A/N: Dedicated to my fantastic beta for Shadows of the Endless
Day, Rawles (SheWhoHathAPen) and Nappa. Not even
remotely near what he would want to see, but that is another story. (And yes,
that is in the pipeline... umm... somewhere.)
"Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring."
Wendy Cope, "Being Boring"
"That sounds so... boring."
Of all the words she has just exchanged with her childhood friend, Iphigenia, those four stayed persistently in Hermione's mind. Not echoing or reverberating, merely hovering like another shadow, just behind her.
She has not talked to Iphigenia - Iphy - for years, not since that brief conversation over the telephone back when she has just began studying at Hogwarts and had yet to cobble together a believable alibi. She regretted the clumsy half-lies she told her friend, but Hogwarts seemed so foreign and so singularly magical that there was nothing she could say that did not allude to her life as a witch. Now, out the woodwork of the past, wormed out an old friend in the guise of stranger. They both naively believed that enough of their eight-year-old selves remain that they could still be same friends that they were.
"I work for my father now. Motorbike Rentals. It's all very exciting. The prettiest man I've ever seen walked in yesterday, but it turns out that he's got horrific taste in 'bikes... You?"
"Archives." She couldn't tell Iphy about the Ministry's copyright library which has a copy of every book in existence, published or otherwise. But then, despite the magic and vast volumes of paper involved, the life of an archivist isn't really that eventful.
"Remember how used to dream about shining white knights on motorbikes?" Iphy let loose a giggle Hermione wishes she could share. The only white knight she ever knew who straddled a motorbike was armoured in scars - a knotted pattern of numb, dead flesh that crisscrossed his skin - and wore too proudly the red blossoms of blood on his cloak. Too well does she remember the vision of him with his billowing cloak and blood-rusted sword, slumped over the hovering motorbike outside her window, hallowed by the headlights.
"So..." Iphy stretched out the word to fill her silence. "Pulled any fit men recently?"
"Kissed. Snogged. Bussed. Osculated..."
"Oh... Only one. And he's not really that good-looking."
"That's not good. Any other choices available? I could introduce you to a few. The resident mechanic here is very fit and races unprofessionally."
"Not really... I'm sort of married to him."
Silence trailed. Hermione supposed it to be shock, but with half the telephone and half the country between them, she cannot read the Iphy's wordless reaction.
"When did that happen?"
"Three years ago." She tried to sound casual, suppressing that morbid fantasy that always wells with the memory. They had exchanged rings just before the final endgame with Voldemort. She had fatalistically wanted them to identify her by the it when found her burnt and blood corpse, when her features melted by curses worse than the Unforgivables and the swirls of her fingertips re-drawn by fire. The gold of the ring would have welded around her dead finger, the lettering on the inside branded into the chalk-white bone, like a secret whispered and buried.
"Oh... So, why wasn't I invited to the wedding?" Mischief crept back into Iphy's voice. "Or are you too ashamed of him?"
Hermione wanted to laugh. Amid the agonizing mess of deaths, self-fulfilling prophecies, triple-crossings and complex attachments that made up their seventh year at Hogwarts, digging up old address books and re-forging old friendships had been the last thing on her mind.
"It was a small wedding." Not even that. With Percy's help they had slipped their names onto the Ministry's register. Life was too complicated to desire anything but the simple; all they had wanted was to have their names written side by side on the page of that oh-so-sacred book. Perhaps he had wanted some affirmation of life before walking eyes wide open into what they had then believed to be their deaths.
"Oh!" said Iphy, as though suddenly realising. "So was it a boy or a girl?"
Hermione could but smile; her Muggle friend had no clue of the conflicts that had ripped apart her life and had crudely sewn it back together again. Perhaps she had heard about the alleged alien abductions, accidental explosions in factories, extended and rather violent Halloween festivities and structural flaws in old castles. She might even have noticed the how there was an extra day in February when there should not have been, but she could never guess the reason for them.
"False alarm, then?" She made a sympathetic noise at the back of her throat. "So, what does he do?"
"Office job in the government." After having saving the world, it was perhaps strange that he had chosen - no, demanded - a low-pay clerical job in the ministry, preferably with lots of paperwork. He had wanted no augmentation of his deeds and did all he could to push the great title of Hero onto Ron. In the end, it had been Percy who had managed to secure it for him. Perhaps the outcast Weasley had understood the need for a mind-numbingly simple job after saving the world more times than one has fingers or perhaps because he enjoyed bossing the Boy Who Lived around, but it didn't matter, Harry had managed some semblance the normalcy he had so craved.
"So how's your love life?" With that question, she steered the conversation clear of herself. After a quick listing of Iphy's three most recent boyfriends, (Stan the clueless, who is apparently so good with the motorbike that things leap out of his way; Achie who is twice her age, a father of two and strangely predatory; Neoptolemus who has an classicist for a mother, is too-fit-for-words but had issues pronouncing her name) and some potential candidates (Neoptolemus' brother who may or may not be married and/or insane; Allan who sells motorbikes but cannot actually handle one; Charlie who seems too busy doing his whole "dark and mysterious" gig to notice her), Hermione was vaguely thankful she has quit the dating arena long ago.
"What's it like on the other side of the fence?" asked Iphy.
"What do you mean?"
"What's it like being a Smug Married Couple?"
"Well... umm... we wake up, go to work. I come back early afternoon, feed the pets, do some gardening, read... yes, Iphy, I still do that. I make dinner and our packed lunches late afternoon. When he gets back, we have dinner together. He washes up. We spend the evening together and go to bed. Repeat indefinitely..."
"Don't you go out?"
"Some weekends. Dinner with friends usually."
"But not out-out?"
"Clubs. Film. Karaoke. Dinner parties."
"We eat at the pub sometimes..."
That was when she said it. Those four words: "That sounds so... boring."
Iphy apologised afterwards, but as Hermione puts down the phone she cannot not stop hearing that harsh judgement passed on her life. She has never thought of her life with Harry as boring before, but now as she toys with the label in her mind, perhaps it really was.
Her life is filled with all the silly little details Heroes aren't supposed to bother themselves with. There is so little news that even Witches Weekly has to scrape the barrel when writing their obligatory article about them every issue.
Harry is as Harry always is. Or rather, what he has always wanted to be underneath a Hero's burden and frustrations.
He cannot remember which side of the plate the knife belongs and hates all experimentation with nail polish. He gardens with her during the weekends and pretends to listen to her when she reads out passages of her books to him. He tinkers with their television, but still cannot charm away the endless advertisements. He subscribes to more Quidditch magazines than he actually reads and sometimes starts snoring halfway through the late night games, though he claims to have not missed a single moment.
And yes, the Boy Who Lived does snore.
Hermione can remember being so relieved she when he first did so that she was choking back tears. It was a week into peace, the first day into their little house in the middle of nowhere and his snoring shook her from sleep up at precisely two forty-seven in the morning. Annoyed, she hadn't bother opening her eyes when gave the snoring Harry an instinctive slap on the shoulder. He only snored louder. Another slap and a none-too-gentle shove later that she finally opened her eyes to a half-painted ceiling.
It was then she became fully awake, then that she realised what she had so instinctively felt and done and then that she knew everything, cliché and all, would be all right. She had been so scared of the life they about to embark upon together. It had seemed so easy to pledge the rest of her life to him when said life would last a grand total of thirteen-and-a-half hours. She had been afraid that their past would become bigger than their present and cast onto everything its dominating shadow. Afraid that they would end up aping normalcy on a carcass stage, trying too hard at living the life that Voldemort had denied them. Afraid that the emotional trauma of extremities had left her dulled to subtleties of the mundane.
But when she heard Harry snore, that low, rumbling sound gargling from the bottom of his stomach, she knew she was still capable of annoyance. Relief washed over her; she still possessed emotions other than anger and fear.
He didn't wake up, but he did stop snoring and draped a sleepy, anchoring arm around her. She smiled into his skin and fell asleep again.
It has been three years since peace, yet he still eats too quickly, as though someone is about to snatch it away and sleeps lightly and she can often feel him flinch in the night. He claims that he doesn't dream anymore and the nightmares have left, but Hermione knew better. The Boy Who Lived still has nightmares, but simply does not remember them when he wakes.
But of all the things that don't change, there are good things too. Harry jaw still drops each time he sees her in lacy underwear. He still isn't the most good-looking wizard around, no matter what Witches Weekly claimed, but he still has the ability to pull her nerves backwards through a bush whenever he even got near a Quidditch pitch (which happens much too often) and make her toes curl at his kiss (which doesn't happen often enough.) He still can still make her agree to anything with a grin (which isn't so good) and actually likes doing the washing up (which is very good.) He still hasn't mastered the art of Do-It-Yourself and with his half finished projects littered around the house, he can never legitimately exactly complain about her ever-growing library, though he does get annoyed when bedroom athletics involves his clambering over the barricade of books around the bed. He still finds it amusing to eat off her plate ("Yours always tastes better!") and likes corned beef on toast. He still hasn't read Hogwarts: A History, though he reads fragments of it over her shoulder, making strange noises as he does so.
They do all the traditional "couple" things together, the things that Voldemort and magic had denied them. They did the laundry together every Saturday, stringing up all their clothes as brilliant-coloured flags in the early afternoon sun, laughing at the contagious nature of dyes. They sprawl the Sunday broadsheets over each other's breakfast and leave each other messages on the mantelpiece. They shared a chocolate frog card collection which both claim to be compiling for their future children.
They don't participate in the whirlwind twelve-cities-in-a-week tours that busy, adventurous couples were so enthusiastic about. She wanted to know everything there was to know about a place before they ventured there and Harry simply didn't like to rush.
She remembers sitting with Harry in the middle of the Stonehenge's ring of standing stones under his invisibility cloak. They watched the sunrise, the tide of the crowd, flowing lazily around them like a distant moat. She remembers blinking, missing the moment when the sun first peeked over the horizon as a sliver of red gold and knowing they could come again tomorrow. The air was thick with old magic; Hermione could taste its history and hear the dark tangle of its colours. She knew Harry to be more sensitive to magic than she was, but it did not agitate him.
Surrounded by such latent power and the thronging tourists, the invisibility cloak could only do so much to hide they; they in needed to stay very still and very quiet. Instead of speaking, she traced letters into his skin and he mouthed words into the ticklish space behind her ear. He told her that the ancients welcomed them with honour. She tried to tell him the stories of Stonehenge that way, with him whispering the words she spelt out. The grand, oral legends transcribed to paper, were again bequeathed to the air. They became a jumble of abstracts, but somehow he understood the reasons, the fear and the awe that man had once felt beholding the stones.
Was all that boring? After seven years of adventure worthy of a plotted novel - seven, well-plotted genre-blending novels, for that matter - is boring all that is left? And is there anything wrong with being boring nd enjoying it?
Hermione stirs the thickening pumpkin soup, turning round and round the idea in her head. Was all that she had fought for truly boring?
The taste of hot, still-too-thin pumpkin soup brings back memories and as she adds more salt and a pinch of sugar ("for flavour," her Aunt had taught her), she remembers Harry he wanted to hear her voice. It was during their seventh year at Hogwarts, a week before their mock NEWTs in the darkening Common room, amid a table-ful of notes.
She hit him playfully then and told him to speak sense, stabbing a full stop onto the end of her essay.
"No, I mean it," he said seriously. "I don't hear you voice often enough. I spend too much time listening to what you have to say, paying attention to the advice you're giving me, the research that you've done, the mistakes you've spotted in my essay, the latest news about Voldemort or your speculations about him, your explanation about this spell or that historical event...
"I could allow myself to be interested in you then, but it isn't just you. It's also what you're saying, how that contributes to the War, how it changes things, how dangerous is the situation, how... I've stopped hearing your voice speak the words; I just hear the words. It's as though we're never alone, some part of me has to be focusing on the World and Voldemort-" He broke off; she daren't touch him for fear he wouldn't continue.
"It's why I want to win, Hermione. Because I want to spend time focusing on you again, on what your voice sounds like. I want to be able to afford that luxury again. To waste words. Say have you frivolous things for the sake of hearing your voice."
She smiled sadly at him then and for want of words, reached out for his hand. For all her books and cleverness, she didn't fully understand what Harry meant, but now she did.
That was what they fought for, that luxury of being boring. It is the ability to wake in the morning and fall asleep again with the sun warming one's face. It is doing laundry and sharing ice cream, carving pumpkins out of season and reading the newspaper without fear of what is on the next page. It is blinking whilst watching sunrise at Stonehenge and irritation at loud snoring. It is ungainly dances and silly just-because presents, burnt dinners and packed lunches, long walks around the lake and channel-flipping on weekdays. It is owning books without fear of having to move them one day. It is long, lazy silences in which there is no hurry to speak, knowing everything to be understood. It is coming home and knowing the house isn't empty.
Some part of her knows it cannot last, it cannot stay this way for long. For all the sacrifices they had made to be this way, Harry will come home one day with shadowed eyes and it will all being again, that interesting, eventful life. Danger in interesting, turmoil eventful. Ill-omens, treachery, trauma and deaths spin a fanciful tale.
She hears footsteps, recognises their familiar rhythm and smiles to herself. Living in the middle of nowhere - or more specifically, in the outskirts of Low Bentham, a village too small for the cartographers to waste precious map space on means that they have to own a car to avoid suspicion and though Harry can technically Appartate straight into the kitchen, he likes the daily ritual of the two-minute drive, the walk up the garden path, the fumble of keys and finally opening the door to a welcoming house.
"I'm home," comes Harry's voice. They are the same words he says every evening as he steps through the door. This would be his seven hundredth and ninety sixth time. He doesn't take off his shoes yet, though he puts down his briefcase.
"I'm in the kitchen," she replies, though he knows that already as she feels his presence in the doorway and then his arms around her waist.
"It's almost done."
She knows he isn't referring to just to food, but she feigns innocence. This is all part of their daily ritual that make up the steady heartbeat of their life together.
"Do something constructive then. Set the table," she says.
He lets go of her and Hermione hears the opening and closing of the cutlery drawer. She hears him hum fragments of a familiar song under his breath.
"What are you smiling about?"
"I just thought, if this is what means to vegetate, then I must to be the happiest cabbage there ever was."Author's notes:
My latest attempt at fluff...
Inspired by Wendy Cope's poem Being Boring and a reaction to all those who think H/Hr is boring. (As opposed to D/Hr, R/Hr (etc) who are more "interesting.")
"Fit" is apparently the latest in British slang for "hot"... or so they say in the Common room (and they should know. They're British and they're in a boarding school.)
Smug Married Couple: a little nod to Brigit Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding
Iphigenia is Hermione's half-sister in Greek mythology (or cousin, depending on which version you read.) And Neoptolemus is Achilles' son.
Two of Iphy's suitors (or potential suitors) may or may not be wizards. Just to point out the ambiguity of short-term relationships and the omnipotence of the Wizarding World.