-1 It was their engagement party, and he felt like he could hardly breathe.
Such a reaction isn't typical, as most people would probably be happy if their two best friends had gotten together and gotten engaged.
But not Harry Potter. Sure, he was happy enough that his two best friends had found love with each other. But as he looked at the couple, he couldn't help but to think what might have been if things had turned out differently.
He had gone out with other women. Cho had been a disaster. The relationship fell apart almost before it started because of her sadness and his guilt over Cedric's death, as well as her jealousy.
His relationship with Ginny had ended because they couldn't keep up with the crushing expectations of the Weasley family and all their friends. All of them had expected he and Ginny to get married and have loads of children to make a big happy Weasley family, which led to plenty of fights between the two about the direction of the relationship. They had broken up a year before, deciding they were better off as friends.
Then there were the relationships he'd had over the past six months. Nothing that was serious, more just serial dating with girls he had gone to Hogwarts with--Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, Susan Bones. Those relationships hadn't been serious for a reason. They were just an excuse to keep his mind off of her.
Her. He couldn't help but to smile when he thought of her. She had been the one constant supporter in his life since his first year of Hogwarts. She had been the one to believe him when he said he hadn't entered the Triwizard Tournament in fourth year, even when Ron hadn't believed him. She had been the one to stick with him in the major search for the Horcruxes, even when Ron had left the group. And he had just been thinking of Cho's jealousy. Who had she been jealous of? Hermione. And when Krum had been after Hermione's affection during the Triwizard Tournament, who had he been jealous of? Harry.
Their friendship had always been something more than friendship, Harry now thought. The problem was that he hadn't realized this until after his relationship with Ginny had ended. By that time, Hermione and Ron's relationship had been in the "serious" stage and it was too late for him to do anything.
Yes, Ron and Hermione's relationship was going fine now, but it had been hard to stay near the two of them in the beginning. All the bickering, punctuated with them expecting Harry to take sides, had driven him insane. They drove him to spend so much time with Ginny that he and Ginny eventually got sick of spending time with each other. Perhaps that was another reason for the death of his and Ginny's relationship.
Now it was still hard to stay near Ron and Hermione because of their relationship, but for an entirely different reason. He had found himself longing for her recently, and he knew those were feelings that he wouldn't be able to hide if he spent time with the two of them, and that wasn't fair to the man who had been his best friend pretty much ever since they first met, nor was it fair to the girl he pined over. It was easy to hope for the bickering that defined Ron and Hermione's relationship to just become too much for them to bear, causing them to end the relationship; it was another thing entirely to actually harm the relationship himself with his feelings.
So Harry sat at a corner table with an untouched mug of butterbeer as he watched the happy scene unfold. He felt much like he had originally when he had learned Ron had become prefect instead of him. He plastered a smile onto his face as various former classmates and Weasley family members came over to talk to him, but when he was alone he brooded.
Harry Potter had always been a brooder. He had done a lot of it when he was growing up unloved in the Dursley household. He had done it even more in fifth year when he felt like he was all alone, even when surrounded by friends and what he considered to be family. But the past year had been his biggest brooding time yet.
Suddenly, Harry looked up with a start as he saw the object of his desire standing over the table. Hermione looked harried most of all, having spent most of the night around Ron's family members, particularly Molly. Harry smiled a bit. Mrs. Weasley had been smothering to him when he had been in a relationship with Ginny. She had been so much worse since she had found out about Ron and Hermione's engagement that Harry had feared Hermione would die of suffocation.
"Trying to escape?" he asked with a grin as he looked at Hermione, annoyed with himself that a sudden appearance of her lifted his mood so obviously.
"You have no idea," Hermione said, rolling her eyes. "I'd thought a night with family and friends would be relaxing, but, and I don't say this often, I was wrong."
"Well, if you've come here not to be seen, I think you've come to the right place," Harry said, gesturing to the other chair at the table. She sat down, warily glancing around her for any Weasley family members that might take advantage of her letting her guard down to seize her.
"If you're looking for a means to escape, there's a trapdoor under this table," Harry added, chuckling when she actually checked to see if there was. "Sorry, no trapdoor, but I do have my Invisibility Cloak if you fancy using that for a while," he said, his eyes sparkling with mirth.
She rolled her eyes at him again. "Very funny. But actually, this is the first time I've spoken with you tonight, it seems. You're not very talkative tonight--is anything wrong?"
Harry wanted to tell her that many things were wrong, including her being engaged to the wrong man. But he quickly shoved those thoughts to the back of his mind. "I'm just tired," he half-lied. "Training's getting rough."
"Yes, Ron's talked about that as well," Hermione said. "But you two chose to go into Auror training, didn't you? Besides, it's not like I've had it easy." Hermione had taken over the post of Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts, as McGonagall had moved to the post of Headmistress. Despite all of her complaints, however, Harry knew Hermione loved her job.
"Don't give me that," Harry teased. "At least you get summers off."
"Yes, but as training goes on, you'll get to spend more time with Ron than I do," Hermione said, not noticing Harry close his eyes with an odd wistful expression on his face. "Besides, I don't really have summers off. Hogwarts doesn't exactly shut down over the summer, does it?"
"Well, you'll both have to find some time within your schedules for a wedding, I suppose," Harry said.
"Bloody hell, I came here hoping not to hear that word," a new voice said. Harry and Hermione looked up to see Ron, who wore a nervous expression on his face and whose clothes looked rather rumpled, as if he had just made a narrow escape. He Summoned a third chair and sat down, giving Hermione a kiss as he did so as Harry subtly averted his eyes. "All right, Harry?" he asked after he broke the kiss with Hermione.
"All right, Ron," Harry answered. "But what about you? You look as if you've just barely escaped Voldemort."
"Close," Ron said. "Hermione's father."
"Ron--" Hermione began warningly.
"Well, I can't help but to think that if he keeps treating me like this," Ron said. He turned to Harry. "He cornered me. Wanted to know what my plans were with his 'little girl,'" he said as Harry began to laugh.
"He's just being protective, Ron," Hermione said. "You know that."
"Too protective if you ask me," Ron mumbled, looking to Harry for support. Harry's eyes widened as he cast around in his mind for another topic to change the subject. He failed.
"I will not have this argument again," Hermione spat out. "I accept your family the way it is, and you had damn well better accept mine for the way it is." Harry's eyes widened more. Hermione never swore.
"My family?" Ron asked incredulously. "There's nothing wrong with my family. Is there, Harry?" he asked, looking again to his friend for support. Hermione also turned to Harry, her eyes narrowed in anger.
Harry gulped and decided to change the topic. "So, uh…how about the Cannons this year, Ron?" he asked rather lamely. His inner voice scolded him for being such a complete buffoon that he couldn't even come up with a cleverer way to get the two to stop arguing.
"Your family, mostly because of your mother, has been a complete pain in the arse ever since we got engaged," Hermione half-shouted, causing Harry to wince again at her tone and the fact that she had sworn again. He also hoped they would tone it down soon, before people attending the party began to stare. He cleared his throat, but Ron and Hermione were too busy glaring at each other to notice. He cleared his throat again. Still nothing. Harry began to lose his patience.
"Oi!" he finally shouted, causing Hermione and Ron to stop glaring at each other and look at him with puzzled looks on both their faces. "Will you two just stop it? You're giving me a bloody headache!"
Ron and Hermione stared at him, then each other. Harry continued. "It's your damn engagement party, why don't you act like it?" He sighed in frustration and annoyance. "These little petty arguments, that's all they are! Little and petty. Not to mention annoying to anyone listening to them."
"So we're annoying?" Ron asked, looking affronted. Harry, despite his fury, wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the question.
"No, you're not annoying, Ron," Harry said. "But these stupid arguments are."
"Harry, we're sorry if we annoy you," Hermione said. "But Ronald here doesn't understand--"
"Yes, Hermione, he does understand," Harry said. "He may have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but he's not stupid. He understands why your father is being protective, just as you understand why his mother is being smothering."
"Smothering?" Ron asked, sounding angry again. Harry gave him a look that clearly said, Shut up. Ron obliged, looking contrite. "I guess you're right, she is being smothering."
"And you're right, my dad is going a little too far with the protective gambit," Hermione said. "But I'm his only child, so he's bound to be protective."
"And I'm the youngest male in my family," Ron said. "My mother says I'm still her little boy."
"Little boy?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow and smirking. It was time for Ron and Hermione to glare again, this time at Harry. He chuckled. "Sorry. But what were you two planning on doing? Breaking up at your engagement party?" he asked, keeping his eyebrow raised.
"Not exactly--" Hermione began.
"Oh, come on," Harry said, joking now. "If it wasn't for me, you would be moving your things out of his flat right now. And then think of what would happen to me!"
"You?" Ron asked disbelievingly.
"Yes, me!" Harry said, in a mock serious voice. "Do you know how hard it would be for me to find two new mates for the each of you? No other witch or wizard out there could possibly stand to be in a relationship with you, all this bickering you do. I have to marry you two off--it's better for my sanity."
"Well, the bickering does make it interesting," Ron said.
"And quite fun sometimes," Hermione added.
"You find that fun?" Harry asked.
"What? That last argument wasn't fun for you?" Ron asked. "It was for me."
"And for me," Hermione said.
"I think this proves it," Harry said authoritatively. "You two are absolutely, categorically, completely, mental." He grinned and his two best friends chuckled. He raised his glass. "To you two."
"To us three," Ron corrected. "And good old times being mental."
"Not to mention the good times to come," Hermione said.
"Hear, hear," Harry said, and the three clinked their glasses together.
The members of the trio had a good time that night, just like old times. But as Harry Apparated to his empty flat that night, he couldn't help thinking that while he was mostly happy for the couple, he couldn't shake his nagging feeling of jealousy.
He sighed as he sat down on his couch and picked up one of his training manuals. "Better study," he spoke into the emptiness. "Have to be ready for anything these days," he muttered, his mind on a possible test the next day.
He had no idea how right he would be…and not about a test, either.