Ace of Hearts
It smelled clean. To most others, this would not be a big deal, but, to Harry, it meant the world; it meant he was safe. Though the smell of dirt and decay lingered a bit in his nostrils, the much bolder scents of asphodel, dittany, and daisies were more apparent in the air. He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the odor and letting his body relax; slowly focusing his energy, he attempted to open his eyes.
After rapidly blinking a few times, he was able to keep them open, and as his gaze focused, the soft cream-colored walls of a hospital room came into contrast. Relaxing a bit more, Harry allowed his head to lull to the other side, the light from a nearby window pulling at his attention. A soft blue sky with thin wispy white clouds peeked from between the beige curtains, offering him a glimpse at the beauty that was beyond. Noticing something out of the corner of his eye, Harry shifted his gaze away from the window and refocused on the small form of a girl, sleeping in the chair next to his bed.
'Hermione,' his mind whispered. He could feel himself smiling.
As if she sensed his thoughts, the young witch shifted slightly in the chair, snuggling deeper into the overly large jacket that was covering her small form. Harry took a shuddering breath as emotions that had left him in his blissful darkness returned full force. He had almost lost her, he had almost left her alone… he had almost…
He closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. There wasn't any sense in thinking about it; he was safe now. His brows furrowed. How did he get safe anyway? The last thing that he remembered was the heavy force of Gideon's body upon his and an intense, blinding pain in his abdomen. Harry reached a shaky hand upward and hesitantly touched his torso, running it slowly over the area where the wound should be. He felt a small abrasion, but nothing as large or gaping as he thought would be there from the way that it had felt while the stake was in him. Then again, he also knew that he had been stabbed in the back so that's probably where most of the damage had been done. His hand stilled against his wound and he looked back at the bright morning sky, wondering how long he had been unconscious.
"It's about seven-thirty," a voice whispered beside him.
Harry's gaze snapped to his right where a worn-out and sleepy-looking Ron was wiping his eyes. The red-haired boy then gave an enormous, silent yawn before once again looking at him and giving a weak half-smile.
"Hey, Harry! It's about time you woke up!" he motioned toward Hermione. "You had her in a right state all night. Just about drove me nutters, that one."
Harry gave a weak smile to his best mate – his former best mate.
Seeing the confusion on Harry's face, Ron looked away for a minute, blushing before looking back at the dark-haired boy.
"Look," he took a deep breath pausing for a moment before continuing. "No matter how much of a tosser you were," he gave a pointed look, "and still are, for going behind my back with my girl. I... I still... well... you know, ca-care about you, Harry. I'm not going to not be there if you're in a hospital somewhere, dying," he quirked a half grin. "Well, that is unless I was the one to put you there."
Harry chuckled a bit. Closing his eyes for a moment, he gave another quick glance to Hermione. Finding that she was still sleeping, he looked back at Ron.
"Ron, we need to talk," he said, his voice coming out weaker than he would have liked.
"Yeah," the other boy said, "I know."
Ron then shifted, his hand slipped into his pant pocket before he pulled out a small, single solitaire diamond ring, holding it up before Harry's face.
"That Spanish guy on your team gave me this. He said that they found it in the cave." He hesitated before licking his lips and continuing, "he said it was yours. Is it?... Is it yours, Harry?"
Harry looked guiltily at the wall for a moment before turning his head back to Ron and looked him in the eyes. Giving a solemn nod, he awaited the wrath that he knew would soon follow.
"Is it for her?" Ron asked quietly, his gaze going past Harry and focusing on the girl in the chair.
"When were you..."
"Later that night was the plan... but, then... well."
Ron looked back at Harry. "Are you sure?"
This time the dark-haired boy focused on the girl in the chair. "I've never been more sure of anything in my life," he said without removing his gaze from her. "I love her."
He looked back at Ron. The red-head nodded and passed him the ring. As Harry's fingers closed around the small object, he reveled in the feeling of it in his palm, but he was also nervous about what it implied. Though, more importantly, nervous about her answer.
Harry's attention snapped back to Ron who had asked the softly spoken question. His friend gazed back at him steadily for a moment before speaking again.
"Last night, while we were waiting to find out about you, 'Mion.." he sighed, "Hermione and I, we had a talk and I asked her the same thing. Now I need to know from you Harry... when? When did you start to have feelings for Hermione and why didn't you ever say anything to me?"
Harry took a deep breath, then, after casting a quick glance at Hermione to make sure that she was still sleeping, he replied to Ron.
"Well... I noticed her in that way while we were still in Hogwarts," he gave a soft smile. "I want to say that I had, in fact, noticed her as a girl for sometime, but the first time that I noticed her, noticed her would have to have been when we went back in time to save Sirius." He made a face as he recalled the memory, "when she threw that time turner around my neck and pulled me close, honestly I kinda," he blushed "well for a moment I kinda thought she was going to kiss me or something. At first, I was nervous, but when I realized that that wasn't what she was going to do... I suddenly became, well, disappointed." Harry shook his head to himself and looked at Ron. "Luckily for me we had so much to do in such a small amount of time – I mean, between saving Buckbeak and Sirius and fighting off the massive horde of Dementors. I didn't really have time to analyze the feeling. Then, there was the night at the Yule Ball." He and Ron shared a look. "When she came down those stairs, mate... wow."
Ron nodded. "I felt the same way."
"But, by that time it was so obvious that you had feelings for her – and with the way that she acted sometimes, it just seemed that she had the same feelings for you." He shrugged. "So, I just backed off. I mean, if you liked her and she liked you… who was I to try to get in between that?"
"If only you knew," Ron mumbled, shrugging and motioning for Harry to continue when the other young man looked at him.
"Well…" He scratched the back of his head, readjusting in his bed. "When you two would fight, or when you and I would fight..." he trailed off, giving Ron a pointed look before continuing, "Hermione and I would spend a lot of time together studying or just talking. I realized that we had more things in common than I had originally thought. We connected so well that I did consider making a move a time or two but, since my "moves" were sorely lacking and I knew that you liked her, I didn't want to upset you, or her, for that matter, since I knew that you were the one she wanted." Ron snorted. Harry ignored him. "We shared stories about our Muggle childhoods, our lack of friends and other things. She helped me out with problems I had in terms of school and stuff and I helped her out with problems she had in terms of self-esteem, or when she was feeling particularly down about fighting with you."
"I don't think that we fought that bad," the red-head grumbled, before grimacing a bit at the face that his friend made, then conceded with a shrug that he might be wrong. "Okay, well maybe we did disagree a bit sometimes…"
"Try 'a lot' or 'all the time'," Harry responded, raising a brow. "I mean you guys didn't get through a term without me having to play mediator at least once. The closest you came were those weeks during fourth year that roles between Hermione and I got reversed because you weren't talking to me instead."
"Yeah, well," Ron commented, leaving the last part hanging. He blushed a bit.
"She was always so upset about it, asking me why you acted like that, wondering if it was her fault, even crying over it sometimes… She was crying over you Ron. So, naturally I assumed she had really strong feelings for you. I mean, why else would she be so upset, why else would it matter so much and, to be honest, why else would she put up with the way you would often treat her?"
"Hey!" Ron exclaimed a little loudly. "What does that mean!? I was never horrible to her."
"Yeah," Harry admitted, "but you weren't great to her, either, and if anyone deserves great, it's Hermione," Harry shook his head in wonder. "I just couldn't understand how you could have such a wonderful, smart, beautiful witch be so totally mental over you and act like such a complete git. How could you not see how completely crazy she was about you?" He sat up in bed and gave Ron a serious look. "If I had had her – I mean, if she acted that way over me, then I would have never acted the way you did, Ron."
"If she acted that way over you?" Ron gave him an incredulous look "Are you bloody serious? She acted that way over you every day, always checking up on you, always wanting to know: Where is Harry? Is Harry okay? Who's Harry with? I mean, all she ever talked about was you, and Merlin forbid you leave her sight for a moment, next thing you know, we all have to scout out and look for Harry."
"That's totally untrue. Sure, she looked out for me, but I think it was more in a motherly sort of way – the same as she looked out for everyone else. She was just being my friend; she didn't care for me the way that she cared for you."
"Really? So, why is it that during second year after she'd been revived from being petrified – or, for that matter, if we ever got split up for any reason anytime after that, you were always the first person that she ran to, hmm? Why do you think she was so protective of you during the Triwizard Tournament?" He interrupted before Harry could respond, reading his thoughts. "What, because she wanted to be your mum?" Ron rolled his eyes. "Why would she need to do that when my mum is perfectly capable of smothering all three of us with that affection? Harry, listen to yourself. You say that I acted like a git because I couldn't see how she felt about me… did you ever stop to think that I acted that way because I could see how she felt about you?"
Harry stared at Ron for a moment in silence, before looking down at the hand that was still clutching the diamond ring. Shaking his head he looked back up at his friend.
"I don't…." he exhaled "I don't think that it was like that, that she felt like that."
"Okay, then I have one question for you."
Harry gave an inquiring look.
"Who is she with?"
"What?" Harry's dark brows furrowed together.
"Now," Ron said, smirking, "who is she with, now? Who is she in love with? Which of us," he motioned between them, "did she leave the other for?"
The other boy's mouth opened and closed with no response.
"Look, Harry, I've already told you I had this conversation with Hermione last night and, trust me, even back then she saw you as way more than a friend." Ron sighed and ran a hand through his hair before sitting back and shaking his head. "So, now that we have that out of the way, when did you decide to finally make a move? I'm curious as to what changed after all these years that made it okay to hurt me?"
Harry frowned. "I didn't decide it was okay to hurt you Ron. Actually, I don't think that I decided anything, aside from the fact that I could no longer deny that I loved Hermione." He gave Ron an exasperated look. "Throughout our friendship, I have denied myself some of the things that I wanted to either do, or to tell you about, because you always get jealous. I love you to death, mate, but it really sucked having a best friend who you couldn't tell everything to because you were worried that they'd go all unhinged on you."
"That's bollocks and you know it! I didn't get upset every time you got something!" Ron whispered loudly, leaning forward in his chair.
"You know, you're right. You only got upset if it were something that you wanted also, if it were something that you wanted nothing to do with then you would gladly help me celebrate." Harry added with a chuckle that turned into a laugh as Ron griped under his breath. "Come on, Ron. Be honest."
"I am being honest," was the grumbled response.
"Oh, get off it. What would you have done back in Hogwarts if I had come up to you and said: 'Hey mate, I know that you like Hermione, but guess what? I like her too'." Ron opened his mouth to respond but Harry cut him off. "You would have responded with some smart-arse remark like: 'You always get everything anyway Harry, so why not Hermione.' Then you would have accused us of messing around already and then proceeded to ignore both of us for at least the next several months. Leaving me to explain to her exactly why you're not talking to her, which, of course, would have made things even more awkward because if she didn't like me that way she would be extremely uncomfortable," he continued when Ron made a face. "Think about it: imagine having lost one best mate who is angry with the other because he admitted to fancying you and the other who's upset because he thinks you fancy the best mate that won't talk to him, and you probably don't. With all that madness, she wouldn't have been able to be with either of us for fear of hurting the other. Our friendship would have become strained and then eventually fizzled out. I would have lost both of the people who meant the most to me," Harry finished, taking deep breaths, looking expectantly at a wide-eyed Ron.
"Well, er, I guess it could have happened something like that... possibly," the red-head admitted after a minute of silence. "But that still doesn't answer my question, what changed? Why now?"
"Well, I guess it changed several months ago. The day that I first introduced you guys to Aurora ," Harry said looking down at his hand again, "you had just seen Aurora and made a joke about switching girlfriends. I had looked over at Hermione to gage her reaction, because we both know that you can't bloody well whisper to save your arse, and she was looking back at me." He looked up at Ron with a confused expression. "There was a look in her eyes... I can't really explain it, it just... it made me feel. It took me back to when she put the time turner around my neck in third year. It was that same windless feeling. After that, I just started paying more attention and noticed that she would give me that look a lot, and then, between Aurora's insistence that there was something between Hermione and I and my new found perception of her," he looked back at Ron and shrugged, "I finally realized that the look that she was giving me seemed more..." he blushed and winced, "sexual than anything. Then, there were little things here and there that made me really wonder if she was feeling what I was."
"Like what?" Ron asked, looking bothered but oddly fascinated by the conversation.
"Well... just... the looks and well, sometimes we'd accidentally brush up against one another and when I'd catch a glimpse of her, it was as though she'd seem to like it, or , she would let it linger longer than what was necessary." Harry said; his mind flashed to the time at the lake when they had been wrestling and Hermione had seemed to press harder against his reaction to their proximity. He flushed and looked at Ron, deciding that perhaps it was best to keep that particular example to himself. "It was just little things like that," he finished awkwardly, averting his gaze.
Ron gave him a look that said he knew that it wasn't all, but didn't comment any further.
"I guess it just got to the point where neither of us could deny what we felt." He looked Ron in the eyes. "I'm so sorry Ron, I am. I never wanted to hurt you and I never meant to betray you. I do want to make sure that you know that I love Hermione, I have for a long time and she is the only person that I would ever risk us and our friendship for. I know that I can't expect you to just forgive me right now, or to act like this never happened. All I can do is ask for your forgiveness and wait patiently, as long as it may take, for you to either give it... or die." He finished with a weak smile.
Ron chewed on his bottom lip for a moment before looking at Harry to respond.
"All I can tell you is what I told Hermione. I can't say that I forgive you, Harry. You were my best mate the one person in the world that I trusted so completely that…" he trailed off, taking a deep breath. "What I can say is that almost losing you did help me to put things into perspective a bit. I realized that… as angry as I am at you… at both of you, I don't want to lose you permanently. I just can't wrap my head around the fact that she's not mine anymore. I loved her for so long and I still do. You know, I could tell that she was pulling away from me a bit, but I choose to ignore it and perhaps – perhaps that's my fault. I shouldn't have ignored my intuition and, honestly, I wouldn't have ignored it had it been pointing me in any other direction than you." He gave a self-decrypting smile. "I guess that'll show me to listen to my heart instead of my head, huh?"
"Don't what? Say that, why not? It's true. My head told me something was up, my head told me that she was acting way too jealous over you and Aurora and that you seemed a bit too uncomfortable around me and Hermione at times. It told me that you seemed upset when we kissed and that she was less affectionate when you were in the room, I mean, what did you two think; I was daft? Did you really think I wouldn't notice these things? I may be a little slow on the uptake sometimes, but I'd have to be downright certifiable not to notice what was there. I just didn't want to believe it." Ron took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. "Look, Harry, I can't say that I forgive you, but I can say – I can say that I will try."
"That's all I can ask or hope for, thanks Ron." Harry said with a weak smile, extending his empty hand for Ron to shake
After hesitating for a moment, the other boy took the offered hand in a less than gentle grip, smiling to himself when Harry winced.
"Now, I can't say that there won't be days where I won't want to pummel you for touching her, but I can say that I'll try to refrain from doing so… as long as you keep your hands off my wand. Which, by the way, I wanted to apologize for…well, er… you know, trying to kill you and all." He flushed a bit. "It's just – Apparating in and seeing you two half-naked, kissing and whispering that you loved one another got me seeing red. I had just finished convincing myself that I was wrong and that she wasn't acting all jealous with Aurora over you and then, bam!, there you were right in front of my face."
"That's okay, Ron. If I were you, I would have tried to kill me, too."
"I, er, also really, really want to say that I'm sorry to you," he bit his lip and looked past Harry.
Harry turned to see a Hermione awake and watching them a bewildered expression on her face.
"'Mion… Hermio… 'Mione, I never ever meant to call you a…. well, you know. I don't think of you that way, and I never have. I was just so upset – I wanted you to hurt like I was. It would mean – it would mean so much to me if you would forgive me."
She looked at Ron with glassy eyes for a moment before a brilliant grin overcame her features. She skirted the parameter of Harry's bed and barreled full force into Ron, who almost toppled back out of the chair and onto the floor upon contact.
"OfcourseIforgiveyouRon," was the hurried and muffled response.
Despite most of his features being loss in a mass of frizzy brown curls, Harry could make out a smile on Ron's face.
"Thanks, Hermione," he said as she pulled back.
They smiled at one another for a moment. She disentangled herself from him and came to stand in front of Harry's bed.
"Hi," was all Harry could manage to get out before he, too, was engulfed in a bone-crushing hug.
"Well," he heard Ron say from beside the bed. "I suppose I'll head outside and let everyone know that you're up. I think that perhaps you two would like a moment to talk. If I remember correctly, I believe, Harry, that there was something that you had wanted to ask Hermione." The witch in question pulled back from Harry and cast Ron a curious look, failing to notice the momentarily panicked look that came over Harry's face from the comment.
"Question?" she asked, looking back at Harry.
By the time she turned, Harry had erased the look from his face and replaced it with a blank one that he had learned from years of Auror service. He gave her an innocent shrug, commenting that he had no idea what Ron was talking about. Ron smirked, rolling his eyes as he turned to walk out of the room without another word.
"So..." Harry said once Ron was gone.
"So..." Hermione replied. They looked at one another for a moment before she leant forward and hugged him once again.
As she pulled back, she stopped about two inches from Harry's face, her eyes shimmering with tears.
"I thought I had lost you," she whispered.
"You could never lose me," he responded before giving a small smile. "Even if you wanted to."
"I'd never want to," Hermione replied before closing the small distance between them and capturing his mouth in a soft, sensual kiss.
Passions that had bubbled gently beneath the surface quickly began to simmer again as she slipped her tongue into his mouth. Their tongues dueled for a moment, their fingers became tangled in one another's hair. After a far too short minute, Hermione pulled back. Still panting, they stared at one another for a second, eyes reflecting love and attraction. After a while of just gazing at each other in silence, Harry chuckled.
"What?" Hermione asked, idly running her fingers through his dark hair.
"I was just thinking that my breath must reek by now," he said with a grin, his emerald eyes containing the mirthful twinkle that she had been so worried she would never see again.
Hermione wrinkled her nose, and then pretended to sniff the air. "I thought something was a bit rank," she said with a straight face. Harry rolled his eyes and playfully poked her in the side with his finger.
"Ha, ha. Very funny," he said, smirking.
Hermione grinned. "What's the matter? I was just being agreeable."
"Since when are you agreeable?" Harry asked raising a brow.
She laughed "Touché, I shall endeavor never to do it again."
"Good," he said, joining her laughter, "because I love you the way you are: disagreeable, messy, neurotic, jealous, obsessive and everything else that makes you Hermione."
She gave him a good natured slap on the arm and a peck on the lips before leaning forward and resting her head on his chest. As his laughter subsided, Harry discreetly slipped the ring under his pillow before putting his arms around her shoulders, and holding her close. When he did loosen his arms, it was only slightly for a moment, to allow her to adjust herself so that she was lying next to him on the bed.
"Hermione?" he asked quietly, only to be shushed by the brown-haired girl.
"Be quiet, I just want to listen to your heart beat for a moment," she said in a soft voice.
Harry didn't respond, but, instead, rested his chin on her head. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his chin back in forth in her soft hair. She smelled just he remembered: of lilacs and parchment. They continued to hold one another for sometime; he drifted off as he slowly and hypnotically rubbed the bare skin at her waist, just under the large jacket she wore, while she did the same, listening to the song of the steady beat of his heart.
"Why aren't they adorable," Harry heard a female voice whisper dimly.
"Shh. Molly, you'll wake them up. Merlin knows they both need the rest," he heard a male voice respond.
"I told you guys that we should give them more time to talk," Ron commented.
"Doesn't look like they're talking to me," said Fred… or was it George?
"That is unless they've mastered the art of telepathy," added George... or was it Fred?
"You know what I mean," Ron grumbled.
"Of course we do, dear," Mrs. Weasley said soothingly.
Harry heard the twins snigger.
"Wotcher, Remus! They must be out like candles to sleep through all this ruckus," Tonks commented in a loud whisper from somewhere to his left.
"Well, love, you know that they both had a very trying night," Lupin replied in his normal, calm tone.
"Yeah, but with as much noise as Crabbe and Goyle are making over there," Ginny chimed in, "I don't know how anyone can sleep."
"Oi!" The twins exclaimed in unison "We were not making a lot of noise!"
"Yeah, well you weren't making a little noise either," Ron added.
"Just because you have your knickers in a knot over the fact that everyone didn't listen to your commands – " one of the twins replied, but was cut off when his mum shushed him.
"Be quiet I think Harry's coming around," Mrs. Weasley said in a loud whisper.
"Wait, let me get this straight..." said twin number one, "you want us to be quiet now that he's waking up?"
"Shouldn't you have shushed us when he was still sleeping?" Twin number two asked, mirroring Harry's thoughts.
Unable to resist, Harry gave a small smile as his eyes fluttered open.
"Well, either way," he said sleepily, "Hermione's still asleep, so perhaps everyone can still keep it down a bit."
"No need," he heard Hermione say from her spot on his chest. "I'm up."
"Of course you're up," Ginny threw in. "How could you not be with my brothers talking like a bunch of excited first years."
Harry chuckled. "I do recall hearing you too, Ginny," he threw out, giving a wink to the smirking Fred and George.
"Well, I was only trying to quiet them down," Ginny added, blushing a bit. Dean gave her a smile and rubbed her back, though Harry didn't miss the eyebrow wag he gave to Fred and George when Ginny turned her attention away from him.
Looking around his bed, Harry had to admit he was more than a bit surprised. It seemed that everyone he cared about was there. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were to his left, Fred and George were at the foot of the bed, Ginny and Ron were to his right, and Dean just behind Ginny; McGonagall was just behind Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Tonks and Lupin were just behind the twins, while Luna and Neville were closer to the window. Heck, even Hagrid had squeezed into the tiny hospital room, though he did look decidedly uncomfortable compressed between the potted plant in the corner and Luna who was standing just in front of him.
"Hiya, 'Arry!" Hagrid called out, seeing Harry looking at him; he then gave a small wave that succeeded in knocking a vase containing a bouquet of flowers off of the small dresser to his right. "Oh...er...sorry," he said, going red.
"That's okay, Hagrid. I'm so glad to see you," Harry said with a huge grin. "Sorry we didn't get a chance to make it out to visit you after dinner last night like I promised."
"Tha's okay, 'Arry, I understand... I'm jes... well... I'm jes glad you're alright," he responded, sniffling a bit at the end. "You gave us quite a scare there, 'Arry."
Harry blushed a bit despite himself. "I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault," said another voice. He looked to his right to find Aurora standing next to Devon . Marcello was standing just behind them. They seemed to have squeezed their way in front of Ginny and Ron. "It was mine, I'm... I'm so sorry Harry. I should have been there, I lost track of time and I didn't get back fast enough. I let my anger take away from my focus and my duties and that – that is completely my fault." She sighed. "I've spoken with Moody and we've decided that it may be best that I take a bit of time away from the Auror team."
Harry's eyes went wide. "Aurora , that's not neces – "
"Yes, it is, Harry," she said, cutting him off. She then gave a small smile. "I made a huge mistake – one that almost cost you your life, and I made that mistake because I wasn't able to separate work from personal."
"That was my fault too, I shouldn't have.."
"No, it was my fault," Aurora said, cutting him off again. "I should have been able to turn it off. Like you said, there's a time and a place for everything. I should have admitted to myself just how much your rejection hurt me and confronted you about it earlier."
"I'm sorry, Aurora , I really am. I didn't mean to hurt you and I know that I was wrong for the way that things happened between us," Harry said, giving her a serious look. He reached out and lightly touched her arm. "I really don't think that it's necessary for you to go, perhaps if you just spend time with another team for a while, then..."
"Harry, it's a moot point. It's been decided and it's done. I'm on leave for the next three to six months and that's that," she interrupted when he opened his mouth to object again. "Trust me, it's okay I don't mind, really. As a matter of fact, it was my suggestion. Well, perhaps not the leave, but the amount of time was my idea. Moody just wanted to give me thirty days. Besides, it really does work out. Now I can go back to Transylvania and help my brother and his tribe rebuild from the ashes. I haven't been able to spend much time with him or my nieces and nephews since I became an Auror." She gave Harry a weak smile. "Just feel better, okay? That's what's most important. And, when I come back... well, I'll talk to Moody and you… and see if rejoining your team is an option or not. After all, who knows how either of us will feel after that much time has passed?"
"I'm sure that no matter how much time passes I'll still want you back on my team," Harry said with a small smile.
"Thanks," Aurora replied, smiling back. He could see the hint of the woman he had once told himself he was in love with in her eyes. He really did hope the best for her.
"So, can someone tell me what happened?" Harry asked, looking at Devon and Marcello expectantly.
"Well, how about you, first?" Lupin chimed in before either of them could respond. "What happened while you were in the cave?"
Harry looked around the room at the sea of expectant faces. Hermione had sat up with her chin was resting on her hands so she could see him. Giving a small sigh Harry relayed his tale of what had happened in the cave, once he was done Marcello and Aurora supplied the missing pieces of the night, including why she didn't signal after five minutes and what happened after they arrived.
Then, Mrs. Weasley, who seemed to take great pride in it, told Harry about the blood that had been given to him by his two best mates. As Hagrid finished relaying how he made it through the rash of reporters, along with a few funny ad-libs from the twins, Harry could not suppress his fatigue any longer. When he let out a loud yawn, Mrs. Weasley and, surprisingly, Headmistress McGonagall both clucked over him like mother hens, demanding that the Healers come in and check that everything was healing as it should and that he was properly recuperating with no residual effects.
When they were assured that all he needed was rest, they then proceeded to shoo everyone out of the room so that he could get it, with, of course, the exception of Hermione.
"Well," Harry said, giving her a weary smile. "Alone at last."
She smirked and rolled her eyes. "True, but the only thing you're in any shape to do, Harry James Potter, is sleep."
Harry gave an overly dramatic sigh, pulling her back into his arms from the sitting position she had taken halfway through the barrage of stories that night.
"I could possibly do other things," he responded giving a grin, however, before he could complete his amateur Casanova moves, a loud yawn escaped from between his lips.
Hermione smirked again and quirked a brow "So I see."
He chuckled and relented, adjusting his bed so that he was once again lying flat and making sure to bring Hermione with him.
"Perhaps I should take the chair and give you more room. You need a proper night's sleep, Harry," he heard her say softly, moving to get up.
"Don't you dare," he said, tightening his grip. She settled back down against him. "The only way I'm going to have a proper night's sleep is if I can hold you while I do it."
Harry felt her smile against his chest before responding. "Fine, but only for a little while and if I sense you're even the least bit uncomfortable then I'm getting up, okay?"
"Aye, aye, captain," he responded with a cheeky grin that turned into a small laugh when she slapped his arm.
"Goodnight, Hermione," he whispered after a minute just as he was dozing off. "I love you."
"Goodnight, Harry," he heard faintly whispered back. "I love you, too." He was then, once again, lost to the world of dreams.
The Burrow was filled with chaos. It had been weeks since Harry had gotten out of the hospital and all was going well. The Christmas holidays had descended, bringing with it all of the joys and feelings of the season and, in return, everyone had gathered for a huge Christmas Eve celebration.
Harry looked across the expansive table at the smiling faces of his friends and… well his family. The massive table had been bewitched to fit twice as many people (and as much food) as it normally could. As she so often did, Hermione caught his eye and gave him a sweet smile from her place across from him.
Conversation was loud and boisterous as those who hadn't been around in so long recounted their year and, those who had, updated them on what they had missed. Smells of delicious foods wafted up from the table that was almost breaking under the weight of various dishes like turkey, honey cured ham, chicken and ham pie, boiled potatoes, and much more. Yet, even with all that food there was still more: the counters were overflowing with various desserts prepared by Mrs. Weasley, Fleur, and Hagrid – though Harry suspected Hagrid's would remain untouched.
As people became more and more full, the conversation waned and everyone began to spread out.
"Oi! Harry!" called Dean. "We're about to play a quick game of Quidditch! You wanna join in?"
"Er… no thanks, I actually think I had a bit too much to eat, I don't think I should be on a broom at this particular moment," Harry replied with a grimace.
"Well bloody hell, then that leaves us uneven. Someone's going to have to sit out," George said. He looked around the group for a moment before his eyes rested on Ron.
"No way! Don't even think about it," Ron said glaring. "I was the one who came up with the bloody idea to play Quidditch in the first place."
"Ronald Bilius Weasley! Watch your language in this house! Do I make myself clear?" Mrs. Weasley shouted, sticking her head out of the kitchen door, brandishing a wooden spoon at him.
"Yes mum," Ron replied, flushing a dark red and shooting a glower to the twins who had begun to snigger.
"Actually, Ron, I was hoping I could speak to you for a moment," Harry said, shaking his head at Hermione who gave him a curious look. "Guy stuff," he supplied when she raised a brow in response.
"Well, I…" Ron started, but was cut off by Fred.
"Great, that solves that, then. Ron, you talk to Harry and when you get back you can replace the worst player on the losing team in the next game," Fred said quickly, clapping Ron on the back and heading for the door. "Or, who knows, by then, maybe Harry'll wanna play and then everyone can," he threw over his shoulder as cleared the doorway and headed into the yard.
"Well, maybe I won't want to play, then!" Ron yelled as he followed Harry upstairs. "Bloody gits," he grumbled under his breath so that only Harry could hear him, "always think they're so ruddy smart. I'm the one who's a professional Quidditch player but they don't want to let me play, probably because they're scared I'll beat the bloody crap out of them. Yeah," he smirked, though no one could see, "that's why…"
Harry chuckled a bit to himself, but wisely kept his mouth shut as they made their way up the stairs.
Hermione watched Harry and Ron go up the stairs and had to admit she was quite curious. Guy stuff? What in Merlin's beard did that mean? She rolled her eyes before shrugging and heading into the kitchen to see if Mrs. Weasley needed any help with the clean-up from dinner. Less than two minutes later, she was shooed out of that room and told to relax and join the other kids. She gave a small sigh, then headed outside to see if Harry and Ron had returned.
Hermione went out to the yard and, walking over to the field, took a seat between Tonks, who was watching the game with a clapping, excited Teddy and Neville who also watched the Quidditch game with great interest. Beside him sat Luna, who was thoroughly fixated at a bare patch of ground below her feet; she chattered animatedly with something Hermione could not see, and was certain was not even really there. Shaking her head in amusement at the other girl's eccentricity, she leaned back on her hands and searched the sky for either Harry or Ron.
After a few minutes of watching, she found neither and readily admitted to herself that without Harry playing, Quidditch was nowhere near as interesting as she remembered it to be from her days at Hogwarts.
Getting up, she dusted off her hands and looked around to see what else she could do until Harry returned and she could grill him about his conversation with Ron. As she scanned the yard, she saw Percy and Lupin involved in what looked to be a deep discussion over by the window. It only took a moment of consideration before she decided that, as much as she loved intellectual stimulation, she didn't love it enough to openly walk into a conversation with Percy.
Even though the older Weasley had changed a few of his views and was a bit more amicable since his departure from the Ministry, she had grown weary of hearing how much better things were in "the old days" or "Fudge would have done this" which was usually followed by "Fudge would have done that" or her personal favorite "Fudge would have never, blah, blah, blah,..." Okay, so that wasn't an exact quote, but that was usually what she heard. The conversation would usually end with him in a tizzy because she didn't readily agree with everything he had to say, and her own emotions so full of frustration that she'd be on the verge of becoming bald from the intense desire to pull her hair out.
Scanning the yard again, her eyes rested on Mr. Weasley and Hagrid over by the shed. Mr. Weasley seemed to be trying to explain away some sort of Muggle device. Hermione squinted her eyes. What was that? It looked uncannily like some type of transmitter or wireless communicator. Either way, she could easily discern from his random nodding and glazed expression that Hagrid had no idea what Mr. Weasley was talking about. She smiled to herself. In fact, she was pretty sure that Mr. Weasley himself had no idea what he was talking about. Chuckling, she shook her head and headed back into the house. There was no way she was going over there to be assaulted with a barrage of questions about what it was and how it worked.
'Besides,' Hermione thought to herself, 'it's getting pretty cold out here.'
She rubbed her arms in an attempt to warm up and cast one last glance at the Quidditch game before retreating to the warmth of the Burrow. As she made her way inside, Hermione slipped into the living room where Mrs. Weasley, who seemed to have finished in the kitchen already, was involved in a discussion with Headmistress McGonagall over Abigail's eventual entry into Hogwarts. Both women blatantly ignored Fleur's comments about her daughter going to Beauxbatons like she had, and after a moment, the blonde woman gave up, settling for grumbling loudly in French instead.
Hermione gave her a sympathetic smile and took a seat on the floor next to the toddler in question. Abigail was currently busy painting what looked to be some type of animal with one hand and eating a cookie with the other. When Hermione sat down next to her, she paused, giving Hermione a curious look with luminous blue eyes, reminding her so very much of Fleur. After realizing that the older girl wanted to join her, Abigail passed her a piece of parchment and a brush before turning back to her own work.
Just as she began on her second picture, a princess that she decided would look just like Abigail, Harry and Ron came into view as they made their way down the stairs. She looked up from her painting and gave them both a smile that faltered a bit when Ron gave her a strange and slightly sad look. Frowning fully now, she stood up from her spot and approached the two of them.
"What's going on? Is everything okay?" She asked her eyes flicking between the two, when Harry responded with 'nothing' and a high pitch laugh her eyes stilled on him.
"Well how 'bout some Quidditch," Harry said after a moment of scrutiny, then grabbed Ron's arm and quickly pulled him out the door.
Not one to be deterred, Hermione followed closely behind them as they headed out back out to the field.
'Oh, no you don't, Harry Potter,' she thought. 'I'm not letting this go that easily.'
Luck, however, was not on her side at the moment. Just as they arrived to the pitch Fred and Dean were touching down.
"Bloody good timing there," Fred called out "we just brutally beat these poor sods."
"Hey," Dean threw in "you only beat us by a couple of points. Besides, you know there's a half moon out tonight and Bill's not feeling that well."
"Blah, blah, blah, excuses, excuses," Ginny said as she too joined everyone on the ground. "So are you two playing or what?"
Hermione's frown turned to a glower as both gave a quick glance in her direction, then hurriedly volunteered for the next game.
Just as Harry was running past with his broom she grabbed his arm. "We will talk about this Harry Potter," she said, frowning.
"I know, Hermione Granger," he responded with a cheeky grin. He then gave her a quick kiss on the lips, hopped on his broom and shot up into the sky.
Hermione shook her head and smiled despite herself. She really wished she could just stay angry with him sometimes. Giving a sigh and a shrug, she went further into the field and once again joined those camped out on the on the grass to watch them play. This time however, she seemed to have no problem finding the Quidditch game interesting.
Harry took a nervous breath. They were in the living room preparing to open presents as was tradition at the Burrow; he was in the loo. He peered around the frame of the bathroom door, promptly locating Hermione in a discussion with McGonagall over on the couch by the fireplace. Quickly ducking back in before he could see her, he allowed his head to fall against the wall and took several deep calming breaths. Tonight was the night. He was going to ask her and she was either going to say 'yes' and make him the happiest man in the universe or say 'no' and make him want to jump off the nearest bridge.
'I can't do this,' he thought, looking at himself in the mirror and frowning at his reflection. He looked frighteningly like a scarred rabbit. 'Okay, pull your self together man, you're Harry Potter. You beat the most powerful dark wizard of our time, you should be afraid to go outside and face a slip of a witch.' Harry grimaced. 'But she not just a slip of a witch,' he reminded himself, 'she's Hermione Granger, she's my best mate, my most constant support system and somehow after all these years, still the brightest witch of her age.'
He gave a frustrated groan and splashed some water on his face, looking back up he noticed that his refection was not the only one in the mirror.
"Hey," he mumbled.
"You look like you're going to spew," Ron commented, handing him a towel to dry his face.
Harry gave a shrug and wiped the water off his face. "I feel like I'm going to spew."
Ron shook his head. "Are you sure you want to do this."
When he had pulled Ron aside earlier to let him know what he was planning to do, he was almost certain that the red-headed guy was going to belt him one. After taking a few deep breaths the red color receded from Ron's face some and his fists stop clenching and unclenching, though he did continue to glare.
"Why today?" Ron asked somewhat calmly. "Why on Christmas Eve?"
"Ron, please believe me when I say that this is in no way meant to ruin your holiday," Harry answered quickly.
"Then why today?" Ron asked. "Why now, why not at the hospital?"
Harry gave a small sigh. "Because Hermione deserves better than some quick proposal at a hospital – I was to weak to get on one knee and ask her properly; not to mention we were both drained, her perhaps more so with all the emotions and all..." he responded. "She deserves to have a special proposal, one where she's surrounded by friends and family where she knows that it's okay to say yes because everyone will still support her."
"So, now I'm meant to stand there, looking like a complete git while you get on one knee and propose to my ex-girlfriend?" Ron questioned, giving him an incredulous look. "Are you bloody mental? Do you know how much it's going to suck having to deal with all the sympathetic looks all night and everyone saying 'don't worry, Ron, you'll find someone else some day.' No! You bloody well don't, do you!?"
"No, Ron. I don't – and that's why I'm asking you first," Harry said, giving a sigh as he ran an agitated hand through his hair. "I don't want to put you in a position that you can't handle," he quickly reworded his statement, noticing the glower that descended upon the other boy's face. "I mean, that you shouldn't have to handle. That's why, if you say that it's not okay, I won't do it. I'll just find some other time – perhaps a private romantic dinner – I just," Harry cleared his throat and looked directly in Ron's eyes. "I just wanted her to have a bit more than that, you know?"
"So then you're asking my permission to propose to her tonight?" Ron asked slowly.
"Well, yes. I guess I am. I'm asking for your permission and, whatever the answer may be, it's between us. If it's not okay, you don't have to worry about me telling anyone that you nixed the idea. I want you to know that I respect your decision, whatever it might be, and that I totally and completely plan to honor it." Harry said firmly, taking a seat on the extra bed while Ron took one on his.
They sat in silence for several agonizing minutes before Ron finally spoke.
"So, what happens if I say yes but she says no? Did you think of that?" Ron inquired, speaking again before Harry could respond. "I suppose you did and that might also be the reason for such a grand proposal."
"Well," Harry bit his lip, "I did think of that, but that's not why I want to do this. I told you why already," he sighed. "Look, I'm not trying to pressure her… perhaps you're right. This wasn't a good idea. Just forget that I asked, okay?" Harry stated blandly, getting up from the bed to make his way to the door; he hung is head glumly, his shoulders slumped in defeat. Just as he reached for the handle, Ron placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Merlin, Harry. Stop being such a twitchy little ferret," Ron said, giving Harry a small smile when he looked over his shoulder at him. "If you want to marry her, then there shouldn't be anyone who can tell you that you can't."
"There isn't," Harry responded, facing him fully. "I'm going to ask her to be my wife Ron. I wasn't saying to forget that part. I was just saying forget the part where I ask her tonight."
Ron quietly stared, looking Harry in the eyes. "Well, I say don't forget it," he responded after a few minutes with a small frown.
They continued to stare at one another for a moment, each gaging the other before giving each other what were, in Harry's opinion, very manly hugs, complete with several claps on the back.
"Thanks, Ron," Harry said while they were still hugging.
"No problem," Ron said as they pulled apart, "but if you hurt her, I'll kill you."
Harry gave a small smile and nodded his head in consent. "Fair enough."
"Oh," Ron said, "and you have to promise to help me filter all the stupid sympathy looks and comments, deal?"
"Deal," Harry responded, turning toward the door again. "Though you're on your own with your mum."
"No bloody way! That's part of the deal," Ron shouted playfully, chasing after him. "By the way, did you want me to lock all the doors, you know, just in case she tries to run?"
"Please," Harry chuckled, "you'd probably Apparate her out of here yourself."
"You've got a point, there, mate," Ron replied, giving a cheeky grin as he followed Harry out the door.
Ron shook his head. "Are you… sure you want to do this."
Harry turned to look him in the eyes. "Yes."
"Then suck it up and get out there. They're ready to open presents," Ron said, making a face. "That's why I'm here. Mum sent me to get you."
"Okay, I'll be right out," Harry mumbled, looking at the mirror once more.
"Fine," Ron threw out, "but, if I were you, I'd hurry up or she's likely to send Hermione next," he added; Harry quickly joined him before he could make it into the hall.
As they entered the living room, they found everyone had taken various seats around the tree with Mrs. and Mr. Weasley standing beside it.
"Ah, Harry! There you are, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, taking note of their entrance. "I was just about to send the twins in after you two. What took you so long?"
"Oh…er…" Harry and Ron said in unison, both blushing a blotchy red.
Mrs. Weasley tilted her head a concerned expression crossing her face she opened her mouth to comment but was cut off.
"Now that they're here, let's get some gifts," Ginny declared, holding out her hands towards her mum and dad.
"Hear, hear!" the twins called out, followed by clapping from most of their peers.
Giving a laugh at his offspring's exuberance and a shrug to his wife, Mr. Weasley reached under the tree and grabbed a big gift with small sparks shooting from it and handed it to his only daughter. From there, the gift mayhem began.
Half an hour later, wrapping paper littered the floor of the living room. The noise level was close to deafening from the exclamations of surprise, happiness and a few of disappointment, not to mention the occasional 'ding', 'ping', and 'moo' from the various presents.
"Aw, is that all?" Fred asked as the last present was handed to Teddy.
"Decent haul, I suppose, but we've done better," said George, fiddling with the new magical chemistry set Hermione had given him to inspire new and amazing Weasley products.
"Well, that's not quite all," Harry said, getting up. He went to the area beneath the stairs. "You guys haven't opened my presents yet," he then emerged with a large bag, walking around the room he place a wrapped gift in everyone's hands… well, almost everyone.
"Uh, Harry," Hermione said after he sat down from handing out presents "aren't you forgetting someone?"
"What?" He gave her a curious look. "I don't think so."
She made a small scoffing noise. "Well, perhaps you should think harder."
Harry looked around the room for a moment before sighing. "Of course!" He exclaimed, hitting himself on the head, "how could I have forgotten!?"
Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled. "It's okay, I suppose, just don't make it a habit, okay?"
"Of course I won't," he responded, digging through the bag once more, pulling out a medium sized box and a larger box. "After all, after the year we've had I think we deserve these presents more than anyone." He finished, grinning at her before opening his box.
Hermione grinned back before eagerly tearing into her own. "Harry, wha…" she uttered, her mouth opening and closing a few times.
He paused while digging in the box and looked up at her. "What's wrong?"
She opened her mouth, but no words came out after a moment she reached into the box and pulled out a pair of white tube socks and some broom polish.
"Harry, you git! What kind of a presents are those?" Ginny hissed.
"Oh," he responded, looking from her to Hermione. "Whoops! It's just a mix up, looks like you have mine." He laughed and held the other box out to her; she gave him a playful glare.
"You did that on purpose, Harry! The presents are completely different sizes and the boxes are even decorated differently. I can't believe that you would be so childish," she said in a reproachful tone. "It's our first Christmas together and instead of being romantic you want to play games. Heck, even Ron was never that juvenile," she said in an affronted tone, doing her best to hold back a smile at Ron's indignant exclamation.
"Hermione, I said it was an accident. Geez, your dramatics are worthy of Malfoy," Harry countered with a smirk.
She gave an indignant 'humph' at being compared to the blond Slytherin before taking the present from his outstretched hands. "I was not being dramatic, I was being adorably playful," she said with a frown, he grinned at her. In their flirting, both missed Ron and Ginny rolling their eyes at each other. "Who gets themselves a gift anyway?"
"Yeah, especially one as lame as tube socks and broom polish," Ron chimed in, making a face.
"Who asked you?" Harry responded with a glower.
Hermione opted to ignore the childish conversations she assumed would follow and took that time to rummage through the layers of tissue paper to locate her gift. After a moment, her hand brushed up against something hard, yet soft; her pulse quickened as her fingers closed around a small velvet box.
Hearing her sharp intake of breath from his spot across from her, Harry decided that it was now time. Leaning forward, he reached into the large box, removing the smaller one from her shaky fingers. He took the big box off of her lap and placed it on the floor, as he slowly dropped down to one knee in front of his astonished girlfriend. Hermione froze upon actually seeing the small velvet box in her boyfriend's hand and looked ready to faint when he dropped to one knee in front of her.
"Hermione Jean Granger," he said softly, ignoring the surprised exclamations from their audience. "I tried for years to forget you and forget what I felt for you, but it never worked. You are always in my thoughts, and in my dreams. So this year I did decided to be a bit selfish get myself a present, but it wasn't a crappy pair of tube socks or a small tin of broom polish," he opened the box and a small gasp escaped from her lips at the gentle sparkle of beautiful diamond ring inside. "Though this ring would not rest on my finger, but yours, I am under no delusions that it is a gift for you. I know that if you say 'yes'… if you... agree to marry me, then the person who really gets rewarded is me, because having you as my wife would be the best gift that I could ever receive, and I can only hope that I'm worthy enough for it." he said softly. His throat tightened as he said the words he'd been longing to say for so very long. "I guess that leaves it up to you, am I?" he asked, looking questioningly into her eyes, "Hermione will you please make me the happiest man in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds and agree to be my wife?"
He held his breath as she stared at him, wide-eyed. The room remained silent, save for the distant crackling of the fire. His heart raced as her eyes left him and went to his left, where he knew Ron was standing. Harry hesitantly looked at his red-headed friend knowing that it all stood in his hands. Though Ron had agreed earlier, being witness to the actual proposal may have caused him to change his mind.
Harry could feel the sweat gathering at his brow as the seconds dragged on, feeling like hours, and then an eternity while Ron stood there stoically. Then, he saw it – the almost imperceptible nod of consent and the bittersweet half smile that graced the other young man's face. Harry looked back at Hermione just as she looked back at him, as he took note of the tears streaming down her face his heart dropped to his stomach.
'She's gong to say 'no'. She's going to say 'no'," his mind repeated; he could feel tears gathering in his eyes. Before they could fall, however, she slowly nodded her head.
"Yes," she whispered aloud. "Yes," she said once more, in a stronger voice.
Harry quickly stood and gathered her in his arms, swinging her around. They kissed amid a clamor of hoots and whistles. He had time to pull back and place the ring shakily on her finger before they were both assaulted with hugs and well wishes. Everyone quieted down as Ron came forward, but said nothing. He simply stood for a moment before giving each of them a hug.
"You're not going to try to make me the best man, are you?" he asked as he pulled away from Harry. "I think that would be too bloody weird for me."
Harry chuckled and Hermione grinned.
"Sorry, mate, but you're going to have to deal with it. She'll kill me if you're not in the wedding," Harry commented, grinning, "but don't worry, it's not like we're getting married tomorrow or anything."
"Yeah," Hermione added "we're perfectly willing to wait until you're ready."
Harry looked at her. "We are?"
"Yes, Harry, we are," she replied, giving him a serious look before giving Ron another hug.
Ron raised a brow and gave him a smug expression over her shoulder, before changing to a sweeter one for Hermione when she pulled back.
"Thanks, Hermione. I don't think it'll be much more than a year or two," he said softly with a puppy dog expression that made Harry barely hold back a snort.
"Don't worry, Ron. We know how hard this is for you, and are willing to wait," Hermione said kindly. "Take your time." She gave him a sympathetic smile and rubbed his arm.
"Well, I don't think you two will be getting married in our life time," commented Fred.
"Yeah," said George, looking at Harry. "You better hope he keels over soon, mate."
Harry just nodded his head while Hermione rolled her eyes.
"You two are being overly dramatic," she said with a disapproving smile. "It won't be anywhere near that long."
Before either could retort, Ginny and Luna showed up at her side and pulled her from the group with exclamations of how beautiful the ring was and various questions about wedding plans. A moment later, Mr. Weasley, Bill, and Remus came and began to talk excitedly to Harry about 'joining their ranks', as well as the best ways to handle mood swings. Harry caught a glimpse of Mrs. Weasley pulling Ron toward the kitchen.
"Don't worry, dear. You'll find someone soon," she was saying. Harry suppressed a grin as Ron threw him a look. "As a matter of fact, I just saw Marion Weatherby in Diagon Alley the other day and she was telling me she had the loveliest daughter. What was her name?… Matilda… Minerva…"
"Er, Harry," Ron said desperately, looking back at him. "Harry, come on! You promised! Harry!" Harry laughed.
Author's Note: Finally!! Whew! That was long! So, what did you think? I want to thank everyone who has read and reviewed Ace of Hearts and who has stuck with me throughout this long process. Thanks for being patient with me getting out the last chapters and for those of you who are reading Forbidden Love, I am still working on it and will began posting again after I have another couple of chapters written. I want to thank my beta for not only keeping me on the ball but forgiving me when I accidentally called him a girl… Er, sorry about that again. Also, thanks to everyone for sticking through me with my first couple of betaless chapters. All I can say is that I hope the story lived up to you expectations. Please review and let me know!
Thanks again and Ja ne!