
Harry had simply accepted the news with a wry twist of his lips. Hermione found that she wasn't really surprised that he'd somehow known ages before she and Ron that things weren't going to pan out. He had a knack for seeing the bigger picture of things. He'd held Hermione as she cried, assuring her that it wasn't stupid to be upset, even though she'd always sort of known it was going to end one day.
Ginny had been more than a little confused (apparently Harry's intuitive nature wasn't something the youngest Weasley shared), even more so when Ron and Hermione insisted that this hadn't been brought about because of a row they'd had.
Finally, she'd asked, "Are you both still coming to my Quidditch game?"
Hermione scoffed. "We're still friends, Ginny. We're leaving things amicably. There's no hard feelings."
"Of course we'll go," Ron agreed, laughing and throwing a protective arm over Hermione's shoulders.
Ginny relaxed. "Oh, well if that's the case, then alright," she said, with a bit of a shrug. As long as they were still going to be the same four friends they'd always been, she truly didn't seem to care if Ron and Hermione were romantically intertwined or not.
Harry stifled a smile. "My wife. Such a tactful woman. Should've been a diplomat, really. She's wasting her life away with those Harpies, when she could be negotiating delicate peace treaties."
She'd stuck her tongue out at him, which he'd taken as a ready invitation to kiss, leaving her squealing with surprise and laughter.
"Still here," Ron said, loudly. Pointedly.
Beneath the miasma of sadness, Hermione felt a twinge of that happiness she'd felt on the night before Ron ended things, and fought back a small laugh as she thought, Maybe things really will be alright.
So life wasn't going to plan, exactly. All things considered – and as much as she did truly love Ron, as one of her best and closest friends – she could finally admit to herself that maybe it was a good thing that her life had suddenly decided to go bottoms up on her.
Their resolution to remain friends made the first few weeks occasionally awkward. Hermione would find herself stepping close to him automatically when saying goodbye, looking for a kiss. Ron would, every once in a while, wrap his arm around her waist when he wasn't thinking.
After that first awkward period, though, things relaxed, and she discovered that being friends with Ron wasn't as hard as she'd pictured it might be. In fact, it was amazingly easy, sometimes, something she rather thought could almost entirely be attributed to him. Although a hothead of epic proportions, Hermione was still left occasionally breathless by the amount of love and passion that could be found in a single person, and even if they'd realized they didn't want to be together, it seemed he had no trouble allowing that love to manifest platonically.
Sometimes, he'd look across the table at her when they were at the pub with all their friends, his gaze warm, and she'd feel more content than she could remember feeling since Barcelona. The teenaged love they'd felt for each other settled, becoming a steady thrum of something steadier, and more sure, and she realized that she almost felt as close to him as she did to Harry, sometimes. And with Harry and Ginny being so wrapped up in their family life, Hermione found that the sudden lack of pressure on her relationship with Ron made her want to spend much more time with him as just friends.
She even inquired about his dating, once, although he'd shrugged and said he wasn't in a hurry to rush into anything.
"Really?" she asked, surprised. Honestly, the Ron she knew before being involved with him had always been blundering through one relationship after a next, almost desperate to never be alone.
He thought for a moment, and then nodded, slowly. "You know, it's so hard to think of myself as separate from you, sometimes? I think it's time I get to know myself as... well, as Ron. Ron-Without-Hermione. I feel like I haven't seen that bloke in years," he added, in a dry tone.
"Oh, you poor thing, getting shagged on the regular for four years. How trying that must have been for you," she snipped.
"Don't you make light. Going back to my hand has been bloody awful," he admitted.
She snorted with laughter.
"What about you? Not that you were ever one to fall headfirst into relationships."
She shook her head, sobering a bit. "There's no one I know of that I even fancy, if I'm being honest. And to be perfectly honest, I've looked around the office some, trying to see some of the people at the Ministry as potential boyfriends, but... I just can't imagine it with any of them. Maybe I'm destined to be alone."
"Don't be daft," he said, sipping his beer. "You still have that blasted cat."
She slapped his arm, making him spill some of his ale, forcing an indignant shout out of him. But she was smiling, and so was he, and Hermione realized that she rather liked Ronald Weasley, even without the aid of that little crush she'd always had on him. She'd always kind of morbidly wondered if, had she not been a teensy bit in love with him all these years, they might never have been friends at all.
As they shared in laughter, she sipped her own ale and realized, I'm happy. For real. I'm actually very happy. She felt confident, for the first time in several weeks, that everything was going to be just fine.
That feeling persisted, and then she knew everything was going to work out for the best, after all.
That is, until seven months later, when the Daily Prophet landed on her breakfast table with the screaming headline:
Ministry passes scandalous "Marriage Law"!