Bottles of Firewhiskey were scattered Harry's unconscious body. Clucking her tongue, Ginny waved her wand and sent all the bottles soundless to the waste bin. It wasn't until she made a move towards the sink that she noticed the piece of parchment clutched in his hand.
"Oh, Harry," she sighed.
Gently prying it from his finger tips, she quickly scanned the invitation.
Her deepest fears were confirmed.Hermione Jane Granger and Ronald Bilius Weasley request the honor of your presence...
"Ronald, what did you do?" Ginny whispered as she gently ran her hand through Harry's hair.
"Isn't it brilliant, mate?" Ron smiled broadly at Harry.
Harry managed a smile as he looked down at the wedding band a few weeks later. "Yeah, mate, bloody brilliant."
If there was anything in Harry's tone to give him away as anything less than a joyous best man, Ron didn't notice it.
"So, you're really going to do this?" Harry asked quietly.
"Do what?" Ron asked.
Ron raised his left eyebrow, "Of course, mate? Why wouldn't I?"
"I just find it odd, that's all," Harry said in a rush. No point in turning back now, he thought. "I mean, you guys go on one date and three days later, you're engaged. It's just quick."
"We've known each other since we were eleven, mate," Ron replied. "Perhaps you remember. I believe there was an incident with a troll and then something about chamber and a tournament and then," he snapped his fingers together, "I remember now! We helped you defeat YOU-KNOW-WHO for sodding out loud!"
"Of course I know how long you've known her," Harry snapped. "And feel free to say the name of the man you killed anytime now, Ronald. It's been eight years. Bloody hell, I'm just saying the romantic relationship progressed rather quickly."
"Harry, you haven't had a relationship since you and Ginny broke it off six years ago, so forgive me if I don't take your opinion into heavy consideration," Ron said hotly.
Harry sighed deeply, I am not going to get anywhere like this. "You're right, Ron. I'm sorry to question you."
"That's alright, mate," Ron replied. "No worries. Now, about that bachelor party."
Hermione cocked an eyebrow at the feisty redhead across the table.
"Is this Ginny-the-reporter asking or Ginny-my-maid-of-honor?"
Ginny giggled, "The maid of honor version, I promise."
Ginny took a deep breath. "Why the hell do you want to marry Ron?"
"Because I love him," Hermione said a little too quickly.
"No, you don't." Ginny replied evenly.
"I beg your pardon," Hermione exclaimed.
"You don't love him," Ginny repeated as she sipped her pumpkin juice.
Silence enveloped the table for a few moments before Hermione let out a deep sigh and whispered, "You're right."
"Of course I am," Ginny said smugly.
Hermione rolled her eyes.
"So, we're back to my question," Ginny stated.
"Why am I marrying Ron?"
"Because he asked," Hermione said after a few moments.
"Bloody hell, Hermione!" Ginny screeched. "Because he asked! If Draco Malfoy had asked would you have said yes?"
"No," Hermione denied. "Of course not! And that's not what I meant and you know it!"
"But you don't love him!"
"I do love him, and perhaps someday I will fall in love with him," Hermione replied logically. "Until then, he asked and I'm not getting any younger."
"You're twenty five, Hermione. You're not an old maid."
"Ginny, I –"
"Hermione, I am completely disappointed in you," Ginny said.
"First of all, how can you do that to Ron? You're subjecting him to a loveless marriage just because you're getting ansty?"
"No!" Hermione exclaimed, "It's not like that at all!"
"No," Ginny replied, "It's exactly like that! And I'll tell you what else it's like. I know that you know that this is wrong, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why you're going through with it. But, so help me Merlin, Hermione, if you walk down that aisle I'm never speaking to you again."
"Hermione, about six years ago when I was struggling with my relationship with Harry, you gave some very wise words to me. You said that I should never settle for someone I could live with, but I should strive for the one I couldn't live without. My dear friend," Ginny said, placing her hand over Hermione's, "I think you know who to strive for. And I think that that terrifies you."
"Can I clue you in on something?"
"Are you finally going to let me speak?" Hermione asked, slightly annoyed.
"I am not terrified."
Ginny rolled her eyes. "And Snape isn't a slimy git who loves Malfoy just a little too much to be healthy."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Hermione asked indignantly.
"Hermione," Ginny replied, changing subject, "you've been engaged for four months, correct?"
"When was the last time you spoke to Harry?"
"Since the day after Ron and my first date." Hermione's voice was barely above a whisper. It was all the energy she could exert, as her brain was reeling with everything that Ginny had just said.
"May I suggest that you return that ring to Ron, tell him that it just wouldn't be right for the two of you to settle for each other and then head over to Harry's flat. Just see what happens," Ginny took one last sip of her juice and signaled to the waiter to bring their check. "I have to get back to the office, but I expect an owl this evening."
Hermione brought her head up and made eye contact with Ginny. "My reality just shifted, Ginny. How would you feel?"
Ginny chuckled. "Fair point, friend, fair point."
I can do this! I've been rehearsing my speeches and apologies for fourteen hours. If I don't tell him now, I'll never tell him.
Hermione told herself over and over again as she stepped up to her fiancée's doorstep.
knock knock knockA very sleepy Ron stumbled towards the door. "'Mione! It's 2:30 in the morning? What the bloody hell are you doing here?"
With tears in her eyes and a catch in her throat, she handed him a small box. "I believe this belongs to you."
With sad recognition, Ron sighed, "If you're giving it back, yeah, it does."
"You don't seem all that sad about it," Hermione commented.
"Are you leaving me for Harry?"
A slow, small nod answered the questions he'd been saving up for eight years.
Hermione made eye contact with him for the first time, "Are you mad?"
"A little," he admitted. "But, 'Mione, if you married me when you loved him, I'd be pissed as hell, so this is the better option."
"Thank you, Ron."
He pocketed the ring box and pulled her into a hug. "Are you Apparating there now?"
She nodded silently into his chest and pulled away. With a quick kiss to his cheek, she disappeared from right before his eyes.
"Well, that was sooner than I expected," he commented to the empty room. "But I still won the bet."
Across town, in a smoky pub, Ginny and Luna Lovegood were reviewing the days events.
"So, there's a pool?" Luna clarified.
"Yeah," Ginny took a swig of her butterbeer. "Fred started it about two weeks after Harry and I broke it off."
"Six years?" Luna shook her head.
"Well, they're slow."
"Anyway, the rules are that they have to get together under the circumstances and during the time frame that you specify. If the time frame passes, you have to add more galleons to the pot and pick a new time," Ginny explained.
"So, I'm guessing that Ron's is..."
"Ron's scenario is exactly what's happening now."
"So, it's all a sham?"
"Parts of it," Ginny confessed. "Ron really does love Hermione. Now, I don't know if he loves her enough to marry her for real, but that's a moot point because we all know that Harry and Hermione belong together."
"That's true," Luna admitted. "So, what's Ron's plan?"
"As far as I know, he's trying to get Harry pissed enough that he tries to stop Hermione from marrying Ron."
"I'm in charge of planting seeds of doubt in her brain."
"Wow," Luna marveled. "You'd think you were all in Slytherin, the way you're behaving, all devious like."
Ginny let out a low chuckle, "Sometime you gotta do what you gotta do. And those two are such bumbling idiots that they'd never succumb to destiny unless we cattle prodded them."
"And cattle prodding you certainly are," Luna observed with a laugh.
"Hey," Ginny said with a raised eyebrow. "What are friends for?"
Harry fumbled for his glasses and glanced at the clock on his wall.
"2 bloody 45 in the bloody morning," he mumbled as he scrambled out of bed. Sadly, he was too twisted in his blankets to function properly and ended up tumbling to the floor. Trapped and twisted and still groggy, Harry laid sprawled out on the floor, trying to mentally regroup.
Oh bloody hell, he sighed internally.
"In here, 'Mione."
"In my bedroom, on the bloody floor."
"Why in Merlin's name are you on the floor, Harry? Honestly."
"Because I fell..." Harry trailed off as he saw Hermione's head appear over the side of his bed.
"Would you like some help?"
"Why are you here," Harry asked, accepting her hand. As he untangled himself, he saw that her eyes were swollen from tears. "Are you okay?"
"We need to talk," she said simply. "I put coffee on."
"Yes, because talking requires coffee, 'Mione. I asked if you were all right and you didn't answer. Are you?"
"Yes, Harry, I'm fine," she insisted as she walked out of his bedroom. "I just need to talk to you, but first I need coffee. It's very late, you know."
"I know," Harry sighed. And then he saw where she was going.
"'Moine, why are you going to my study? The coffee pot is still in the kitchen, right? You didn't move it on me."
"I left a book last time I was here," her voice drifted in from the other room. "I don't want to forget it again."
Well, if she's just going to get a book, then she won't see it.
The coffee pot chimed to indicate that the caffeine was ready for intake. As Harry carefully fixed Hermione's cup with a dash of cream and two sugars, he ran through the list of reasons why Hermione was at his flat at 2:45 in the morning.
She was raped. She was hurt in some way. Ron is dead. Ron is injured. Molly and Arthur are dead. Ginny is sick. Her parents have cancer. She has cancer...
"Harry James Potter."
It was said all as one word and in a bit of a whisper. But it was enough to make him snap around so fast that he gave himself whiplash.
And his world shattered.
"Is this true?" she whispered through her tears, clutching a piece of tattered parchment.
Oh shit. "Which part?"
"Well, I'm particularly interested in the third line where you tell me that you've been in love with me since our sixth year at Hogwarts."
"Harry Potter, I asked you a question," Hermione said evenly. "Is this true?"
"Well, Hermione, you see, I was..."
"Do you mean everything you wrote in this letter?" Hermione took a step closer and waved the parchment at Harry.
"The letter that I was never intending on sending to you?" Harry clarified, getting slightly agitated.
"Whatever this is, this letter, this note with 'Dear Hermione' at the top, do you mean it?"
"Well, you see,"
"Harry! This is a simple question! Do you mean what you say in this letter? Are you in love with me? Do I occupy your every thought? Do you find it hard to breathe when I'm in the same room as you? Does the thought of me marrying Ron make you physically sick? Harry James Potter, do you love me?"
He whispered something she couldn't quite hear.
"What was that?"
"Yes!" He roared. "I am so in love with you that I can't function. There are times at work that I can't do my job because I smell something that reminds me of you. There are times when I find myself walking down strange streets because I've been so caught up in day dreaming of you that I got lost. I ache without you, Hermione Jane Granger! And I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner and I don't expect you to do anything about it. I mean you are engaged to my best friend and all..."
"No, I'm not."
"And I just can't," Harry stopped mid sentence. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
"I'm not engaged any more," Hermione smiled.
"What? Why? I mean..."
And with that, she claimed his mouth with hers and silenced all his fears.
Ron won the pool (245 Galleons) and the right to be the first to know about Harry and Hermione's elopement. He told them the truth about the on going pool and they forgave him. Although, Hermione did have a few things to say about it first. ("A pool, Ronald? You bet on my love life? Honestly.")
Harry and Hermione Potter were married for 143 years before Harry finally died in his sleep at the age of 168. Hermione passed on three months later – they could never stand to be apart for very long at all. They had five children, fourteen grandchildren and thirty-three great-grandchildren. Harry spent much of his life as an Auror but then eventually wound up at Hogwarts, teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts to generations of young wizards. They were always a little too excited to see his scar. Hermione spent a little time as a Healer at St. Mungo's, but after she took time off from the work world to be a full-time mother, she found herself teaching at Hogwarts as well – Muggle Studies – and serving as Deputy Headmistress and eventually Headmistress. Harry was so proud.
Theirs is a story that young witches and wizards everywhere grow up with. Volumes an volumes have been published about the great Potter family. Harry's birthday is an international holiday and Hermione is honored in many ways as well.
But whenever their descendents tell their love story, they always begin with this: "And none of this ever would have happened if their good friend, Ron Weasley, didn't want to win a bet."