He Could Always Read Her

by: atruwriter


Over the years, Harry had found a manner of deciding whether his current girlfriend was long term or time to let go of. He hadn't realized he was doing it until (of all people) Ron told him about it. During the seven years since Voldemorts defeat in what was supposed to be Harry's seventh year at Hogwarts, Harry had made it his goal to live life to the fullest. He'd gotten over the stuttering, shifting, nervous boy-with-a-crush attitude and managed to give off a charming, suave nature he was sure his father had passed on to him (quite late, unfortunately). Had he had the attitude earlier, his personal life at Hogwarts might have been a little easier to manage. Being the Man-Who-Conquered, Harry was well known in the Wizarding world and often very sought out by women, his age and numerous decades older. He had to be careful who he met, trusted, and dated. So many were simply interested in the title of being with him, rather than actually being with him and he wasn't interested in playing celebrity arm candy for them. His goal was to find someone who truly loved him for him and to have a family of his own. To finally be able to have that feeling of unending love that reached deep down into his bones and never wavered. To have a son or daughter look up at him with pride and awe because they wanted to be just like their dad. To have a wife to return to, a woman who knew him completely, just like his parents had. To never be lonely or lost or empty again.

At twenty-four, he had a strong career as a Head Auror and while his job never ended, he felt good in the fact that the most notorious Death Eaters had been caught by him and his close friends. War veterans like his best mate Ron, and school chums Neville, Dean, and Seamus aided in bringing in the worst of them. On a daily basis there was always someone else looking to cause havoc, to destroy peace and happiness, and to reinstate the darkness that had overshadowed Harry's first seven years in the Wizarding world. Harry had gone out of his way, however, to make sure that those days would never repeat themselves. Balancing a social life and his work as an Auror was hard and a lot of women weren't interested in having a battered boyfriend come home and want to sleep rather than listen to their day of shopping, so Harry sometimes ended it with girlfriends before he even put them through his now patented procedure of "staying or going?"

Given his rather shaky social life, Harry didn't introduce his girlfriends to his best friends until it was time for him to find out whether they were keepers. It was five years in before Ron figured out what Harry was doing, something not even Harry knew he was consciously doing. Harry had always been able to read Hermione's face. It was like a book, the words were written clearly in her movements and her small mannerisms. She didn't have to speak, or even look at him, he could see it all in the little Hermione-things she did. He wasn't sure what caused his decision to base every relationship he had on what Hermione did when she met his girlfriends, perhaps because over the years he had learned that her brilliance meant that quite often she was unquestionably right. And so, she became his personal 'keep or let loose' teller.

There had been a total of five women who had ever managed to meet Hermione and Ron, and all five had not met Hermione's standards for what was good enough for Harry. She never said anything, never questioned Harry's decision when he broke it off with them. Quite often she'd just nod her head, pat his hand and tell him, "There's somebody perfect out there for you, Harry. I know it!" She didn't talk to him much about his personal life, and he had learned not to bring it up with her unless absolutely necessary. She'd give him advice without question, always had an answer to his newest issue with whoever it was he was dating. But there was a gleam in her eyes that he never quite classified, but somehow learned that she didn't care much for knowing about the women in Harry's life. She was lively when the conversation concerned women like Ginny, who had married Neville a couple years after Voldemorts defeat, or Luna who was currently engaged to Ron, and then of course there were older women like McGonagall and Mrs. Weasley that the gleam never appeared for. But most others, women Harry was dating or had an interest with caused that difference in her usually warm mocha eyes and it disconcerted Harry when it appeared, so he gave up bringing those women up around her.

They had various other subjects to discuss anyway. Hermione had a busy life and she was always interested in hearing how Harry was doing, at work, with friends, and just generally in his life. Since Ron was so busy with Luna and the wedding lately, Harry found himself spending even more time with just Hermione, something that was familiarly comfortable. His every girlfriend hadn't appreciated how much time he spent with Hermione, but that was something he had long ago learned to cope with. An ongoing issue with each of his girlfriends had been his close relationship with Hermione. It was widely known throughout his exes that while he cared for them, they would always be second. It wasn't something Harry had set out to do and he never told the women in his life that it was the way of his life. It was just another part of Harry's life that he overlooked as regular.

He didn't see any problem with spending every Friday night at Hermione's, watching movies and eating pizza. Or how on Sunday's, he would spend brunch with her and her parents, Theresa (fondly called Terry by family and close friends) and Jacob Granger. It wasn't unusual for him to go to her when he was achy and bruised from Auror work, so he'd sit in front of her as she massaged soothing balm into his injuries instead of going to whoever his current girlfriend was. He didn't see anything wrong with that. He never understood that bringing up Hermione's interests or personal thoughts on things made him sound like he was mildly obsessed with his best friend. It was just a natural reaction to tell his current girlfriend what his best girl friend thought of whatever was being talked about. He had no personal insight on the subject, but he knew Hermione did, so he shared it. And, yes, he did start using her as a bit of a defense measure, though he hadn't known it at the time. Sometimes saying that Hermione would understand what they couldn't or that Hermione would know better not to talk to the press about certain issues. He thought it was a way of explanation for them. They were the girlfriend, Hermione was the girl friend, so they had similar roles, and he was just trying to get across to them the best way to handle things. A way that had long passed worked for her, so why shouldn't it work for them, too?

In the end, there were only five girlfriends who managed to accept Harry's close proximity to Hermione and had made it to the day when Hermione would decide "yay or nay" on them. When Harry searched back, he found he really had been paying close attention to just what Hermione was thinking or how she was acting in reaction to his latest girlfriend. The first had been Tracy, a pretty brunette with long curly hair and a slim body. She had dark green eyes, plump pink lips, and had a love affair with clothing. She was bright, nice, and could be funny when she let herself relax. Being very fashion oriented, Tracy ran a small robes store and constantly bought subscriptions to whatever fashion papers were in at the time. Something Harry remembered most about her was her tendency to giggle and shrug. During their two month relationship, she had met a few of his Auror buddies and even met Ron before the day Harry had planned for. Ron liked her well enough, saying she was 'a real looker' and 'nice enough'. He didn't look too surprised, however, when Harry broke up with her shortly after Hermione met her.

They were having a dinner with all of Harry's close friends, some of which came in from various places around Europe. Most of the Weasleys were present, excluding Percy and Charlie who was in the middle of Dragon mating season and couldn't get away. Kingsley, Moody, McGonagall, Remus, Tonks, Neville, Dean, Seamus, Luna, and a few friends Harry had met while traveling as an Auror came in. Hermione was out of town for a meeting, but she had promised to be there for dinner, so Harry cleaned and fixed up the place with Tracy's help. They spent a half hour or so just getting back into the swing of things and finding comfort in old friendships and catching up. Tracy didn't know anybody but Harry, even though she had met Dean, Seamus and Neville, who she found to be very loud most of the time. Ron tried pulling her into a conversation, but he was soon distracted by an odd comment Luna made and Tracy was quickly out of her element with Harry's friends. For his part, Harry was awaiting Hermione's arrival as if she was bringing world hunger to an end. He leaned against the hearth and half-listened to Remus and Tonks as they discussed an old mission, when it finally roared to life and Hermione came out.

Harry grinned happily when he heard her muttering about soot in her crazy hair and used his wand to banish the offending mess from her nicely curled brown locks. He wrapped an arm around her waist and his smile grew as she turned to kiss his cheek while saying, "I do wish the apparition wards could come down," as her standard greeting. She'd been saying it for years, but he still found it amusing to see her stumble out, covered in soot, and so he hadn't informed her that they were taken down a couple years prior. He shot a look at Seamus who opened his mouth to correct her and then winked at Hermione, "Where would be the fun in that, 'Mione?"

She rolled her eyes at him, though a smile tugged at her lips and then waved at Mrs. Weasley who was carrying a large tray of cheeses, meats, and vegetables. "Oh! Would you like help, Molly?" she asked politely, while trying to shrug out of her cloak.

Harry pulled it from her shoulders and wrapped it over his arm, placing a hand on the small of her back. "Bet you a galleon she tells you to relax because you work too hard," he whispered against her face.

"Gambling is a horrid habit," she replied, wrinkling her nose.

"Oh no, Hermione dear, you rest, you work far too hard," Mrs. Weasley called back, waving a hand.

Harry snorted, grinning at her.

Hermione rolled her eyes at him, shaking her head to tell him not to say a thing.

"Oi! Harry, stop hogging our best girl," Ron shouted with his mouth stuffed full of a sandwich of some kind. He came barreling through the crowd, knocking into people who just smiled, shaking their heads at the natural behavior of Ron Weasley. He wrapped long arms around Hermione and lifted her up off the ground in greeting. Laughing, Hermione embraced him back, shaking her head against his shoulder. "Did'ja know, 'Mione, that Dobby talked three more House Elves into asking for pay and vacation time?" he told her incredulously. "Who knew your mental spew campaign would eventually work?" he said, snorting.

Harry stifled a laugh, watching as Hermione slapped the back of Ron's head and then took her place next to him again as their best mate put her down so he could rub at his offended noggin. Frowning at her playfully, he took the attention off him by saying, "Have ya met Harry's new bird then, yet?"

Hermione's smile wavered a moment and she glanced back at Harry. "No, I didn't know he was dating anyone."

"Yeah, me either until she showed up with a bouquet of flowers for him," Ron said, his brows lifting. "Something about how he wasn't really about big gestures, so she thought she'd show him the fun of it." He shrugged his shoulders, his eyes scanning the crowd.

"What kind of flowers?" she wondered, her mouth pursed. Bad sign, Harry noted.

"I dunno. Lots of colors, store bought, that sorta thing," Ron told her, shaking his head.

Hermione sighed, sounding rather nonplussed.

"What?" Harry asked, nudging her shoulder.

She looked over at him with a small smile, shaking her head slightly. "Nothing, I just..." She looked back at Ron and then over to Harry, "A lot of store bought bouquets have Matsumoto asters," she explained frowning, "which you're allergic to," she finished, lifting a brow.

Harry cocked his head to one side, his eyes turning up, "That would explain the sudden head cold I had for the next few days after that," he said, nodding.

Hermione chortled, shrugging her shoulders. "Well, I suppose if you couldn't remember, she wouldn't know, right?" she told him, before her gaze swept the crowd. "Well, where is she then, Harry? Are we going to stand in the middle of the den all day, or will something productive be done?"

Harry grinned, angling her around Ron and walking her toward the girl who seemed to be sticking out like a sore thumb. She was somewhat overdressed and appeared rather out of place. She just seemed lost. Everybody else was in conversations and laughing or telling stories, while she stood against the wall, her arms crossed lightly over her chest, staring out uncomfortably. With Harry on one side and Ron on the other, Hermione was escorted to meet Tracy Shortstaff. Ron was telling her all about what Luna had said earlier, something Tracy hadn't been able to understand at all, while Hermione simply nodded her head, saying here or there that, "Yes, I'm sure if those existed, they'd be fascinating."

Finally, the time of reckoning. Hermione stopped a foot or so from Tracy, who seemed to straighten out in front of Hermione, her shoulders squaring and a bright but rather fake smile appeared. Harry knew that while Tracy had been more accepting of Hermione, she didn't quite appreciate just how close Harry was with his best friend. Harry looked to Hermione to see what she thought of her, and without knowing it at the time, read Hermione's expressions and appraisal of Tracy as if it were the Fates handwritten manual of his life. Hermione's eyes scanned Tracy's outfit, a tight, short red dress that looked quite fancy compared to the comfortable jeans and sweater Hermione was donning and the easy going outfits of most of the other women in the house. Her nose wrinkled and Harry knew right then that Hermione didn't like Tracy's sense of fashion, which Harry knew first hand was a bit of an obsession for his girlfriend. Tracy was always put together and never left the house unless she was completely organized, wearing the latest fashions, and had the perfect amount of make up on. Hermione's eyes then found Tracy's hair, which is when her face softened slightly and Harry understood that as meaning she approved of the thick, soft curls, which Harry had found to be the most appealing part of Tracy. It hadn't occurred to him at the time that they quite reminded him of Hermione.

"You must be Hermione," Tracy said, holding her hand out, fingers down and wrist elevated in what Fleur often said was much more 'feminine' that most other handshakes.

Hermione glanced down at her hand, her mouth pursing, and took the hand as she would any other, shaking it quickly and strongly, which seemed to startle Tracy a bit. Harry took the pursed lips as a very bad sign and chewed the the inside of his cheek in contemplation.

"Yes," Hermione replied, her voice rather curt. "So, Tracy, how did you and Harry meet?" she queried.

"Oh!" Tracy said, her eyes sparkling and a high pitched giggle escaping her. "Funny thing. I was just about to go shopping, there was a wonderful sale happening at Gladrags, when I realized I'd left my window open. Imagine my surprise when I look out to see my cat Jackson has escaped through my flat window and got himself stuck in a tree." She rolled her eyes, which now looked quite heavy with make up and thick, brittle lashes stared out at Harry. "Harold happened to be walking by, on his way to... What was it again, babe?" Harry had no idea and simply shrugged. They had met nearly two months ago and he couldn't remember anything except that she had practically wrapped her body around him in thanks when he got her cat down, covering the new shirt Hermione had bought him in cat hair. Tracy shrugged it off, "Well, anyway, he was walking by and heard me shouting. Stupid me, I forgot all about the fact that I had a wand!" She chuckled, rolling her eyes at her own stupidity. "So then Harold levitated Jackson over to me and I couldn't let a moment like that pass so I offered to buy him lunch for his help." She shrugged, grinning happily and waved her hand in the air, her long, manicured nails glittering with her bright red nail polish.

Hermione visibly cringed three times during Tracy's short recollection, twice when Tracy called Harry "Harold" and again when she called him "babe". Harry knew how little Hermione cared for pet names. She tolerated it when Harry and Ron (on occasion) called her 'Mione. She didn't mind it when Harry called her "sweets" when he was trying to talk her into something she was usually against. And more recently, the term "love" from Harry came second nature and she simply smiled, hardly batting an eye lash. Terms like babe, baby, sweetums, pookie, and other such nonsense completely got under Hermione's skin. And was more often than not, a reason for Hermione to seriously reconsider her own relationships with men.

"Harold," Hermione repeated, her eyes fluttering a moment in her irritation.

"Oh yes," Tracy said, reaching out to run a hand down Harry's arm. "Harry feels so..." She wrinkled her nose and pursed her mouth, "I don't know. It's rather humdrum, don't you think?" she asked, giggling.

Hermione's lips pursed even further and Harry, though at the time had no idea he was basing his decision off of Hermione's facial expressions, came to the conclusion that he and Tracy really weren't working out. She was so feminine and rather helpless while he could care less about shopping or whether his name sounded 'humdrum'. He liked his name. Harold wasn't even his full name, it was just plain, regular Harry. He liked it, his friends didn't appear to want to retch when they heard it, and he'd always noticed that it sounded melodic when Hermione sounded it. "Not really, no," Hermione replied, her eyes becoming rather stale when they met Tracy's.

Tracy had no reply to that so she cleared her throat and turned to Harry and then glanced at Hermione before turning her gaze down. "Well, I'm sure you're quite busy, you haven't seen some of these people for some time, right?" she asked, forcing a smile. "Harry, why don't you introduce me to some of your other friends?" she asked him, casting a rather uncomfortable look at Hermione.

Harry shrugged, "You've met them all. Besides, Hermione was who I really wanted you to meet tonight." He motioned to his best girl friend who was leaning to the right a bit, against Ron who was looking around the room for someone. Harry frowned, "She's right though, 'Mione, you really haven't seen a lot of us for some time. You probably want to visit, right?" he asked, rather disappointedly.

"I have all night," she said easily, half shrugging. She looked up at Ron, half-smiling. "Luna is examining the pumpkin juice, Ron, why don't you go see what it is that she's certain has infested it."

Ron glanced down at her sheepishly before nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, I should make sure it's, er, not infested." He lifted a hand, squeezing her shoulder. "I'll see you in a little bit, 'Mione. Good to visit with you. Been too long."

She snorted, rolling her eyes. "I saw you two weeks ago at the Weasley family dinner," she replied, shaking her head. Ron shrugged, half grinning as he wandered off to the odd blonde by the snack table.

"Two weeks is a long time," Harry jumped in, his hand lifting to wrap around the back of her neck, fingers delicately rubbing her skin.

Hermione looked over at him with a lifted brow. "Harry James, I saw you less than a week ago, I'll thank you to remember. Somebody has to make sure you have clothes on your back," she reminded, referring to her sudden shopping day with Harry after he admitted he was lacking in the wardrobe department.

Harry grinned, shrugging one shoulder and pulling her into his side. "How ever would I survive without you?"

Hermione opened her mouth to reply but then her eyes shifted to Tracy, who was watching with a mixture of disapproval and suspicion. "You'd get by," she said, quietly. "Oh, look, there's Seamus, I forgot to tell him that my secretary Tammy has been talking about him non-stop. I'll be back in a moment," she said rather quickly. She turned to Tracy, "Nice to meet you," she said, giving a small smile that didn't reach her eyes.

"Yes, it was," Tracy replied, her voice full of false cheer. "We should get together some time. Talk girl talk. Has to be rather suffocating with two male best friends," she said, giggling with a shrug of her shoulders.

Hermione's small smile faded and her eyes narrowed slightly. "Right. Perhaps," she said shortly. Turning, she beamed up at Harry, "Do try to stay out of trouble, Harry, I really want to talk to you later about my interview earlier."

"You have my word," he promised, lightly squeezing her neck before he let his hand fall. She smiled at him before turning to leave, and cast one last uncertain look at Tracy. Not three days later, Harry broke it off with Tracy, who immediately accused him of using her until Hermione realized he was in love with her. Harry had denied it completely and couldn't understand why Tracy thought he was in love with his best friend, even though it had become a sort of regular accusation amongst his girlfriends.

The second girlfriend Harry introduced to Hermione had met a similar fate. Her name was Catarina and she had a great love for Quidditch. She talked about it non-stop, or more commonly Quidditch players. She was a few years younger than Harry and while she didn't have the greatest understanding of Quidditch, she quite enjoyed the men who played it. She had a succession of famous Quidditch boyfriends behind her and Harry had, for some reason he still couldn't quite figure out, fell under the same spell as the others. She was an energetic woman with long blonde hair, a curvy body and warm mocha eyes, which Harry found most appealing. Harry had introduce Catarina to Hermione at their favorite watering hole, The Crazy Quaffle, while Ron played a game of darts across from them. He'd met Catarina the same time Harry did, at a Quidditch game where they had been rooting for opposite teams. The only opinion Ron had about Catarina was that, "she sure does love Quidditch." He always said "Quidditch," with emphasis, as if he was referring to much more than the game. Harry chose to ignore it, knowing he was talking about her intense love of Quidditch players. No longer a player himself, Harry only took the game in from the stands.

Hermione was sitting on a stool, holding a cool bottle of butterbeer and remarking on Ron's inability to hit anything but bar patrons with his darts. Harry shifted on his feet next to Catarina who was staring up at him with her large mocha eyes and sticking her bottom lip out for him to go get her a drink. After amusing herself with Ron's newest folly of hitting some man in the head with the back end of the dart, Hermione turned to Harry and Catarina, her eye settling on the short woman. "Hello, you must be Harry's girlfriend," she greeted in a friendly manner.

"Oh," Catarina replied brightly, her eyes widening and her mouth widening in a large grin. "Yes, call me Cat or Rina," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "It's 'Mione, right?"

Hermione stiffened, her brow lifting slowly. "Her-mione," she replied, nodding. Her eyes thinned slightly but she recovered quickly and tried to smile. "So, you met Harry at a Quidditch game, I hear."

"Oh yes, it was the Tutshill Tornadoes against the god-awful Chudley Cannons," she said with a shrill laugh, rolling her eyes. "Poor Harry was rooting for the Cannons, can you believe it?" she said, shaking her head.

Hermione frowned, her eyes moving to Harry and then Ron, who was muttering under his breath and glaring daggers at Catarina. Clearing her throat, Hermione said, "Actually, the Chudley Cannons have had a great year." She smiled slowly, "If I remember correctly, they beat the Tornadoes."

Catarina shrugged, "Oh, really? Hmm, I hadn't known. I was more interested in the players, really. That Merwyn Finwick," she said, her eyes gleaming excitedly. "Mmm-mmm, wouldn't you say?"

Hermione shifted on her stool, her nose lifting slightly, which to Harry meant she felt the girl nearest her was acting rather childish in Hermione's opinion, or at the very least, wasn't meeting Hermione's expectations. "Not really. I don't pay so much attention to the players themselves."

"Why else would you watch?" Catarina exclaimed, shaking her head.

Ron grunted, throwing a dart a little harder than needed and Harry shifted on his feet once more, watching Hermione's reaction.

Hermione straightened in her seat. "I thought you were a Quidditch enthusiast," she said, her brow furrowed and her mouth set in a deep frown.

"Oh," she said, giggling. "More of a Quidditch player enthusiast."

Hermione chuckled hollowly, before lifting her butterbeer and sipping it. "So... your knowledge of the game is... limited?" she asked, her brow lifting.

"I know next to nothing about it," she admitted, shrugging her shoulders.

"I see," Hermione replied, her gaze falling. "And your enthusiasm for Quidditch players, how has that been for you?"

"Great!" Catarina said, leaning toward Hermione as if she were a close girl friend and stage-whispering, "Let's just say the Tornadoes aren't my favorite team for nothing," she said with a giggle.

Hermione gave her a weak smile before letting out a long, suffering sigh. She gave Catarina a look that could easily be confirmed as disgust mingled with disappointment and then rose from her seat. "Ron, please, let me show you how to aim so you don't take anybody out," she said, her voice only mildly exasperated and mostly amused. She didn't try to draw Catarina into a conversation after that, instead opting to talk to anybody but her. Hermione was polite enough when Catarina talked to her, but Harry could clearly read in her eyes that his 'Mione was not approving of his latest girlfriend. Her nose wrinkled regularly, her eyes thinned often, and her mouth seemed nearly permanently pinched.

The next day, Harry broke it off with Catarina and wasn't surprised to see her picture in the paper the next week with the reserve Keeper for the Wigtown Wanderers. Hermione hadn't commented on the break up except to say, "D'you think she knows what a Wronski Feint is?"

Harry chuckled, "I think that's the first time you've pronounced it right."

Hermione smiled wryly, "I've been doing my homework," she told him with a wink.

Harry's third girlfriend, Emilia, was the one with the most potential, even in Hermione's eyes. She had a great love for Muggle music and had been practicing since she was young to master various Muggle instruments, which was quite interesting given she was raised entirely in the Wizarding world. She was very smart and had a strong position in the Ministry of Magic. She was quite attractive with long, straight black hair and dreamy cerulean eyes. She had long legs, a slim figure and creamy pale skin. Her voice was on the husky side, always coming out quite sensual and thick. She wasn't much interested in fashion or make up, but she loved reading and enjoyed just hanging out with friends. Harry was quite certain that Hermione would like her. In fact, he was almost sure that the two would hit it off and he would finally settle in for a long term relationship.

Everything had started off nice enough. Harry invited Hermione, Ron, and Luna over for dinner to meet Emilia and while waiting for the rest of his guests, he and Hermione had set up his house for dinner and she picked out his clothes for him. Settling on her favorite green sweater of his and a pair of black pants, Hermione told him to hurry up and get dressed and then hurried downstairs to check on dinner. She had made them an especially enjoyable dessert too and since she spent about as much time at his house as he did, she knew her way around. After a quick shower, Harry dressed and made his way downstairs, wondering if his cologne was too strong. Hermione had bought it for him the last Christmas and he never quite figured out how to put it on without overdoing it. After checking the chicken in the oven, Hermione stood up and walked closer to Harry, sniffing the air. "Just right," she told him before he could even ask her if it was too much.

Ron and Luna, an unlikely but very well balanced couple, arrived early, most likely due to Hermione telling them both that dinner was starting at quarter to the actual time. That way, instead of being late like they would have been, they were right on time. Emilia showed up a couple minutes after, apologizing and giving Harry a quick kiss on the side of his mouth. Dinner itself was a great time, Emilia told them all an amusing story involving her older brother, Filibuster fireworks, and her mother's favorite china set, while Ron cast fancied glances at Luna and Harry eyed Hermione for a reaction. So far, her nose hadn't twitched, her mouth had yet to purse, and a frown had been nary in sight. She laughed at the story, spent a great deal of time discussing wonderful books with Emilia, and then shared a story of her own involving Harry and Ron, something she'd never done with anyone but her closest friends and never once with any of Harry or Ron's former girlfriends. Harry took it as a great sign and was relaxing in his chair while Hermione served out dessert to each of them. It was then that it went all down hill.

Hermione sat across from Emilia, her leg crossed over the other as they talked about family, friends, and career goals. Harry could almost see a friendship forming between the two and tried to imagine himself and Emilia as an older couple, with Hermione palling around with the both of them. The image was hard to conjure and oddly, he found Hermione was beside him, making Emilia look like the outsider joining in. He brought himself back into the conversation and listened to Hermione talk about her cousin Brody, who Harry had met and had to admit was quite the handful.

"Harry had accidentally given Brody a few sweets, not knowing that my cousin reacts to the smallest bit of sugar as if he'd just been injected with adrenalin," Hermione told her, rolling her eyes upward and smiling. "So you can imagine he was quite the task to handle. He was practically jumping off the walls, screaming instead of talking, and absolutely obsessed with trying to braid my hair," Hermione told her, chuckling.

Harry remembered that day. It had been a Saturday and Hermione's extended family were in town for a wedding between one of Hermione's older cousins. Harry had gone along as her support and date, having close ties to the Granger family anyway. He didn't even bother correcting her various aunts and uncles when they referred to him as Hermione's "beau since forever". It was a lost cause by then and he really didn't see any harm in letting them think what they thought. It always amused Terry, who also never corrected them but instead winked at Harry whenever it was said. Jacob had explained the nature of Hermione and Harry's relationship the first few times, but finally gave up and said, "Yeah, that's Harry all right."

"Oh, children," Emilia said, wrinkling her nose distastefully. "I can't stand them. They're so messy and loud and... ugh," she said, waving her hand and lifting her brows. "No, I'm happy with just a book and bottle of butterbeer, thank you."

Hermione's smile faltered slightly. "They can be a bother, but I love children," she said, nodding. "I hope to have a family of my own one day. Not as big as the Weasleys," she said, smiling at Ron, "Molly is a miracle worker, if you ask me. But, I think I'd enjoy having a few children. Two boys and a girl, at least," she said, sounding rather wistful.

Harry nodded agreeably, smiling to himself. He wanted a family, a big one preferably, but he'd be content to have just one in the end. Boy or girl, didn't much matter. Just a child of his own, someone to love unconditionally, to give what he never had growing up. He could see himself as a father, he hoped he'd be a good one. He could teach them to fly, to talk Hermione into giving them the last the cookie, to sneak around Hogwarts castle and not get caught, to play the most amusing of pranks. He'd chastise them when they did wrong, but never let them believe he didn't love them. He would hug them, kiss their little heads, ease their pain and whisk away their ouchies. He'd give them large bedrooms that were designed to their comforts rather than rickety old cots and stifling small bedrooms or uncomfortable cupboards and thin mattresses.

"Oh, not me," Emilia said, drawing Harry's attention back to the conversation. "I've never wanted children, they're simply not something that interests me. I think some women are made for motherhood and others just aren't cut out for it. I've never really had the nurturing gene and I'd much prefer a late night with my books or my work than putting a kid to bed and cleaning up after them. Smelly diapers and crying children just aren't something that interests me," she said, shrugging her shoulder as he sipped a glass of wine and ate another bite of dessert.

Hermione's face took on a whole other expression then. Harry watched her nose wrinkle, her brow furrow, and her mouth purse to complete the worst of her expressions. It was quite easily readable to Harry. Emilia was not staying. Hermione made no comment on children again, actually opting not to speak much after that. Ron picked up the conversation, turning it to Quidditch or something, Harry wasn't quite listening. He was watching Hermione, watching as her shoulders slumped slightly and she quite eating her dessert, instead pushing it around with her fork. Her eyes landed on Emilia and her mouth tightened once more before she looked over at Harry. Her face relaxed then and she put on a brave front. She smiled at him, a warm and genuine smile that comforted Harry. Even if Hermione hadn't approved of Emilia, he knew then that what they had wouldn't have worked out. They had different goals and hopes for the future. Harry couldn't fathom a future without a family and Emilia wasn't interested in children, so it was a no go for sure.

Hermione squeezed his arm before she left, as if she knew what was going to happen. She kissed his cheek and hugged him tightly, whispering, "A little girl, messy hair and your green eyes. I can see that."

He held her a little tighter, grateful that she could reassure him so easily. If she could see a daughter in his future, then he would have a daughter. It was that simple. It was how easily he believed her that reminded him that Emilia and him weren't meant to be. One day though, he was sure, he would find someone who would meet both his and Hermione's standards. After Hermione, Luna, and Ron had left, Harry explained to Emilia that it just wasn't going to work out. She had taken it well, better than he expected.

"Kids, right?" she said, nodding slowly. "Yeah, I could tell right after I said it that it was a sore point. The look on Hermione's face said it all." Harry stared at her a moment, surprised. She chuckled, shrugging her shoulders. "She's a lovely person, Harry. Smart, pretty, nice. You have great taste."

"Me and Hermione?" he asked, confused.

She sighed, smiling rather sadly. "You'll figure it out one day," she said, nodding. Before he could ask what she meant, she continued, "Even though it's ended, I had a wonderful time with you."

"Agreed," Harry replied, squeezing her hands in his. She sat beside him on the couch, angled toward him. Her eyes were shiny and her mouth shook a bit, but otherwise she was put together and understanding.

"Take care, Harry," she told him softly.

"You too," he replied.

She stood from the couch, leaned down and pressed a short farewell to his mouth and then floo'd home. Harry saw her around every once in a while and knew that Hermione and Emilia had a steady friendship, often meeting for lunch at the Ministry. A friendship between him and Emilia appeared too strained and they both seemed to agree not to push it. They became comfortable acquaintances and he wasn't at all surprised when she married a nice bloke who was very career oriented and not much interested in children.

Harry's fourth girlfriend had also met with Hermione's pursed lips and wrinkled nose. Lisa, a confident red head spent more time smiling at cameras than talking to either Harry or Hermione and he realized quite quickly that she was more of an attention hog than a girlfriend. She seemed to relish in the spotlight and was never too busy to give an interview to The Daily Prophet about the great Harry Potter. Hermione hadn't liked her to begin with, having read far too many quotes from her and seen too many posed photos of her in the paper. But she had given her best effort in trying to like Lisa when Harry introduced them at a Charity that Hermione was heading for the Ministry. While trying to talk to Lisa about how her and Harry met and what her interests were, Lisa only paid her half a mind and spent the rest of it waving at others and grinning at the camera as she pressed herself against Harry's side. Before the night was out, Harry had broken up with her and spent the rest of the evening with Hermione who was consoling him while simultaneously trying to tell Dobby what a pint of Ben & Jerry's was in her freezer so he could bring it back for them to share while they waited for the Charity to come to a close. They would have left earlier for him to wallow in his pity but as coordinator Hermione had to stay and Harry didn't want to go home alone.

His last and most recent, being a good nine months prior, had been Julia. Harry had been dating Julia, who preferred being called Lia, for a good month before he introduced her to Hermione. By this time he knew what he was doing, having been told by Ron shortly before he ended things with Emilia. Instead of fighting against his odd need to know Hermione's opinion, he accepted that what she thought of his girlfriends obviously meant something and went with it. Julia was an Auror who had a great love for Muggle literature and was a huge fan of the Chudley Cannons. Her and Ron met at a game, both being the loudest supporters of the orange and black team. Ron had introduced her to Harry later when Harry had met him at The Crazy Quaffle for a victory drink. He hadn't been able to come to the game since it was a Sunday and he spent the day with Hermione and the Grangers. He and Julia had hit it off right away, enjoying a conversation about Quidditch and their line of work. She was in an entirely separate devision than Harry and Ron, explaining why they hadn't bumped into each other earlier and Harry was interested in learning more about what she did.

He dated Julia for three months before finally introducing her to Hermione, who Julia wasn't all that interested in meeting in the first place. It seemed Harry's only real problem with Julia was the subject of Hermione, which he had been good at ignoring during the time they dated. She was uncomfortable with how much they meant to each other and how ingrained they were in each others lives. When he couldn't find his clothing, he need only floo-call Hermione and she could tell him the exact place he'd left it. When he had a fight with Julia, he went directly to Hermione's and cuddled up with her in her bed, nodding off as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Even though Julia had never met Hermione, she constantly accused Harry's best friend of trying to take him from her. She scowled when Hermione's name was brought up, huffed when Harry said he was going out to meet her or ignored him completely when he mentioned anything that had to do with Sunday brunch. Harry was pretty fed up with it and decided that all Julia needed was to meet Hermione and she'd know that her insecurities were unfounded.

Unfortunately it hadn't happened that way at all. Julia was nice enough when she met Hermione, but she didn't go out of her way to talk to her or even bring her into conversations. It was almost as if she were trying to push her relationship with Harry in Hermione's face, which didn't go unnoticed or accepted. Ron quickly made it known that Hermione was his best mate too and that she was quite honestly the most important girl in their lives. Luna had even gone out of her way to say, quite loudly and firmly that, "Hermione is Ron and Harry. If you want the boys, you have to take her with them. There's no one or the other, it's all or nothing." She then smiled dreamily and snogged Ron in front of everyone quite heavily until Ron half dragged her out of the bar and waved goodbye to his friends before apparating them away.

Instead of learning that Hermione was a permanent fixture, Julia became even more jealous of her. Harry didn't break up with her immediately like he had with the others, instead waiting to see what Hermione might do in response to his girlfriend. Since they had met, Hermione started coming by Harry's house more often thinking that Julia would eventually get used to her place in Harry's life. Julia began noticing just how often Harry and Hermione were together, which only further infuriated her. She didn't like that Hermione stopped in to tidy up the kitchen because Harry had quickly learned to be sloppy rather than clean things immediately, like the Dursleys had always pressured him to. She especially disliked it when Harry asked Hermione to gauge his cologne use or picked out his clothes for him. But the deal breaker had to be how affectionate Harry was with Hermione. His prior four girlfriends had hardly seen just how close he and Hermione were, but Julia had stuck around long enough to witness the intimate act the two hadn't even known they were putting on.

Harry never quite noticed that he had a tendency to kiss Hermione's face, whether it was her cheek, forehead, or the tip of her nose. He hadn't realized that his hand often slipped beneath her hair to cradle the back of her neck, softly massaging it. It had become natural for him to wrap his arms around her or whisper against her ear when she was close and they were surrounded by people. Sometimes they didn't even speak, using facial expressions or simple looks to get across their meaning. It hadn't occurred to him that laying his head in Hermione's lap or having his hair played with by her was an odd thing for two friends to do. And it wasn't until Julia finally gave up and began screaming at him while they were having a lunch out on the deck one afternoon that Harry realized maybe he was a little more affectionate with Hermione than a best friend would be. But he also knew that whatever it was he had with Julia just wasn't working. He didn't even need Hermione's pursed lips or narrowed eyes to tell him that Julia was a "nay stay" and after excusing himself from the table, he drew Julia inside to tell her that it just wasn't working and he didn't think they should see each other again. She left him with a stinging cheek, a ringing ear, and a deep scowl.

Oddly, Harry felt rather light after she was gone. It took him nine months of no dating and no sights on potential girlfriends for Harry to finally figure it out. Every girl he had ever dated had something in common with Hermione. Be it in their appearance or their personality, he was basically searching for somebody just like her. On top of that, he had been looking for somebody who would not only get along with Hermione, but meet her standards of what she saw fit for him. He trusted her judgment and felt comforted in the fact that if Hermione approved, then perhaps he'd finally found the girl to complete his future plans. The family, the wife and children, the unconditional love. Unfortunately, nobody met Hermione's or his standards, and he finally figured out why.

While Tracy had Hermione's hair, she didn't have the passionate nature that Harry always felt matched Hermione and her thick, wild hair. And while Catarina had Hermione's mocha eyes, she didn't have nearly the same knowledge or warmth behind them as Hermione did. Then, while Emilia had a similar personality and quite reminded Harry of Hermione, she didn't fit all the categories. She didn't have the same drive and ambition for something more complete than work and books. She didn't see beyond her career to find the comfort and love a family could provide, which was something Harry always found comforting about Hermione. How close she was to her own family and how much she wanted one of her own was something Harry could relate to. Lisa, like Hermione, had a confidence that made her extra attractive, but she was too concerned with being well liked and seen for Harry's taste. He much preferred Hermione's lack of interest in being famous or seen to Lisa's overwhelming need to have her picture taken at every turn. And lastly, Julia had been friendly, outgoing, and enjoyed books much like Hermione, but lacked the same comfort and ease that Hermione had. Julia was quick to jump to conclusions and question things, while Hermione trusted Harry wholly and knew him far better than anybody else could.

After nine long months of deliberation Harry finally came to the conclusion that he had not been looking for somebody like Hermione, or even somebody Hermione would approve of, but Hermione herself. Not long after making the startling realization, Harry frantically analyzed his best friends feelings in hopes of finding out whether she loved him back. He was not simply smitten with her, nor did he think it was a passing fancy. He was quite completely, fifty-years-to-forever, heart-in-his-throat, butterflies-in-his-stomach, in love with her. Fourteen years of friendship, comradery, and unconditional love had made Harry into her other half. He was quite certain that like she completed him, he completed her. She was the intelligent, level-headed, rule abiding, calm half of him, while he was the brave, mildly irrational, moody, reckless half of her. She was the emotion in his heart, the brilliance in his mind, the love in his soul, and he was more than content to keep it that way. So he made a decision, one that could potentially disturb their well constructed comfort zone of affectionate friendship. Harry wasn't sure he could go on just being her friend when he quite obviously knew he was deeply in love with her. He wasn't sure she knew what they had though, so he set out to show it to her.

To be continued...