AN: So at last we come to our end! Who was the mystery person in the last chapter? Has Ron turned evil(ish)? Is he Dumbledore's minion? Is this all apart of Snape's master plan? Why the McGonagall/Harry ship?  And what about Crookshanks and Rowena? Many thanks to my reviewers, who nudged my conscience and freed my writer's block. Now on with the show! :o)

Part 5/5

Never Again

The next morning found Harry pacing outside of Hermione's room at the crack of dawn. He was debating whether or not the events of the previous day merited classification as "emergency" or whether they'd taken a step back in their relationship.

He was grateful for the interruption of his over-thinking when a disheveled Hermione, complete with a mis-buttoned dressing-gown emerged from her room.

"Hermione—"

"Harry—"

They both laughed nervously over their gaffe. Harry clenched his jaw. All he really wanted to do was keep the world at bay for a few more days so that they could take the time to figure out the ins and outs of their new relationship.

Was it a relationship?

"You go first," he said.

Hermione's eyes went round, and she shook her head. "Not a chance. Whenever the other person says 'go first', the person who actually goes first later messes up what the speaker of 'go first' wanted to say. Then they get their wires crossed and everything ends rather dreadfully, and I'd rather not have that, thank you."

Harry looked bewildered. "Were you powdering poppy seeds again?"

She glared at him. Apparently even all of the awkwardness between them couldn't change a few things. "No."

"So, I assume this means it's my turn," he began. He enveloped her smaller, softer hand in his own and led her to his own chambers. "Lily of the valley."

Surprise made her smirk. "You changed your password."

"It was either Malfoy sucks hairy monkey nuts or this." He led her into the sitting room and sat her down on a settee while he paced the length of the fireplace. "I didn't sleep at all last night because I wanted everything I said here to be absolutely perfect. But as I talk to you right now, the entire speech is flying out of my head, so if I say something stupid, bear with me, please."

"Do I want to hear this then?" she chuckled nervously.

He stopped pacing to clasp her face within his palms. "I don't know if I want to hear it. But it needs to be said."

Her lips trembled in a falsely cheerful smile. "Maybe you shouldn't say anything then."

He pressed a tender kiss to her lips. "Where's that good old stiff upper lip?"

"In storage."

Hesitantly, he released her. "I...we...we...we can't be friends anymore."

A relieved chuckle escaped her lips. "What? Are we in the sandbox?"

"Hermione..."

"Sorry."

Harry started his pacing again. While it didn't necessarily clear his mind, it gave him something better to do than just twiddling his thumbs. "I've known you forever. When I came to Hogwarts and found a home, you've always been there a part of it. For every important step I've ever taken, you've been there, encouraging me, chiding me, and helping me. I've loved you for years, looked out for you, beat up ex-boyfriends for you—"

Her jaw dropped. "You did what?"

He shrugged helplessly. "What was I supposed to do?"

"We'll discuss this later, Harry. Go on."

"And now I find myself—"

Something clicked in Hermione's brain. "Wait!"

Harry stared at her as if she'd grown an extra head. "Yes?"

"You love me?"

"Hate to break it to you, Hermione, but Ron loves you too. You didn't think I'd been friends with you for fifteen years because I didn't know better, did you?"

That something which clicked now deflated. "Oh."

He threw up his hands, exasperated. "If you'd let me finish..."

"Sorry about that."

He gave up. Even if he would have remembered his speech, she would probably have stopped him anyway. He plopped onto the settee and tugged her into his arms. "You're deranged, you know that?"

"I'm not sure I can help it. It's your fault anyway."

"Of course." He rolled his eyes. Why was everything his fault? Daft witch. "Despite this rather convoluted conversation, I intended on telling you that I'm in love with you. Probably have been for years. Then again, it might have also been since last week."

Love? Love?! She started hyperventilating. Every single song that she'd ever heard with the word 'love' in it now played in her head all at once. As a little girl, when she imagined falling in love and living happily ever after, she'd always supposed that it felt like Pop Rocks exploding in caffeinated soda.

Reconciling her imaginings with her actual feelings, though, was a shock. Instead of Pop Rocks, she would have sworn—under oath and with Veritaserum—that an angry herd of hippogriffs had taken flight in her stomach and throat.

"Hermione?" For a few moments, she'd paled so much that Harry thought he'd have to run for Madam Pomfrey. Smoothing one hand up and down her back, drawing meaningless symbols, eased some of his duress, especially when she relaxed into his touch.

"I'm...I'm..."

He grinned broadly. "Twice in two days. Not bad."

She smacked him. "Of all the horrible things to say!"

He squeezed her tightly, enjoying her soft, warm weight tucked against him. If he could imagine a heaven, it would be this place, with this woman, and absolutely nothing else to vie for their attention. For some reason, he didn't doubt that she loved him back. While it had been harrowing, telling her that he loved her was one of the easiest things he'd ever done.

"I'm going to need to invest in a bat, aren't I?" Hermione asked.

"Um, what?"

She sat up on him, smiling so blissfully that he wanted to drag her with him to every single room in the castle and shout "I love this woman!!!" like a very cheesy commercial.

"I said I need to invest in a bat."

"Why? We have a perfectly good owl and two rather interesting cats. Why are we adding a bat again?"

He was grinning so stupidly that she almost didn't have the heart to tell him. It'd probably be easier to tattoo to his forehead "Property of Hermione Granger Potter. Hands off or you will be hexed." Or maybe Hermione Granger-Potter. Hermione Potter. Mrs. Harry Potter.

Good God, she was a walking target. Every witch in England was going to try to kill her. Not to mention all the megalomaniacs. Forget the bat, she needed one of those troll-sized cudgels. Maybe she could train to be a Hit Witch.

Harry's befuddled daze began to unclear and he noticed the intent way Hermione stared at his forehead. "Um...Hermione?"

"How long does it take to become a Hit Witch?"

"Two years, I believe. Why?"

Her eyes slid away from his. "Protection."

"From what?" Was she trying to leave Hogwarts for some reason?

"The horde."

Was she crazy? "Um, what horde, Hermione?"

She gave him a look that said, plainly, that he was an idiot. "Your fan club."

And suddenly everything became clear. "Ah."

She hit him. "What kind of answer is 'ah'?"

"All I said was 'ah'! What kind of person infers enough to hit another person from such an insignificant word as 'ah'?"

Though she knew it was immature, she stuck her nose into the air. "It was clearly a loaded 'ah'."

Thankfully, the breakfast bell came to his rescue and he dumped her from his lap in his haste. "Sorry about that."

Rubbing her abused bottom, she glared at him from the floor. "I'm sure."

Hermione decided that they would simply have to finish this discussion later because right now she was surprised that she could still wish to turn him into an amoeba even through loving him.

He'd have such cute little pseudopods.

_________________

Harry was having a Great Day. One of those days where he actually wouldn't mind saving the world because the world was such a wonderful place, and wasn't life wonderful? He didn't get upset when Belladonna Bedford-Browne accio-ed him—instead of a book during a duel—from across the room. It slid like water off a duck's back when one of Dumbledore's leftover pranks—which looked eerily like a Weasley Wizarding Wheeze—temporarily transformed him into an overgrown kookaburra. 

And he was still feeling wonderful while he was headed for the library and Crookshanks came by his chambers with a very smelly trout. Crookshanks sported a few charred chunks of fur, so he had to assume that McGonagall's beau had rebuffed Crooky too. 

The large cat stopped just beyond the entryway, poised and waiting for permission. Harry tamped own his amusement and instead adopted a stern, fatherly mien.

"Wherever you take her, I want to see her back in these chambers by"—he was going to say ten but remembered that cats were nocturnal creatures—"one, and not a minute after. And no hanky-panky either. If I see any rogue orange kittens in a couple of months, you're going to the vet for a nip and tuck."

Ever an intelligent cat, Crookshanks gave a sullen meow of agreement and Harry stepped out into the hall.

Loudly he whistled as he practically skipped towards the library. He had a kind-of-date with Hermione—okay, so collaborating on a project for their classes wasn't really a date—and he looked forward to cozying up with her in a small secluded alcove. Maybe if they finished their work quickly they could finish where they left off yesterday.

Grinning at his very teenage thoughts, he clomped into the library, turning the heads of a few students, and Madam Pince glared at him as if he were still a truculent youth. Hermione managed to stifle her laughter but not her smile, and he basked in its warm glow.

"Come on," she whispered, and they retreated to the Restricted Section. As a student, he'd spend many nights investigating its darkened corners, but with the room well-lit and armed with the authority of professorship, the section was much less foreboding and dangerous. Besides, biting, hell-born books were less scary when one knew effective halting jinxes.

Hermione led them to a small enclave that boasted a roaring fire and crimson brocaded Victorian loveseat before it. A few dozen books rested neatly beside the loveseat while several lay scattered and open on a chestnut coffee table.

He shot her a fulminating glance. This was not going as he'd planned. Honestly, how was he to orchestrate a seduction while her nose was buried in a book? "Is all of this necessary?"

She adopted her snootiest tone and shoved her light reading glasses higher on her nose. "Of course it is. The execution of elemental charms is extremely hazardous and failure to correctly produce said charms can lead to disastrous results."

If he didn't know that she was deliberately baiting him, some of his warm fuzzy feelings would have dissipated. As it was, he sent her an equally condescending glare.

"If you feel that your students have been incorrectly instructed on how to cast these complex and dangerous charms, then by all means, we should research the counter-charms and spells. Should I start with Accidental Lightning Strikes and How They Can Happen to You or Drowning in Disbelief: A Wizard's Guide to Water Charms and Reversals?"

Her eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. "I know what game you're playing Harry. Don't think you can fool me. Read Drowning in Disbelief. I'm sure that once the female half of the class watches you demonstrate the charm, my entire classroom will be underwater with their efforts."

Harry strove for an innocent look. "How will that be my fault?"

It was only through a feat of will power and supreme restraint that she kept from throwing Accidental Lightning Strikes at his head. "Hence why you're reading that book. Reversing and correcting spells is—"

"—most of a teacher's job," Harry finished, his voice lowering to a cajole. "But we know all of these things. It's not like I've never had practical experience reversing an elemental charm either. I've read all these books, probably memorized them. Worse still, I can even tell you that the authors are coming out with new, updated editions in three months because I've got advanced copies."

Calmly, she took off her glasses and put them onto the table. Right now, she was still in control of the situation and she wouldn't allow this to turn into a teenage snogging session. Catching the heated desire imprinted in Harry's gaze, she hastily amended that to include no adult shagging sessions either. But while she wanted to be seduced—was in fact, very amenable to being seduced considering her own feelings on the subject—she knew that there were a wealth of issues that needed to be resolved first.

"Harry, I don't think—"

"Could you stop that? It's really an annoying habit of yours that I'd hoped we could get rid of."

Stung, she tried to remember what she'd been doing. Taking off her glasses bothered Harry? "Well, I'm sorry if everyone's not blind as a dingbat as someone I know, but—"

Harry was bewildered. Now which tangent had the daft witch gone off on? He held up a hand to interrupt her. "I meant thinking. Could we get you to stop thinking? You do entirely too much of it."

But Hermione's gorge was up and still rising. "Stop thinking? Harry Potter, have you never seen the idiocy behind most of the plans you've concocted in the last fifteen years? To give you credit, they're not as bad as Ron's, but honestly, chasing down a fifty foot basilisk with little more than a wand and hope?"

"I was twelve, Hermione."

"Ok, fine. What about the chimaera? That was last year and do you want to know what your entire plan consisted of?"

He felt a dull red flush creep up his cheekbones. Hermione was going to be some unfortunate little boy's mother, and she was going to wreak havoc on his poor, ill-thought out delusions of grandeur. Sort of the way she was currently wreaking havoc on that unfortunate future little boy's father's ill-planned seduction.

"What are you smiling at? Idiot! I had to Apparate into a forest—with no directions—while you threw ineffectual and mostly irritating elemental charms at a creature quite impervious to them. If you'd only read the enchantment book I'd given you, you could have petrified the chimaera quickly and without being harmed. But noooooo, Harry Potter has to go charging head first into any situation because he's the bloody Man Who Triumphed Over—"

There was only so much a man could take as he was maligned, impugned, and danced on by a malicious witch. Hermione was a shrew, but she was his shrew. And since he could only think of two ways to silence her—one of which would get him hexed back into his third year—he simply did what any man would have and kissed her.

Really, the things he did for this woman. She should be thanking him, not criticizing him. Especially when he knew an excellent silencing charm that he'd perfected on a caterwauling Crookshanks.

While the kiss started out as a teasing peck, quickly Harry's good intentions fled with Hermione's soft moan and the feel of her arms around his neck. She'd been drinking elderberry wine before their meeting and her lips were sweet with their flavor. He couldn't resist licking her lower lip and tracing the corners of her smile with his tongue. He could feel, more than hear, her husky chuckle as he kissed his way along the curve of her jaw to her earlobe.

Harry murmured nonsense into her ear, but her mind refused to process any of his words as her body focused on the lingering kisses he gave her neck, shuddering when she was lowered fully onto the couch, trapped between him and the cushions. She felt hot and dizzy and would make sure that he felt exactly the same way. Besides, now that she'd seen part of what a mature Harry's body looked like, she wanted to run her hands and lips along the muscles of his back, chest, legs, thighs, and just look at him and...goodness, she even rambled in her thoughts. Maybe she did need to take Harry's advice and stop thinking—not that she'd ever tell him that.

Missing the feel of his lips against hers, she slid her body along the length of the loveseat and him, enjoying the way his body enveloped hers, but didn't crush it. She was tired of preliminaries and gave herself over to a hot, open-mouthed kiss that drowned her senses and left her mind blank but for Harry. Harry, who'd slipped his hands to the undersides of her breasts, and was making her body arch off the loveseat in frustration.

"Ahem."

Harry first became aware that something wasn't right when he heard a startled gasp. And then giggling. He pulled away from Hermione's embrace, quite aware of his hand now settled over her breast and her eyes hazy with passion.

"Mr. Potter!"

Gods, he was sixteen again, caught kissing a girl in the Astronomy Tower. Only this time it was worse...so much worse. As if burned, he snatched his hands away. But he'd miscalculated and the force propelling his hands away from Hermione also propelled his body off the loveseat.

If Fate had been even remotely kind to him, when he hit his head against the table, he would have been knocked unconscious. Or dead. Really, either would have been fine.

"Um, I can explain?"

Professor McGonagall—there again was proof of his nonexistent luck—folded her arms and gave him a look so fraught with disappointment that he felt like asking for detention. "Mr. Potter, I cannot believe that you would engage in conduct so unbecoming of a professor in the middle of the library—"

"Not the middle of the library. Just the restricted section," he interrupted stupidly. Would he never learn to shut his mouth as his partner in crime was doing? Surreptitiously, he glanced up at her where she sat shamefaced.

McGonagall gave him a look that had quelled greater men than Harry—poor Dumbledore, he mused. "Nevertheless, I do not expect to find two of our professors engaged in behavior more suited to hormonally driven students in a section accessible by any student who possesses a permission form. Members of the faculty are held to a standard of conduct higher than that of the student body. That I brought a student with me makes this... assignation all the more damning."

It was only then that Harry noticed Belladonna Bedford-Browne standing behind McGonagall, her expression one of rapt attention and bewildered heartbreak. He felt a twinge of guilt, then remembered being summoned across the room and promptly squelched the feeling. In a few hours, she'd forget him and move on to someone her own age. Not only that, but she'd probably also tell all her little friends about it.

Oh. God.

"Go along, Ms. Bedford-Browne. I'll retrieve your book for you and have it sent to your dorm." Quietly, she departed. Much too quietly. Harry imagined tomorrow's headlines on the Daily Prophet: Man Who Triumphed Over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Seduces Professor in Library; Discovered in Flagrante Delecto by Jilted Love and Student.

"Minerva, you're not terribly...hurt, are you?" Hermione asked quietly. Once this episode was over, she was going to give Harry Potter a piece of her mind for making her feel like the other woman.

Minerva decided to let them squirm for a moment before smiling secretively. "Honestly, I was surprised it hadn't happened sooner. And one can't truly be hurt when their plans go accordingly, can they?"

"Plans?" Harry and Hermione asked in unison.

She leveled a stare at them both. "Surely you don't think that Albus is the only one capable of intrigues, do you? When I realized Potter wasn't going to see reason and marry you—you are going to marry her, aren't you?"

"Well, I hadn't gotten that far..." he broke off when he saw both of their darkening countenances. "Um, uh, but of course. Just haven't gone to the jeweler yet."

"Good. Because Potter never does anything by half measures, I realized that when he discovered that he needed to marry if he ever wanted to escape the other marriage-minded witches, he wouldn't pick the obvious choice—yourself, Hermione. No, he'd would have to be difficult and pick someone else. As strange as it sounds, the only other single woman that Potter's is comfortable with is myself. I had to hope that you would be of some assistance to him and in the process he would realize that you were actually the perfect choice. But ensuring that he didn't veer off the right path, I also enlisted the help of Albus and Mr. Weasley. Very simple, if you think about it."

"Minerva, you've spent too much time around Dumbledore."

She sighed heavily before grinning at them. "I think you might be right." Walking over to where Harry sat on the ground, she bent to kiss his cheek and whisper something into his ear. Harry turned beet red, but his laughter followed her as she left the restricted section.

Hermione shook her head in awe. "I think the Headmaster could learn something from her."

"Don't say that! He's already a wily old curmudgeon. I'd hate to see him after she's done with him. He'd be unstoppable."

"Hm. Then maybe I should take some lessons. If nothing else, for future reference."

 Harry turned to her, shocked. "What future reference?"

She gave him an innocent look. "Why, making sure that you, Potter, are wrapped around my little finger."

He snorted. "Yeah, like that's difficult."

"Are you saying you're easy?"

"Always knew you were the cleverest witch at Hogwarts."

"Why didn't you tell me you were easy? I could've done this years ago." She slid to the floor and straddled his hips, kissing a path down his neck as she pushed him to the floor.

"I'm an idiot." Horror struck him. "Wait! Is the door locked?"

Hermione gave him a smile so full of sensual promise that if he hadn't already been laying down, he might have fallen down at her feet and cried. "Didn't you hear the locking charm Minerva put on the door?"

"I knew she was my favorite teacher for a reason."

But before Hermione leaned down to kiss him, she remembered McGonagall's parting comment in Harry's ear. "What did Minerva tell you before she left?"

Harry looked away, unable to meet Hermione's eyes. But he couldn't stop the embarrassed blush from rising on his cheeks again. "She told me that even though I had a really cute bum, and was very sweet, she was sorry it didn't work out between us." He let what he hoped was a wistful expression cross his face, "But maybe in a different time, or a different place..."

"You're right, Harry."

"Huh?"

"You are an idiot."

"But you love me anyway, right?"

Silence echoed through the room.

"Hermione?"

She only laughed.

"Hermione!"

 The End!

End Notes: My idea of a fully grown Harry Potter, sarcastic ass that he is and will later be, was inspired by Julia Quinn's Colin Bridgerton. Hermione, however, was a character created to see how many clichés I could debunk.

With love,
Alexandra