Java Jinx served the best coffee in Diagon Alley, had incredibly comfortable sofas, and boasted an excellent line in baked goods. All in all, it made an acceptable substitute for the Gryffindor Common Room.
Ginny Weasley pressed her back into the overstuffed cushions of her favourite settee and wished that it would just swallow her whole. Why hadn't she kept her mouth shut about her impending date? She knew better, she really did. But, noooooo, her big mouth just opened and it all came tumbling out. 'Honestly, there's nothing to tell. No big secret. I met him at the match against the Falcons,' she insisted to her friends.
Neville blinked at her. 'Gin, you're going out with the bloke. There has to be something wrong with him.'
She slapped at him, and Harry snorted loudly into his Macchiato.
'What?' she demanded. 'Something to say, Potter?'
He shrugged, setting his coffee cup down on the table and wiping a foam moustache away from his top lip. 'Does he have Dragon-Pox scars? Dragon-Pox scars and a toupee?'
Luna suddenly startled, her bulging eyes seemingly about to pop out of her head, and leaned forward in her chair. 'Does he eat Doxy droppings? Daddy says that they're excellent at reducing scarring, and they make hair grow, too.' She sipped placidly at her Pumpkin Spice tea. 'Of course, the hair grows on your bottom, but he could transplant it.'
Ginny looked at Harry and Neville, who were both wearing identical expressions of befuddlement, and chose to ignore Luna's comment. 'It's really not a big deal,' she said. 'It's not even a date. We're going out to dinner and … well. We won't be sleeping together.' The story of her life, really.
'Sounds like a date to me,' Harry said mildly.
Harry was quite happily percolating a pound of Java Jinx's finest Columbian blend through his bloodstream, and caffeine made him chatty and affected his already bizarre sense of humour. 'Alright, so I'm back in Hogwarts, and I'm standing in the middle of the Great Hall for breakfast, and I suddenly realise that I'm totally naked. You've all had that dream, right?' He looked at them all for confirmation, and when everyone nodded, he continued. 'OK. So, I look down, and I realise that there's a Howler … there.' He gestured at his denim-clad crotch, and Ginny had to make a great effort not to stare. 'And it starts shouting at me, and it's Cho Chang's voice. Which is weird, because she never writes to me.'
Ginny opened her mouth to say something, and gave it up as a bad job. It didn't pay to encourage Harry, otherwise he'd never shut up. She chewed the last bite of her Cauldron Cake and rubbed her icing-speckled hands over her plate. 'Do you lot want to do something this evening? George is putting on a demonstration of the latest fireworks, should be good?'
Before anyone had the time to answer, the door to Java Jinx opened and Ron moped in, his shoulders hunched and his head bowed. 'Hi,' he said, dolefully, slumping onto the settee between Ginny and Luna, his lanky frame sprawling as he slumped against the cushions.
Ginny patted her brother on the arm. 'Are you alright, Ron?'
He shook his head, his face miserable. 'I feel like a Death Eater just ripped out my heart, showed it to me, and then used it as a Quaffle.'
Harry held out a plate. 'Pumpkin Pasty, Ron?' He was the master of awkward segues. Harry Potter, The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Be-Emotionally-Awkward.
Never one to turn down food, Ron chewed on the pasty, leaving Ginny to explain his dour mood to their friends.
'Lavender moved out today,' she whispered, before putting her arm around Ron's shoulders. 'Let me get you a pumpkin juice,' she offered, giving him a comforting squeeze.
He nodded his thanks, before jerking back violently in his seat and glaring at Luna, who was making odd little pinching gestures above his head, her face dreamy and distant. 'Stop it! I don't have a Nargle infestation.'
Luna stopped as requested, and Ron propped his feet up on the table, pasty finished. 'Look, I'm fine, yeah? Honest. I hope she'll be happy.'
Ginny raised an eyebrow in disbelief. 'Harry, show him your hand.'
Harry held his hand under Ron's nose, and Ginny rolled her eyes. 'Your other hand.' She snatched up Harry's right hand and positioned it in front of Ron. 'What does Harry's hand say, Ron?'
' "I must not tell lies" ', Ron read, obediently. 'OK. I lied. I hope she gets spattergroit and her nose falls off. She left me!'
'And you didn't know she was a lesbian?' Neville asked him, his eyes wide and questioning.
'No! Why is everyone obsessing over that? Lavender didn't know, so how should I?' Ron snapped, his skin flushing bright red beneath the freckles. Bowing his head, he tangled his hands in his hair and moaned.
Harry took a bite out of his Ginger Snap, carefully avoiding the fangs (he never remembered to dip the biting biscuit in his coffee first to soften the snapping little mouth), and sighed happily. 'Sometimes, I wish I was a lesbian …' When the others stared at him, he swallowed his biscuit hastily. 'Er. Did I say that out loud?'
Neville smirked, and leaned forward towards Ron. 'Mate, listen. You're upset, you're sad. Can I tell you what you need?' When Ron waved him on, he continued, 'You need to go to Witches Gone Wild, that Gentleman's club in Hogsmeade! You're single now, there's no girl to moan at you any more!' Decapitating Nagini and standing up to Voldemort had given Neville a huge confidence boost, and turned him into something of a ladies man.
'And you could even take Lavender and her girlfriend,' Harry added, in what he obviously thought was a helpful manner, his green eyes wide and earnest.
Ron threw up his hands in a gesture of despair. 'I don't want to be single! I … I want to be married again!'
As he spoke, a massive cloud of white satin and silk and tulle burst into the coffee shop, and the bride looked frantically around the shop before catching sight of Ginny and hurrying across the room towards her, barging people out of the way with her impressively massive dress.
Ginny stood to greet her, her mouth falling open in shock. 'Hermione?!'
Hermione pushed her veil back and wrapped Ginny in a desperate hug. 'Oh Merlin, Ginny! I just went to your flat and you weren't there, but this man with a pet crup said you might be here, and you are!' She finally registered the presence of other people and waved sheepishly. 'Hi.'
Harry smiled at her. 'So, 'Mione. Are you getting married, or did you have an accident in a meringue factory?'
Hermione flopped down into a chair, her voluminous skirts puffing up around her. 'Oh, it started when I was looking at all the wedding presents, and there was this wonderful set of bookends in the shape of owls, and I realised I found the owls more attractive than Barry. And then I got upset and I realised how much Barry looks like a Gnome. He's got this big head that looks like a potato, and it's really not in proportion to his body. I always thought that he reminded me of someone … anyway, I had to leave. I couldn't go through with it.' She briefly covered her face with her hands, before looking up at Ginny. 'I know we've all drifted apart, but I didn't have anywhere else to go, and I knew what you'd rented a flat in Diagon Alley, so I Apparated here.'
'Why weren't we invited to the wedding?' Ginny asked, and Hermione's face crumbled.
'I … I didn't think you'd want to come, after everything that's happened,' she confessed, somewhat timidly. 'I've acted so terribly.'
'Never mind that,' said Ginny, firmly. 'Come on, let's go back to my place. I think we need to talk.'
Magic of the Heart was the longest-running Wizarding soap on the wireless and it had cheesiness and melodrama down to a fine art.
Despite ridiculing it, Ginny, Ron, Harry, Neville and Luna never missed a show, and they were all gathered in Ginny's flat listening to the latest episode with one ear, and to Hermione's Floo conversation with her father with the other.
Hermione was crouched in front of the fireplace, her head thrust into the emerald flames, and they could just make out her voice. 'Dad … Daddy, please listen. All my life, I've listened to what everybody else wanted me to do. I'm tired of being the good little girl who always does what other people want her to do. I'm going to be a bad girl.'
Ron flushed scarlet, his eyes fixed on Hermione's arse. 'Um …'
Hermione paused for a moment. 'Fine. I'll stay here with Ginny.'
Ginny tore her attention away from Magic, and frowned. 'Nice to be asked …'
'I don't want your money, Dad, or the stupid job, and I don't care if I can't come back to live with you and mum! I'm a Witch! I never wanted to be a dental nurse anyway!' Hermione pulled her head out of the fire and immediately turned chalk-white, tumbling over on to her lace padded bottom. 'Dad fired me. Barry works for him, and he chose Barry over me!' Her chest began to heave rapidly. 'I don't have any money, or anywhere to live ….'
Ginny took charge, hauling Hermione to her feet and depositing her in a chair at the kitchen table. She held a paper bag over her friend's mouth and nose and rubbed her back in soothing circles. 'Breathe, Hermione. That's it. Slow, even breaths. Think of nice, calm things.'
Luna sat next to the hyperventilating woman and began to sing. 'Raindrops on snorlacks and thestrals and poodles, blast-ended skrewts and something and noodles …'
Hermione took the bag away from her mouth, looked up, and gave Luna one of those looks, the kind that she used to skewer Ron and Harry with when they tried to get out of studying. 'I'm fine now. Thank you.'
Luna beamed with pride, and pirouetted over to the kitchen, spinning excitedly around Harry and Neville. 'I helped!' she trilled, completely oblivious to Hermione's sarcasm.
Ginny carefully unpinned Hermione's veil and tiara and placed it on the kitchen table, before cradling her friend's face in her hands. 'Maybe this happened for a reason? You can take charge of your own life now.'
Hermione sniffed, and dragged a hand over her face, smearing make up and tears and snot across her cheeks. 'I don't know how to take charge of my own life anymore,' she admitted in a quiet little voice that was so completely unlike Hermione that it took Ginny's breath away.
Harry joined them at the table, and he took Hermione's hand in his. 'What happened to you, Hermione? The Hermione I went to school with never let anybody tell her what to do.' He Summoned a box of tissues and tenderly wiped her face, displaying a surprising amount of tact, before pressing a tissue into her hand.
Hermione shrugged and set about destroying the tissue, pulling it apart with her fingers. 'Mum and Dad … In seven years, between school and the Horcrux hunt, they hardly ever saw me.' She began to form the tissue flakes into a little pile. 'They missed me, and they started to see Magic as something that was taking me away from them. So I went Muggle. It was the least I could do for my parents!' Her hair had started to come loose from the neat little chignon she'd twisted it into, strands escaping to curl wildly around her face.
Harry brushed the hair back from her damp cheeks, and then slipped an arm around her shoulders. 'And you went out with Barry to please them. Agreed to marry him to please them.'
Hermione seemed to shrink in on herself, deflating in front of them, and she nodded, letting Harry tug her closer until her head rested on his shoulder. 'Yes,' she said quietly, looking at the table rather than meeting any of their eyes.
Ginny couldn't quite believe that this was the same Hermione, the Hermione who broke into bank vaults and single-handedly campaigned for House-Elf Emancipation. The Hermione who set a flock of birds on Ron and brewed illegal Polyjuice in the bathroom. The Hermione who took great delight in telling people what they ought to be doing – and knew exactly what she wanted out of life.
Ginny had never really considered the effect of Hogwarts on a Muggleborn before; never thought about what her world must seem like to bewildered parents who had to decide to send their child off into a totally alien world, and see that child come back full of stories about dragons and potions and spells, the stuff of Muggle fairy tales.
The result was sitting right in front of her, a runaway bride pulling the tatters of her pride and formerly forceful personality around herself like a cloak. Hermione had tried to reconcile her two lives with one another in order to please everyone, and had ended up failing miserably and pleasing no-one, least of all herself.
Hermione began to sob in earnest and turned to Harry, who took her into an all encompassing hug, stroking her hair and whispering to her.
Somewhere between the day Ginny had broken up with Harry and now, he'd learned the art of comforting a crying woman. She was impressed. About bloody time, really.
'I feel like my life is over,' Hermione wailed against Harry's chest, her hands coming up to clutch at his jumper. 'I gave up my life here, and I've just given up my life there. I'm nowhere.'
'Hey now, enough of that.' Harry grasped Hermione's upper arms and pushed her away from him, looking her square in the eye. 'Listen. You've only just turned twenty two years old, and your life has hardly started. You're bright, and you're beautiful and you're the cleverest person I know, witch or otherwise.' He kissed her on the forehead, and wiped away her tears with his thumbs. 'You've still got us, your friends. You can decide what you want to do with your life, who you want to fall in love with.'
Ginny watched Harry calming down one of his two best friends, and she could see that he had his spark back, that indefinable something that had been missing in the eighteen months since Hermione had broken up with Ron and turned her back on the Wizarding world.
Everything had turned to crap when Hermione left. Ron ran off to the nearest girl that would have him, and that girl turned out to be Lavender Brown. He'd married her within a month, and the marriage had been all wrong from day one, both of them clinging to each other as a reminder of how things had been before the War. Ron gave up any idea of being an Auror, content to remain working for George in Wheezes, taking the easy route. Hermione was his driving force, his confidence – without her, he reverted to the old Ron, the Ron living in the shadows of his brothers.
Harry had taken the breakup of Ron and Hermione badly, withdrawing back into the shell that Ginny – and, to a point, Hermione and the Weasleys – had worked so hard on chipping him out of. Ron and Hermione were the other two sides of his triangle, and without them, he collapsed. Work became his life, to the extent that he ignored everything - and everyone - else in his desire to become the best Auror that he could be.
Ginny had grown tired of cancelled dates and poor excuses and trying to talk to a suddenly taciturn boyfriend, and finally ended the relationship six months after Hermione left, even though it almost tore her apart.
When she had told Harry it was over, he had just nodded, kissed her on the cheek, and then Disapparated out of the Burrow. She didn't see him for over a month, and then he turned up one day and asked her if she fancied going out for coffee, just as friends. She did, and the friend thing seemed to work. Harry relaxed a bit, and his wicked sense of humor returned, but there was still a sense of incompleteness about him. It had been Harry and Ron and Hermione for so long that it was odd to see the two men without the bushy-haired woman.
Ginny watched as Harry took the exhausted Hermione by the hand and led her into the spare bedroom. Her brain was whirling. All she wanted to do was launch herself into Harry's arms and tell him that all was forgiven – the tenderness he'd shown to their friend had just melted away any resentment she'd harboured towards him.
Neville and Luna made their farewells and went home, leaving Ginny alone. She began to tidy up the pile of tissues that Hermione had destroyed, and startled when someone touched her shoulder.
Ron smiled at her, looking better than he had earlier. He'd left them at the coffee shop, making some awkward excuse about having something to do, obviously uncomfortable around Hermione.
Ginny surprised him by tucking her arms around his waist for a hug. He patted her back, and then kissed the top of her head.
'How's Hermione, Gin?' he asked her, taking a seat at the table.
She shrugged, flicking her wand at the biscuit tin to send it sailing across the room towards them. 'She's not great. It's a long story, to be honest. Harry's just putting her to bed, she's exhausted.'
'No wonder. It's not easy to run in a wedding dress,' Ron said, tucking into a biscuit.
Ginny glared at him, in what she hoped was a good impression of their mother. 'You don't know the full story. Give her the benefit of the doubt.'
She'd obviously imitated Molly Weasley very well, because Ron suddenly looked about five years old again. 'Sorry,' he muttered. 'But she ran away from me first. It's not easy to be sympathetic.'
Harry came out of the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind him. 'She's almost asleep,' he whispered. 'The poor thing is completely wiped out.' He saw Ron, and gave him a small smile. 'You alright, mate?'
Ron shrugged. 'I guess. Bit of a shock to see Hermione turn up in her wedding gear, but it'd be nice if she stays.'
Harry slipped into a chair and braced his elbows on the table, cupping his chin in his hands. 'She still loves you, you know.'
Ron grunted. 'Funny old way of showing it.'
'She never told you why she was leaving, right?' Harry asked.
'Nope. She just went. You saw the letter she left - "I'm sorry." That was it.' Ron said. 'If I'd known why she left, it would have been easier.'
Ginny stood behind her brother, and draped her arms around his neck, resting her chin on top of his head. 'She had to choose between you and her family. She couldn't make her two lives mesh, and something had to give.'
'She was all I ever wanted,' Ron whispered, so low that if Ginny hadn't been standing so close to him, she wouldn't have heard. 'I wanted to marry her, have children with her. Make our own family.'
Harry apparently had the hearing of a hawk, because he reached over and placed his hand on Ron's arm. 'It's not too late, Ron. Maybe Gin …' he paused, looking like a rabbit caught in the path of a pack of stampeding Hippogriffs, before visibly composing himself and continuing, 'Uh, maybe you and Hermione needed some time apart to realise just what you mean to each other.' He pushed at his friend. 'Be a bloody Gryffindor and go in there and tell her.'
Ron got to his feet and his face was fierce and determined, the hurt of the past few years burned away. 'OK. I will. I'll make her listen to me.' Shoulders squared, he took a deep breath and slipped into the bedroom, pushing the door closed.
Ginny looked at Harry, and he quirked a grin at her. 'What?' he asked, a little self consciously. 'Do I have something on my nose?'
'No,' Ginny said, chuckling a little. 'I'm just impressed with the way you handled that, that's all. You couldn't have done that a year ago.'
He blushed, two hectic spots of colour appearing on his high cheekbones. 'Yeah, well, I was a bloody tosspot a year ago, wasn't I?' He picked up a coaster from the table and began to fiddle with it, his long fingers turning it around and around. 'I didn't know what I had, then, or how to keep it. How to keep you.'
Ginny couldn't help herself. She reached across the table and threaded her fingers into his messy black hair, and Harry closed his eyes and leaned into her touch, his breath catching audibly in his throat.
She stroked his hair, winding thick locks around her fingers, and his hand came up to cover hers, as warm and strong as she remembered it being. 'Harry, you've always had me. That's never going to change.'
He opened his eyes and he looked so young and vulnerable it made her heart ache. Sometimes it was so easy to forget that he was only twenty-one; she felt years older than twenty, and knew that he had to feel the same way. All of them had seen and done more than most other people their age, but Harry in particular had experienced things that nobody, regardless of age, should have to go through. It'd had left him emotionally brittle and ill-equipped to deal with the realities of a normal life.
On impulse, she pressed her lips to his, the hand tangled in his hair bringing him closer, drawing him in to meet her halfway across the table. For a moment, his mouth trembled under hers, but then he kissed her back and it was like the past year hadn't happened.
She ended the kiss and pulled away to find him smiling at her, and she couldn't help but grin in return. 'So,' she said, touching her fingers to her lips.
'So,' he echoed. 'Don't you have a date tomorrow?'
Ginny took his hand in hers. 'I don't know. Do we?'
Harry's smile faded and his eyes, always intense, seemed to look right into her soul. 'You mean … you want …'
Ginny nodded. 'Yes, I want. I want to go out for dinner with you. I want us to try again. I want to lie in bed with you on a Sunday morning and fight over the Quidditch section.'
He turned his hand over in hers and linked their fingers. 'I've missed you. Even though I see you every day, it's not the same.' His voice was thick with unshed tears, rough and gravelly.
'It's like you said to Ron. Maybe we needed a break to realise just how much we mean to each other,' Ginny said softly. 'We'll take it slow and see what happens.'
Harry squeezed her fingers and leaned in for another kiss, soft and chaste and sweet. 'That sounds good to me,' he whispered against her mouth, before standing up and pulling her with him. 'I'm going to go home and plan our date for tomorrow.'
She stepped into his embrace, enjoying the feeling of his solid arms around her. 'OK. Floo me?'
'I'll Floo you in the morning before work. Get some sleep, Gin.' He kissed her on the forehead, and then turned on the spot and Disapparated with a faint crack.
Ginny made sure that the door was locked and charmed, then turned out the lights, ready to head to bed. Before entering her room, she carefully cracked open Hermione's door and peeped her head around.
Hermione and Ron were both fast asleep, curled up together, twin looks of contentment on their faces.
Tip-toeing into the room so as not to disturb them, Ginny pulled the quilt over the sleeping pair, tucking it in around them.
Hermione stirred, and opened her eyes. 'Ginny?'
'Ssssssh. Go back to sleep. I was just covering you both up, it's getting cold.' Ginny turned to leave and Hermione caught her wrist.
'I still love him, Ginny,' Hermione said. 'I'm never leaving him again.'
Ginny crouched down by the side of the bed. 'I know you love him, and I know you'll take good care of him,' she whispered. 'And I still love Harry. And I'm never leaving him again.'
A quiet understanding passed between the two women, and Hermione let go of Ginny's hand and settled back against her pillows. 'They need us to take care of them,' Hermione murmured. 'They're useless on their own.' Her eyes drifted closed, and she was asleep by the time Ginny got to the door.
Once in her room, Ginny pulled on one of Harry's old t-shirts, and slipped under the covers, her mind spinning. When she'd woken up that morning, she'd had no idea that the day would end with so much promise for a future she'd thought was no longer an option.
She felt contented for the first time in over a year – and all it had taken was Hermione Granger running away from her wedding and into a coffee shop to find her friends.