A/N: Much thanks to my beta, scarlet-letter-26! You're a fantastic beta! And you, dear reader, please leave a review. :)
Of Proposals & Cloudless Nights
It was a beautiful cloudless evening when the game started. And it was a few months later until she realized it was a game. The evening started out nice enough. Two people were seated out on a couch. The man was leaning against it with the woman leaning on him, her head tucked into the crook of his shoulder. His hands were slowly running through her hair, and the other hand was intertwined with the woman's. Their eyes were transfixed on the television in front of them, but both knew the other wasn't paying much attention to the movie playing.
"I suppose I've had more entertaining evenings than this one," she said, stifling a yawn as she nuzzled his slightly stubbled jaw.
"I know," he replied, his hand slowly trailing up and down the side of her body. He reveled in the slight shiver that passed through her body as his hand caressed the sides of her torso. "But you said you were too tired to eat out."
"Yes, well," she muttered, trying to think of a witty comeback, "what a way to spend my first day off in three weeks, eh?"
He kissed her forehead, cheek, then her nose, and finally pressed a soft kiss to her lips. They pulled apart sometime afterwards. She was dazed; it had been quite some time since he'd kissed her so tenderly and gently. "Come on, then," he said, pushing her into a sitting position. "Let's head out for dinner."
"Harry," she chided, "it's already eight twenty, I doubt any restaurants on a nice night like this would have any room for us."
"Yes, well, we're famous, aren't we? It's about time we abuse our power," he teased, pulling her up from the couch. He pressed a quick kiss to her lips. "And I've just the best place to eat in. Dress fancy and be quick."
Hermione sighed as she strung the last earring through her earlobe. Smoothing down her black evening gown, she checked herself in the mirror, making sure her wand holster wasn't obvious. Satisfied, she strapped on her heels and grabbed her purse, heading out to the living room.
Harry was already there, waiting in a black suit with an emerald green waistcoat and a slightly crooked tie. His hair looked as if it had attempted to be flattened, which only made it stick up more. His hands were shoved into his pockets, and his glasses were slightly askew on his face as he looked at the moving pictures on her mantelpiece. After observing him for a few moments, she called out softly, "I'm ready. Did you wait long?"
He turned to face at her, his glasses sliding further down his nose. He stared at her for a moment before blinking and pushing his glasses up his nose. He approached her and cupped her face gently before covering her mouth with his. She responded and looped her arms around his neck. Slowly, she felt his hand move from her waist and lower itself. She restrained a shiver as his hand lingered on her hips before stopping at her thigh. With a quick movement, he pulled her, forcing her to wrap her leg around him.
He pulled back, breathless. "You look beautiful," he whispered.
She smiled back at him, fixing his skewed glasses. "And you look rather handsome," she flirted back. She unhooked her leg from his waist and stepped back. "Best we get going then," she said, trying to sound rueful.
He smiled and kissed her nose. "We could always just stay here, you know," he said suggestively.
"Funny," she said, pushing him back and smoothing his hair down. "But you've already convinced me to go out."
He gave a mock sigh. "All right. I suppose the world won't end if Harry Potter and Hermione Granger have a nice night out," he said, taking her hand and pulling her to the door.
She stopped. "Just a minute, Harry. I've to grab my purse from my room for a tick."
"All right. And, Hermione?"
"Leave your wand."
How Harry and Hermione got together was nothing exciting. It wasn't a dramatic love story. It wasn't a hopeless love that was separated by uncontrollable forces. It wasn't something that happened minutes before Harry would have to face either his death or his future. It was, however, the evolution of their friendship into something more.
Their story isn't spectacular.
After the war had ended, the three had gone their separate ways, and yet, in a way, they hadn't. They lived separately. Ron lived in Diagon Alley, Harry lived Grimmauld Place, and Hermione lived in Muggle London. Harry and Ron had both become Aurors, passing all tests within the summer and eventually becoming permanent partners. Hermione, surprisingly, took a different route and went to university for medicine. Her hard work during the war paid off, and she'd been granted acceleration up several levels within a few months by the university, becoming one of the greatest doctors in both the Muggle and Wizarding world.
Ron's social life was interesting. He hadn't settled down with anyone, but instead enjoyed the life of a bachelor. However, he'd soon gotten seriously involved with Luna Lovegood, who unexpectedly joined the Auror academy. The two were married now, expecting their first child.
Harry hadn't been as active. He'd become rather recluse, only talking to a few of their friends. He'd not gotten back together with Ginny for reasons nobody knew of, and was always single. Ginny held no spite towards him, and was enjoying having a flavor of the month stay overnight in her flat nearly every night. Harry wasn't bothered in the slightest, as he'd had his eye on someone else.
Hermione was just as bad, perhaps even worse. With having shifts both in the Muggle and Wizarding world, she was always busy. She'd not dated anyone since that disaster with Cormac McLaggen. Frankly, she could care less, but not having anyone with her was taking its toll on her. During the day, she could keep herself busy with work. That's how she was, work, work, work. At night, however, with her research done for the day, she'd have nothing to do. Of course, she'd had friends. And with that consolation prize, she managed to keep up the image of a perfectly content Hermione.
Eventually, with Ron and Luna gallivanting off somewhere, Harry and Hermione turned to one another. They'd gotten closer than they ever had before. And that is where their story starts.
How it happened, rather, was during the last victory ball of the year to be held in Ministry ballroom. Harry and Hermione had gone together, as Ron and Luna were obviously gong to go together.
The ball was at its height when Hermione spotted Harry darting behind a curtain to escape to the balcony. Excusing herself from her conversation with Headmistress McGonagall and Lavender Brown. She entered the large balcony, immediately seeing Harry. He was leaning against the railing, his hair even messier as the night win blew heavily around them.
She involuntarily shivered, cursing herself for letting Ginny talk her into wearing the dress. It was a beautiful gown, no doubt. It was a nice deep green with nice off-shoulder sleeves and a deep dip in the front, revealing a bit too much skin for her tastes. She approached her friend, admiring the sight of him in his suit. She'd thought that the Ministry holding a black-tie event was ridiculous, but immediately took it back at the sight of Harry in a suit.
"All right, Harry?" She asked, putting a hand on his arm in concern.
"Yeah," he mumbled. "It's just—" he paused and let out a heavy sigh, "—it's been four years since… you know…"
She squeezed his shoulder in a comforting fashion. "I know. He'd be proud of you, I'm sure of it," she whispered. She let her gaze linger on his face, examining it closely, as if she was looking at it for the first time. He looked much older than a nineteen-year-old boy. And she was rather sure she looked much too old to be a twenty-year-old girl.
"It's just too much to take in all at once. Everyone's moving on, and it feels like I'm in a standstill."
"Oh, Harry," she said sadly. She quickly pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "I completely understand."
He cracked a lazy grin at her as his arm slid around her waist, pulling her to him. "I know you would. Everything's moving so fast now. Ron and Luna are living together. Neville and Ginny are finally starting to take their relationship seriously. You're moving forward with your career. And I—well, I'm just standing as all of you walk ahead."
"Don't be ridiculous," she admonished, hugging him tightly. "If you're not moving forward, neither am I. My job isn't exactly making me completely happy, and I'm not quite over the death of my dad, either."
"I've always wondered," he began, pulling back from the embrace to push her hair back, "why you've chosen to be a mediwitch. There's nothing particularly about that, but I thought you'd've gone into being an Auror with me and Ron."
She broke her gaze from his, staring at their shoes. "It was the only job I could take."
"Nonsense," Harry scoffed. He knew that Hermione was qualified for every job available in the Wizarding world from being a janitor in the Leaky Cauldron to being the youngest Minister of Magic in over five centuries.
"Well, it's the only job I felt like I should take. When I'm working, I feel like—like I'm helping. I feel like I'm helping you," she whispered, suddenly feeling shy. She hadn't told anyone that, not even her mother.
Harry sighed. He'd had a feeling it was that. She was still mulling over that one time she hadn't been there for him during the war. Yes, he'd nearly been killed, but she had practically been killed as well. Ever since then, Hermione had been more attentive and more helpful than ever before. Her methods had been subtle; so subtle, in fact, nobody noticed other than Harry. "You'll always help. As long as you're my friend, you'll always be helping me," he corrected, tipping her chin upwards.
And then he'd kissed her. The kiss was quick and shy, lasting a little over two seconds. He'd feared her reaction, but that fear was immediately eradicated when she beamed at him and pulled him back to her.
The two reentered the ballroom, hair slightly messier than before and clothes somewhat rumpled. They were inseparable ever since.
Dinner was a quiet affair, both people lost in their own thoughts. Hermione glanced at her significant other seated across the table. His head was slightly bowed with his bangs hiding his eyebrows. He was quietly cutting his food and absently putting it into his mouth. She could barely remember a time when he had been so quiet. He always had something to say, and they'd always had something to talk about. She couldn't help but feel something was wrong.
"Sickle for your thoughts?" She teased, hoping to hide the concern from her voice.
Harry gave her a small smile. "I'm fine," he replied, sensing her worry.
"Thinking about your upcoming mission with Ron?" she asked, smiling knowingly at him.
"No," he said, taking her hand. "I was just thinking about everything, you know? Ron and Luna are expecting their first kid any day now. Neville and Ginny are marrying in a few months. Lavender and Seamus just got engaged. Everyone's settling down."
"I know the feeling," she whispered, feeling apprehensive at where the conversation was going whilst moving her gaze away from his to the velvet red tablecloth. "It almost feels like we're being pressured."
"Yeah," he murmured, trying to catch her eye.
The two people were quiet again, each busy with their own thoughts. They didn't touch their cutlery. They didn't sip their wine. They remained seated, quiet and slightly awkward, much like a couple of teenagers on their first date. Their heads were slightly bowed, and their hands rested on the table, mere centimeters apart from each other.
Harry toyed with his thoughts for a while before beginning another conversation about everything and anything. The awkward silence had passed. Now, the two were laughing and enjoying their evening genuinely. Seconds became minutes, and minutes became hours, and those hours started to fade. Slowly, the restaurant was emptying.
"I've never told you, have I? About Ron's dreams during our third year about tap-dancing spiders?" Harry asked, laughing loudly at the memory.
Hermione laughed as well. "No! When on earth did that happen?" she giggled, letting out a small hiccup.
"It started when I was up late, poring over the Marauder's Map," the green-eyed man recalled, smiling fondly as the memory replayed in his head. "Ron woke up in a right state, sobbing about spiders wanting him to tap-dance. I didn't let that one go for over a week!"
She laughed again, her cheeks slightly pink from all the laughing they'd been doing over the evening. "Oh, goodness. That sounds so much like Ron!" She smiled at her boyfriend over the small candle on their table.
"We should visit him sometime soon. We haven't been over there in ages," Harry said, taking her hand.
"It's understandable. Luna's so close to her due date already," she said, smiling brightly. Her eyes lit up again. "And what about that time…"
Harry's ears absently tuned her out as she enthusiastically talked about a story during her fifth year when Lavender sent Parvati fake love letters from Terry Boot, her twin sister's boyfriend. Her eyes were bright with laughter and her face was slightly pink. Her hair was escaping the French knot she put it in as she exaggerated her story with hand movements. Harry couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her so happy. Finally, he made his decision.
"Will you marry me?" He blurted out, unknowingly interrupting her story.
Hermione choked on her wine. "What?" she asked, dabbing at her mouth with the table napkin.
"Marry me," he repeated, grinning lazily at her.
She stared at him for a minute. "Are you serious?"
He pondered for a moment before replying with a chuckle, "No."
Her response was a laugh and a slap on his arm.
And the game started.
Three months later, Hermione was writing busily in her office when she heard a persistent knocking on her door. She sighed. She wasn't particularly in the best of moods, not after hearing the bad news of an outbreak of an unknown epidemic in Russia. She'd been put in charge of the case, and had been working nonstop. However, despite all her research, notes, and books, she hadn't been getting even a jot closer to finding the cure. She was mostly irritable because the head of St. Mungo's was trying to finagle a positive response from her to go to Russia and examine the case up close. She immediately declined. She couldn't leave Harry alone, not for a while at least.
Harry was going through a hard time. During a certain difficult mission, Remus Lupin, his surrogate godfather, had been gravely injured and died a few days afterwards. Harry hadn't gone to work ever since the funeral. Hermione knew he'd have an even harder time bouncing back over Lupin's death that with Sirius's. After all, the two men may not have had a relationship like Harry and Sirius had had, but they bonded in a different way. In such a way, that Remus became a father figure to Harry. The only thing left of Remus was his growing child still in the womb of his wife, Nymphadora Tonks. It had already been a month since that happened. Tonks (or Nymphadora nowadays. She insisted on being called that, as Remus always loved that name) was beginning to bounce back. She knew it would do no good to anybody, especially to her six-month-old baby constantly growing in her womb. The only problem was trying to get Harry to bounce back.
It was difficult. Hermione had constantly gone over to his flat to take care of him. They'd gone into numerous fights ever since, and she was beginning to fear the end of their relationship. But just as they were about to rip apart, Harry had finally cracked and sobbed all night in her arms, apologizing to her over and over again. Hermione could remember her heart breaking at the sight. She hadn't seen Harry cry ever since Sirius's death. Ever since that night, Harry had been making an effort to jump back into the picture. He was mingling with friends besides Hermione often, and even offered to babysit Ron and Luna's child, Orion (after the constellation), with Hermione. He'd not yet gone back to work, ever since Kingsley Shacklebot, the new Minister of Magic, had given Harry Remus's old job as head of the Auror department, effectively separating Harry from Ron, who was given Luna as his new partner. But Hermione was working on him.
"Can I come in?" Harry asked, poking his head past the door with a small smile on his face.
Hermione's bad mood ebbed away as soon as she saw his grinning face. "Looks as if you've already let yourself in," she teased as he fully entered the office. "I clearly recall instructing my secretary not to let anyone in unless it was a person of utmost importance."
He set two papers bags on her desk before taking her in his arms. He nudged her nose with his, making her laugh. "It's a good thing I'm a person of utmost importance who has the ability to charm secretaries with a knee-buckling grin, then," he said, finally kissing her.
She let out a soft laugh before he fully kissed her. She snaked her arms around him as he tightened his hold on her. They let go, breathless and grinning. "I forgot how good you were at that," she teased, pulling away to straighten his clothes and fix his tilted glasses.
"Remind me to refresh your memory more often," he shot back, not missing a beat.
She laughed and kissed him for a second or two. He pushed her messy bangs behind her ear and sprayed kisses over her face before pulling away, and saying, "I've brought you your favorite for lunch,"
She grinned. "Have I told you how much I love you as of late?"
He laughed. "I recall you telling me that over and over last night before you started moaning my name in ecstasy—ow!" He gave her a mock glare as he rubbed his arm where she collided her fist on it.
"Funny, Potter," she retorted. Having sex was often a sore subject between the two. They both wanted to take that step, but refrained from doing so until they were married. Hermione was firm on staying a virgin until a wedding night, and managed to convince Harry to be the same.
Harry did an ersatz wince. "Ouch, you used my last name. That's never a good thing when dealing with Hermione Jane Granger." He grinned triumphantly as she let out an involuntary giggle. If there was one attribute of him he admired, it was his ability to make Hermione laugh. When he managed to do that feat, he felt as if he was king of the universe.
"Enough of that, now," he said, pulling her into a chair. "It's lunch time."
They spent over two hours just talking and enjoying each other's company. Finally, as the two finished cleaning up the remainders of their impromptu lunch, Harry stared at Hermione for a moment or two. She caught his stare and smiled a little, "What is it?"
He grinned. "Marry me, will you?"
She stared at him. "You're not serious, are you?" The corners of his mouth turned upward and that was all the response she needed before punching his arm and giving him a long kiss goodbye.
Harry watched as the frown on Hermione's forehead grew heavier. He was seated on the sofa in her flat. They'd just had a nice homemade dinner and were enjoying a bit of coffee while they caught up with each other, being as they hadn't seen each other in nearly three days. Harry had returned to work two weeks before this night. Despite his continuing grief over his surrogate father, he enjoyed his work even more so than his previous one. As head Auror, he knew everything going on in the department, he was allowed to choose certain people for a particular case, and he was even allowed to choose between trainee files on who were fit to be enrolled in the Auror academy. And he had been telling Hermione about twin trainees who had recently been let in when the one rang.
She'd been on the phone for nearly fifteen minutes now, and her frown was getting heavier and heavier. Finally, she released a heavy sigh and said, "Yes. I understand completely." She paused and finally, "I'll be at the Ministry in time for the portkey Friday morning. Goodbye. Yes, you're welcome." She put the found down silently and sighed.
Harry set his coffee cup down and stood up to wrap his arms around her from behind. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her hair in a comforting fashion. "Is everything all right, love?" he asked, his nose buried in her hair.
She pulled away and sat down at the sofa, patting the spot beside her. He immediately obeyed and took her in his arms yet again. She relaxed and buried hair face into his chest as he held her. "Remember that case I had about the outbreak in Russia?" she asked, her voice muffled against his shirt.
"Yeah," he replied, knowing where this conversation was going.
"They sent in a few researchers but they haven't managed to get anywhere close to finding the cure. What's worse is that the epidemic is spreading fast and even reached the slum areas. Not to mention this disease destroys the body from the inside at a quick pace. People are dying every minute. They're at the end of their rope over there," she took a deep breath before, "They need me to go over there, Harry."
He let out a baited breath. "I completely understand, Hermione," he finally said. "This is important to both the people and to you. If you get this, your career would skyrocket."
There was a pregnant silence before she whispered, "I'm scared. This epidemic is supposedly deadly."
He held her closer to him, tighter. "I'm scared too. But they wouldn't request for your help unless they knew you couldn't do it. I'll admit I don't want you to go, but, like you said, people are dying. There are bigger things at stake here."
She was quiet as she let his words sink in. "You're right," she finally murmured, nuzzling his neck.
He grinned and pinched the side of her stomach in a playful manner. "What's that? I don't think I heard you."
She laughed and hit his arm lightly. "I said you were right. Honestly!"
He puffed his chest in mock arrogance. "Let me savor the moment for a moment,"
"Since it doesn't happen too often," she said dryly.
He kissed her softly before breaking away. "Promise me one thing before you leave, though."
She pulled back, brushing his bangs to show his famous scar. "What is it?"
"Promise me you'll come back unharmed," he said seriously while cupping her face.
She smiled at him. "I promise."
"Good. But before you leave…" he trailed off as he pushed her into a sitting position and knelt down on one knee in front of her. "Marry me."
She pushed his shoulder playfully. "I don't think so, Mr. Potter."
He put his hands to his heart jokingly. "Ms. Granger, are you rejecting me? Do you have any idea how many women would give to be in this position?"
"Probably not a lot if they knew how you really were," she teased, nuzzling his nose with her own as he scooped her up into his arms.
He kissed her. "I love you, you know. And one day, we really will get married."
"Not unless you give me a serious proposal," she joked, as he pressed their foreheads together.
"That was a serious proposal!" he exclaimed in feigned offense.
She regarded him seriously before asking, "Was it?"
He stared back; their eyes wide and curious, before he cracked a knee buckling grin and said, "No," which was followed by a playful shove on his shoulder.
Harry ran an agitated hand through his hair. He was having a rather rough day. He'd a mountain of paper work to go through, and a load of reports he had to give to Kingsley, and he still had to look through over fifty files of new applicants for the Auror academy. To make matters worse, he had received an owl from Hermione three days before. Apparently, she'd gotten a sore throat and a high fever in Russia. Also, those were the early symptoms to the disease, and they weren't that close to finding the cure. Harry had been on edge and irritable ever since. Much to his dismay, Kingsley rejected his request for a short leave so he could portkey to Russia and check up on Hermione.
His quill broke and he banged his fist on the table angrily. He was going to go mad. How the bloody hell did Kingsley think he could concentrate on heading the Auror department while Hermione's life could be at stake? He pulled at his hair slightly before tossing his broken quill in the rubbish bin. He pressed his forehead against the report he had been writing, feeling the wet ink taint his forehead. All of a sudden, there was an urgent tapping on his window. He spun around quickly, pulling off the parchment sticking to his forehead.
He ripped the window open, startling the wide-eyed barn owl. Harry made quick work of the letter tied to its foot; all while the owl was pecking his hand in annoyance. His eagerness towards the possibility that it could be from Hermione faded as he saw the official St. Mungo's seal. He could hear his heartbeat echo loudly in his ears. He tore the letter open and began reading the letter, growing pale as he read each word. He banged the letter on the table and began searching madly for that one file that had caught his eye. It was a request for help from Aurors in Russia who had bee running after a Death Eater for nearly a month now. The file was stamped urgent. Harry planned quickly. If Kingsley allowed him to take this case, he'd make quick work of the case and then just Apparate to where Hermione's research was taking place.
He finally found and ran out of the office, sprinting throughout the Ministry until he reached Kingsley's office. He banged the door open, interrupting the meeting his superior was having with the heads of a few departments that handled the hiding of the magical world from the Muggles. "Mr. Potter!" Kingsley exclaimed, his eyes glowing with growing anger. "I presume you have an excuse for barging in on this important meeting."
Harry held up the file and tossed it in front of the older man. He watched as he quietly looked over the file rapidly. "Ah, this case has been puzzling us for ages," Kingsley acknowledged, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I suppose we could set up a portkey tomorrow morning for Russia. Choose your accompanying Aurors for this mission. We can set it up—"
Kingsley looked up at the young man, startled by his tone of voice and his cold, hard glare. "You are not allowed to change my decisions, Harry. What I've said is—"
"NO," Harry yelled. Some of the men jumped in their seats as Harry's eyes lit dangerously with anger. Kingsley remained unfazed. "I need to get there now. Today, Kingsley."
"I'm sorry, Harry, but—"
The glasses on the table shattered startlingly. "Today, Kingsley."
Realization dawned in the older man's eyes as he scrutinized Harry. "This is about Miss Granger, isn't it?"
Harry's angry face softened into a mix of anxiety and fury. His silence was all the response Kingsley needed from him. With a sigh, he set down the file. "I have already told you that you cannot visit Miss Granger, no matter what your means are to get there. She willfully went to Russia, aware of the risks. And her stay there is strictly work. I will not have you interrupting important research—"
"Please," he whispered, anguish evident in his voice. "Please."
"She's been diagnosed with it," he explained, his voice a deathly calm but choking as tears threatened to fall from his bright green eyes. "She's been diagnosed with the disease. And they don't have the cure yet."
Kingsley was silent, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He regretted his words the moment they left his mouth, "Mr. Potter, I understand that—"
"Please, Kingsley," he pleaded, his voice thick and his eyes cast downward. Everyone in the room watched as tears slid down the head Auror's cheeks and onto the carpet. It seemed as if everyone could hear the soft tap as they hit the carpeted floor "Please."
The Minister of Magic sighed, convinced. "All right."
"When do we catch the bloody bastard?" Ron muttered, his wand alight, showing the anger and anxiety evident in his face.
"Soon," Harry grunted, his breath fogging before his face.
They were finally in Russia. Being as it was approaching fall, the weather was already becoming cold. Kingsley had permitted his request to leave for Russia on the day, but under the reason that they were after the Death Eater. He hadn't wanted to show favoritism towards Harry by granting him the request to take a leave. So he made Harry promise that he was going to prioritize catching the criminal before going to Hermione. And that's what he was doing. He'd quickly traced the whereabouts of the Death Eater with the Russian Aurors clues in record time. Now, they were quietly waiting for the signal from Sergei, one of the Aurors from the cold country. Harry's hands were itching to get that Death Eater so he could go after Hermione, but he knew he couldn't botch this up if he wanted to do that very thing.
Finally, Harry caught the signal. It was a small hand movement from Sergei, who was infiltrating the hideout by portraying a Muggle in need of a telephone. Harry, Ron, and Luna barged out from their hiding place. Acing fast, Harry pinned the Death Eater down to the dark wood floor before anyone could blink. Finally, while the Russian Aurors were contacting headquarters, the three Aurors left their brief reports on the case and Apparated to Hermione's research headquarters.
The building was busy. Healers and mediwitches were running in every direction, screaming orders at people visiting and lackadaisical assistants sitting around. Harry pushed his way through the crowd, not bothering to apologize to the people he'd knocked down on his way. He approached the reception counter, Ron and Luna following closely to watch if he could keep his emotions in check.
"I'm here to see Hermione Granger," he told the bored looking nurse.
She hadn't even bothered to glance at him while he spoke. "Miss Granger is not allowing any visitors. She is highly contagious and is not going to help spread the disease even more. She's also sleeping at the moment, and outsiders are not allowed in her area unless sterilized," she said, tapping on the keyboard for a second, and then going back to examining her nails.
Harry took a deep breath as Ron put his hand on his shoulder, reminding him to stay patient. "Please," Harry pleaded. "I'll only be a minute."
The nurse looked up at him, her eyes focusing on his scar. She released a heavy sigh. "All right. But only for a minute," she paused, tapping on the keyboard quickly. "She's residing in room 505 in a private ward. Please put on the sterilized scrub suits before entering."
Harry thanked her gratefully and steered his friends in the direction of the stairs after seeing how crowded the elevators were. Quickly, he took the steps up to the fifth floor three by three. He reached the floor, not at all breathless or tired as opposed to his two friends lagging behind him. He walked quickly down the hallway, immediately stopping in front of the doors of the private ward. Looking around, he spotted a table with a blue scrub suit on it. To his dismay, there was only one suit left.
The green-eyed man sighed. "Ron—"
"I understand, mate. You go on and check on her. Luna and I will be outside waiting, all right?" he said, smiling uneasily at him.
He returned it and quickly put the scrub suit on over his clothes. He reached for Hermione's door. His hand froze, hovering mere inches from the doorknob.
Sensing his hesitation, Ron said, "She'll be all right, Harry. You know she will. Since when has Hermione Granger ever battled something and not won?" The joke was left unnoticed.
"Good luck, Harry," Luna murmured, kissing his cheek in a sisterly fashion.
Harry nodded numbly and opened the door. He immediately saw Hermione. She was sleeping peacefully, but looked much paler than usual. Her face was unnaturally white and her lips were a faded pink. Harry's knees nearly gave out as he saw in his weak state. Tears stubbornly fell down his cheeks as he approached her. There was a plastic curtain surrounding her bed, preventing him from touching her. He licked his chapped lips and dropped into the chair beside her bed, his knees no longer able to carry him. He saw a sign hanging over the transparent curtain that read, "PLEASE REFRAIN FROM TOUCHING THIS PATIENT. SHE IS HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS."
Harry glared at it a moment before making his decision and pulling the curtain back. He scooted his chair closer to her and took her cold, white hand, his vision blurring again as tears rose.
"Hermione," he whispered, his voice scratchy. "Hermione." He finally let out a quiet sob, pressing his forehead to her hand. Heavy tears dropped from his eyes as he whispered her name over and over again in a pleading voice. She looked so close to death, and it broke his heart to see her like this. He didn't what he would do if he lost her. He'd never recover, he was sure of that. He lifted his head back up and scrubbed his face with a hand, hiding his tears.
And then he felt something that ignited a flame of hope within him. He felt her hand run through his hair and his head shot up, his eyes red and wet with tears. She was awake. She was awake.
She smiled weakly at him. "You were never one to follow the rules," she laughed softly. She was about to reprimand him about how dangerous the situation was and how he'd get into trouble if he was caught with her, but before she could say anything else, Harry enveloped her in a tight hug, squeezing every bit of oxygen from her lungs. She felt tears slip down her own face when she heard him sob quietly. "I'm all right, Harry," she whispered, circling her arms around his neck. "I'm all right."
He pulled back and she cupped his face, brushing away his tears. "I was so scared, Hermione," he murmured, holding her hands that were holding his face. "I was so scared I'd lose you."
"You'd never lose me, Harry," she whispered. "Never."
"Marry me," he mumbled, hugging her tightly again. "Marry me, so I'll never have to lose you."
She pulled back and searched his face. "Only if you're serious about this, Harry."
He looked at her carefully, scrutinizing her face for any emotion that she wanted him to be serious.
"Are you, Harry?"
And then he realized. It wasn't that they weren't ready. If he was being completely honest, he was ready to take that step in their relationship. One thing he was sure about was that he wasn't entirely certain that he wanted. Besides, getting engaged in a hospital while she was in danger of dying wasn't exactly the proposal he wanted for her. And so, he closed his eyes and breathed in and out heavily, before giving her the grin that always won Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile award and said, "No."
She laughed and nuzzled his nose with her Eskimo kisses. "I love you, Harry Potter, even if you throw out proposals as if they were dinner invitations," she said.
"And I love you, Hermione Granger, even if you just gave me the biggest scare of my life. I don't think I'll ever recover," he teased, stroking her cheek affectionately.
She laughed and grinned at him. "If it's any consolation, because of my careless mistake in spending too much time with the diseased people, we've found the key ingredient to the cure. By this time next week, everyone will have been cured, including myself."
Harry looked at her before taking a huge risk and kissing her.
Harry grinned in the darkness as he felt two soft hands cover his eyes and said, "Sophia? Is that you? We can't keep doing this, you know. My girlfriend should be arriving any—ouch!"
Hermione scowled as he turned on his swivel chair to face him, rubbing the back of his shoulder. He pouted at her. "That was not funny, Potter," she retorted, ignoring the charms of his pout.
"Aw, come on, Hermione," he said, pulling on her hand as she moved away to set a white plastic bag on his paper-filled desk. She fell onto his lap unceremoniously. "I knew it was you the entire time."
"That doesn't make it funny," she said as his arms snaked around her waist.
"All right, all right," he conceded. "I'm sorry."
She wound her arms around his neck and kissed him softly. Harry ran his hands up and down her back, as the kiss quickly grew more heated. Using all her willpower to pull back, she pressed their noses together. Breathlessly, she said, "Come on, I've brought you lunch."
She'd changed ever since she was cured of the disease. Once she returned to England, she took a short leave, which was happily given to her by the heads in St. Mungo's. She was currently spending her four-week impromptu sabbatical visiting Harry as much as she could. She spent some days with her other friends and visiting her parents. But she enjoyed spending majority of her time with Harry. He supposed it was because of the scare he'd gotten when she was diagnosed with a deadly disease just two weeks earlier. She rarely left his side, and even stayed with him after their lunch until he had to leave, helping him in any way she could. He guessed that it was her way of reassuring him that she was never going to leave his side. He wasn't complaining. Her being in his office was the most company he'd had all week, which was only getting more grueling and tiring.
"Sandwiches from O'Sullivan?" Harry asked, giving her a knowing grin. He'd known Hermione for a long time now, and it was no surprise to him she'd set up a specific pattern for his lunches.
She blushed a bit but smiled wryly at him. "How'd you guess?" she deadpanned, leaning against him.
"Just knew, I suppose," he replied, squeezing her. "Come on, let's eat before the food gets cold."
Lunch was like any other lunch the two had shared for the past two weeks. They talked about all of their friends, their work, their thoughts, themselves and everything in between. After they cleaned up, Harry got back to writing reports for Kingsley and Hermione pulled out a book to read as she settled on the chair across Harry's desk.
After an hour or two of silence, Harry began shifting uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he looked up to catch Hermione looking at him above her book. She broke his gaze quickly, shoving her book in front of her eyes. He grinned and stretched out his legs, nudging Hermione's. He turned his eyes back to his work, but his attention was focused on Hermione as his leg slowly trailed up and down her own. She shifted away, but his legs were long enough to reach her.
"Harry," she warned as his leg wrapped around her arm, pulling her closer to the desk.
"What?" He asked innocently, giving her wide eyes.
"Funny," she replied, disentangling her leg from his.
"You love me for it," he said, grinning lazily at her.
"Unfortunately, I do," she said, shaking her head.
A few minutes of silence passed as the two returned to their previous work, before Hermione put her book down on his desk and said, "Marry me."
Harry's quill snapped and he looked up at her, startled. "W-what?"
She grinned impishly at him. She stood up and sat on his lap, kissing him softly while loosening his tie. "Marry me," she whispered, nuzzling his nose.
"What?" He asked again. "Hermione… it's not supposed to be like that."
"Oh?" she said, pulling back. "Who says the women in the relationship aren't allowed to propose?"
"I—well, it's just—" Her laugh interrupted him. He pinched her sides playfully. "You're not serious, are you?"
She laughed and her eyes twinkled at him brightly. "Of course not. How'd you guess?" she teased.
"Just knew, I suppose," he chuckled before kissing her.
Harry and Hermione entered the Burrow quietly, hoping to avoid a ruckus. However, as soon as they removed their cloaks, Mrs. Weasley pounced on them, enveloping the two in a tight bear hug.
"Harry! Hermione!" she exclaimed, finally letting them go. "We're so glad you could come!"
"Well, how could we miss your birthday celebration for Hermione?" Harry asked, grinning at her.
"That, and they didn't want to miss the opportunity to have one your famous feasts, mum," Ron teased, coming over. He gave Hermione a peck on the cheek and hugged her. "Happy birthday, Hermione. How old is my honorary sister today?"
She grinned at him. "Thanks, Ron. And I'm twenty-one, seeing as you've already forgotten. I do hope you got me a present."
"Of course, I did!" He cried in mock offense. "How could you think of me like that? My own best mate!"
Hermione rolled her eyes, as Harry and Ron exchanged a friendly hug. "Come on," she said, tugging on her boyfriend's arm. "Let's eat."
The backyard of the huge house was decorated beautifully. With the theme color being a pastel violet, the entire dinner set-up looked gentle and welcoming. Taking her place between Harry and Ron, they enjoyed the dinner. All of the Weasley were there, and even some friends from school, such as Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, Dean Thomas, Seamus and Lavender, Neville, and Luna and her three-and-a-half-month-old son, Orion, and more. Everyone caught up with one another and laughed as they reminisced on old memories from Hogwarts.
"Hermione, would you please pass the salt and pepper please?" Harry asked, sometime towards the end of dinner pulling the pasta towards him.
She smirked. "Only if you marry me."
Harry choked on his food, blushing a bright red. The whole table immediately went silent and Hagrid spewed his pumpkin juice all over Charlie Weasley. Ignoring everyone's intense gaze on the two of them, he replied with a grin, "Not unless your engagement ring happens to be the Resurrection Ring."
Hermione choked on her wine with laughter and all the guests continued to stare.
"Would you mind telling me what that was all about?" Ron demanded the next day in Harry's office.
"What are you talking about, Ron?" he asked in reply, keeping his eyes on the applicant files. Harry was putting up the façade that he was deeply concentrating on his work, but in his mind, he kept laughing as the memory of the previous evening replayed over and over again.
"That whole proposal bit between you and Hermione last night during dinner! Or did you forget the fact that that little stunt you pulled nearly gave my mum a heart attack?"
Harry looked at his friend properly. "It's just a bit of a joke between the two of us. No need to get in a strop about it," he said calmly.
Ron opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted as Harry suddenly stood up and approached Hedwig, who was hooting plaintively from within her cage in the corner of his office. He let her hop onto his arm as she nipped at his hair fondly. He quickly tied his letter to her leg and whispered, "Take this letter to Hermione, girl." He stretched his arm out the window and Hedwig flew off, glad for the chance to stretch her wings.
"What was that?" Ron asked pointedly.
"Nothing," Harry dismissed, getting back to his work. "Shouldn't you be filing reports?"
"I would, but it's my lunch break at the moment."
Harry glanced at the clock on his desk. "Ron, your lunch break ended half an hour ago."
"All the more reason to stay," his redheaded friend replied, stretching out on the mini sofa.
"Ron—" He was interrupted when he heard Hedwig land outside. He stood up to receive the letter. He ripped the seal open and pulled out the letter. However, before he could read it, Ron grabbed the letter from his hands. He watched with reddening cheeks as Ron read the letter and raised his eyebrows.
Ron threw the letter at Harry, who caught it quickly. "You two are making me sick, you know that? Why don't you just propose to her seriously?"
Harry sighed and sat back on his chair, smiling slightly at Hermione's response. "I'm getting there, mate."
Ron snorted. Loudly.
The black-haired man glared at him. "All right, Ron. How about we take a short break and go over to that coffee shop you love so much? I won't say a word to Kingsley if you drop the topic."
"Now, you're talking." Ron said, rubbing his hands gleefully as Harry clasped his cloak around his shoulder. He left the room to grab his own, leaving Harry to his thoughts.
Harry glanced at the letter on his desk once more, before turning away and closing the door, his cloak billowing behind him.
On the letter were two short messages. The first one was in Harry's messy handwriting, reading, "I can't concentrate on work because of what happened last night. It must be love. Marry me, already."
Below that, Hermione's dry reply in her elegant handwriting said, "Only if you've got the ring."
Harry paced in Hermione's living room nervously, wincing each time he felt the small velvet box in his pocket hit his thigh. He'd made his decision. It was September thirty. The day of their one-year anniversary. Normally, he wouldn't care for such events, but today happened to be the day he would finally show that he wanted to make an honest woman out of Hermione. The night was beautiful and perfect for a proposal. Slightly cloudy with a small chance of rain, but beautiful nonetheless. They were going out to a fancy dinner in one of the poshest restaurants in all of London to celebrate their anniversary.
The sound of a door opening startled him out of his reverie. Hermione approached him in a short, red dress that seemed to cling to her every curve yet look amazingly modest. She smiled shyly as she approached him, her red shoes tapping softly against the wooden floor. "Hello," she murmured, blushing underneath his gape.
"Hi," Harry whispered. He cupped her cheek. "You look beautiful, Hermione."
"Thank you," she replied, blushing but pleased at his compliment all the same. "You look rather handsome as well."
He extended his arm. "Well, then, milady. Our night awaits us."
Dinner was a quiet affair. Everywhere around them, noises rang. The sound of people chattering, cutlery banging on the fine china plates, and thunder in the distance rang throughout their minds. Harry was preoccupied on how he was going to ask her the big question, whilst Hermione was worrying over the harried look on her boyfriend's face.
Once dinner was finished, Harry quietly paid for the bill. As they awaited the receipt, he looked over at his girlfriend, who was talking animatedly about a patient she'd had that day. She told a light joke that managed to get a laugh at him and she grinned at him. Watching her eyes light up as she related another story only further assured his decision. He was going to marry her.
"Hermione?" Harry asked, reaching for her hand across the table.
She looked at him, eyes bright and slightly hopeful. "Yes?"
"How about we go for a walk after this? It's not too late to go, I suppose," he said.
"That would be lovely," she replied, grinning at him as the waiter gave them the receipt for the dinner. Harry quickly pocketed it and stood up before helping Hermione from her own chair. "It has been a while since we've done that, hasn't it?"
Harry nodded, while helping her put her coat back on. He slid his own coat back. Hermione tucked her arm in his and they walked quietly to the park, talking about everything and nothing. He remembered how it'd happened. They were talking about the war, its consequences, its rewards, and everything else. He remembered seeing her solemn expression as she related to him the tale about her father's death. Hermione was never one for crying so openly, so it was no surprise to him that, as she told of her father's bravery to take the Killing Curse for her, only a single tear fell from her eye. It was surprising, however, that when they'd sat on a park bench, huddled close together due to the cold night air, Hermione, in the midst of another war story, began to sprout large tears that ran down her cheeks, leaving a glistening, wet path. He remembered brushing his thumbs over her cheeks, wiping the tears coming down. He remembered kissing her softly, comfortingly, before he whispered, "I love you."
She smiled at him through watery eyes. "Oh, Harry." And he could sense her answer in that short reply. He could sense it in the way she kissed him, full of care, friendship, and love.
They pulled back, and he could remember seeing their breaths right in front of one another. He remembered that he decided to just stop thinking about it so much, and finally asked, "Will you marry me?"
He remembered hearing her sharp intake of breath. "W-what?"
His eyes looked at her clearly, confidently, full of a look of determination Hermione always saw in his eyes. "Will you marry me?"
"Harry… are you—are you serious about this?"
He opened his mouth to say yes, that he was rather serious about wanting to take that step. But the words froze in his mouth, as a voice nagged in his head. Are you ready? It asked over and over again. Was he ready? After all, they were such a young couple. Harry was only twenty, and Hermione had just turned twenty-one. But then again, they were ready to get married. Their relationship was sturdy and strong. They trusted and loved each other completely, wholly. But the question wasn't whether their relationship could handle it. It was whether the people involved were ready. Harry began doubting his decision again and again, choosing one and then later choosing the other. He stared into her somber, brown eyes and realized.
With a slight frown on his face, he turned his eyes away from hers and said, "No."
Her eyes cast downwards in disappointment.
"All right, then?" The interviewer asked the young couple seated in front of him. "Are you two ready to start?"
"Yes," Harry replied, squeezing Hermione's hand gently. They were in a small interrogation room in the Ministry. The room was more welcoming than the gloomy interrogation rooms used for criminals. It had beige walls, Victorian furniture, and a small French chandelier hanging from the ceiling. There were only four people in the small room: a young couple, an interviewer, and a cameraman. Harry and Hermione had mutually decided to do this interview to straighten things out on the latest gossip on their relationship.
The cameraman flashed five fingers at them. "Five, four, three…" He said, mouthing the rest of the numbers before placing his eye to the camera and giving the interviewer thumbs up, as the red light on the camera switched on.
"We're here with Wizarding World savior, Harry Potter, and best friend, Hermione Granger, live, to talk to us about their new relationship." The interviewer turned away from the camera and at the couple. "You two are officially a couple, yes?" She asked, smiling at them.
"Yes," Harry replied. "We've decided to do this interview to set things straight."
The interviewer nodded understandingly. "And what are some things you'd like to clarify?"
"Firstly, Hermione and I are a couple by choice. We were not forced into it by anybody. Secondly, Ginny Weasley and I haven't been a couple ever since my sixth year at Hogwarts, so I am not cheating on her. And thirdly, Ron Weasley and I did not get into a fist fight over Hermione."
"I suppose those are rather outlandish accusations, yes? But how did this all start?"
"Our relationship?" Hermione asked.
"No," the interviewer replied. "Let's go back to the very beginning. Let's go to the start of your friendship. How did the two of you first meet?"
"Oh," Hermione said with a laugh. "That was nothing special."
"Well," the woman said. "Let's start with your side of the story, shall we?"
"It wasn't anything," she said, laughing again. She grinned at her significant other beside her, who gave her an encouraging smile. "Well, I suppose everyone knows that we met on the train to Hogwarts. I wasn't exactly the prettiest girl there. I was bushy-haired, buck-toothed, and eager to prove myself. I had been riding in a carriage with a few girls my age, but I wasn't making an effort to join in on their conversation. I didn't have many friends, even before Hogwarts, so I didn't want to take the chance to be ridiculed yet again.
"We were nearly to Hogwarts when I met Harry and Ron. I had been immersed in reading a book, perhaps it was Hogwarts, A History, when the door slid open, and a rather chubby boy poked his head," Hermione smiled, remembering the little boy her friend was. "He had asked us if we had seen a toad anywhere. And being a know-it-all, I remembering telling him, 'I've seen a toad. They're family members of frogs and they're usually characterized with blah, blah, blah' Neville and the rest of my companions just ogled at me as if I'd sprouted another arm or something. He merely stuttered his thanks after that and then left.
"I don't really know what made me do it. Perhaps I felt a bit of pity for him, or maybe embarrassed at what I had said, but I left the carriage to help him search for it. He was shy, obviously not being used to being talked by a girl. I searched through a rather large number of carriages before I finally stopped by Harry's. I slid the carriage door without bothering to knock. The first sight I saw was Harry's lap strewn with all sorts of candies and sweets. Being the daughter of dentists, I wrinkled my nose at the sight of them."
"So," the interviewer interrupted shortly. "You didn't notice Harry's scar first? But all the candies and sweets he'd been holding?"
Hermione laughed, leaning against her boyfriend as his arm came around her shoulders. "Yes. Ridiculous, isn't it? But I suppose that's why my eyes didn't shine with stars when I saw him. I remember feeling an urge to show them that I wasn't just some ugly little girl with bushy hair and buckteeth. I recall seeing Ron about to do a spell, and so I stayed to watch. Ron was a complete failure at it. I began lecturing him on how I could do magic, and that everyone in my family was purely Muggle, and et cetera, et cetera. And it was only at the end of my speech did I introduce myself." She laughed self-deprecatingly.
"And that was when I met Harry. To be honest, I didn't think he was all that special when I first met him," she said, laughing as Harry tickled the side of stomach. "Rather, I didn't think he was great enough to be the Harry Potter. I suppose—I suppose that's what made me like him so much that I enjoyed sticking my nose into his business: the fact that he was ordinary, like—like me." She smiled gratefully at him and kissed his cheek.
"Now that we've heard your side of the story, Hermione," the interviewer said, smiling at the two. She turned to Harry, "Let's hear your story."
Harry grinned at Hermione as he began his story.
"Well, the day started out as usual. I woke up early and was yet again ridiculed by my aunt, uncle, and cousin. I looked like a right fright in Dudley's huge, old trousers and plaid shirt. But, despite that, I remember feeling rather lucky that day. I remember shoving my hands into my pockets and pulling out a somewhat large wad of notes, and I just knew, you know? I just knew I would be lucky. And when I got to the train station, I'll admit that that feeling was starting to dwindle, especially with your relatives barking at you about how mad you were, thinking something odd like Platform Nine and Three Quarters actually existed.
"And then I met Ron. He was my first friend and we got along quite all right. And then I met Hermione. She was a tad too insistent for me, but she was fine. I remember thinking she was rather pretty, despite her bushy hair and her buckteeth. And you could imagine my disappointment when I managed to make my first enemy before I'd even gotten sorted."
"You were always one to go looking for trouble," Hermione teased.
"Funny," he replied dryly. "It was that first night when I thought it. I told myself I had rotten luck, but I stayed up half the night, staring out at the new world around me. I remember telling myself that I didn't need luck and all that rubbish. I kept telling myself I wasn't lucky," He looked at Hermione and kissed her softly, quickly. "But I suppose it's only now did I realize that I was."
The night it ended was beautiful and cloudless, much like the day it started. It was summertime, and the two were spending Harry's birthday in a Muggle park, stargazing. He'd informed the Weasleys that Harry wanted to spend his birthday with Hermione, and her alone, hoping they wouldn't get offended. They immediately excused them and told him it was quite fine, knowing the two would need some time alone.
Harry and Hermione were going through a rather rough patch in their relationship. The two were rather awkward with one another. At first, they'd been able to overcome it. They'd spent Christmas and New Year's with one another happily and lovingly.
On Valentine's Day, however, things began to act up between the two again after Harry proposed and told her he wasn't serious about it. Hermione tended to avoid spending time with him, and he would do the same. The two never talked out their problems; they never felt the need. And never were they more wrong. Harry had asked Hermione if she'd want to go out for dinner, but she'd always shot him down. She didn't know why, but she supposed it was because she couldn't take it if her proposed again and told her he wasn't serious about it. She'd go mad, surely. And so, for months, things were that way between the two. They began to see less and less of each other and sometimes only caught up with one another on get-togethers. Nobody dared to broach the subject whenever they were in the company of either person.
So when Harry's birthday was just around the corner, he cleared his schedule just for that day, despite it being on a Tuesday. He made plans for their night out and everything. He planned on taking her out for a nighttime picnic, hoping he could talk everything out of the situation. What he didn't count on was being shot down. He'd planned everything carefully. Three weeks before his birthday, he slowly and subtly tried to get into contact with her more. He'd send her Owls during work, and phone calls during night. So, he was rather confident when he'd asked her if she was interested in spending upcoming Tuesday night together for his birthday. But when she'd rejected him, it was a rude slap in the face. Harry can still remember the ice-cold feeling that gripped his body when he heard her say, "I don't think so, Harry."
And so, on July thirty-one, Tuesday, Harry crawled into bed at the early time of seven forty-five and berated himself over and over for letting things between them escalate to such a height. What scared him the most was where their relationship was left standing. Were they still together? If not, would they ever become friends again? Would Hermione want to make an effort in rebuilding it? So many questions swirled in his head as he tossed and turned in his dark bedroom. After quite a while, he shot up in bed and splashed a bit of cold water in his face before deciding to tug on his Gryffindor pajamas and a loose white t-shirt. He slammed himself on his bed once more, hoping to get some sleep or at least come to some conclusion. But when he glanced at the bedside clock reading eight thirty-four, he was rather surprised he hadn't thought of anything. He stared up at his ceiling, not even noticing the single tear that dripped from his left eye. Finally, he threw his blanket over his head, intent on getting some sleep.
Outside of his bedroom door, the door to his flat unlocked and opened. A rather bushy-haired girl came in tentatively, pocketing her own copy of the keys. She was surprised to find all the lights off and the wards up. Had he gone out with someone else? She thought, feeling a cold shiver rise up her spine in slight fear. But then again, she had no one but herself to blame. He'd tried hard, so very hard, to get their relationship back together. She'd thought he could do it, but he couldn't. It takes two people to make a relationship work, and in their relationship, only one was making an effort. She held back a few tears and she lit her wand, not surprised to find the flat slightly messy. No longer able to take sneaking around, she switched on the lights. "H—" her breath caught in her throat for a moment "—Harry?"
"Harry?" she called out fearfully. "Are—are you here, Harry?"
Again, no answer.
She felt tears rise slightly in her eyes when she heard the bedroom door click open. To her immense relief, Harry stumbled out in his pajamas, his hair mussed up, and his glasses gone from his face, leaving him a bit cloudy-eyed. He blinked, clearing his vision, before asking in a thick voice, "Hermione? What—what are you doing here?"
"Oh, Harry," she whispered, seeing his wet eyes. She approached him, her hand coming up to cup his cheek. But just before she could touch his slightly stubbled face, he flinched away slightly. Hermione pulled her hand back as if it had been scalded and took a nervous step back. The air around them grew heavy. She'd gotten carried away in still thinking things were still all right between them. She felt her lower lip tremble as heavy tears formed in her eyes.
They stood there for a while, staring at their shoes. Finally unable to stand it, Hermione turned to flee. Harry was too fast, however, and caught her hand. She froze, inhaling sharply as she felt the familiar, pleasant jolt run up her arm. He pulled her to face him and placed her cold hand on his cheek. He pressed a small kiss to her palm and barely had time to remove her hand before she threw her arms around him, making him stagger slightly. They hugged for the longest time, not speaking or saying anything.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, hugging her tightly.
"Oh, Harry!" she cried, clutching him tighter. "I'm sorry as well! I never meant to make you think—"
"I know," he interrupted. "I know."
They paused before she breathed in and asked, "I suppose you wouldn't mind it if we went out for your birthday would you?"
He grinned and kissed her nose. "No, I suppose not."
And so they went. They set up a rather small blanket on the smooth grass, and set down the picnic basket. The night was wonderful. The sky was clear and full of bright stars. Harry smiled as Hermione snuggled against him, feeling her intertwine their fingers together. "This is nice," she whispered as she heard the distant sound of laughter and music from a small party in the park. Harry flicked his wand and the wireless standing by the basket turned on, playing instrumental music.
The two were silent for a long while, staring at the sky. Both knew they'd had so much to talk about, but they kept quiet, wanting to keep the moment between them silent and peaceful. And a few hours later, the picnic blanket was strewn with a few crumbs and an empty champagne bottle. Harry and Hermione were sitting down, facing one another. They talked about what had happened and what was to happen. They talked about memories, current events, and futures. If one were to look at the two people, he would have sensed the serious and deep conversation the two were in. They laughed at some parts and cried in the others. Finally, Hermione and Harry moved on from that event. She concluded their conversation with a quick kiss, which quickly grew deep as Harry pulled her closer. They were interrupted when the sound of several wine bottles popping open sounded. The two stared at one another before laughing as Harry pulled her to him again, kissing her softly for a few more seconds.
He stood up suddenly and held his hand out to her. "Come on, then."
Hermione looked at his outstretched hand. "What are you talking about?" She asked, letting him pull her up.
Harry grinned as Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller came on their wireless. "Let's dance," he said, taking her hands as he began to sway ridiculously to the slow music.
Hermione laughed as she mimicked his actions. "You're horrid at this, Harry!" she cried, laughing as he attempted to spin her but failed.
"I know I am," he said, "that's why I'm doing it in the first place."
She laughed again as he pulled her closer. The mood instantly sobered as Harry intertwined their fingers and rested his head on her shoulder, his arm coming around her waist as they swayed to the music slowly. Hermione hugged him tighter as she pressed her face to his shoulder, inhaling a scent of dewy grass and aftershave.
She blinked. "Yes?"
"I love you."
She smiled. "I know. I love you as well."
She froze and pulled back, stepping away from him. "Harry—"
He got down on one knee. "Marry me, Hermione."
She looked away as he took her hand, feeling her resolve weaken at his touch. "I can't take it if you're not serious about this, Harry."
He was quiet as she stared at him for the longest time. The tension in the air grew thick.
"Are you, Harry?" she asked, unable to take the weight of the silence. "Are you serious about this?"
He looked up at her, his eyes confirming his answer with bright determination. "Yes."