A/N: Written as a pinch hit for the Support Stacie Auction, so not my usual fandom. (Well, I've read HP fanfic before, but never thought I'd find myself writing it. *g*)
This story is for Candra Jade. Her prompt was: Since Harry's 17th birthday (the birthday when he became a legal adult in the wizarding world) was overshadowed by the war, I thought it would be nice if his friends threw him a real party for his 18th birthday. I want Harry and Hermione to become a couple during the course of the evening. (Abridged to avoid giving away all the details.)
Kae_nine helped with initial brainstorming and looked at a few scenes during writing, harmony_bites was my main beta and HP-expert & wendymr very kindly agreed to Britpick and do a second sweep even thought this is not her fandom either. Thank you, guys!
Best Birthday Ever
Hermione hangs the last of the streamers, looking around the Burrow's crowded living room critically. "Yes. This should do."
She smiles at Mrs Weasley, who is arranging a platter of sandwiches on the sideboard, frowning. "Are you sure this is right, Hermione, dear? Is this how Muggles prepare parties? I mean, it seems so…" She looks around the room, full of streamers, balloons, and trays of snacks. "Plain. Shouldn't I at least levitate a few lanterns to make it more festive?"
Hermione shakes her head. "No. We said we'd give Harry a non-magical birthday party. Today is his Muggle coming-of-age, and besides, he's never had a proper Muggle party before."
Mrs Weasley purses her lips. "Well, his Wizarding coming-of-age party wasn't all that perfect either, what with the war and the danger and the…" She closes her eyes for a moment, her lips trembling.
Hermione bites her lips, unsure what to say. The war, and anything connected with it, will always be a painful topic for Mrs Weasley. Fred's death will overshadow their victory forever. And Harry's last birthday party, while a happy enough event in itself had brought Scrimgeour's interrogation and Dumbledore's bequest – and the very next day, the Ministry of Magic had fallen to the Death Eaters.
Just at that moment, the door opens and Ron and George come in, balancing stacks of boxes and loudly accusing each other of carrying less than their fair share. Mrs Weasley turns and starts scolding them, and Hermione breathes a sigh of relief at the distraction.
"What did we agree on?" Molly booms. "Only Muggle things for the party!"
"Quite right, my dear!" A beaming Mr Weasley has followed his sons into the room. "And look what I found! Muggle fireworks! They just use black powder and some metal compounds. No extract of toad or Elixir of Cyprus at all! Ingenious! Quite ingenious! It's amazing what these Muggles come up with!"
Molly frowns. "Well, all right then. Put them over there by the stairs." She looks at Ron sharply. "You didn't tell him, did you?"
Ron shakes his head, grinning. "No, Mum. Just told him family dinner with us and Hermione. He has no idea about the party."
Just then, the flames in the fireplace blaze green and Neville steps out, awkwardly balancing a large box. "Hello," he says with a shy smile, almost dropping his burden. Hermione helps him set it down on the coffee table, trying to sneak a glance inside.
"Good t'see you, mate!" Ron slaps Neville on the shoulder. "What you got there? A flesh-eating tentacled wilderaweed or something?"
"N- no… I thought we'd said only non-magical gifts?" Neville looks flustered.
Mrs Weasley pats him on the arm. "We did, dear. Ron is just being Ron." She glowers at her youngest son, who shrugs unapologetically.
"It's aloe. An aloe plant. They have healing properties – natural, non-magical healing properties. Great for bruises and small cuts and such. I thought with Harry starting Auror training next month…" His voice trails off.
"Capital idea, my boy!" Mr Weasley nods. "Muggles have some quite remarkable insights into using plants for healing. Without any wandcraft, too!"
Hermione smiles. "My mum has one of those on the kitchen windowsill. Whenever I grazed my knees as a little girl, she'd put some on them and they'd feel better right away." She remembers those days, long before she even knew of the Wizarding world, back when she'd been looking forward to a normal live – school, A-levels, university – before her life was turned upside-down and all her expectations overthrown by magic, monsters and Dark wizards.
She wouldn't change it for the world.
Neville is beaming now. "D'you think the box is okay? I didn't have wrapping paper or anything."
"Here." George pulls a piece of red ribbon from one of his numerous pockets and tosses it at him. "Tie it 'round the box. It'll look fine."
"Ta." Neville starts fiddling with the ribbon, but it's soon clear that he's all thumbs. He somehow manages to tie it around his own wrist and has to use his teeth to loosen the knot and free himself.
"Here, let me." Hermione takes the ribbon and ties a perfectly straight bow, both ends exactly the same length.
"When are the others getting here?" Neville asks.
"Oh, the guests should all be arriving within the next half hour, dear. Ginny's out to get some Muggle ice cream, she should be back any minute. And Harry'll be here at eight. Give us time to set up." Mrs Weasley smiles.
"Would go faster with magic, of course," George mumbles, and gets a sharp elbow in the side from Ron and a withering glare from his mother.
Neville nods. "Can I help?"
"Nah, we're almost done. You young folks just have some punch and start enjoying yourselves."
Forty minutes later, the Burrow is overflowing – living room, kitchen, and garden are brimming with smiling, happy people. Some even donned Muggle clothes for the occasion, though most are wearing their customary robes. Ginny and Ron are serving fruit punch in Muggle paper cups – which Mr Weasley proclaimed one of the handiest inventions ever – printed with a party motif of balloons and multicoloured confetti.
Music from an old Muggle gramophone that Dean Thomas found in his mother's attic is filling the air. Snacks are circulating, though the main buffet won't be opened until the guest of honour arrives.
As the clock creeps closer to the hour, people start gathering around the fireplace.
"You're sure he's coming by floo, dear?" Mrs Weasley asks for the third time.
"Yes, Mum. Told him with the storm warnings you'd throw a fit if he flew," Ron says with a cheeky grin. Ginny and George start giggling and Mr Weasley is unsuccessfully trying to hide a grin. Even Percy quickly takes a sip of punch to conceal his reaction.
Mrs Weasley sputters, then rolls her eyes. "Well, as long as it worked."
Hermione feels her heart beat faster. But well, that's no wonder. She's put a lot of work into this surprise party. Of course she wants it to go well. More than enough reason to be a little nervous. And she hasn't seen Harry in almost a month. He was busy with entrance exams for Auror training, and she with preparing for and sitting her NEWTs.
Harry, she, Ron, and some other students from their year had been offered honorary NEWTs in recognition of their bravery and skills displayed in the Battle of Hogwarts, but Hermione preferred to study and earn hers the proper way. After all, one never knew when the knowledge gained might be useful. She'd been glad, however, that the Ministry had postponed the exams to July, giving everyone some time to recover after the Battle of Hogwarts. And really, the exams turned out to be much easier than she'd expected. She managed seven Outstandings and only one Exceeds Expectations – and she's still certain she was right and Professor Tontingham from the Ministry was mistaken about the most effective incantation to-
Her thoughts are interrupted when the fire turns green again. "On three!" Mr Weasley exclaims loudly. "One – two – three..."
Harry gasps and almost forgets to step out of the fire in time. It's only Hermione's hand on his arm – good, steady, reliable Hermione – pulling him forward that prevents him from singeing his clothes, and probably his eyebrows, right there in front of everyone.
He looks around, mouth hanging open. The Weasleys he expected. Even Percy, who has been spending lots of time at the Burrow ever since he reconciled with his family. Hermione, of course. But…
Neville is here, off to the side with Luna. Hagrid's booming "Congratulations, 'arry," almost drowns out everyone else. Seamus is standing between Dean and Ernie Macmillan, all three throwing big handfuls of confetti at Harry and everyone else in sight. Professor McGonagall is smiling indulgently. Other students and teachers are milling around in a crowd that is unusually big and densely-packed even for the Burrow. And Harry thinks he sees more people standing outside, peeking in through the windows.
He turns to Hermione, mouth hanging open. "You… you…"
"Happy birthday, Harry." She smiles and throws her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "We thought you deserved a decent Muggle-style party for your Muggle coming-of-age," she whispers into his ear. That explains her clothes – jeans and a T-shirt. Harry can feel her warm skin through the thin shirt. He never noticed before how soft Hermione is in-
He stops that thought before it can go anywhere. This is his best mate. One of his best mates. He pulls back and turns around, facing Ron with a grin. "You're barking, you know that?"
Ron grins back. "Says the bloke who's just signed up for a career of Dark wizard hunting – 'cause you haven't done enough of that in your life yet."
Harry grins and pulls Ron into a brief hug. "Well, if I decide I'm sick of it I can always come and work with you at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, right?"
"Course you can," George replies with a broad smile before Ron can. "The shop can always use people of talent and intelligence. And Ron." He winks at Harry as his brother turns around and punches him on the arm.
A playful shoving match ensues, and Harry can see Molly Weasley pushing her way through the crowd towards her wayward sons, scolding, "Oi! You lot! Will you behave?"
Ginny shakes her head at her brothers. "They just never grow up, do they?" she grins, hugging Harry and kissing his cheek. "Happy Birthday!" As she lets go, George shoves Ron straight into her, and with a loud "Stop it, you prats!" she turns around and joins the fray.
He shares a chuckle with Hermione, who's not left his side since his arrival, and starts making the rounds of the room, collecting congratulations and thoughtful non-magical gifts.
Hagrid looks from him to Hermione with wide eyes as he produces a large object, covered by a blanket, from behind his back. "'S not a magical present, Hermione. Really." He pulls off the blanket, revealing a beautiful dark brown owl in a wicker cage. Her belly is white, and the rest of her body is sprinkled with white spots.
"She's just a normal Northern Spotted Owl. Raised her meself, I did, from an egg Professor Flitwick got me when he went to that Charms conference in America… She's not a magical beast, but she's right clever."
He looks at Harry, his eyes brimming with emotion. "I know she'll never replace Hedwig, Harry, but she's a good owl, an' she'll carry messages for you an' keep you company an'…" He drags the back of his hand over his nose with what sounds suspiciously like a sniffle. "Her name's Kalypso."
Harry looks at Kalypso, who's looking back at him with curiosity and understanding. He thinks back to the first real birthday present he ever got – Hedwig, his beloved Snowy White Owl. He still misses her – she was his companion through so many dark hours at the Dursleys' – but somehow it's fitting that if he's going to have an owl again, it's another one picked by Hagrid. He smiles at the half-giant, taking the cage from him gently. "Thank you, Hagrid. She's wonderful."
Hagrid nods, his eyes suspiciously bright. "Grawp sends his best wishes, too. I didn't wanna bring him along. Crowds make 'im…a bit nervous."
Harry and Hermione nod hastily. "Yeah. Tell him thanks," Harry says, and Hagrid beams.
"He knows 'thank you.' He'll be so 'appy you said that!"
Harry tries to make his smile seem anything but doubtful. He nods, carefully sets down the cage on the nearest windowsill, and moves on to Luna. "Hey – thanks for coming."
"Of course." She smiles at him in a somewhat absent-minded way, as if she's not quite sure of the occasion, but hugs him warmly. "The anniversary of one's birth is very important. Did you know that the spheric harmonies that reverberate through the Earth's core right at the moment of your birth resonate in yearly cycles? Father wrote an article about it in the last Quibbler. He found out that-"
"That's fascinating!" Harry interrupts before Hermione can – from the expression on her face, she was about to explain to Luna exactly why her father's newest discovery is utter humbug. "I'll have to read it sometime."
"Oh, I have a copy on me." Luna begins to dig through her large bag – it is shaped vaguely like an onion and seems to be crocheted from yellow yarn. She suddenly stops. "Oh. I forgot. I brought you something else, Harry."
"You didn't have to."
"No, but I wanted to. It's a very powerful amulet." She begins to pull something from her bag.
"Luna," Hermione says, sounding exasperated. "We said Muggle-gifts only."
Luna nods. "Of course. It's a Muggle amulet. Very effective in warding off evil spirits."
"A Muggle am-" Hermione begins, but interrupts herself upon seeing what Luna pulls from the bag. She suddenly bites her lips very hard and looks away.
Harry is finding it difficult not to laugh, too. "Thank you," he says as earnestly as he can, taking the huge black iron horse shoe from Luna's small white hand and hefting its considerable weight. "This will be… very useful."
Luna beams in that far-away manner of hers. "You have to hang it over your front door. It prevents malicious spirits from entering. I think it even works on flengeriflons!"
Harry nods. "That was… very... thoughtful of you, Luna. Thanks." He carefully sets the horseshoe down next to Kalypso's cage. The owl gives it a brief glance and a disdainful hoot – either she's disappointed it's not edible, or she shares Hermione's opinion of Muggle amulets.
"Neville," Hermione interjects, "Why don't you show Harry what you brought him?"
Neville nods, smiling shyly. He points to a large box with a perfectly straight red bow tied around it, sitting on a chair by the window. "It's not much, but I thought you might like… I mean it's usef- Anyway, happy birthday, Harry!"
Harry smiles and clasps Neville's shoulder. Hard to believe that the hero who destroyed the last Horcrux can still be so painfully shy – even around his friends. "I'm sure it's brilliant. Besides, I'm just happy you came."
"Wouldn't have missed it."
Hermione steadies the box on the chair as Harry starts pulling on the red ribbon – and suddenly, the ribbon flies off the box, turns a half-loop in the air, and ties itself around him and Hermione, squeezing their fronts together much more tightly than is decent in public.
"Hey-" Harry exclaims, startled. "What the-" Kalypso is hopping up and down on her perch, whistling anxiously.
"George Weasley! Get over here and undo this, this instant!" Hermione screeches, and Harry notices that her face is rather redder than can be explained by anger alone.
George is leaning against the mantle, guffawing. "Oh, sorry! Did I accidentally give Neville some of Weasleys' Romancing Ribbon? It didn't mean t-" He's laughing too hard to continue.
The others guests are in various states of puzzlement and amusement. Even Professor McGonagall seems to be giggling, though she's covering her mouth – and Professor Flitwick is beaming and mumbling something that sounds like "Talip's auto-motion … Bruchnovik's semi-intelligent targeting… very clever work…"
"George," Harry says, his tone almost begging. He'd gladly smack his friend, but right now he's much more concerned Hermione might notice that his body is beginning to have a very definite reaction to their closeness. And Kalypso staring at him with those huge, knowing eyes is downright unnerving.
George's laughter suddenly turns into a howl of pain as his mother tweaks his nose. "You undo this at once, George Weasley, and then you apologise to Harry, and to Hermione for ruining her Muggle-style party, and if you want to get any dinner tonight, you better not have any other funny ideas, young man…" Her tirade continues as George crosses over to Harry and Hermione and sheepishly begins to cast a counter-incantation.
"Sorry, guys," he say with an apologetic smile. "Just a little joke."
Harry smiles back and shrugs, but Hermione harrumphs and quickly disappears in the direction of the loo.
Much later, Harry and Hermione are standing in a dark corner of the garden, watching the other guests milling back and forth – Mrs Weasley has shooed everyone outside while she and her husband "put the living room back in order." Several guests offered to help dealing with the smoke or cleaning up soot, but Mrs Weasley turned them all down with her most charming smile and a cheerful "No, really, it's no bother, we won't be a minute." The second the door closed behind the last guest, her screeching voice started ringing through the garden, occasionally interrupted by Mr Weasley's timid interjections of "I really didn't know, love!" and "Look, no harm done."
Hermione is looking very uncomfortable. "I really should have told Mr Weasley that Muggle fireworks are only for outside…"
Harry laughs. "Ah, it's all right. You couldn't have known he'd not even read the box. And no one was hurt. At least it'll make certain no one forgets this party any time soon."
Hermione bites her lips. "Well, this is not exactly how I wanted you to remember it, Harry." She sighs. "I just wanted you to have a nice, normal birthday for once." She's staring at her feet. A loud hoot from Kalypso, who is circling over the assembled guests, startles her and she jumps, suddenly standing very close to Harry.
He smiles, and gently tips her chin up until she's looking at him. "Hermione – if nothing crazy happened, it wouldn't feel like my birthday at all." He winks at her.
Hermione's lips curve into a reluctant smile. "Oh, all right. As long as you're happy."
Suddenly, her eyes soften, and she turns her head, resting her cheek in his hand.
Harry gulps. "I am." Slowly, hesitantly, he strokes a thumb over her cheek. "I'm very happy."
Hermione's voice sounds breathless. "I haven't given you my birthday present yet."
Harry blinks. "I thought the party was my present."
Hermione's smile widens, and her cheeks start turning pink again. "It could be. Unless…"
Harry can feel his heart racing. Does she really mean what he hopes she does? He takes a step closer to her, making their bodies touch. "Unless…?"
"Unless you'd rather have… this." Hermione stands on tiptoe and presses her lips to Harry's. They are soft and warm, and he responds willingly, moaning as her tongue strokes over his lips.
Hermione slings her arms around Harry's neck and proceeds to give him the single, definitely, without a doubt, absolutely best birthday present he's ever got.
And even though it doesn't involve any potions, spells, or witchcraft, there is still plenty of magic in it.