Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns the people, places and things. I own nothing. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thank you to DJStroake for being my beta which mostly entails holding my hand and telling me everything will be okay.
Gentle tapping on her bedroom window woke Hermione from a deep sleep. An owl carried a hastily scrawled message from Harry.
Come over Hermione, they're back.
She apparated to his house immediately upon finishing the note, a million questions whirring through her busy brain. Who was back? Someone bad? She entered the manor without bothering to knock and was greeted by the sight of a tearful Harry seated across from a young couple. The woman was stunning, pale skinned and red haired, several shades darker than a Weasley. It wasn't until she looked at the man when she realized who they were. He was handsome, his dark hair unkempt, despite more angular features he was, for lack of a better word, Harry.
"That's impossible. Harry, you can't. It's a trick." She pulled at his robes in a halfhearted attempt to drag him away.
"It's not. It's them. I brought them back."
It was dark magic beyond what she had read about. Harry was only trying to destroy the wand that had served its master in decades of destruction. He inadvertently became the master of death. He didn't even do it on purpose. Fatigue and single-mindedness made him not think of the consequences of bringing the Hallows together. The Resurrection Stone and Invisibility Cloak lay tucked away on his person while he wielded the Elder Wand. It was enough, a jet of light and the yew wand shattered. When it did, it undid the curse that had made him an orphan.
Her eyes stayed trained on the mirage in front of her. It just could not be. James and Lily Potter. In the flesh. Just as youthful as they were the night they died.
There was a new complication in her life. One she never dreamed of. James Potter. And it didn't help he was seated right across from her. He shouldn't even be alive. Not that she regretted he was. It boggled the mind that it was even possible. A cold, rotting corpse was all that was left of his earthly remains. Even if his soul were to return, what vessel could contain it? And yet, here before her was a young vivacious man. His hazel eyes sparkled with mischief and a hint of something… mysterious. His hair was strategically mussed, belying the innocence his smooth skin and full lips suggested. Arrogance. He had it in spades. In a perverse way, it attracted her just as it repulsed her. He defied the laws of physics, he was alive.
Solving the great mysteries of the universe was not the top of her priority list today. Getting through the evening without completely embarrassing herself was. It was soon after his return to this plane of existence that Hermione noticed the strange stirring in her belly anytime he was near. She tried to chalk it off as lust, but she was a smart enough witch to know it wasn't. Or rather, it wasn't only lust. He spoke to her on an intellectual level. He was not the quidditch obsessed Neanderthal history had made him out to be, but a singularly talented wizard. He did manage the animagus transformation while still in school after all. All that talent brought arrogance. It was not long before Hermione realized that arrogance was reserved for those outside his circle of friends. The real James was kind, thoughtful and sharp.
Not to mention devastatingly handsome.
The man and his son could have been twins save the color of their eyes and the sharper, more angular features of the elder one. Only physically older by a year, twenty years separated their true ages. What had happened in those 19 years of death was an enigma. Whatever it was, it made him all the more masculine, all the more adult. He could show her things. Things she wanted to learn. They were so similar, yet only one could elicit heated breaths and low trembles from her body. The married one. The one she could not touch. And she so wanted to touch.
Lily burst into the room, eyes shining and legs wobbling. Not far behind her was a vaguely less inebriated Ron.
"Ron's invented the greatest drink! It's called, em, called…" She plopped down in the narrow space between her husband and son. "What's it called again?"
"Weasley is our king."
"Of course, yes. Weasley is my king." She smiled vacantly up at Ron.
James shot her a sly smile that threatened to make her lose her senses completely. She mentally kicked herself and looked over at Lily. The woman was twirling her hair while hanging on Ron's every word. Something about Lily made her very uncomfortable. Harry had told her about Severus. Her face was blank the whole time and only muttered the word 'fool' when he finished the story. Hermione was taken aback that she did not even show gratitude for him protecting her son all that time. It just seemed so… heartless.
Flirtatious eyes met hers again, a casual smirk played across his lips. He knew. He knew what he did to her. Still he toyed with her, making promises with his eyes that his body couldn't deliver. Or rather, shouldn't. An icy knot formed in her stomach. Humiliation brought color to her cheeks. She sent silent prayers to the gods that the orange glow of the firelight would hide her embarrassed flush.
Soon the young girl, who shouldn't have been so young began to run her fingers up her husband's leg. The fingers trailed upward before disappearing under the hem of his shirt. The man jumped at the contact, but allowed it. Lily's gaze didn't follow her wandering hands, it fell on Hermione and moved upward.
Hermione got a jolt of her own as a hand wound its way into her hair, gently brushing her neck before gripping her shoulder. She glared up at the offender standing behind her. Ron wasn't looking at her though. She turned back to find James' cold glare on him. There was something comforting to her about that. The spark was back. And it was dangerous. Ron's hand dropped lower, treading in waters that Hermione wasn't prepared for. She stood, surprising a room that had suddenly become filled with an icy tension. All eyes were on her, save one. Lily had turned her affections back on her husband, kissing a trail from his ear to his shoulder.
"I think I'll turn in, goodnight all."
Her silly crush was getting the better of her. A sickening wave of embarrassment washed over the poor girl as she retreated to the confines of her guest room.
A few minutes later, a quiet knock at her door stopped her just as she was crawling into bed. She threw on her dressing gown and opened the door a few inches. It was James.
"I just wanted to make sure you were all right, you left rather quickly."
"I'm fine, I promise, just tired." She offered a small smile which he returned several fold.
"Well, goodnight then."
When did she fall in love with her best friend's father? Was it love? She wouldn't deny the attraction. There was more to it. He was gentle, attentive, and alarmingly intelligent. Plus, he seemed to care about what she said. Her overwhelming curiosity wanted to discover just who James Potter really was.
"You're going out? Alone?"
"Yes, I need to do some shopping."
"Let me get my coat, I'll go with you."
That shouldn't have made her as happy as it did. James probably just wanted to do a little Christmas shopping. Nothing more. The smile he gave her when he walked back in the room made her shiver. She could always hope for more.
It wasn't cold enough to snow, but certainly cold enough to be miserable in the rain. Hermione drug James through a Muggle shopping district on the hunt for her parent's Christmas gift. Not only were Muggle objects strange and fascinating for James, they were remarkably different after 20 years. Keeping track of him was quite a chore so when they entered an art gallery she was sorely tempted to throw an incarcerous at him.
She wandered through, examining painting after painting, waiting for something to call to her. All the pieces were lovely, but as it was a gift for her parents, she was hoping to find something that reminded them of her. She was so lost in the works of art, she ran right into James' warm back.
"Hermione, look at this." He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her against him so she could see the painting. She flushed at the sudden intimate contact. So much so she did not notice the painting right away. When she did it took her breath away. It was Hogwarts Castle. Not as she or James knew it, but the ruins that Muggles saw. She read the placard. Castle Ruins near Dufftown. The painting was amazing. Her beloved school, just as her parents would see it. It was the perfect gift.
"Remarkable, isn't it?" James turned his head. He was so close his breath tickled her ear, causing goosebumps. She was glad her long-sleeved sweater hid them. She turned her head to face him, their noses almost touching. Neither spoke, they only searched each others eyes for the answer to the feelings that stirred in each of them. For a moment she swore he was going to kiss her. The light tapping of heels on wood flooring ended that. He released her quickly and turned back to the painting. She was left flushed and confused as the glamorous salesgirl approached.
Hermione didn't question the price. It was higher than she wanted to go, but there was no walking away from a painting like that. Neither she nor James looked at each other while she made the shipping arrangements and paid. There was no denying it. Something had happened.
Back on the street they marched on in silence. Until James could take no more and pulled Hermione aside under the protective canopy of a storefront.
"Please don't be mad at me. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable." His hands rested on her shoulders, ready to stop her should she turn away. She didn't.
"I'm not mad James, just confused. I mean, you're married…"
"I know, I know. The truth is Lily's not the woman I thought I married and maybe I'm not the James she thought she was marrying. Then I meet you and you are not just smart and beautiful," she blushed, "you care, about everyone. You're honest and brave and not afraid to challenge yourself. I don't know what to do with myself. I want to know you better, but I know I don't deserve to." He was out of breath after his outburst. His expression a mixture of relief and sadness.
Hermione shivered and not from the biting winter wind. Her senses were reeling. The man she desired felt the same way about her. There was just one little problem. Surely he could get divorced eventually though. Her hand shook as she reached for his face. He stepped closer when she made contact. Her brain screamed at her that it was wrong, but her body had orders from a higher power, her heart.
At the very first brush of their lips, Hermione knew she was forever lost.
Hermione found Harry in the living room, staring blankly into the fire. He looked as lost and confused as she was.
"What's wrong?" He did not answer. Hermione sat beside him and placed a hand on his back. She tried to not feel guilty when she looked at her best friend considering what had just transpired with his father. He was upset about something, but he would tell her in his own time. She gave his back a final stroke and started to rise.
"I'm not sure I should have brought them back." She sat back down immediately.
"I thought it was an accident Harry." He didn't speak. "It was an accident, wasn't it?"
"I'm sorry Hermione. I should have told you. I knew that you would tell me a thousand reasons I shouldn't." She was shocked that her friend had done something so important without consulting her. Looking back on things, she understood why. She would have tried to stop him. Truthfully, she was glad he did it. Otherwise she would never have met James. She pondered the best way to tell him that.
"Sometimes, one reason you should is more important than a thousand reasons you shouldn't." Hermione draped her arm around him and held him close. If there was ever a time either of them needed a friend, it was this moment.
"I think there is something going on with Ron and my mother." Hermione stiffened. The bubble of hope in her chest burst. Harry would not take this well.
"Well… that's not… what make you say that?"
He did not answer right away. "Just the way they look at each other, they're always touching, laughing about nothing…" It took a moment for Hermione to get the mental picture of those two out of her head. "I feel like everything I thought about them was a lie."
"So they aren't in love anymore. That doesn't mean they never were or that they don't love you. Have you ever felt like they didn't love you?"
"No." He spoke in a small voice like a child.
"While we were out today, James told me how proud he was to have a fine man such as yourself as a son. He would do anything for you, you know that. Lily would too. She already did."
Harry's head lifted. "Thanks Hermione. You always seem to know what to say." Or what to not say she thought. Would his patience last if he found out she was in love with his father?
Hermione walked through the quiet house pondering the strange turn of events that occurred in the past week. She really should go back to her own flat. The drama taking place under Harry's roof was bound to get someone in trouble soon.
Trouble found her soon enough when a hand shot out and latched onto her arm. Before she knew it she was dragged out the front door.
"I know you fancy him." Hermione was too startled by the accusation to speak. Lily pulled her closer, not letting up the grip on her wrist. "Don't play innocent with me, I've seen you watch him." Hermione remained silent, the icy knot in her stomach was back. The woman smirked and whispered into her ear. "I have everything you want don't I?" She released her, stepping away before the battle turned physical.
Lily leaned back against the doorframe, posing like an actress from the golden age of Hollywood. "I do feel sorry for you. I mean, I can't help it if James and Ron prefer me. Harry too, I am his mother after all. At least we can get everything out in the open. It may seem harsh now, but better to know when you're unwanted so you can scurry away and get on with your life as a librarian." She ran a hand over her already smooth hair. "I recommend you find one with low lighting."
"You are nothing but a pathetic shell of a person Lily."
"Oh, you wound me 'Mione."
Her smirk turned to a grin, "I'm not the one wasting her youth chasing around two boys who barely even recognize you are a girl and now a married man who's devotion to his wife is something of legend. Tsk. They called you the brightest witch of your age, though I suppose you'll have to give that title up now that I am back."
Hermione's jaw dropped. Her fists clenched at her sides. The sudden movement of a door stopped her from making what she knew was a mistake.
"Lily, Hermione, what are you doing out here?"
"Oh, you know, girl talk." She kept her eyes on Hermione while she leaned forward and kissed her husband. Not just a peck, but a full fledged attack of lips and tongue. He jerked in surprise at the intimacy, soon her hands were traveling to his pants.
"Lily stop. What's got into you?" His hands found hers and blocked them from continuing. She only smiled slowly and sweetly and planted a kiss on his cheek before returning indoors. James looked up at Hermione's white face.
"Are you all right Hermione?" The girl nodded slowly. "You don't look it, are you sure? If she said anything…" She was doing her best to ward off tears from her encounter with Lily, she didn't need to break down in front of James.
"It's nothing, don't worry about it." With that she hustled into the house, leaving a confused man on the front porch.
Hermione did not think it was possible to feel so good and so bad at the same time. She felt as though her heart would burst out of her chest with joy after she arrived home from the art gallery. The prospect of a relationship with James was exhilarating. After her confrontation on the front porch, she comprehended the reality of the situation. No one could know. She was the other woman. She would have to watch Lily touch James in front of her and not be able to say a word or make a face. It proved to be more difficult in practice than in theory.
She managed to stifle her tears, Lily wasn't worth them. This would all blow over. They would have to take this slow at first out of respect for Harry. Lily would get on with her life, James with his. Whether his included Hermione or not was too early to know, but it looked good. It felt good. Harry would come around eventually …and Ron.
Feeling better, Hermione went to the living room to find Harry, only to discover Lily, James and Ron there. It looked like they were in the middle of an intense conversation when she arrived. James was flushed and scowling, but his expression softened when he caught sight of her. Ron's face was pensive, not a common look for him. Lily was stoic as usual, but snapped at Hermione the moment she entered the room.
"Really girl, do something about that hair, you should be embarrassed."
"Come on Lily, leave her alone."
"I'm trying to help her Ron, Merlin knows, she needs all the help she can get." James was losing the minute amount of respect he had left for his wife.
"Why do you have to put her down all the time? Afraid of a little competition?" He raised a fury with that statement, narrowed green eyes turned on him.
"You cannot even compare the two of us."
"That's for certain, she's a decent human being, whereas you…" He didn't finish the line. He didn't need to.
"You know, I've had just about enough of you James Potter."
"Catching on, are you? I think everyone here tired of you ages ago." James gave up all pretense of denying Hermione and turned to comfort her. Lily smirked at this and rounded on Ron, casually caressing his chest and offering a wicked smile. Hermione relaxed against James' comforting grip, but watched her supposed friend with curiosity. He was smiling down at Lily. His fingers brushed her cheek before both hands settled on her shoulders.
"You really are a fantastic lay, Lily," she faltered, not expecting that response from him especially in front of her husband, "but you are one scary bitch." The hands on her shoulders pushed her away. The color of her face matched her hair. In a show of solidarity, Ron stepped beside his longtime friend and placed a reassuring hand on her back.
As quick as her color rose, it was gone. The old mask of charming innocence was back in place, just as disturbing as her raw fury. Her wand was drawn in the blink of an eye. Ron and James soon had theirs out as well. Hermione held her chin up high and refused to allow Lily to see a trace of fear. The tip of Lily's wand was inches from her chest. There was no dodging whatever hex the scorned woman was ready to throw.
"It's really too bad you let your jealousy get in the way. We could have been such friends."
"Your black heart is incapable of friendship, so there is really nothing to be jealous about." Lily's jaw twitched.
"Just keep telling yourself that 'Mione." In an instant her composure dropped, "furnic—"
Blood splattered from the impact of Hermione's fist. The two men jumped in surprise as Lily dropped to the ground clutching her broken nose.
"I've told you before, the name is Hermione."
Thanks to Tonks, Harry knew how to fix a broken nose. He did not know how to handle the woman who changed from threatening tirades to innocent sobs and back with inhuman speed.
"Why did you try to hex Hermione?"
"She stole my husband away!" Harry sighed, he could not believe how temperamental his mother was.
"After you left him for Ron."
"I didn't leave him. Ron was just a—"
"Don't finish that sentence. I don't want to have you insult both my best friends in the same day." She pouted, "now, it is obvious to me that things were over with you two long before you died. It's okay. I love you both, I just want you to be happy and I think that is far away from each other."
Lily looked like she was going to cry and not crocodile tears this time. Harry hugged her. She may be crazy, but she was his mother. "Even if you were not happy then, thank you for being there for me, for trying to protect me, no matter what." She pulled away from him.
"He wasn't supposed to kill me. Severus said I would be fine. That h-he knew to spare me. I didn't know he would try to kill you too." Harry was shocked. Could she have been so cold-hearted? "I told Peter. I told him it was okay to let him know. I didn't know he would frame Sirius, I mean, I was supposed to still be there. Severus said we would be safe"
"I think I've heard enough."
"Maybe you should go stay with your sister for awhile."
Magic never ceased to amaze Hermione. It broke all the rules, it made possible the impossible and it brought her something she never thought possible: true love. She wasn't blind. There were times when she wanted to hex him into next week, but she knew a man that did not challenge her could not satisfy her. If she could ever train him to use the laundry hamper instead of the floor, he'd be the perfect man.
She smiled as both he and Harry took a second helping of pie, both praising her mother for the fantastic dinner. Her father gave her an approving pat on the back and nodded at James. She gave his hand a squeeze and turned her attention toward the man who set her on fire, body and soul. And to think, it all began with a mysterious owl in the dead of night.