A/N: Finally! Here is the first chapter of my next installment to my (planned) H/Hr series. Although this story is a follow up to The Other Night, it can still stand on its own as a fic, so reading TON isn't necessary… unless you just want to :)
Years From Now
August 10, 2008
The roar of the crowd was thunderous. Wizards and witches jumped to their feet following the fluid move that had just been made, clapping, cheering, shouting, or jeering. The score was now 110-80, Catapults, thanks to Bevins' graceful throw of the Quaffle through the Cannons' hoop. The fans of the Caerphilly Catapults were clearly happy for the extra ten points but the fans of the Chudley Cannons, including Ronald Weasley, were not.
Harry glanced at Ron from the corner of his eye from his seat next to him. His red headed best friend was as invested in the match as a true, rabid Quidditch fan could be; he was tense like an animal of prey, there was a heavy grimace on his freckled face, and his fists were clenched so tightly they had lost color.
"Pull it the hell together, Milton!" he grumbled, referring to his team's Keeper. Harry smiled to himself and took a sip of his wizarding beer, eyes returning to the sky.
The game had been raging for 2 hours now and the pair was watching it from their usual sky box, the only two spectators inhabiting the space. Attending Quidditch matches was a regular habit of theirs, regular enough that they had a designated sky box when they were present (and one that was allotted to others when they were not). Ron could be found at more games than Harry, due to the latter's more demanding job of being an Auror, yet both men had season passes- for the entire league and not merely one team. They greatly enjoyed this time together and were often accompanied by their old Hogwarts dorm mates when not watching matches solely with one another.
However, Harry was a bit more preoccupied for this game than any other before it. It was entertaining and fun, surely, as Quidditch always was, but he was sitting on something in his mind that was growing in size the longer time passed. Something he needed to tell Ron.
Harry swallowed after taking a gulp of the beer then gazed straight ahead, wondering if now was a good time to say what he had to say. It was a good opening, fairly quiet (at least between them) and all…. The dark haired wizard took another swig and then discreetly peered at Ron once more. The red head had unclenched his hands and was shaking his head, reaching for his Firewhiskey infused butterbeer. No, he would wait… maybe until the Cannons scored.
Consequently, Harry did not have to wait long: Chudley made a goal roughly ten minutes later. Ron pumped his left arm in the air and shouted his approval while his right hand securely held his butterbeer.
"Did you see that?," he gestured, grinning at his best friend, "Only down by two now!" Harry nodded earnestly and then answered:
"Well, they were up by 50 their last match and still lost. Rankin is a shoddy Seeker and I wish the Cannons would just let him go already."
"Hmm. Half of me agrees with you about Rankin while the other half of me wants to punch you for insinuating we will be losing this match."
Harry let out a genuine laugh which made Ron smile and drink from his bottle again. Harry glanced at Ron once more, recovering from the quip, and before he could even fully process what he was saying, the topic that had been on his mind all game- all day, really- spilled from his mouth.
"I'm going to ask Hermione to marry me."
A large stream of butterbeer flew spectacularly out of Ron's mouth and the corresponding spluttering noise he made could have been considered comical. Harry may have even laughed again if it weren't for the adrenaline now coursing through his body. He anxiously watched the wide eyed red head attempt to compose himself, wiping his mouth on his left forearm and taking in big gasps of air; when Ron finally turned toward him, he was gawking.
"Care to repeat that?" Ron asked in a calm voice, though his facial expression conveyed he was far from calm. The dark haired wizard shifted nervously in his seat and looked away, back toward the sky.
"I'm… I want to ask Hermione to marry me." Harry attested.
There was silence. He was unsure what to make of it or what Ron was thinking, since he continued to stare ahead of him, but the next thing he experienced was an arm being thrown roughly around his shoulders, shaking him insistently, and joyful laughter in his ear.
"Harry, you git! That's wonderful!" the other man shouted.
Full relief swept through Harry at the declaration, although it was difficult to even articulate what made him notably tense to begin with. What had he thought Ron was going to say? What had he feared?
"You're not good enough for Hermione."
"It's a terrible idea! You'll ruin both of your lives!"
"You realize she won't have you, right?"
Hindsight scolded him for being an utter fool as a huge grin broke out on his face.
"Yeah?" he asked, gazing at Ron now that his nerves had died a swift death.
"Of course! Why the hell wouldn't it be?!" the red head posited.
"Just wanted your thoughts, I suppose!"
"My thoughts are my two best friends are getting hitched- finally! My thoughts are that it's amazing and about damn time!"
"It's not too soon?" Harry inquired.
"Too soon? You've known her for 17 goddamn years!" Ron exclaimed.
"True, but we've only been together again for a year and a half."
Harry thought of that fateful night nearly two years ago when he had taken Hermione home after a night out with all of their friends, that October night during which they explored each other's bodies again after a year of tension and separation. The pair had not instantly gotten back together following this incident and, indeed, waited another three months before they concluded they were ready to date exclusively for a second time. Their decision to be a couple once more happened last year in January, and here Harry was 19 months later wondering if the timing was right.
Ron looked at the Auror in disbelief.
"Seventeen years, Harry- 17 years! And you're worried about a year and a half?!" he demanded.
"I dunno. It was just a thought." Harry mentioned.
"Well it's a rubbish thought so chuck it."
The Auror was smiling uncontrollably now.
"When did you decide on asking her?" Ron questioned in an exuberant tone.
"In the beginning of July, after we learned she was getting promoted." Harry revealed.
"So about a month now."
"Yeah. I just… I just remember being so incredibly happy for her, and proud of her, and, and thinking about how much I love her. It sounds cheesy but I was overwhelmed by all of my feelings for her that day, and as we were eating dinner with her mum and dad, I just thought that I wanted to marry her. Have her forever."
"You'll want to put that in your vows, mate, so jot it down," grinned Ron. Harry gave a half smile.
"I thought about it all of July and the thought hasn't gone away- gotten stronger, in fact- so… I'm going to do it," he relayed.
"Have you told anyone else?"
"No. You're the first."
Ron put a hand over his heart, throwing back his head dramatically.
"I am honored!" he attested, knowing he actually was touched despite his playful demeanor.
"Who else would I tell first?," Harry prompted, "My other best friend happens to be the one I want to marry, so, thought that might not be a good idea just yet!" Ron smirked before a brief lull in silence as the dark haired wizard took a swig.
"Have you found a ring?" inquired Ron.
"I think so."
"Yeah. I started looking about 3 weeks ago. I think it could be the one for her but I want another opinion." Harry remarked.
"Is that your debonair way of asking me to go with you to see it?" the red head wondered, fluttering his eyes.
"Yes, you arse." He pushed Ron away from him, earning a laugh.
" 'Course I will! Have to make sure it's perfect for her."
Harry nodded his thanks, taking another slow sip of his beer and refocusing on the match in front of them. The silence that emerged was not uncomfortable but it did allow Harry to mull over the conversation, mull over the entire idea.
"She'll say yes, right, Ron?" he questioned. His best friend looked at him, an eyebrow quirked.
"That witch has manipulated time for you, snuck into the government's most secure building- more than once- and broke a dragon out of a Goblin run bank. For you. Literally," Ron relayed, placing a hand on his shoulder, "Something tells me she'll be a little more than willing to marry you, Potter."
Harry was unable to stop the large smile that overtook his entire face but he also found that he did not care.
The pair went to see the ring the following day on Harry's lunch break. Ron met him at the Ministry of Magic and the two went on their way from there.
"Muggle London? This is where you found it?" the pureblood asked a bit incredulously as they maneuvered through the busy streets.
"Yes. I didn't want to look in any wizarding location." Harry replied, leading them. Ron did not have to ask why. He understood the Auror was still the press' favorite headline and was, therefore, followed and photographed on a frequent enough basis. If someone, citizen or publication, had caught Harry visiting various jewelry shops or snapped a picture, his surprise and privacy would have been shot to hell.
It was about a 15 minute walk from the Ministry to the jewelry store; what was more, it was a smaller shop more akin to a boutique rather than a bigger chain. Neither man was wearing his work robes (Ron's being Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes) as Harry had demanded they leave them in his office so as to blend in, but the pureblood still felt like there was some noticeable marker that he was different. His knowledge of and etiquette around Muggles had improved significantly since his younger years, but he knew he would always feel somewhat separate from them.
A tinkling, pleasant musical note sounded when they entered the shop. Ron noted there were only two other customers present as he immediately followed Harry to a display to their left.
"Mr. Thomas! You're back!" a voice greeted. A fairly short man wearing a dark blue suit and kind smile was looking at them, and the red head furrowed his brow.
"Hello Ian." Harry genially replied, giving a small wave.
"You've come back to see your favorite contender? And I see you've brought a friend!"
"Yes, to both! I want to know what he thinks of it."
"He must be special!" Ian surmised. He was walking closer to them from his side of the displays.
"Best mate to the groom and future bride!," Ron interjected merrily, "Hi! Rod Williams: best man."
Harry wanted to snort. Rod Williams was the alias Ron had created a few years back to be used when necessary or prudent, and he stuck to it faithfully, even when Hermione had asserted it was too similar to his real name.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Williams! You must be thrilled for this proposal, then!" the worker noted.
"As thrilled as a niffler finding gold!"
Ian's face morphed to show confusion although his smile remained intact.
"A… a what?" he prompted.
"So! Er, is it possible to see that ring?!" Harry asked rapidly, loudly. He chuckled and threw Ron a surreptitious dirty look, recognizing it was likely just a slip but feeling irritated nonetheless. The red head merely shrugged.
"Certainly, Mr. Thomas!" Ian responded eagerly, the odd comment instantly forgotten.
He removed a small set of keys from his coat pocket and opened the case, carefully removing a row of rings that all had one thing in common: blue gemstones. Ian placed the set down in front of them and Ron's eyes scanned the pieces.
"Which one is it?" he inquired, noticing the various shades of blue and cuts of the stones.
Harry pointed to one on their right as Ian smiled happily. When Ron focused on it properly, both of his eyebrows raised of their own accord. The band appeared to be platinum and was noticeably thin. It shined terrifically and, upon further inspection, was covered in minuscule diamonds. The gem nestled right in the middle of the ring was circular and as blue as the ocean, a sapphire that was neither too big or too small. The ring was beautiful. It was not ostentatious, something neither Hermione nor Harry would ever want, and Ron knew right away that their Muggleborn best friend would simply adore it.
"It's perfect, mate," the red head mentioned, staring at it. Harry's face lit up with hope and pride.
"You think?" he posited.
"I know. It just screams Hermione."
"Hermione? This is the future Mrs. Thomas?" Ian wondered. Harry nodded, directing his smile at the worker.
"You haven't mentioned her name yet? The utter shame!" Ron chided.
"This is only my second visit here," the dark haired wizard defended.
"Well it's a lovely, unique name!" Ian asserted.
"Fits her perfectly."
"Just like this ring." Ron added, picking it up to give a closer look. Ian nodded in an approving manner before relaying:
"I'll give you gents a minute!" He then walked away to go check in with the other pair of customers.
"I'm glad you like it, Ron." Harry said honestly.
"It's Rod," came the reply.
"Well Rod can't be best man- that's a job for Ron, and even he's pushing it."
The red head looked at Harry, grinning saucily.
"You did good, Potter. You know our girl." Ron remarked.
"I should buy it, then," the Auror stated.
"All right. I'll get it- I'll buy it. The ring. I'm going to buy Hermione's engagement ring."
"A bit surreal, eh?" prompted Ron, understanding the rush of emotion his best friend was likely experiencing right now.
"A bit!" Harry confirmed, smiling nervously.
"No worries, Harry. This is the first step into something great. In fact, it's so great, we're going to celebrate!"
"Yes! After work! We'll have a drink in Diagon! Meet me at the shop when you're off." Ron directed with gusto, putting the ring back.
"Noted," nodded Harry, laughing once.
When Ian returned a couple minutes later, he splayed his hands on the display and looked between the two expectantly.
"So, is this the ring for your dear Hermione? Is it the chosen one?" he asked. Both wizards grinned from his choice of words.
"Yes, it's the one, I reckon," Harry confirmed, "I look at it and see her." The salesman clapped his hands, a grin emerging.
"Ah! Wonderful! How terrific, for you and your soon to be fiance! Congratulations!" Ian bid. Ron put a hand on Harry's shoulder, smiling.
"And what a nice deviation from the norm! Diamonds tend to be the gem of choice for wedding rings, but a sapphire! A stone of wisdom!" Ian continued.
"Wisdom, ha! As if you needed another sign this was meant for her!" Ron declared. Harry was smiling widely now as well, the good mood seeming to be contagious.
"And how would you like to arrange payment for the ring, Mr. Thomas? We have a number of different plans based on one's financial circumstances, desired time frame, or preferred down payment. We strive to make couples happy and build marriages, not worry people over their wallets!"
"No need, actually" Harry negated, shaking his head and reaching into the pocket of his pants, "I'd rather keep it easy and straightforward." He placed down a wad of pound notes next to the rings that had been taken out for them. The grin on Ian's face swelled.
Harry felt significantly lighter, more content- enlivened- when he was back on the second level of the DMLE with the rest of the Aurors. The ring had been transferred to the left pocket of his scarlet robes once he had put them back on, and the blue box felt like it was radiating heat for the remainder of the day. He was hyperaware of it and what it represented (i.e., his future with Hermione), so he decided he would keep it on his person until he thought of a worthy location where he could keep it until he proposed. His office at work would be more than secure, he realized, but he knew he would obsess over the ring when he was not at work.
When 6PM arrived, Harry was off for the day. He gave amiable goodbyes to the Aurors still working (a healthy number of them) and proceeded to leave the Ministry so he could meet Ron in Diagon Alley, as he had been instructed. George was not present when Harry got to Wheezes and Ron seemed to have been waiting on his best friend, leaving his employees in charge as they traversed to the Leaky Cauldron. The familiarity and simplicity of the pub pleased the dark haired wizard, and the amount of people present was sparse as it was a Monday evening. Having a stiff drink with his best friend in a scantily populated yet comfortable bar was his idea of a wonderful way to celebrate.
"Who do you plan to tell next?" Ron questioned, hands around his glass of mead.
"Her parents," Harry answered, "I called them today and asked if they could meet with me on Wednesday for lunch. Told them I wanted to surprise Hermione with something and needed their help."
Harry and Hermione both had cell phones, something they found decidedly useful and convenient and particularly faster than wizarding means of communication. Conversely, their attempts at getting their close friends whom had grown up in the wizarding world to also incorporate this technology into their lives had proven futile, and perhaps was just another marker of their Muggle upbringing.
"Many Muggle ways are just better! Damned wizards and their stubbornness." Hermione would often gripe.
"Nervous for that?" Ron posited.
"No, actually. I'm rather eager over it!"
"Have you thought of how you'll propose?"
"Not much… but I imagine I'll have a harder time succeeding in that than I did finding the ring." Harry admitted, grimacing some.
"How do you mean?" Ron pondered.
"You know me, Ron- I'm not the most creative bloke. I'm simple. I'm liable to just ask her while we're eating dinner at one of our flats, or while we're walking at the park in the middle of the day on a day off."
"I see your point."
"Yes, and I don't want that. I want the proposal to be special, to mean something. To be well thought out," he attested.
"So why not ask the people who know Hermione best for ideas? You can start with her parents," suggested Ron. Harry nodded.
"Yeah, you're right. I'll stir up some ideas from a few people," he said.
"Reassurance, confirmation, ideas… I have just been so helpful to you these past couple days!" the red head sighed.
"Well Mr. Helpful, while you're at it, do you have thoughts about how I could propose?" Harry replied, smirking some.
"Whoa! I've given my contribution for today, and it was very important! I put my seal of approval on the ring. Not to mention, I never expected or wanted to plan another proposal after Luna's." Ron relayed.
"You didn't even propose to Luna!"
Harry said this with a disbelieving laugh, thinking of Ron's tale of how he and the former Ravenclaw ended up at the proverbial alter. They had been at the Burrow for some function or another (as there was always a function at the Burrow with the sheer number of Weasleys), and had crept away to have some privacy and make out like the teenagers they had once been. Luna had pulled away mid-kiss halfway through their time alone and succinctly stated that they should get married, and Ron, stunned into silence for a full 30 seconds, had readily concurred with a giant grin and hug to match.
"Yeah, well, the point is you keep relying on me for my spot on insight and we'll have to tell Hermione we're both proposing marriage!" the red head observed.
Harry rolled his eyes in a good natured way, thinking maybe Rod Williams would be the better suited best man.
The men wrapped up their intimate celebration by 8PM and went to their respective homes, Ron to a blonde wife and Harry to a darkened apartment. However, the latter only stayed long enough to shower, change, and tidy up the living room a bit before he left once more. He made a stop to secure provisions before he got to his intended destination but he reasoned it would make the experience more enjoyable and the company he was anticipating would likely appreciate it. (He wanted to please her).
The first thing Harry heard when he Apparated into Hermione's kitchen was the sound of the television. He smiled to himself before exiting the space and following the noises emitting from the living room.
He found the brown haired witch sitting on the floor in the brightly lit room, her back slightly hunched as she leaned over an impressive pile of paper and parchment spread before her. A TV show of some sort was playing on the TV but Hermione was not paying it any attention; her focus was solely on the documents in front of her and she was mumbling to herself. A quill and piece of parchment floated to the right of her, the quill poised as if to go at any moment, and Harry could see writing was already on the parchment. Two open books were also present and he observed a crumpled, empty bag of pretzels to her left.
A wave of affection washed over him as he gazed at her during the time she was oblivious to his presence. He watched her work and make remarks to herself with a soft smile on his face before choosing to speak up.
"Ms. Granger, hard at work as usual."
Hermione jumped a bit, dropping the paper that was in her hand and hastily swiveling around to the source of the voice. Her boyfriend stood behind the sofa with a happy expression and his hands full.
"Harry!" she declared as an illuminating smile bloomed on her countenance. His heart expanded as he looked at her joyful face and he could have sworn he felt the ring box (which he had shrunk and kept on his person) throb.
"Hello, love," he greeted.
"I didn't hear you come in!"
"I'm not surprised. I could've ridden in on an elephant and I'm not sure you would've noticed!"
"You know how focused I can get." Hermione defended.
"Surely," Harry noted, wanting to smirk, "What time were you off today?"
"And how long until you started working again once you got home?"
"Ten minutes?" the witch offered with a guilty smile. Harry checked his watch and saw that 9PM was around the corner.
"And it's a quarter 'til now. Sounds like a perfect time to call it a night and eat!," the Auror attested, "I come with much needed sustenance." He held up a plastic bag with food containers in it and a bottle of white wine. She looked like she was going to counter his statement that she stop working completely but faltered when she eyed the food.
"What kind?" Hermione asked.
Hermione gave a wistful sigh. Not only was Indian one of her favorite cuisines, she realized she had not eaten properly today and she had started work at 8AM. She could smell the food a bit now that she was paying attention and the wine looked like a tempting bonus that would please her overworked nerves.
"Sounds perfect," she told him.
"The trade off is that everything in front of you disappears until tomorrow." Harry asserted.
She wanted to give him a stern, displeased look but she couldn't, and it came off as a smirk instead. Hermione also recognized that she really did need to stop working for the day. An 11 hour shift at the Ministry and then an extra 90 minutes at home was an excellent way to burn herself out.
"Fine," the brunette conceded, taking her wand that had been on the sofa and waving it over all of the objects before her. Harry grinned and walked around the couch as the paper and parchment organized themselves in neat piles and the books closed, before they all zoomed to the coffee table she had moved out of the way. She raised herself to the sofa.
"I know that much more work comes with your position, especially in the first few months, but don't exhaust yourself." Harry advised, sitting down beside her. He placed a quick kiss on her lips. The witch nodded absentmindedly.
Hermione's promotion the previous month had been momentous. She had been named Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and, at age 28 (nearly 29), was the youngest person ever to be bestowed the title. Everyone who was close to her had been thrilled, Harry being the most excited next to the witch herself, and it was a harmless quip among their group that his girlfriend was now his indirect boss. Consequently, Hermione's workload was substantial while she acclimated to her new duties and responsibilities and would be until November arrived. What was more, with her fierce work ethic and penchant for overachieving and making lasting impressions, Harry knew it was all too easy for her to seamlessly lose herself in work.
Subsequently, while he wanted her to succeed and amaze wizarding Britain with her capabilities (and knew she undoubtedly would), he did not want her to burn out in the process.
"That's what I have you for. You make sure I eat, sleep, and breathe." Hermione remarked, Summoning two glasses for the wine as Harry started to take out and ready the food.
"About time I do something worthwhile," the wizard joked. She smiled at him and watched his movements.
Hermione had not seen him all weekend, buried in work and adjusting to being Head of arguably the most important department in the Ministry, and the three days apart seemed magnified now that he was actually here with her, spending time. She had missed him.
"How was the match?" the brunette questioned, rubbing his left arm and referring to the Cannons-Catapults game the previous day.
"Fun. Good. Cannons won by catching the Snitch, something no one expected," he shared.
"Mmm. I'm sure Ron will talk about it for the next three weeks, then."
Harry grinned, handing her a plate. She accepted it gratefully, pulling up her legs and sitting cross legged.
"I may have reminded him that these games don't really count as they're pre-season," he said. She snorted and took a bite before prompting:
"Babysat. I tried to clean the flat some but-"
"Good luck doing that with Teddy around." Hermione cut in.
"Exactly." Harry said, chuckling and paying attention to his own plate.
"Ergh, Harry, this is divine!," she informed, throwing her head back as the flavors danced down her throat, "Thank you."
"Of course. Ensure I'm Head Auror when Robards decides to retire and we're even!"
She snorted once more before taking a long sip of the wine. (Riesling, a fantastic pairing with the food…).
"I actually had Deidra Chastain come to me to complain about what-"
"Ah! No! My fault!," he interjected suddenly, peering at her, "No work talk! Not allowed. We're eating a late dinner and being a normal couple." She gazed at him for a swift, quiet moment.
"Normal?" Hermione pondered, wanting to smile.
"All right. What do you want to watch on telly, then, sweetheart?"
"Let's watch a film," he suggested, "Your choice."
"So generous tonight!" the brunette mentioned, patting his cheek with a coy grin.
Hermione ended up choosing an action-thriller, a mix of genres that satisfied them both. They finished the food 20 minutes into the movie and the entire bottle of wine 45 minutes into it, settling into the comfort of the couch and one another in dimmed lighting. Consequently, Hermione dozed off when the movie was three quarters of the way done; Harry let her sleep, allowing her legs and feet to remain propped in his lap. When the credits rolled, he knew he had to rouse the witch from her slumber.
"Hermione, love, wake up," the Auror directed, leaning over to his left and speaking into her ear, "It's done. The film's over."
She awoke suddenly with a small jolt, eyes shooting open and gazing around rapidly before finding his.
"Hmm? What? Harry?" she responded, sounding disoriented.
"What, what happened?"
"The film's ended," he reported.
"Film… I fell asleep?" Hermione asked.
He helped pull her to a sitting position and gently moved her legs off his.
"What time is it?" she wondered, a hand going to her head.
"It'll be 11:30 soon enough."
"Eleven thirty… ah."
"See? I told you about overworking yourself." Harry mentioned.
"Yes, yes," the witch noted, waving a hand, "So what happened toward the end?"
"I can't spoil it for you! It's too good to give away; you'll have to watch for yourself."
She made a half hearted noise before throwing out her arms and stretching, a yawn escaping her lips.
"But right now, it's clear you need sleep," he claimed, "Let's get you to bed." He then stood up and stretched a bit himself before extending a hand to her. She looked at it and then up at him.
"Are you going to stay the night?" Hermione inquired in a softer tone.
"Do you want me to?"
She nodded, still gazing at him.
"Yes," came the answer.
"Then I will, if Madam Granger so wishes it." Harry remarked, a brief smile streaking across his face. She gifted him a serene smile and took the hand, getting to her feet, but in the following instant she had cried out in surprise for he had picked her up bridal style.
"Harry!" the witch exclaimed.
"You're tired. And old. You need the assistance," he grinned, starting the trek to her bedroom.
"And you need a harsh kick in the arse, you cretin!" She hit his shoulder in a playful, reprimanding way while displaying a smirk-smile.
"A cretin you want to stay the night, incidentally."
"Against my better judgment." Hermione retorted. The wizard's grin widened in a triumphant way.
"Sleeping with your subordinates- what would the Ministry have to say about this?" Harry posited.
"Keep talking and you will no longer have to worry about the Ministry, or your employment there!"
Her left arm had snaked around his neck and she pulled his lips down to hers as Harry walked them into the darkened bedroom.