The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
So, obviously I decided to do a follow-up chapter. No real conflict here, but there are some amusing scenes of Harry's adventures with declining the marriage contracts. Along with that are a few scenes of the happy couple. A warning – There may be so much sweetness here that it will make your teeth hurt.
"Hermione? Where have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you." Hermione inwardly winced at the anxious tone in Terry's voice as he approached her in the corridor outside the Great Hall. She and Harry had split up as they'd entered the castle, with him understanding that she needed to meet with Terry alone. He'd given her hand a squeeze and told her he'd go find Neville and thank him for his insightful intervention.
"Terry, we need to talk," she blurted out as she took his hand and tugged him toward an empty classroom.
"Uh oh, that doesn't sound good," he joked as he followed her. "Isn't that what the girl says when she's about to break up with you?" Inside the room she turned to face him and as soon as he saw her face his attempt at humor vanished. "Oh no …"
"I'm sorry …" she began, searching for words to explain the seemingly sudden turnabout.
"What did I do wrong?" he interrupted. "I thought things were going so well."
"You didn't do anything wrong," she tried to reassure him. "You've been very sweet these past two months, and I enjoyed being with you."
"Then why …?" he began to protest before she raised her hand to cut him off.
"It's my fault," she explained, trying to avoid all the cliché's she'd read about. It's not you, it's me was one. You're a nice guy but … was another. "I had a sudden realization this morning."
"What, you just discovered you're in love with another guy or something?" he wondered with a touch of sarcasm.
"Well, yes, actually," she acknowledged sheepishly.
"What? Who?" he asked in disbelief, before a flash of insight hit him. "No, wait, don't tell me. Harry Potter?"
Hermione's guilty nod confirmed his conclusion.
"I knew it was too good to be true," Terry sighed as he slumped against a desk. "Frankly, I was surprised that you didn't get together with him in the first place. I figured the two of you must have decided that you were going to be just good friends."
"For some reason it just never occurred to either of us," she admitted uncomfortably. "It was only after Neville confronted me in the library and I sat down and talked with Harry that it just hit us. I'm so sorry for the way this turned out."
Terry gave a grim smile in acknowledgment of defeat. "Well, if I have to lose out to anyone I'm glad it's him. You're a wonderful girl Hermione, and he's a great guy. I'm sure the two of you will be good together."
Hermione reached up and gave him a hug. "Thanks, Terry, that means a lot to me. You're a good guy too. Thanks for being so understanding."
"So, how did it go?" Harry asked when Hermione returned to their common room.
"Better than I'd expected," she replied after she gave him a kiss. "He said it wasn't so bad since it was you. He was actually quite nice about it." Harry nodded and let go a sigh of relief. "What did Neville have to say?"
"Oh, he was pretty annoying," Harry groused good-naturedly. "With that blasted 'I told you so' smirk on his face." Hermione smiled as she sat down next to him on their sofa and snuggled under his arm.
"Do you want to get started on the contracts right away?" she asked. Harry got a sour expression on his face but nodded. "Who do you want to do first?"
"Better be Lavender," Harry noted. "Get some of the easy ones out of the way."
"All right. I'll see if I can find her," Hermione agreed.
As she entered the classroom where Hermione had told her Harry wanted to meet her, Lavender's eyes lit up when she spotted the parchment in his hands. Harry, however, didn't notice as he was concentrating on saying his lines correctly.
"In accordance with the traditions of our fathers," he recited. "I wish to respectfully decline this offer of your hand in marriage, and surrender all rights and privileges thereunto appertaining."
"Oh." Harry looked up in surprise at the disappointed tone in her voice. "Are you sure?" she asked.
"Well … yeah," Harry replied in puzzlement. "I mean, you're with Ron."
"I could break up with him," Lavender offered, standing up straighter and thrusting her chest out, which had the effect of calling attention to some rather prominent assets.
"Ah … no, no you don't need to, um, to do that," Harry stammered. "I mean, you're, ah, better off with him. That is, I think you two are, erm, well suited for each other. More so than you and I are that is." He was sweating now. This was supposed to be one of the easy ones!
"Well, OK." Lavender put on her best pout. "If you say so."
"Yeah, I really think it's best this way," Harry responded as decisively as he could, while handing her the contract. He walked over and opened the door for her. With one last long appealing look, Lavender exited and Harry let out a long sigh of relief.
Harry didn't relax until he was back on the sofa with Hermione curled up against him. With his girlfriend making appropriate sympathetic noises, he related the details of his encounter with their Gryffindor housemate.
"Do you think that Lavender was just dating Ron to get close to me?" he asked her in disbelief once he'd concluded his tale.
"I couldn't say for certain," Hermione answered thoughtfully. "If so, it didn't work, since you didn't really spend any time with them. It's possible she was just jumping at an opportunity."
"What do you mean?" he queried.
"Well, it's obvious that you're a better catch," she teased, punctuating her declaration with a searing kiss.
Once he was able to get his mind back on the conversation Harry frowned. "We absolutely can't ever tell Ron this," he stated firmly.
Hermione hesitated. "But what if she's just using him?"
Harry shook his head firmly. "Then they'll break up eventually." Hermione thought a moment, then nodded her agreement.
Harry looked up as Hannah Abbott entered the room. Trying to learn from his experience with Lavender he smiled and invited her to sit down. "Hi, Hannah, I've asked you here to formally decline this marriage contract." Hannah nodded with a neutral expression and Harry launched into his recital. When he finished he was surprised that Hannah just smiled and walked to the door.
Opening it, she called out into the corridor. "Come on in Susan, it's what we thought." A grinning Susan Bones entered. Caught by surprise, Harry nevertheless managed to blurt out the formal language of declination. In response, Susan looked over at Hannah and sighed theatrically.
"I knew I should have had father include the photo," she complained while undoing the top buttons on her robes. "What do you think, Harry, would that have made a difference?" Harry stood gaping while some very attractive cleavage was gradually revealed.
Before her best friend could expose herself further, a snickering Hannah stopped her. "Now put those away Susan, before you give Harry a heart attack." This triggered loud laughter from both girls, and Susan buttoned back up.
"Don't worry Harry, I was just kidding," Susan teased. "We both know who you really want." Each girl stepped up and gave Harry a peck on the cheek while he just stood there, still in a daze, then took the rejected contracts and exited, still laughing. After a minute Harry shook his head in a 'did that just happen?' gesture, then followed.
Back in their room Hermione couldn't stop giggling at Harry's retelling of the episode, no matter how much he scowled at her, but eventually she made it up to him with a thorough snogging.
Harry and Hermione had concluded that it would be proper to decline the contract for Parvati and Padma with both witches present at the same time. Accordingly the twins entered the room together and Harry greeted them politely before producing the parchment. Once more, eager expressions turned to disappointment as he recited the words of rejection.
The pair shared a look for a few moments before Parvati turned back to Harry and blurted out, "Harry, if it's just because you're uncomfortable with it being both of us, Father could rewrite the contract so that it's just me."
"Hey, why should it be you and not me?" Padma asked indignantly, being taken by surprise by her sister's maneuver.
Parvati had evidently come prepared. "Because Harry knows me better, of course. And besides, everyone knows you're the smart one, but I'm the pretty one."
"We're identical twins!" Padma objected, nonplussed by this assertion.
"You know what I mean," Parvati waved dismissively. "You don't care about how you look and I do. Boys appreciate that. And I'm a lot more fun than you are." She punctuated this explanation by giving Harry a seductive smile. "And boys really appreciate that, right Harry?" She moved up to him and caught him by surprise, putting her arms around his neck and rubbing her chest against his. For a moment Harry was frozen in place and unable to answer.
Padma reacted at once and pulled him away from her twin, then duplicated her actions by pressing her body close to his. "Well, I can be that way too," she declared rather convincingly. "And I bet he actually likes smart girls, don't you Harry?" But by this time Harry had finally regained his wits, and he gently pushed her away.
He took moment to collect himself before addressing the pair of expectant faces. "Look, you're both really nice, and you're both very attractive," he agreed. "And I do like smart girls. I mean, obviously, since Hermione's my girl … good friend. Good friend who's a girl, that is." By this point their faces had started to fall as the realization set in that he wasn't changing his mind. "But I really don't think it will work out, for either of you or both of you. OK?"
The two pretty Indian girls slumped noticeably before sharing another look, communicating silently. Then they shrugged and turned back to him and nodded, and left the room as gracefully as they had entered, leaving Harry slumped against the desk, shaking his head.
Once again, Hermione was eager to hear his story, and this time commiserated with him without letting her amusement show too much. "So," she queried when he'd finished. "Which do you prefer, smart girls or fun girls?"
Harry wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. "I thought I had both."
"Ooh, good answer," Hermione purred, rewarding him with a kiss. After she pulled back she cocked her head thoughtfully. "You know, if this is going to keep happening perhaps I should accompany you on these tasks."
The next weekend, Harry and Hermione received permission to go off the grounds so that Harry could personally handle the contract offers of two witches in the class above theirs that he knew particularly well. Once outside the gates they apparated to Diagon Alley.
"Are you sure you don't need me for either of these," she asked once they'd arrived in the wizarding shopping district. Harry assured him that he could handle these two on his own, so she gave him a kiss and apparated away again, this time to her parents' home.
As they'd arranged, Harry met Katie Bell outside Quality Quidditch Supplies. Katie greeted her former teammate with a hug, then linked her arm with his as they walked down the street. After exchanging a few pleasantries about how she'd been doing since graduation, Harry got to the point.
Katie nodded when he pulled the parchment out of his pocket, having expected that this was the purpose of the visit. After Harry had delivered the standard speech, she smiled wistfully.
"I knew it was a long shot," she acknowledged with a quick squeeze of his arm. "I probably should have cornered you in the quidditch locker room last year like Alicia and Angelina suggested."
Harry was initially startled at hearing this scenario, but then managed a laugh. "Maybe," he allowed with a grin. "Not sure how I would have reacted. Probably run away." Both of them laughed at that admission, which both agreed was as likely a reaction as any from the shy Gryffindor.
"So, have you figured out yet who you really love?" Katie asked, turning serious.
Harry nodded, surprised at the suggestion. "You knew?"
"Yeah, it seemed pretty obvious to me how you felt about her," Katie claimed. "And she was always so protective of you. I just wondered if you'd both wake up and realize it in time." She turned and gave him a hug. "Good luck."
"Thanks Katie," he replied appreciatively. They broke apart and turned away from each other to take their leave.
"I'm sure you and Ginny will be happy together," Katie called out. At this, Harry whirled around so fast he fell over. But as he tried to clarify the situation, Katie burst out laughing.
"It's not … I mean I'm not …" he stammered.
"I know, it's Hermione," Katie now revealed, holding her side and still chortling. "But you should have seen the look on your face."
Harry tried to scowl briefly, but gave it up and joined her in laughing at himself. "You've been hanging around Fred and George too long," he grumbled. Katie agreed, and with a wave she headed off down the street, congratulating herself at so carefully disguising her disappointment.
Harry took a deep breath as he stood outside the Chang family apothecary shop. Despite what he'd told Hermione, this one made him nervous. He'd simply never been comfortable around his former Chinese girlfriend. Entering the store, he caught Cho's eye and waited until she was finished with a customer. Once the shop was empty she motioned for him to join her behind the counter, and they sat down at a small table used for measuring out potions.
Cho listened intently with an inscrutable expression while Harry declined the contract, but once he'd finished she nodded sadly.
"It was my grandfather's idea," she explained with her eyes cast downward. "He made his decision as soon as he heard that we were dating, and drew up the contract at that time." Harry reached his hand across the table and gave hers a squeeze to show he understood. "Even though I told him later that we didn't work out, he wouldn't change his mind. He submitted it that summer."
"We were both pretty messed up that year," Harry offered consolingly. "We never really had a chance."
Cho smiled the smile that three years earlier would have made his heart pound. "That's sweet of you to say, Harry, but even so I don't think it would have lasted. I knew after you left our date to go meet Hermione, that she was more important to you. I could never compete with that, even without all the other drama."
Harry shook his head bemusedly. "It seems a lot of people figured it out before we did."
"So you're together now?" Cho asked with another smile. Harry nodded as a happy smile of his own crept onto his face. In response Cho stood up and walked to his side of the table and pulled him up into a congratulatory hug.
With a shy, pleading look into his eyes she made a request. "Can I give you a kiss? For old time's sake. And so you have a memory of one without me crying." Harry thought for only a brief moment before nodding his agreement, and they shared a short, tender kiss, bidding a final farewell to a romantic relationship that had been doomed from the start. Perhaps now, with that obstacle cleared away, they could develop a new friendship in its place.
"Hermione, what a pleasant surprise!" her mother exclaimed as she opened the door. Then her pleased expression suddenly changed into one of concern. "Oh, but is something wrong?"
"No, Mum, nothing's wrong," Hermione reassured her as she gave her a hug, and repeated the gesture of affection with her father. "But I do have some pretty exciting news for you." As the three of them settled into the living room she told them the story of how she and Harry had come together and realized their feelings for each other (leaving out most of the details of her temporary abandonment of him due to her pursuit of Terry).
"Oh, that's wonderful, dear," her mother responded with delight. "We've both always thought so highly of Harry. We're so happy you decided to give this a try."
"I agree," her father confirmed. "The two of you always seemed to get on quite well together. And I liked him much better than the other fellow." Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head. Her father had never been shy about expressing his opinion of her interest in Ron.
"Daaaad, you know I broke up with Ron ages ago," she chided. "I don't really know why I never considered Harry that way before. It's true I've always gotten along better with him. But I'm glad to hear that you're so happy about this, because it's pretty serious."
The jovial mood vanished instantly. "Exactly how serious?" her father intoned in a low voice.
Hermione leaned forward and took hold of a hand from each of her parents. "It's a complicated story. Have you ever heard of betrothal contracts?"
Half an hour later the elder Grangers had finally calmed down enough that Hermione pulled out a parchment and asked her father to sign it. "And you're certain it's not binding?" he asked with some trepidation. "You can change your mind and back out of it in three months?"
"That's right, Dad," she assured him. "It's a statement of intent but it has an escape clause."
"It sounds rather more like a promise ring as opposed to an engagement ring," her mother observed. Her father nodded and signed the agreement.
"That's a good analogy," Hermione agreed. "Although I'm hoping it will be permanent. I can't believe how happy I've been since we got together. I feel like I've found what I've always been looking for." Her mother and father exchanged a look, noting that their daughter was almost glowing with happiness, and stood up to hug her.
"Thank you both for being so understanding about his," Hermione sighed in relief as she pulled away.
"Well, given all of the unbelievable and downright frightening things we've had to accept from you over the years, this is rather mild by comparison," her father joked. "To tell the truth, we're not exactly surprised. And if we could have picked a boy for you to marry it would have been Harry, or someone like him."
"Thank you Daddy," Hermione replied as she leaned up to give him another hug. "Now there's something else I want to add to this contract. A certain picture I remember from when I was little." Once she explained what she was looking for, her parents chuckled while her mum got out the family album.
The meeting with Daphne Greengrass had been one of the more difficult ones to set up. She stood in the empty classroom giving Harry an imperious, 'I'm in control here' look when he greeted her and asked her to make herself comfortable.
"So, Potter, come to claim your privilege?" she sniffed haughtily. Slinking her way toward him while he was pulling the parchment out of his pocket she suddenly grabbed the front of his robes and pulled him close to her. Before he could say anything she began rubbing herself against him and reached her hands around and grabbed his bum. "I think we should go someplace where it'll be more comfortable," she purred into his ear. Like that room on the seventh floor that can turn into whatever you want it to be."
Once he'd recovered from the shock of her blatantly forward behavior, Harry caught her hands and removed them from his body, then pushed her away. He was glad that Hermione had decided to accompany him this time, and was concealed across the room under his invisibility cloak. This was obviously going to be the most difficult one yet.
"I'm afraid you've misunderstood the purpose of this meeting, Daphne," he informed her coolly. "My intention is to decline this offer."
A look of surprise blossomed on Daphne's face and quickly turned to outrage. "What!" she demanded. "Who made a better offer? You can't seriously be considering Weasley or Bones! My family can do much more for you than they can."
"Actually, I've decided I want to marry for love, not money or power," Harry shot back, not intimidated in the slightest.
"Typical Gryffindor," she sneered, doing a passable impression of her former Head of House. "Foolish and naive. That's not the way the wizarding world works, Potter."
But quickly realizing that this approach would not be productive she changed her tactics. "And you know, those aren't the only advantages I can offer you," she declared in a low, seductive voice. With a quick tug her robe fell open in front. As she thrust her shoulders back it parted, making it very evident that she was wearing absolutely nothing underneath. "Now, what do you say you forget that nonsense and I'll show you what else I can do for you."
Without taking his eyes off the display before him, Harry backed away and moved over to where Hermione was stationed. Daphne's eyes went wide as the Head Girl dropped the invisibility cloak and drew her wand, making a quick circular motion with it. Daphne's robe immediately fastened itself back up. "That's enough, Daphne," Hermione intoned coldly.
Daphne looked at her incredulously. "You've chosen Granger! Are you insane? She's just a Mud …" Harry's wand was now out as well and he silenced her with a sharp gesture. Furiously he snapped out the words of declination.
"In accordance with the traditions of our fathers, I wish to respectfully decline this offer of your hand in marriage, and surrender all rights and privileges thereunto appertaining. I have accepted another. Therefore, the agreement referenced herein will not be satisfied in this generation." He pushed the parchment into the shocked Slytherin's hands, reached down to take Hermione's hand in his own, turned and left the room.
Harry and Hermione had carefully set up the meeting with Ginny to take place in the Heads common room. She was one of their friends, who regularly visited with them there, so it would have sounded strange for them to tell her they wanted to meet with her in an empty classroom. While Ginny had been curious about the serious nature of the invitation, her eyes went wide when she recognized the parchment in Harry's hands. With a loud squeal she jumped up and hugged him.
"Ginny, wait!" Harry stepped back in dismay, stumbling slightly in his haste to put some distance between them. "You knew about this?"
Unsure now about exactly what the situation was, Ginny calmed herself and sat down on the sofa, noting with some consternation that Harry kept his distance as he settled himself at the other end. As dispassionately as possible she began to explain things from her point of view. How she had dreamed about marrying the Boy Who Lived while growing up. How excited she had been when Ron became his friend and told his family what a great guy he was. How upon learning that, her mother had persuaded her father to write up and submit a marriage contract offer that summer. And her resulting nervousness around him when they first met, at the thought that this messy-haired green-eyed boy might actually become her husband!
Harry began to put some things together as she spoke, for example why Molly had treated him like a son when she hardly knew him, why she'd sent him a Weasley family jumper before she'd even met him, and why he had been so welcome that first summer at the Burrow.
Ginny went on to reveal that his saving her life in the Chamber of Secrets had been the clincher as far as she was concerned. From that moment on she was his, knowing it was just a matter of time until they finally came together and completed their bonding. She admitted that she had expected him to approach her about starting a relationship the past summer, but reasoned that he had not because he was still recovering from the ordeal with Voldemort.
At this point Harry shook his head, and Ginny's face fell. While she fought to keep the tears from her eyes, he said simply, "I'm sorry, Ginny."
"But why," she protested. "I've worked so hard to get to know you, and make myself into a wife you'd be proud of. I was one of the hardest workers in the DA; I supported you through everything you had to deal with. I stuck up for you against Malfoy, believed you about the tournament, helped you when you thought you were being possessed by V…Voldemort. I was always there for you." By now she had lost her battle against the tears. "Who else would be better?"
At this question Hermione stepped up behind Harry and took his hand in hers, as he looked up and smiled at her. Ginny's eyes went wide. "But she was dating Terry. And I thought you considered her to be like a sister."
Harry smiled sympathetically and shook his head, and Ginny's shoulders slumped in defeat. She knew that this was the one girl against whom she had no chance of competing for Harry's affection. "That's changed recently," he replied softly.
On the morning of October 31, Harry settled himself into his seat at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, with Hermione on his right and Neville on his left. As they began to dish up their breakfasts, Neville leaned over. "So, have you taken care of all the contracts?" he asked quietly. Harry nodded.
"Just finished with the last one yesterday evening," he confirmed. "And believe me, that's not something I ever want to go through again!" After a moment he turned to Hermione. "We need to send our notification in to the Ministry today," he commented. Neville had advised them, and they had concurred, to wait until all of the outstanding proposals had been dealt with before submitting the one for Hermione. "Have you written something up?"
Hermione smiled and gave his arm a squeeze. Up to this point they had been keeping a low profile with their new relationship, but that would change after today. "I think you'll like what I have planned," she replied with a twinkle in her eye. Harry caught this, and raised an eyebrow questioningly. "You'll see," was all she would say. By this time the rest of the table was filling up. Ron and Lavender took seats across from them, with Parvati occupying her usual place at her best friend's side, and normal morning conversation ensued.
When it came time for owl post, Hedwig made her customary dramatic appearance, her white plumage amongst the brown and grey of the other owls catching many eyes. Alighting on Harry's shoulder, she reached out her leg for him to detach the official looking parchment. Noting Hermione's ill-disguised interest, Harry realized what it was before he opened it. A brief scan confirmed his supposition, but then he spotted the picture and burst out laughing! It was a photo of Hermione as a toddler, naked in a bathtub, reaching out her arms to the viewer.
He turned toward Hermione's grinning face and wrapped an arm around her for a quick hug. "This is bloody brilliant!" he complimented her before sneaking a kiss.
"You said if there was a photo you'd give it your immediate attention," she reminded him teasingly.
"Hermione, I'll always give you my immediate attention," he promised in the same tone. Still chuckling, he took up the contract again, signed it with a flourish, and sent it off with Hedwig. Then he looked up to discover that he had the full attention of everyone at his end of the table.
"What was that all about?" Ron blurted out. Harry and Hermione locked eyes, came to a consensus, and Hermione nodded, as her cheeks turned pink in anticipation.
"Oh, that was just a betrothal contract between Hermione and me," Harry responded, while picking up a goblet of pumpkin juice and taking a swallow, as if this were an everyday occurrence. Of course, it was anything but, and bedlam broke out at the Gryffindor table. Among the babble of questions and exclamations Ron's voice stood out.
"You can't marry Hermione! You're supposed to marry Ginny!" That declaration managed to draw the bulk of the attention temporarily away from Harry and Hermione, although a background murmur of comments continued. For her part, Ginny's face turned far redder than Hermione's had, and her expression indicated that if she'd been sitting next to her brother she would have throttled him. "Dad wrote up a contract," Ron continued with his objection.
Now Neville spoke up. "Join the queue," he muttered sarcastically. Ron redirected his attention to his other dorm mate.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Neville snorted. "Just that Harry got contracts from half the witches in Britain."
"It wasn't that many," Harry mumbled under his breath. Hermione heard him and grinned, giving his arm another squeeze.
"Well, most of the ones we know at least," Neville corrected. Harry determinedly avoided looking in Lavender or Parvati's direction, taking the opportunity to closely examine the eggs on his plate. It didn't work. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ron's eyes narrow.
Before his hotheaded friend could begin the obvious question, Harry snapped his head up and turned to Neville and remarked. "You know, I didn't get one from Luna's dad, though."
This succeeded in temporarily diverting Ron. "You want to marry Loony?" he sputtered in shock.
"No, I'm not saying that," Harry clarified quickly. "But it might have been interesting to hear what she would have had to say as I turned it down." Ron was now clearly confused. "Ron, I turned them all down," Harry tried to explain. "But some of their reactions were … interesting."
Hermione jumped in to keep the conversation going in a harmless direction. "She probably would have demanded that you pledge to help her find a Crumble Horned Snorkack as one of the conditions."
Harry turned to his newly betrothed and grinned. "Either that or asked if I had been infected with Wrackspurts." This banter generated smiles and chuckles all around from everyone who'd dealt with Luna. But soon Ron began to frown again. This time Lavender spoke up.
"Yes, Ron, my father tendered a contract, just like most of the other girls in our class. Harry declined it and said he thought you and I were good together." She squeezed his arm to punctuate the message, and Ron suddenly turned pale as the implication hit him. Another chorus of laughter broke out, his housemates clearly enjoying his discomfort.
Ron, trying desperately to change the subject, committed one of the worst foot-in-mouth blunders of his Hogwarts career and blurted out, "So if you had all those girls to choose from why in Merlin's name did you pick Hermione?"
In the awkward silence that followed Hermione clamped down hard on the urge to burst into tears. If there was ever a definitive illustration of why she and Ron hadn't worked out, this was it. She could feel the sympathetic looks from the other girls in her house but kept her gaze focused on Ron, trying not to glare at him.
Several different snarky replies passed through Harry's mind as he leveled a cold stare across the table at his onetime best mate (a title that more correctly belonged to Neville now) but in the end he settled for the simplest, and at the same time the most accurate answer.
He reached down and clasped Hermione's hand in his, and raised their joined hands to rest on the table in front of them. "Because I'm in love with Hermione."
Harry leaned back and moaned loudly as warm water enveloped his body. One of the perks of the Heads suite was a miniature version of the Prefects' Bath, and this evening he was putting it to very good use. He had just come in from quidditch practice, and had been cold and miserable (calling a quidditch practice in the middle of December had not been one of his better ideas), only to find that Hermione had a warm, steaming bath drawn and waiting for him. He reflected yet again how lucky he was to have such a considerate friend, now girlfriend, in his life. And he had every intention of keeping her that way. The painful breach between them that had been mended two months ago was now only a fading memory.
A knock on the door caught him by surprise. "Hermione?" he called out in response.
"Harry, do you mind if I come in? Are you under the water?" came the reply from the other room. Harry shrugged to himself and decided that he was certainly adequately covered up, considering the luxurious foamy suds that filled the large tub. Not to mention the fact that he and Hermione were gradually getting more comfortable with each other's bodies. Each of them had seen the other partially dressed or wrapped in just a towel in their shared bathroom on more than one occasion in the past month, and their hands had begun to roam during their snogging sessions.
"Sure, come on in," he called back. "What's on your mind?" he continued as the door opened and Hermione slipped in. She was wearing a dressing gown, as she often did in the evenings when she got comfortable after they'd retired to their room for the night, but she was acting rather hesitant compared with her usual, self-assured manner.
She was also carrying a camera.
"Um, what are you doing?" he asked nervously.
Hermione gathered up her courage and blurted out, "I decided that since you had a picture of me in the bath, it was only fair if I had one of you too."
"Seriously?" She didn't seem to be joking about this, but the request certainly caught him by surprise.
Hermione had planned this whole scenario out in minute detail, including a series of arguments if he needed convincing. She allowed her face to show a trace of disappointment. "Sure. I thought it would be fun."
That was all it took, since Harry didn't really have any objection. If it made Hermione happy he was perfectly willing to go along with it. "Oh, all right," he sighed in mock resignation. Hermione beamed at him in response, but Harry missed the mischievous gleam in her eye that accompanied her reaction.
"Evanesco." With a jab of Hermione's wand the opaque layer of foam vanished, leaving Harry chest deep in crystal clear water. With a yelp of surprise he immediately moved his hands to cover himself and slid down to bring the water up to his chin.
"Hermione!" he gasped. Any further objection on his part was cut off as he noted her press her lips together in a disappointed pout.
"Oh honestly, Harry, it won't be much of a picture if all I can see is your head," she complained. "Don't worry, the index of refraction of water is such that any part of your body below the surface is distorted. It's too blurry for me to really see much, and the picture won't show anything except that you're in the tub and don't appear to be wearing anything."
Harry would have been more accepting of this argument if she hadn't been focusing her gaze so intently on the part of his anatomy just south of his navel, but he took a deep breath and relented, rising back up into his normal sitting position. It helped that a portion of his mind was picturing a scene in which their roles were reversed, and he was trying to convince her of the same thing.
"Now, stretch out your arms across the top edge of the tub like you're inviting me to join you," Hermione instructed as she focused the camera. Harry's eyes narrowed.
"Hermione, just who exactly is going to see …?" But Hermione cut him off before he could finish the question.
"Trust me, Harry, this view is for my eyes only," she assured him with a smile of smug satisfaction. "What do you do with your picture of me? How many people have you shown it to?"
Harry grinned sheepishly. "You're right. I've never let anyone else see it. But I do pull it out occasionally and look at it. It always makes me smile."
Hermione's own smile broadened. "I imagine I'll use this photo for the same purpose, then."
The camera flashed, and Hermione took a second for good measure, then put the camera aside. Harry cocked his head questioningly as she made no move to leave the bathroom. Instead she moved closer to the tub and tugged nervously on the sash of her dressing gown.
"So, what do you think of that idea?" she asked shyly.
"What idea?" he wondered in some confusion. Then his eyes went wide as a possible interpretation occurred to him.
"Me joining you in the tub," she answered in a small voice, confirming his thought.
Harry's mouth went dry as he tried to choke out a reply, and he could only nod dumbly.
Calling upon her Gryffindor nature, Hermione untied the sash and removed her dressing gown, revealing nothing beneath it but a small bikini swimsuit bottom. "I hope it's OK with you if I keep these on," she explained nervously, gesturing at her remaining covering. "Just to be on the safe side, I mean." Harry maintained his open-mouthed gape as she slowly climbed in. Her anxious expression alerted him that she was expecting a response.
"No! No, that's fine," he blurted out. "This is amazing as it is!" With some relief she settled down into the water and unintentionally mimicked his earlier action by sinking down to her neck, her face bright red.
"Hermione, you look incredible!" Harry couldn't help himself. This was so far beyond his expectations that he had to make an effort to keep from babbling.
"Don't exaggerate, Harry," Hermione chided, but with a pleased tone in her voice. "I know I don't have a curvy body like Daphne. Or Susan. Or Lavender. Or …"
"Hermione, stop," he cut her off. "I'm not interested in any of them. And I'm very, very happy with what I'm seeing in front of me right now." Her courage bolstered by this reassurance, Hermione sat up straighter, uncovering her torso.
Harry swallowed hard, unable to stop staring. "Wow," he breathed softly. "Perfect."
"Harry …" she began to object.
"Hermione, as far as I'm concerned they are," he declared. "They're exactly right for your body." He grinned at her. "That's my opinion and I'm sticking with it." Hermione shook her head gently, but with a smile of satisfaction. She decided that he needed to be rewarded for being so sweet, and crossed the short distance between them to sit on his lap and kiss him soundly. It was just like that day at the lake, only with considerably less fabric between them.
Neither of them wanted things to get out of hand, so they pulled apart after a few seconds and then simply embraced, both enjoying the feeling of the their bare chests pressed together for the first time. A minute later Hermione smiled and leaned back (noticing Harry's gaze drop to follow her progress) and gestured for him to turn around so that she could scrub his back.
Harry moaned in ecstasy under her ministrations, especially when she leaned close and let the tips of her breasts graze across his shoulders. Then she turned around and asked him to return the favor. Harry took his time savoring the feeling of her warm, wet skin under his hands, which seemed to please Hermione as well, judging by the sounds she was making. Finally she leaned back against him and pressed her back to his chest, while he wrapped his arms around her to pull her close.
She had one final adjustment to make. Reaching down, she took his hands and brought them up to where she most wanted them to be, cupping her breasts. This elicited one final moan of pleasure from him as he gently but firmly held her like a precious treasure. With a joint pair of sighs the two of them closed their eyes in perfect contentment.
"You planned this whole thing," Harry stated, half questioningly, half accusingly. But there was no disapproval in his voice.
Harry fidgeted anxiously while waiting for Hermione to gather the presents from under the Christmas tree. It was apparently a Granger family tradition that the presents would be placed haphazardly under the tree until Christmas morning, at which time Hermione would meticulously sort them into piles for each member of the family. This year, for the first time, there were four piles, including one for him.
He had been nervous about coming to spend the holidays with the Grangers, but there was really no question that he would do so, being Hermione's boyfriend now. He wondered why it had never occurred to him to come here in previous years, since Hermione was as much his friend as Ron was, but that was in the past now. He had met Hermione's parents before, during the celebration after the final battle, and had got on well with them. To his relief they were just as welcoming of him now as they had been then, if not more so. He truly felt like part of the family now.
But at this point in time his anxiety was because of the present that Hermione was going to open in a few minutes. And after unwrapping several books and a new dress from her parents, she finally got to his. Having been alerted to what was coming, both her parents paused in examining their own gifts as their daughter tore the paper from the small box. Her eyes widened as it occurred to her what sort of item came in that size package and she shot a startled look at Harry. He gave her an encouraging smile while trying not to let his expression divulge the answer to her silent question.
Four different people held their breath as Hermione fumbled with the lid of the jewelry box, which opened to reveal a sparkling gem set in a simple gold band.
"Harry!" came the high-pitched squeal. "It's beautiful!" Before he could blink she was in his arms, hugging the stuffing out of him. Beyond the bushy hair that filled most of his vision he spotted tears in the eyes of his future in-laws as they squeezed each other's hands.
When both of the teens were able to breathe normally again Hermione leaned back, although she kept her arms wrapped around his neck. With a slightly puzzled expression she pointed out, "But the three months aren't up yet."
"I decided I didn't need any more time," Harry explained. "I know without a doubt that I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. It was a pretty easy decision, really. And this way we have your parents here, and it's a special occasion and all." A look of consternation flashed across his face. "Erm … that is, if you say yes."
Before she could open her mouth to assure him on that score, Harry was down on one knee in front of her. "Hermione Granger, will you marry me?"
After a breathless but emphatic 'Yes!' from Hermione the scene dissolved into a round of hugs and congratulations, and a rather sound kiss (considering it was in front of her parents). Through it all Hermione wore the biggest smile her parents had ever seen, and Harry's own threatened to split his face apart.
When asked about a wedding date, Harry responded that it didn't matter to him, except that they needed to perform a wizarding bonding ceremony prior to his next birthday. (It wasn't necessary for him to explain the urgency, as Hermione had already informed her parents about the marriage contracts.) He was perfectly open to whatever Hermione wanted otherwise, and after she and her mother put their heads together they decided to plan for an August wedding.
A silent observer stood in the doorway to her kitchen and watched the young couple sitting together on the sofa in the living room. Harry was leaning back against one end, with Hermione snuggled up in front of him, wrapped up in his arms, under an afghan, reading a book. For his part, Harry kept busy, watching the telly occasionally, glancing out the window, looking over Hermione's shoulder, or nuzzling her shoulder or the back of her neck. He wasn't restless, though, just happy and content. Sometimes he'd even lean back and close his eyes, clearly enjoying the moment.
Hermione evidently wasn't as wrapped up in her reading as she'd normally be, since Harry's constant interruptions weren't annoying her. To the contrary, she would also pause occasionally and whisper something back to him, or rub her head against his chest, or lean back and close her eyes and sigh. Again, she was the perfect picture of contentment.
The watching woman smirked as it occurred to her to wonder just what Harry's hands might be doing at the moment, out of sight under the blanket. She certainly knew where her husband's would be if the two of them were similarly situated. She recalled that when they had returned home from the church service that morning Hermione had changed out of her new dress (which had made her look so grown up that it nearly brought tears to her mother's eyes) and was now attired in jeans and a loose, comfortable sweatshirt. She was also willing to bet that her daughter had discarded her bra along with the dress. Her eyes twinkled with satisfaction at how she had cleverly deduced what they were up to. But she would never embarrass them by letting them know that she was on to them.
A pair of strong hands wrapped themselves around her waist, and she felt herself being pulled back into her husband's chest, and she leaned her head back next to his.
"Spying on the kids, dear?" he whispered into her ear.
"I'm just enjoying watching them together," she murmured back, so as not to disturb the loving young couple in the other room. "It's so wonderful seeing them like this. You can tell how happy they are just looking at them."
"I know what you mean," he replied softly. "We've missed so much of her life, with her being away so much of the year. I'm glad we were able to see this much, at least. It was nice of Harry to think of including us." He paused, taking the time to observe the casual intimacy of the newly engaged pair.
"I can't help but wonder if, when they come back home over Easter holidays, we'll only have to prepare one bedroom for them," he groaned. His wife twisted her head to look at him, her lips curled up in a smirk.
"Playing your role of overprotective father now, dear?" she teased.
He shook his head. "How? What could I possibly do to threaten a boy who would give up his life for her without a moment's hesitation? When he came to talk to me yesterday I could see how much he loved her. It was written all over his face." His spouse nodded in agreement.
"Hermione certainly made a very good choice," she sighed.
"Not to mention how fortunate he was to choose her," he added.
"Well, that goes without saying," she smiled. "She's our daughter, after all."
"Of course, but remember that he had quite a few others after him," he pointed out. "And to hear her tell it, it was a very near thing. But with all of that, he still chose her."
"Well, let's just celebrate the fact that they both made excellent choices then," she decided. "And that this will be only the first of many good choices they make in their lives."
He nodded and tightened his grip around her waist, and the Granger family continued their celebration of what had turned out to be a truly blessed Christmas.
A/N 1 Just to be clear, this is it for this story. No more chapters. I have other ideas I want to work on.
A/N 2 I've read several fics where Hermione joins Harry in the bath, usually helping him work out the Egg clue in the Tri-Wizard tournament. But the one I had in mind as I wrote the scene here was from Canoncansodoff's story, Overlapping Dots. In his story Harry was nude, but Hermione wore a one-piece swimsuit. That hardly seems fair. While her suit in this story is technically one piece, I feel it's much more equitable.
A/N 3 My wife commented that she felt sorry for Ginny in her scene. I agree. Even if you don't like canon Ginny, you might sympathize at least a little for her in this one, as her dreams were shattered despite her best efforts. But then, so were those of quite a few other young witches.