He had never forgotten it.
Not once. He always came and saw her on her birthday.
She lay down her quill and rubbed her eyes, staring into the fire. Sitting on the rug in front of it she had her glass of red wine secured with the stem between the toes of her foot. Leaning back against the chair she picked it up and took a sip, casually looking at the clock. It was 11.45pm.
You're 24 years old Hermione, you shouldn't be bothered about birthdays anymore she scalded herself. He had a lot going on in his life; he was bound to grow out of that ritual one day. She put her glass of wine back under foot and picked up her quill again, scratching it across the page on her lap of a report she'd brought home from work. I had a lovely lunch with Mum and Dad and Ron and Luna, it was a good birthday as birthdays go. She swore loudly as she wrote the word birthday instead of building on her parchment by mistake and reached for her wand to correct it.
A loud knock at the door caused her to jump and she whipped her head around, her heart racing. Okay, settle down, she told herself as she made her way to the door – smoothing her hair on the way. She checked her reflection in the hall mirror and shrugged at it before pulling open the front door.
Harry stood swaying at the door, a lopsided grin on his face and a cupcake with a lit candle in his hands. His hair was unfathomably untidy and his robes were a bit crooked – she caught a whiff of Firewhisky emanating from him.
"Harry James Potter you are drunk." She couldn't keep the smile out of her voice.
"But I made it. Just in time. And I have cake." He held the little cake up and she broke into a grin as he sang Happy Birthday to her loudly on her doorstep. She tried to usher him in but it was too late, her neighbor had his head out the window shouting at the noise. Harry kept singing louder, his arms outstretched up to the neighbors' window now as he hung on to the final "Yoooooooou…" and she grabbed his arm, pulling him inside as he tried to serenade him some more, both of them laughing now. She closed the door and he held the cupcake up to her face.
"Make a wish."
His green eyes reflected the candle as he held it between them and she shook her head in mock disapproval. "You're in no state to be playing with fire."
He frowned and then grinned. "Then quick, blow it out before I burn the house down."
She rolled her eyes and blew the candle out, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opened them he was staring at her intently.
"What did you wish for?"
She raised her eyebrows. "I can't tell you that! It won't come true!"
He groaned and now it was his turn to roll his eyes which he did with much less success. "Shit, don't tell me it was anything to do with that poofter Gabriel."
She punched him on the arm and he frowned, rubbing the spot she'd hit, feigning pain.
"Ow. Well? He is a poofter."
She frowned trying unsuccessfully to suppress her laugh.
He smiled and pointed at her mouth. "See? You know he is." Her mouth twitched some more and he actually touched her lip as he pointed, unsteady on his feet as he was. "See!! Poofter!"
She gave in to her grin and pushed him down the hall towards the lounge. "You think all my boyfriends are poofters."
He stopped resisting her pushing and walked himself to the kitchen, checking her wine glass on the floor in front of the fire and getting himself a glass and the bottle on the bench.
"They are all poofters. Actually – no I lie." He came back into the lounge and threw himself down on the couch next to her. "That bloke Darren – he wasn't a poofter. He was a knobhead."
She laughed out loud and he leaned over her to get her glass, almost overbalancing but correcting himself enough to pour them both a drink. He handed it to her and clunked her glass with his a little clumsily.
"To knobheads and poofters. May they all stay the hell away from my Hermione." He lifted his glass in the air and she watched him over the rim of hers as she took a sip.
"Ok, my birthday, my toast" she said. He nodded and pretended to wait solemnly for her wisdom.
"To slags and slappers. May they all stop lining up around the block to date the famous Harry Potter." She raised her glass as he dropped his mouth open, pretending to be offended. She shook her head and grinned.
"Oh no Harry, people in glasshouses and all that. Don't throw stones unless you want some thrown back" she laughed. He nodded and waved a pretend white flag.
"Alright – I deserved that. Anyway!" He put the glass of wine down at his feet and she automatically stooped to pick it up, placing it on the coffee table out of the way. He was rummaging in his pockets. "I have a present."
She sat back into the couch, trying to ignore the furnace that had lit inside her since she'd seen him at the door. He was here – that was present enough for her. God, she thought, berating herself again. How many years are you going to keep this up Hermione? Unrequited love is so ...cliched. The first cut is the deepest and all that. There was no future in it, for gods sake, he was the biggest cad she knew, a new girl every week. She couldn't keep up with the string of beautiful women that he was seen around with, and he had no shortage of them waiting for him after every Quidditch match he played for Falmouth Falcons. She'd come to watch a game once and he'd literally had to wade through the fangirls to pull her out of the crowd where she was waiting for him. He'd just shrugged and laughed it off when she'd teased him but she found out that night he'd gone home to Grimmauld Place with a pretty blonde witch from the after match function when Hermione had taken off home with Luna.
She watched him as he rummaged in his pockets. Ron had just said today he was worried about Harry, that he should be looking to settle down now. She personally thought he was more jealous of him – not that he wasn't happy being married to Luna and having their little one year old girl Talitha but she knew he was maybe a little envious of the freedom Harry still had. She'd rolled her eyes and reminded him it wasn't too long ago he was right at Harry's side, the two of them out on the town together, Ron maybe even worse as he'd bask in reflected glory and end up with the girls who'd failed to pull Harry. That was harsh she knew, but true and she'd suspected he didn't actually mind it. She was just glad that she and Ron had figured out very early on in their attempt at having a relationship together that they were too incompatible and the three of them had lived together for some time, at Grimmauld Place. Then she'd started her first serious relationship with a guy she'd worked with at the Ministry and moved in with him.
Adam. He was muggle born like her, and she thought she'd found someone who'd really understand her, who adored her and she could maybe start a family with. Ron had got on okay with him but Harry had never liked him – no surprise there, but his instincts that 'there was something not right about him' turned out to be true when it transpired he also had a girlfriend and child in Ireland. He'd traveled there a lot for work and she guessed she'd been a distraction for him. He'd tried for weeks to win her back but he couldn't get any where near her back at Grimmauld Place, Harry and Ron set up some rather violent charms that would assault him when he tried. He'd written some drippy love notes to her at work which she'd just burned and she hadn't heard from him since.
Now she thought about it, there was never any love lost with her boyfriends and Harry. He'd never liked them and they'd all felt the same about him. Adam, ironically, had always been jealous of any time she'd spent with Harry and she lost count of how many times he'd accused her of having an affair, with both Harry and Ron, but in particular Harry. He had always said that Harry loved her, which she knew he did – but not in the same way she loved him.
Over the years her feelings had just grown deeper, transcending any jealously she might feel over his many female companions, he was still her Harry. She didn't even disapprove, she knew he was honest with all the girls, he didn't give any false expectations, had never moved anyone in. With Ginny he'd been equally candid – after the Battle of Hogwarts she'd gone back to school and he'd gone with Hermione and Ron to Australia to get her parents. He'd written to Ginny all year and as far as Hermione knew he had been faithful but when she'd finished school he'd sat her down and told her that he didn't feel that way about her anymore. She had been devastated but eventually moved on and staring seeing Dean Thomas again, and they had been together ever since. Harry and Ginny were good friends now, and he was a great honorary uncle to their three boys.
She watched him as he finally extracted a small black object from his pocket and held it in his palm, his other hand cupped over the top. She eyed him questioningly – that was far too small to be book, unless he'd enchanted it to shrink. But he always got her a book – always the perfect book too. He had an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what she was interested in at the time. But this was a change, as was the late hour that he'd made his appearance, and her curiosity was piqued.
"What's that then?"
He smiled, but his face had become a touch more serious she noticed. "Open it."
She frowned at him and reached forward to grasp his hands, lifting his hand to look underneath. In his palm was a small ring box.
She smiled, thinking this must be some elaborate prank and picked up the delicate box with her index finger and thumb. She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"What's going to jump out at me when I open this…"
He shook his head. "Nothing."
She threw him a confused glance and opened the box.
Inside was a ring so beautiful it made her gasp. She looked at it, waiting for it to transfigure or do something silly but it just sat there, the firelight playing in the teardrop shaped diamond in the centre.
She could feel his eyes on her as she picked up the ring, studying the platinum setting for the large stone. Finally she found her voice.
"Harry, I… this must have cost a fortune."
He took the box from her and held her hand as he took the ring and tried it on the fingers of her right hand. It fit perfectly on her middle finger and she couldn't stop looking at it glinting there.
"Seriously Harry – this is, it's so beautiful."
He smiled. "I saw it, and I thought of you."
She felt like her heart stopped for a moment and she couldn't look away from his eyes. "But, this would've been very expensive- I don't think…I can't accept it."
He bent his head still smiling. "I knew you'd say that. And you don't have to wear it. I just…" He cleared his throat and she suddenly realised he was uncomfortable which confused her. "There's no other girl in my life I would buy a ring for – so I thought I would." He said it simply, not knowing how his words were affecting her. Then his grin lit up his face again and he lifted his hand to her cheek. "You know you're my favourite girl."
She couldn't help herself; she closed her eyes at his touch. Opening them again she saw he'd looked away and was searching around for his glass.
"It's beautiful – really. It's the nicest thing anyone's ever given me."
He'd found his glass again and took a sip, staring into his drink. "It's nothing, compared to what you do for me." He looked up at her and smiled softly. Then she saw his mood shift and his moment of sobriety seemed to pass. "So! Tell me what you did today."
She picked up her own glass again and tried to tell him about her lunch with her parents and Ron and Luna but she was just rambling as her emotions swirled in turmoil inside her. Of all the people she'd wanted a ring from it was him, but this confused her. What did it mean? Did it mean anything at all? Or had he just been drunk and bought it on a whim? He was always buying his friends things; it seemed sometimes he had more money than he knew what to do with. And he was always calling her that too. His favourite girl. She'd never questioned it, it was always just a term he'd used and even when Lavender had pointed it out to her one time, that he always called her that, she had brushed it off as some thing he said to her as his best friend. But the thought started to eat at her and she interrupted herself.
"Harry, what do you mean when you call me that?"
He frowned at her. "Call you what?"
"Your favourite girl. What do you mean?" She didn't know what had overcome her but for some reason the question was burning inside and she had to ask him.
He tilted his head and looked at her, pressing his lips together, considering. Finally he answered, as if not surprised by the question.
"It means you're the most important woman in my life. I'd do anything for you."
She swallowed. "I feel the same."
He smiled and looked at the ground. "I know."
She watched him, sitting on her couch leaning forward with his forearms braced on his thighs. He was looking at his feet with his head hanging down and she couldn't see his face but there was an air of sadness about him. She was just about to shift closer to him when he pushed up to stand.
"I've got training tomorrow Hermione, I better get going."
She looked up at him but he avoided her gaze, already heading to the hallway. She jumped up and followed him.
"Harry – wait."
She reached him in the hallway. Standing in front of him, she lost any words she was going to say – lost in the nearness of him, the smell of him that she loved so much. She stood staring at his chest, feeling stupid and automatically reached out to grasp the front of his robes as if straightening them, but just ending up holding on to them as if she needed the help standing.
He was looking down at her but not saying a word and his hands came up to cup her shoulders, his thumb rubbing back and forth. He bent his head to press his lips on her forehead, leaving them there as his hands traveled up to her neck and then to her face. Lifting her jaw he tilted her face up to look at him.
"Happy birthday." She stared up into his eyes and caught a flicker of emotion run through him before he was suddenly kissing her.
His lips on hers were gentle but insistent, his mouth pressed to hers with his lips closed. But time seemed to crawl by and he wasn't pulling back, and as she moved her hands to rest on the waistband of his jeans he eased back but didn't move away, coming back to kiss her again, each one lasting a bit longer, until he gently pulled at her bottom lip by catching it between his. His fingers were spread into her hair now, his thumbs on her cheeks as he held her face. He paused, their faces an inch apart and she opened her eyes to find his eyes open too and cloudy with desire.
She went to move forward into his kiss again but he had frozen, looking up she saw his expression had turned troubled. He tilted her head down to kiss her briskly on the forehead and then moved his hands to her shoulders before stepping back and away from her. He smiled reaching out to brush her cheek briefly.
"I better go. I've gotta go." His voice was hoarse but he kept smiling as she watched him move away to the door and she couldn't muster a smile, she just wanted to stop him.
"No, wait you should stay…"
He cut her off. "I'm fine, really you know it's not far – I'll be fine."
Her head was still fuzzy from his kiss but she determined to put her foot down. "No seriously, you shouldn't even have apparated here in your state, it's dangerous. At least floo – please."
He shrugged and ran his hand through his hair. "Ok."
He walked back towards her in the small hallway and seemed to make a point of not touching her as he moved past her back to the lounge.
"I don't want you to go." Her voice sounded small and she stood looking at her hands.
He'd stopped and turned but she still didn't look at him.
"I've got to go Hermione – I'm too drunk, I shouldn't have even come here."
She looked up at him again, hurt. "Don't say that. You always come and see me on my birthday."
His face softened as he looked at her and took an involuntary step forward. "No I didn't mean it like that." He stepped close to her and made to touch her cheek again but didn't actually make contact before dropping his hand. "I just mean, I'm sorry for turning up like this. I should've been with you today; I just wanted to clear my head a bit before I came over."
She frowned in confusion and then looked up at him smiling; he laughed as he saw her look. "Okay, so that didn't make any sense."
She laughed too. "Your head is decidedly unclear I would say."
His smile still crinkled his eyes but he looked more serious as he said "Well, that was the intention anyway. Then I met bloody Viktor and got a little sidetracked…"
She rolled her eyes – that was the one ex of hers that Harry did actually get on with, so well in fact that they were often out drinking together, trailed by a good helping of groupies. "Say no more."
His face turned solemn and he lifted the end of one of her curls off her shoulder, studying it in his fingers. "You don't believe any of that stuff they say about me do you? Because you know it's all exaggerated right? I'm nobody's super stud." He finished with a wry grin and dropped her hair.
That took her aback and she looked at him in surprise. "Sure Harry, of course. I know that."
He seemed pleased with that and smiled. "Good. I realised a long time ago that all of that isn't real – those girls might be into the idea of me… but they don't really know me." She looked at him and had a sudden suspicion that he was going to kiss her again, but he turned and walked into the lounge.
She followed him, thinking as she studied the ground. He snapped her out of her thoughts by wrapping her into a hug and kissing her hard on the top of her head. It took her by surprise and before she knew it he was by the fireplace, getting some floo powder from the mantelpiece. He threw it into the flames and turned to her as the fire changed to green. "I'll see you soon okay?"
She nodded – wanting to stop him but not knowing what to say. Finally she just waved as he stepped into the fireplace and stated 'Grimmauld Place' before spinning out of sight.
"And so then what?"
Lavender leaned on her elbows, her face in her hands and her eyes wide as Hermione finished telling her the story. She hadn't really intended to, but she'd gotten close to her over the years and it turned out Lavender could read her quite well. She knew about Hermione's feelings for Harry and always told her she should tell him. Hermione found that she avoided the subject when it came up; telling her that she was just not ready to spoil the friendship they had to become another one of his fans. But when Lavender had come to see her at work the day after Harry's visit she had pried the information from her straight away.
"Well…then he flooed home."
"And you let him!? Are you crazy?"
Hermione shook her head and rested her forehead on her folded arms. She was sat at her desk, a pile of work spread over it but none actually attended to yet in her distracted state, and it was already lunchtime.
"Hermione, this has gone on long enough. He obviously feels something for you too – and neither of you are with anyone. You have to go and talk to him."
Hermione peeked up at her, her face still on her hands. "I don't know Lavender – you should've seen how drunk he was. And then he seemed to regret it after he kissed me'
Lavender grinned. "Well I would say that being drunk just brought his guard down. And you can't be that bad a kisser." Hermione whacked her arm and she laughed. "Come on, he was probably just being 'noble'" she said, rolling her eyes. "I'm sure he wanted to jump you."
"Lovely." Hermione brought her arms together and buried her face in them, letting her hands drop over her head.
"Anyway – if you seriously doubt it after this-"Lavender picked up Hermione's hand to study the ring for the umpteenth time "-seriously serious ring, then you have to be kidding yourself. God, I'm so jealous."
Hermione laughed and sat up as Lavender placed her hand with her engagement ring on it next to Hermione's.
"It puts mine to shame. Poor Michael, he saved for ages to get this, and bloody Harry blows it out of the water with a ring that isn't even an engagement ring." She wiggled her eyebrows at Hermione. "Yet."
Hermione groaned. "Oh god, stop."
Lavender stood up and picked up her bag, swinging it over her shoulder. "Do it. And floo me as soon as you do."
She walked to the door and turned and looked at her sternly. "I mean it Granger."
Hermione waved her away sitting back in her chair and folding her arms. "Yeah yeah."
She spent the next half an hour unsuccessfully reading reports until she pushed away from her desk, sighing. She went downstairs and got some lunch from a café up the road from the Ministry. Her mind was working overtime going through the events of the night before – sometimes puzzling over his words, sometimes just gazing at the ring, sometimes trying to quiet her stomach as it flopped when she thought about their kiss.
Back in her office she noticed a number of memos flying in circles over her desk. She snatched at them, reading and discarding the first two. The third was from Ron in the Auror office.
Harry needs to see you. Got a portkey arranged for 2.45pm to take you to Falmouth Stadium, will be delivered just before.
She reread it a few times before laying it on her desk and smoothing it out. Nice of you to arrange my life for me Ron, she thought dryly. Harry needs to see you. What does that mean? For a moment her heart leapt when she realised he could be hurt, but then she crossed the idea out in her head – even Ron wouldn't be so insensitive to spring that on her by a memo. Oh god she thought. Maybe he's really regretting kissing me, or giving me the ring and he wants it back. Either way, she knew deep down she wanted to go and she groaned inwardly looking at the clock. Twenty past one – still so long to wait.
She busied herself watching a witness's memory in her Pensieve for a case she was working on – it was much easier to concentrate on that than reading. Coming back into the room she saw it was two thirty already – happy her diversion had worked she tidied her office till an intern delivered her a large blue umbrella at two forty. Finally at a quarter to three she touched the umbrella, grateful for the jerk behind her navel pulling her to Harry.
She landed on her feet on the grass in front of the large stadium and decided to head around to the changing rooms under the pitch. She smiled as she realised it was raining steadily and opened the umbrella- she imagined that the fact Ron had used an umbrella for the portkey was more a happy accident then careful planning by checking the weather report but she was still grateful for it as the rain pattered on the blue fabric.
Rounding the corner she entered the tunnel that led to the Quidditch team's changing room and pitch, recognising a nervous gnawing in her stomach. Oh hell she thought, if it's all going to blow up in my face then let's get it over with.
She folded the now wet umbrella, shaking it as she walked forward to the light spilling onto the far end of the passage from the open air of the pitch. She broke into the daylight and turned her head up to laughter and voices from above.
Harry and Viktor landed deftly and began to walk towards the tunnel, laughing at a conversation they'd obviously been having in the air. The other players landed just after and the team walked off the pitch, their dark grey robes drenched from the rain that had now eased off a bit.
Her stomach churned uncomfortably as she watched Harry draw closer, he still hadn't seen her. Viktor looked up and saw her first, motioning to Harry with a gloved hand. She watched Harry's green eyes follow Viktor's gesture and saw the grin slip from his face. She tried to paste a smile on her own, aware that the whole team was looking at her now.
They reached the tunnel and the players walked past her. Viktor came up and gave her a kiss on both cheeks and she smiled up at him.
"Hi Her-moany" His English pronunciation had gotten better since he'd moved to England for the Quidditch, though he still had problems with her name. She smiled warmly. "Hi Viktor, how are you?"
"Great" he smiled back at her. He flipped his beaters club in his hand. "I am enjoying my new position. I just have to put up with this hopeless Seeker we have" he joked as Harry pushed him away laughing.
"It was good to see you Her-moany."
"You too Viktor" she touched his arm as he left and he waved, following his team mates into the tunnel. She thought she saw him cast a significant look back to Harry but when she turned around to him, Harry's face was impassive.
"Hi" he said.
"Hi." She noticed he didn't kiss her hello on the cheek like he usually did and she didn't know whether that was a good or a bad thing.
They stood there in silence for a moment – noticeably uncomfortable. Harry cleared his throat.
"So…what brings you here?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Ah…you?"
He frowned back at her and she could see his mind racing behind his eyes.
"I mean – well you did, didn't you? Ron told me to meet you here; he said you needed to see me…" Her voice grew fainter as the realization that Ron had quite possibly sent her there without Harry's knowledge dawned on her. Maybe he'd been speaking to Lavender. She felt a bit horrified and cast around for any subject to change to. Looking at Harry he seemed a little dumbstruck himself so she made small talk.
He nodded a bit numbly and then seemed to gather himself – motioning to the large hoops on the field behind; he murmured something she fought to catch.
"…rained off in the end."
She nodded, still at a loss on what to say. His hair was wet making it seem even darker and she was amused to see that it was still sticking up in its perpetually untidy fashion. He caught the small smile on her face and smiled back then looked down to her hand.
"You're wearing the ring."
She held her hand up, looking at it again, as if she hadn't been looking at it every two minutes today. "Of course I am."
He continued to stand there- only a few steps from her, with that heavy silence between them. He lowered his face to his arm and attempted to wipe it with his sleeve with little success as his robes were wet too. His broom trailed at his side, his gloved hand wrapped around the handle and he absently tapped the fist with the broom in it against the side of his leg.
"I'm sorry" he said. "I shouldn't have turned up so drunk last night."
She shook her head. Here we go – the back peddle. Now that she was just about to hear his rejection she wasn't sure if she actually could face it. "No you were fine. I was just glad you made it."
Again the silence settled over them and she grew too anxious to just stand there anymore. "Look, sorry – I should let you get changed and things…and I really… I better get back to work." She backed away a few steps and it started to rain again.
He stood stock still and she nodded, sure now that he was going to watch her walk away without another word. She put the umbrella up, taking another few steps backwards. "Bye Harry."
"Hermione." Something in the way he said her name stopped her and she could see, even through the rain, the internal struggle he was going through. Then a look crossed his face that was so unbearably vulnerable, and so unlike him that she was almost frightened. Finally he spoke again.
"You know last night; you asked me why I always call you my favourite girl." She could hear him clearly, his voice carrying to her surprisingly easily in the large arena. He rubbed his face with his hand.
"I call you that because I'm in love with you. I have been since we all went to Australia, maybe before. I don't know when it happened but it's been eating away at me for years. I know I should keep it to myself but I don't think I can anymore."
She stood staring at him, her lips slightly parted, paralysed in shock as he went on.
"I don't expect anything from you. I just guess it was time I explained myself." He attempted to laugh half heartedly at himself, looking at the ground, rain running down his face.
She still hadn't been able to move and he hadn't looked at her again, still studying his muddy boots. He didn't realise she was approaching till she was right in front of him.
"Here." She stepped close to him and held the umbrella up higher to shelter him too. He wiped his face and smiled his thanks, only briefly making eye contact. She tilted her head to the side to try and catch his eyes and spoke quietly. "Why did you never tell me this before."
He smiled ruefully. "I guess, I don't know – I always thought I wanted the best for you. It was kind of like I decided to make sure that you ended up with a guy who'd never hurt you." He ran a hand through his hair again, then shook the moisture off his gloves to the grass. "And then somewhere along the line I think I turned into the kind of guy I wanted to protect you from."
Rain from his hair dripped down onto her face and he automatically lifted a hand to brush it off with his finger. She shook her head and smiled up at him.
"Well aren't we both stupid then."
His brow creased a fraction, unsure of what she was saying. She felt all of a sudden shy and couldn't look at him anymore. Focusing on her hands she twirled the umbrella handle softly as she spoke.
"I adore you Harry. I always have." She finally steeled herself to look up into his eyes. "I've never been anyone's but yours."
He looked so shocked that she smiled and finally he did too. His face softened and she saw a look she'd never seen in his eyes. When his hand came up to brush her hair off her face, it felt like it was the first time he'd ever touched her.
"You know, I realised the same thing yesterday when I bought that ring." He watched his fingers as they brushed at her hair. "I spent the rest of the day trying to convince myself it wasn't the case, but I realised I'd never love anyone again." He dropped his hand and looked in to her eyes almost sadly. "Like I do you."
The rain poured down now, running in rivers off the edge of the umbrella as he brushed the back of his fingers against her lips then dropped them under her chin, tilting her face up to his. He bent and touched his lips to hers as she let the umbrella fall to the side, returning his kiss this time before he could stop. He smiled against her mouth and wound his arms around her crushing her against him as he finally kissed her properly, lifting her off her feet.
The clouds opened on to the field but the couple wrapped in each other didn't notice. Later they would say they had no idea how long they stood there, only that they were soaked to the skin when they finally went into the tunnel. And in years to come they would make a point of walking in the rain together, never using but always taking, their blue umbrella.