The Third Husband
(Author's Note: I read an article about couples divorcing after decades, and they mentioned this supposed Margaret Mead quote about three husbands. Which made me think of Harry & Hermione after the epilogue. Which gave me this plot bunny.)
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter.
To my betas: Cammy and DeeMichelle
"Actually, it's Ms. Granger now."
"I do apologize. I'm Dr. Geest."
They shook hands.
"No worries, I'm still getting used to it myself. Pleased to meet you."
"Yes, how do you do? Would you like to take a seat?" The doctor held out his hand and indicated that the bushy-haired woman should take a seat on the sofa, as he headed for the armchair.
It was Hermione's first therapy session, and she was a bit nervous; she had no idea what to expect. She had done her research of course, but books could only help so much with this matter. Reading a book did not help when facing a stranger, knowing she would need to pour her guts out for this to work. And it scared her.
Hermione looked about the Muggle office. The colors of the office were a soothing green. There was a small fountain in the corner, some plants, abstract art on the walls and quiet instrumental music in the background. She noticed the small clock turned away from her, facing the doctor. As she adjusted the pillows on the sofa, she noticed a box of tissues nearby. Not sure if I'll be needing those, she thought to herself.
Dr. Geest had a kind, friendly face with sharp observant eyes behind his wire-rimmed glasses. Once seated, he took a pad of paper from the small table next to his chair and a ball-point pen.
"Shall we just get started? Can you tell me why you're here today?"
Hermione liked his tone. It was warm and friendly placed over brusque and professional. It suited her.
"Well, this is the first time I've been to a psychologist. After the wa-, I mean, after I graduated from school, it was all rather stressful and it was suggested that um, my friends and I might find it useful to talk to someone, but we never did." Hermione scolded herself for almost mentioning the Second Voldemort War. This was a Muggle doctor. She had to pretend she was a Muggle living a Muggle life as well. No magic, no Voldemort, no Hogwarts and no war.
"School, now was that stressful?" The doctor started taking notes as he asked in a polite, yet inquiring tone.
"Yes, it was … quite competitive. We were working on a multi-year project that was rather strenuous both physically and emotionally. Took a lot out of us when it was all over; we needed lots of rest." So much for total honesty, thought Hermione.
"Hmm. Interesting. But I understand you're here to discuss something else?"
"Right, I'm here because my parents suggested I talk to someone, and you came well recommended."
Dr. Geest didn't comment but kept writing on his notepad. Hermione noticed that the doctor never reacted to anything she said. He kept his face expressionless and his tone of voice rather flat, friendly yet non-judging. Useful tools in his line of work, she thought.
"I'm here because I recently became divorced, and I'm not coping as well as I'd like."
There, she said it. She had admitted it. She, Hermione Granger-Weasley—no, scratch that, just Hermione Granger now—was seeking help for mental illness. She was acknowledging defeat and failure.
"What would you like to discuss?"
"What do you think would help me?" Hermione had no idea where to start.
"Why don't you tell me about your ex-husband and your marriage, and we can go from there?" The doctor suggested in a calming tone.
"Right. Well, Ron—that's my ex—and I met at that school, the one with the major project at the end of the year. We were best friends with a boy named Harry. The three of us did everything together. Well, at the end of our seventh year when we completed that big project, I kissed him—Ron, I mean, and we just started dating after that. It was all rather expected."
"How was it expected?"
"Everyone expected us to be dating. Actually, everyone thought Harry and I were actually dating for years, but we were just best friends. Then they expected Ron and me to be dating, but we were best friends, and he was dating a girl named Lavender. Although, at this point in time, I had feelings for him," Hermione said the last bit with the memory of Ron's first kiss with Lavender, as if it were a movie reel.
Dr Geest's eyebrows rose at the name Lavender, but everything else on his face was expressionless.
"Although, that didn't last," Hermione added quickly with confidence. "So, Ron and I started dating toward the end of school. It all just seemed so expected. He proposed in a few months and we got married at his parent's home within a year."
"And why did you date? Why did you marry him? "
Hermione looked down at her hands, and suddenly realized that all the while she was twisting her wedding ring where it now resided on her right hand. "I loved him. I'd known him for nearly half my life. He was my best friend. We … we did quite a lot of snogging and all that. I had a crush on him during fourth year, and then he was actually interested in me like a girl, not just a friend. I was thrilled! I didn't have much experience with boys and dating and all that, and here I was, getting married, before all my friends. It was all quite thrilling. And it just seemed like the right thing to do."
"And was there love?"
"Yes, of course," Hermione seemed surprised at the question and twisted the ring some more, a small furrow appearing between her eyebrows. "I wouldn't have married him if there was no love."
"And how was your marriage?"
"Oh, a happy one. Ron was busy with the Aur-, the police. He was on the police force, and I was working for the government. Harry was on the police force with Ron as well. We still did things the three of us, but it was different, now that Ron and I were married and we were no longer at school. It was a lopsided threesome. It was hard to recapture those times."
"You sounded a bit wistful then," observed the doctor.
Hermione tilted her head in reflection. "Yes, I was a bit sad. School was … quite strenuous. It was quite an adventure. Then it was all over and we had to cope with the new world."
"But the marriage was good?"
"Yes, for quite a while. After the kids came, things got tough. I was still working full-time, which wasn't appreciated by my husband or my mother-in-law. And my career was advancing much faster than Ron's. I think he wanted someone like his mom, someone to stay home and have lots of kids."
"Did you two discuss those aspects before you married? The prospect of a family life, or future career paths?"
Hermione looked down and gave a quick smile to herself. "No. Seems quite silly now, but we were young and in love and the wa-, school was over. We were just happy to be alive and healthy and, um, frisky. I think I assumed Ron knew that I was ambitious, and not a housewife. I mean, he'd known me for seven, no, eight years by the time we were married. When Rose, our eldest, was born, I took some time off work, but honestly, even though I love being a mother, I really missed work. So I went back to work, and Ron was a bit upset, but not too bad."
"Did the two of you discuss working outside the home once your daughter—" he checked his notes "—Rose arrived?"
"Well, I had never even considered not working. I knew, though, that he and I needed to talk, but by the time we actually talked, it was more like yelling."
"Was the yelling about raising your daughter?"
"Yes, and more. Raising Rose, my working, Ron's career, Harry's career. You see, Ron is the youngest boy of six boys. His brothers have all been quite successful. Harry is quite successful, I'm fairly successful, and since Ginny—that's Ron's little sister—since Ginny married Harry, she's quite wealthy and famous as well." Blimey, I said 'successful' a lot! she thought self-consciously.
An eyebrow rose. "Are your friends celebrities?"
Hermione remained composed. "In some circles, yes."
The doctor's eyebrow went up and down quickly.
"You were talking about Ron," the doctor gently prodded.
"Yes, Ron's always been a bit jealous. Even when it was just the three of us at school, he was the one who'd believe the worst in people. He didn't believe it when Harry said he didn't put his name in the Tri- tri-athlete cup—that's an athletic contest where we compete with other schools for the best athlete. I knew Harry well enough to know he'd never do it, but I think Ron was too jealous to see rationally. Same thing happened when Hugo was born. Hugo's our son, who came three years after Rose. I went right back to work after Hugo because I was just promoted to … director, and didn't want to jeopardize my career."
"And did you explain it to Ron?"
Hermione looked down quickly, frowning. "Not as well. It was mostly yelling. I just told him I was going back to work, and he complained about dinner not being ready when he got home, and I complained about him leaving the house a mess, and he complained that his mother complained that Rose's dress had a food stain, and I complained that—well, it doesn't really matter, does it?"
"So, tell me about how the marriage ended."
Hermione let out a sigh. She knew this part was coming.
"So, the marriage had been in trouble for years; the end was actually rather swift," Hermione started.
An eyebrow rose.
"Well, I started suspecting that Ron was having an affair. He'd say he was on a case for work, and had to be gone a few days. Then I'd see Harry, who didn't seem to know anything about it. Harry was his boss by then."
"And how did that go?"
"Oh, poor Harry! I could tell he didn't want to lie to me, but, in a way, he was stuck between his two best friends. I think he tried to avoid the both of us for a while. And being married into Ron's family didn't help either. What I didn't know at the time was that his marriage to Ginny was dissolving as well, and Ron's affair was just putting pressure on it. Turned out, quite a few people knew about the affair. Ron's family was furious with him—they were already upset because Harry and Ginny's marriage was over by then— his family tends to side with each other."
"How did you learn of the affair?"
"Well, I had my suspicions, but I've always been so busy with work, I didn't have the time or the energy to follow through on them. But Hugo had just started at Hog- at school, and the house was empty, and I started noticing things. How Ron was always away, and when he was home, he just seemed, disengaged, like he really wasn't investing any time or energy into our marriage anymore. He had already mentally and physically checked out. So, I just asked him one day and he finally admitted that he had been seeing this woman for years. She worked at his brother's shop. He felt awful about it, but he loved her and she loved him."
"And how did that make you feel?"
Hermione took a deep breath and tried not to relive that moment too fully, thinking, fucking stupid question. "Angry. Upset. Sad. Shaken. Broken. I mean, it's one thing to suspect it, but to be actually confronted with it? I was devastated. Sure, our marriage was a mess, but we'd been married for twenty years, our entire adult lives. We'd been together almost our entire lives; we met at eleven. And it was over. And he lied to me. I trusted him." The tears were falling now. "I trusted him."
Dr. Geest reached to the table next to the couch and handed Hermione the box of tissues. (She noticed he handed her the whole box, not just one tissue.) She nodded thanks and blew her nose loudly, then dabbed her nostrils daintily. She took another tissue to wipe her eyes.
Hermione sniffled into a new tissue, thankful that she had the whole box. "Now, I'm still a bit upset. The divorce has been finalized, I'm back to using my maiden name. The children are adjusting. They're away at school, Ron and I agreed to share holidays and summers. It's okay. We started out as best friends and," she sniffled, "and we're trying to get back to that. But it's hard, so hard." She dabbed the tissue along her eyes once more. She hated crying, and tried to think of something positive. Something to stop the tears.
"What's really helped is Harry. We'd been losing touch over the years, but as soon as Harry learned that we were divorcing, he showed up at the house with a tub of ice cream and stayed with me until I felt like I could get out of the house and face the world again. He's been there for me every single day. He's the best and I just love him so much."
Dr Geest's eyebrows rose again. "Do you want to talk about that?"
Hermione suddenly felt guilty. "Um, you mean Harry?"
"Only if you'd like to talk about it."
"Well, um, I wasn't expecting this, but, well, it is something I'd like to discuss," she answered warily.
Dr. Geest stopped writing and looked at Hermione with his expressionless face. Both eyebrows were flat.
Hermione paused, twisting the tissue in her hand. She was nervous. This was something that was bothering her, something she had been trying to ignore, but it kept forcing its way into her mind, pushing out her anguish over her failed marriage.
"Well, I did want to discuss this other matter. It kind of complicates things…"
The doctor waited.
"Um, but, well, I realized that I'm in love with Harry."
Hermione waited for the eyebrows to rise. They did. Quite high this time.
"Why don't we talk about that? How did you know?"
She gave a small smile. Thinking about Harry always made her feel better. "Well, Harry's been with me continuously since the breakup. He's just been fabulous. It's like he can read my mind, and knows exactly what I want and need." She had a particular memory of him and stopped to hug herself and smile, eyes focused not in the room, but the memory of a still raven-haired man.
"He's been there to hold me when I've had crying fits, and support me when I've had to deal with Ron's family. He's not perfect and I'm not perfect, but we've known each other for nearly thirty years. We've been best friends all that time. I'd trust him with my life, with my children's lives. He's kind, genuine, honest, hardworking, loyal, sweet, brave, and supportive. He's always been there for me and I know he always will."
"Were you always in love with him?"
"No! He's my best friend. He's always been my best friend. I know I've already said that, but you must understand. At school, with everyone, even the pre-, I mean everyone thinking we were a couple probably forced me to only think of him as a friend even though he is quite handsome and sweet. Well, I don't know a while ago I suddenly realized it. I heard he was injured at work and was in hospital. Well, I was just devastated! He's been in rough scrapes before when he was fighting Vold- in the athletic tournament, and I'd been upset, but this time, this time it hit me more than any other time. I realized that if he died, well, part of me would die, too. I realized that I wouldn't be this upset about anybody else, save my kids. I realized that everything in our past was leading up to this. I realized that I didn't just love him but that I was in love with him."
There, she said it. She waited for the doctor's reaction. He paused before responding.
"When you say you examined your reaction, that's how you knew you were in love. Tell me more about that. Is that what you do with your emotions?"
"What do you mean?"
"You said you examined your emotions and came to a conclusion. Most people just feel their emotions. You analyze them."
"Well, yes. I mean, I try to behave rationally at all times. I need to be focused and present and level-headed to get everything done, to do my job and have order in my life. Emotions can be messy. They are messy."
"Yes, and they can be unexpected as well. What do you do if they are not rational?"
"I examine them and if they aren't logical, I dismiss them."
Eyebrows went up. "Dismiss?"
"Ignore. They're obviously wrong then."
"And, how would you say are your feelings for Harry? Wrong? Messy?"
She had a sad smile and looked down. She sighed. "Yes."
"And you'll dismiss them?"
She looked up and blinked back tears. "I'm trying to."
Dr. Geest shifted in his seat.
"You're separating your feelings from your rational thought?"
"Yes, of course."
"And your feelings for Harry?"
"He's—he's like a blanket. He looks out for me and keeps me safe."
"He's your security blanket?" the doctor asked.
"Um, yes. I feel like nothing can go wrong because he's supporting me." Which is totally ridiculous because knowing him has put me closer to death too many times in the past, she thought.
The eyebrows rose again. "Please explain."
"Well, with Harry, I know I can totally be myself. I don't have to put up any front because he knows me and he loves and accepts me exactly as I am. We could disagree, but it's not a competition, and no matter what, we still love and respect each other. I know he'll always support me, always love me, always want what's best for me even if it's not easy. It's crazy since that project put us in so many adventures and he's in harm's way too often with his job, but he makes me feel safe because emotionally there's nowhere else I'd rather be or anyone I'd rather be with, other than my children. We can talk or we can just sit in silence. And I know he'd never let me down. We've both grown up and have grown toward each other, while Ron and I grew away from each other. I love him. I just do."
Dr. Geest looked at Hermione, and then looked at the clock. He put down his pen, folded his hands and paused for a moment before continuing.
"It's interesting. I have a theory I'd like to share with you. I think people choose the love they want or think they need at each time in their lives."
Hermione watched as he held out his hands to each side, as if imitating some scales or a tree. Nodding toward his right hand, he said, "You can choose between the excitement and sexual chemistry of arguing and making up," he then turned to the other hand, "or you could choose the constant loyalty and support."
Hermione's eyes lit up when the doctor mentioned the excitement of arguing and making up, but then she felt something was wrong with that. As the doctor had suggested previously, she listened to her heart, and pondered the significance of unconditional love and support.
The doctor continued. "Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, once said that women should have three husbands. One in their youth for sexual pleasure, another in their middle years who's stable and secure to help raise the children, then the third in the later years for joy in their companionship."
The doctor didn't weight his words to show a preference for one or another, but he looked at Hermione, not his usual friendly way but quite intensely. Hermione knew who her first was …
Dr. Geest then picked up his paper and pen again, and scribbled a line or two. "I think this overall situation is a bit complex. I would recommend another session. How does that sound to you?"
"I quite agree," Hermione replied quickly.
He smiled. "Good. Same time next week?"
"Let me check my planner." Hermione almost said 'Accio planner' but remembered in time to actually take the planner out of her bag (making sure it was engorged to full-sized before she removed in from the satchel), and checked her schedule for the next week. "Yes, that works for me. I look forward to it."
Dr. Geest stood up and Hermione followed. "Good. I hope you have a very good week, Hermione Granger." He started walking her to the door.
Hermione stood up and followed, grabbing her coat and shoulder bag. "You, too. This was very helpful. Thank you."
He smiled and they shook hands. "Until next week."
When Hermione walked the short block to the Muggle coffee shop, Harry was already waiting there for her. She'd recognize his messy black hair and round glasses anywhere. He seemed quite preoccupied when she arrived, but he quickly leapt out of his seat and held out a chair for her.
"How was it?" he asked cautiously. Hermione felt a pang of guilt that he was taking on her burden, as well as his own from his own divorce from Ginny the year prior.
"I'm fine." She smiled. "Actually, this is the best I've felt in weeks. Dr. Geest really is quite good. It feels good to talk to someone who just listens. Not that you don't-"
"Do you want to tell me anything about it?" Harry's eyes were searching her face. How considerate, she thought.
"Yes, but first, I have a question for you," Hermione held out both hands, slightly cupped, imitating the doctor's earlier stance. "If you had to choose between a love that's full of passion and fire—" she held one hand a bit higher than the other "—or a love that's unconditional and supportive, which would you choose?"
When Harry looked puzzled, Hermione quickly explained, "There's no right or wrong answer. It's just a question. It may vary by age or person."
Harry looked between the one hand and then the other. "Well, if I was eighteen again I'd choose the fire and sex, but at thirty-eight, I'd choose unconditional love and support."
Hermione smiled. "Dr. Geest said that in different stages of life, you want different things. In young adulthood, it's about the fire; in middle years, it's the support and love."
Harry nodded, but his brow was still furrowed in thought. "Why can't you have both?"
Hermione tipped her head to one side in thought. "I suppose that would be best, wouldn't it? Rather like the three husbands."
"Three husbands?" Harry laughed. "Wouldn't that get a bit crowded in bed?"
Hermione was tempted to throw sugar packets at him but refrained. "No, it's Margaret Mead—a famous Muggle anthropologist—quote. She said that a woman needs a husband for each stage of life: one in her youth for sex, the next one secure and stable to raise the kids, and the third one for the joy of companionship in later years."
Harry grew quite quiet when she spoke, and appeared to stare blankly toward the barista across the room. He then looked directly into Hermione's brown eyes. "Couldn't you combine those as well?"
"You mean like how Ron is husband number one and number two?"
"And you could have someone else be number three and number two. And probably number one as well."
As he spoke, Harry's hand crept across the table, until his fingers reached the top of her hand and encircled her wrist. She squeezed his in response, and was mildly pleased to feel his thumb begin tracing a pattern on her hand. It was the number three. No, it was a heart. It was both. 3.
Hermione breathed in sharply and looked into Harry's eyes. "Is three your lucky number?" she asked.
"I'd like it to be. The numbers one through three, but only if it's 'third and final'."
She looked at her best friend, her security blanket, her future lover, and smiled.
He leaned forward and she echoed his movement. Their lips joined. It was a brief, chaste kiss, they looked at each other when it was over, and smiled.
"Hermione, whatever happens, know that I want you in my life. Always."
Tears formed in the corner of her eyes as she leaned forward to taste his lips again. This kiss was quite different from the first, with mouths opening, tongues joining. She reached for his hair and pulled him even closer.
After a bit, they stopped kissing and were grinning at one another.
"Wow," said Hermione.
"Wow is right."
"I'm so happy, but part of me feels like years were wasted," confessed Hermione.
"They weren't wasted. We have some wonderful children who wouldn't have existed if we had gotten together years ago," Harry answered.
"But since then, oh Harry! Do you really feel this way about me?"
Hermione closed her eyes. She wanted to remember this moment forever. The smell of coffee, the feel of Harry's strong arms around her, how his arm hairs tickled her skin, the warm glow that encompassed her entire body when he said that one word.
She opened her eyes. He was still there, he wasn't a dream. His loyal, supportive, unconditional loving self was still holding her in his arms. Pity she wasn't looking for those traits when she was younger, but now that she was older and wiser, she would do everything in her power to keep him, to appreciate and love him.
"I love you," she said.
"And I you," he replied.
This kiss was sweeter than the first. It was a kiss that was the start of many more to come.
"This will make a very interesting topic at my next therapy session," Hermione suddenly joked.
"I may have to thank your doctor for his help," Harry laughed.
Inside the building across the street, a watching Dr. Geest closed the blinds and smiled.
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