Harry was so very tired, even more so than he usually was after an excruciatingly long day of work. To say that he would look forward to coming home to an empty flat and a TV dinner would be a lie, but it had become a standard routine for him. Up until two months ago, Ron could be counted on to be present at least some of the time—until Lavender had finally snared him on a more permanent basis; they were living together and engaged. It wasn't as if Harry had no other housemate—he did. Hermione had lived with him since day one, after they'd chosen not to return for their seventh year, the two years it took to track down the horcruxes and finally destroy Voldemort, and the year since, in which they'd all three attended classes and sat their N.E.W.T.'s. Harry wished he could say that he saw Hermione frequently; that was not the case. Immediately after they'd received their N.E.W.T.'s marks, Hermione had taken a job with a private security firm setting advanced protective wards for the firm's clients. They had celebrated heartily when she was given that particular position—it was a breakthrough for someone their age, and Harry was exceedingly proud of her.
That pride faded somewhat when Hermione began seeing one of the wizards employed by the firm. Robert—not Rob—was pompous, self-important, not nearly as talented as Hermione, and he was twelve years their senior. To say Harry despised Robert would be a vast understatement. Since Robert had entered the picture roughly six months prior, Harry had become accustomed to never seeing his best friend. It wasn't uncommon for her to be gone for days at a time, and when she did come home, Harry would be forced to endure an endless stream of Hermione praising him; he was expecting her to announce that she'd be moving in with him any day now.
The one time Harry had tried to bring some of Robert's peculiarities to her attention, she had gotten angry and defensive; he didn't see her for nearly a week afterwards. Something just seemed off about Robert, yet Harry was stuck telling himself that he was merely jealous—both about the fact that Hermione had found someone and was happy, and that she had found happiness with someone that was not him. It was with a half-hearted sigh that Harry turned the key in the door and stepped into his empty house.
It took him mere seconds to realize he wasn't alone, as he'd thought. The telltale sniffle coming from Hermione's room let him know that the oh-so-perfect Robert had done something else to hurt her. Reviewing his mental tally of Robert's mistakes, Harry shook his head sadly; there was Hermione's birthday—which Robert forgot completely; there was the dinner Hermione planned to introduce Robert to her parents—which he cancelled at the last moment; there was the time that Harry had gone to visit Hermione in her office—every witch was snickering maliciously behind their hands and it was obvious that Hermione had noticed. When Harry questioned her on it, she dismissed it as jealousy—the older witches refused to respect her because of her age, and were jealous because she'd taken up with Robert and because he cared for her so. Harry loved Hermione, as a friend and more, but it was then that he admitted that the girl had deluded herself.
Taking a calming breath, Harry knocked on Hermione's door; the sniffling ceased immediately, and he could hear her muttering charms to erase the evidence of her crying. Forgoing his manners, Harry pushed open the door before she'd had a chance to clean herself up completely.
"Harry," she said in a hoarse croak. He noted that she sounded more defeated than angry.
"What's he done this time," Harry demanded in a steely tone.
Hermione looked shocked at this, as if she'd never realized Harry's disapproval of Robert. "What do you mean, Harry?"
"Come off it," he spat with more venom than he'd intended; she flinched. "Any time I come home to find you crying, it's because of something he's done. Like when he forgot your birthday, or when he cancelled on meeting your parents, so what is it this time, Hermione," he finished impatiently. He loved her, and to see such a normally astute witch being so foolish made him angry.
Hermione hung her head and her tears began to flow once more. "He's going back to his wife."
"WHAT!" Harry bellowed so loudly that Hermione's window shook with the force of it.
"He's been separated for over a year, and they were supposed to be in divorce proceedings now," she said miserably.
"So you've been the other woman this entire time? Jesus, Hermione, and you knew? You knew and you didn't tell me?"
"I don't have to tell you everything, Harry," she snapped, eyes flashing fiercely.
He looked at her darkly, "What next? Are you going to tell me he has five children?"
"Two," Hermione said coldly. "And before you start it on that, I had no idea. He never said anything about his children." She sat silently with tears coursing down her flushed cheeks, and Harry felt a stab of pity for her.
"I don't want to hear it, Harry. I know—everything you've ever said about him is right and I was an idiot for letting myself be fooled this way. The women at work hate me, and they think I'm a home wrecking slag. When he told me he was going back to his wife, it was in my office and I didn't say anything other than to tell him to get out. I didn't shed a tear, I didn't throw anything—all because I was at work."
Harry sat on the bed next to her and began rubbing her back in soothing circles, "That's a good thing, don't let them see you upset."
She snorted, bitter. "It hardly matters now, I've been sacked. There's a policy on inter-office relationships..."
"And was he sacked as well?" Harry demanded angrily.
"I have no idea, and I don't care. I have no idea what I'm going to do now—my first employer is hardly going to give me glowing references, are they?"
"You're a talented witch, you'll find something."
"I'm expecting to find this on the front page of the Prophet tomorrow. You know, celebrities as we are. This is too juicy to pass on," she paused to give a great sniff, "I'm so stupid."
"Smart people do stupid things too," Harry said.
She ignored his comment and continued on, "You were right, my mum was right. Absolutely right about him and how this was a terrible idea." She paused and gave a great sniff. "Just wait until I tell her."
"She's your mother, Hermione, she loves you."
"That doesn't mean she won't give me a thorough dressing down."
"No, but it does mean she cares about you and only wants what's best."
Hermione looked at her friend strangely, "And what about you, Harry? What do you want for me? You didn't approve of Robert, and I had the strangest feeling that you never approved of Ron, who's supposed to be your best friend."
Harry could not ignore the almost hostile tone of accusation, and he had the desire to sneer at her and leave the room; instead, he gave her an appraising look and smiled. "I want for you to be happy."
"Happy? Harry, really," she said. He could tell she was getting geared up for a good argument.
"Yes," he said, cutting her off. "I want you to be happy…with me."
Hermione sat on her bed, completely and utterly speechless, as Harry rose and gave her a shy smile before leaving her room and closing the door with a soft 'click.'
In that moment, twenty-one year old Harry Potter had no idea if he'd just made the biggest mistake imaginable by laying this on Hermione while she was so distraught, or if he'd finally done something purely selfish for the first time in his life.