A/N - This fic is rated a strong T. Thank you to Aaliyanna and SomethingWithMittens for the quick beta job.
Disclaimer : I do not own the world of Harry Potter. If I did, the epilogue would have gone so much differently.
Hogsmeade was buzzing with activity just like on any other big holiday. Everywhere she looked, Hermione was instantly bombarded with everything pink, red and fuzzy. The theme could be seen relating to almost everything. From books and robes to quills and parchment. There were charmed items that spurted out loving quotes whenever a person passed by, as well as elaborate candy where the icing would continuously move forming compliments for their Valentine. And most importantly - and most annoyingly- the charmed baby cherubs that had a nasty habit of shooting random innocents with an extremely pointy arrow. She couldn't remember the small village being so colourful during her Hogwarts years. But it was understandable that two and a half decades without a wizarding war would make people even more in tune to love and gift giving.
Hermione made her way amongst the throngs of Hogwarts students who seemed to litter nearly every inch of the cobblestone pavements as she headed towards her childhood haunt. The Three Broomsticks seemed to be one of the few establishments that hadn't adopted the feel of the holiday. Heaving a great sigh as she stepped into the pub, she straightened her jacket. Even after years of Muggle clothes being a norm down Diagon Alley, Hermione always found herself a bit self-conscious whenever she wore something this different in wizarding communities. It didn't really mean much, considering that her name was famous and everyone knew she was a Muggle-born. But on days like this, when she wanted to make a statement, she used Muggle attire to get her point through. Her previous engagement attested to that fact.
The inside of the Three Broomsticks looked just as it always had, with wooden tables and chairs that were occupied with chattering teenagers. And to think, she used to be one of them so long ago. A lot had changed since then. Nodding a greeting to the bartender, she made her way to the staircase in the back and climbed the wooden steps that always made her wince with every creak or groan. She had been climbing these steps for years and she still couldn't get used to the noise that gave her presence away. Once she reached the second floor, she turned left and took slow steps until she reached room number 204. She stared at the number for a moment, suddenly unsure of going inside. This shouldn't be that difficult; she had been doing it for years. But today it felt different.
With shaking hands, she lifted a tiny fist and rapped on the door twice. Two precise knocks. And she wasn't surprised when the door flew open immediately as if the person behind it had been waiting for her. Harry stepped aside to let her in with a small smile. "I wasn't sure if you were coming."
Giving him a reassuring smile, Hermione stepped over the threshold and waited until her best friend closed the door behind her. "I couldn't cancel on you. We've been doing this for far too long."
"Right," he muttered, his eyes barely meeting hers. "Um... I ordered sandwiches." He gestured to the table in the middle of the room. "I wasn't sure if you ate anything."
"Thank you, Harry. That was very thoughtful of you." After placing her jacket away, she made her way to the table and sat down in one of the two chairs on either side of it. Before she had been starving, but now she couldn't even think of eating. Her stomach was clenched tightly in knots.
"How did it go?" he asked gently as he took the seat opposite her.
"Not well." Hermione said as she smiled humourlessly. "Rose especially is not taking it well." She trailed off as Harry handed her a steaming cup of tea. They stayed in silence for a while before Hermione sighed sadly. "How did you do it, Harry? When you and Ginny split up?"
He smirked lightly. "Haven't you asked me this before?" he questioned mockingly.
She smiled in spite of herself. "I know how you handled the media, the kids and that cow Rita Skeeter, but you never told me how you took it."
Harry shrugged his eyes warm as always. "It was mutual, Hermione. At some point, we both decided we should move on. If it weren't for James, Albus and Lily we wouldn't have stayed together for as long as we did. If anything, Ginny was great through it all."
Hermione squinted at her cup of tea as if it held all the answers she was seeking. "Why couldn't my marriage have been like that?"
Harry chuckled. "Ron is hot headed. He wouldn't have let you go if he couldn't help it." He looked at her meaningfully.
She chose to ignore his telling expression. "And now that our divorce is final as of..." She checked her watch. "-half an hour ago, whose side will you be taking?"
He smiled as if this was a question he had gotten used to hearing throughout the years. "I'd rather stay neutral."
"I'm sorry, Harry Potter," Hermione said with a small shake of her head, "but the saviour of the wizarding world will have to take someone's side at some point."
His smile fell at the mention of his unofficial title. "And why do I need to choose between my best mates? I've survived for nearly thirty years without making that choice."
"Ah, but this is no ordinary fight," she said almost mockingly.
"No." Harry looked at her seriously. "Everything was split in half, was it?"
Hermione smiled humourlessly at a not so distant memory where Ron had yelled that he wanted nothing from her. "We both agreed to leave the marriage with everything we brought into it."
"I'm assuming that that was what Ron wanted."
Hermione sent him a pained smile. "It's hard to argue with him." Keeping the untouched cup of tea on the table, she raised a quizzical eyebrow at her companion. "Why aren't you with Ron right now? I was pretty sure that you would be called for a date of firewhisky with George and Charlie."
For the first time since the beginning of their meeting, Harry hesitated. "He did actually, call me for a cuppa. I just told him that I had a prior engagement." He gestured sheepishly towards her. "I'm meeting him later."
"Oh," she muttered, lowering her gaze. She knew the divorce wasn't going to create a rift between her best friend and her ex-husband, but it still hurt to know that one of the people she knew to support her, also supported the person who hates her. "Do you think he would be as accommodating if he knew who the prior engagement was with?"
Harry turned away with a light smirk. "That would be hard to bring up, wouldn't it? Especially since we've been meeting like this for over twenty years."
She leaned forward; suddenly curious as to why he had kept it a secret. "Why didn't you ever tell him?" Hermione knew why she kept it a secret, but she never asked him why he agreed to her terms without question. She never really wanted to know the answer; until now.
Harry shrugged nonchalantly. "Same reason as you."
Hermione ignored the sudden panic that surged through her. She knew there was no reason to talk about something that the reason of which would be meaningless. At the time, it had been something she wanted. And until recently, she never analysed why. Part of her wondered if he thought the same thing. The chance was minute, but it was there. "And what is that?" she asked softly, her gaze watching his form for any twitch of the muscles that could give her the information she needed.
Her best friend hesitated a moment before he said softly, "Ron wouldn't have been happy to know that his two best friends met without him."
That was a surface reason that she had used countless times. But it hadn't really answered the question of 'why'. Hermione nodded her assent as she tried to control the quick beating of her heart. "You're right. But I guess I've always wanted to know," she mumbled thoughtfully, "why didn't you ever invite him? Make it all about the three of us?" She was convinced that any other person would have done this. But Harry was one of those people whose intentions could never be guessed easily. He hid his thoughts well behind those glasses.
The quick drop of his gaze piqued her interest. He hesitated again for a moment before staring at a spot right above her left shoulder. "He had you all to himself. It just... made sense, I guess."
It would have been a lie to say that his words didn't cause a slight swelling within her chest. Hermione smiled slightly, feeling that sense of panic calm down to a dull ache within her. A sense of disappointment was laced with her sudden feeling of relief. "You know he's never going to forgive you for this, right?"
"Which is why he'll never find out," Harry said with a sly smirk.
She couldn't help it; she raised an eyebrow at him. "Harry Potter, doesn't this mean that you have been choosing me over Ron all this time?"
She expected him to send a cocky smile her way, mention how he spent all of his hours at work in Ron's presence and state diplomatically that they were both equal in his eyes. Instead, he looked at her seriously, his gaze as intense as she remembers. "I'll always choose you, Hermione."
Hermione stared at him in surprise while her heart - which had calmed down, started beating rapidly in expectation. "Always?" she asked softly, her gaze meeting his hopefully. Part of her was convinced that she had misheard him.
Harry didn't hesitate. "Always," he said with a small smile, his eyes unusually bright with intensity.
Hermione wasn't sure what she was expecting. Maybe she expected him to burst out laughing and say what he said was a cruel joke. Maybe she expected him to change the subject and jump right into a discussion over Rose's upcoming nuptials. Or maybe he would get up off the chair, make his way towards her, grab the back of her neck and snog her senseless - the very thought of which left her breathless. But whatever she was expecting, she couldn't wait around to see what he was planning on doing. She needed to get out of the stuffy room and get some air, some calm, Harry-free air.
She didn't even notice that she had stood up until he looked up at her in confusion. "What's wrong?"
"What?" Hermione stuttered, distracted. She straightened her dress with shaky fingers. "Wrong?"
Harry stood up carefully, his scrutinizing gaze dissecting her every move. "Do you need to be somewhere?"
Hermione looked up, keeping her gaze carefully away from his. "Yes! I need to... um... go... and..." The moment her gaze fell on her jacket, she made her way towards it. "I'll call you! I mean, floo you." Keeping her head down, she placed her arms through her jacket, tied a quick knot with the jacket straps around her waist and grabbed her purse. She didn't really have time to button the bleeding thing.
Harry watched her incredulously. "Hermione! What-"
"I'll talk to you later, okay, Harry?"
"Did I say something? Do something?" he asked earnestly as he followed her to the door.
"No! No you didn't," Hermione said quickly, noting that her voice had taken on a panicked tone. That was not good. "Like you said, I have to be somewhere. We'll do this later?"
"Yeah, sure," he mumbled, his eyes still staring at her in confusion. "Whatever you want."
For the first time since the beginning of her minor panic attack, Hermione smiled at her best friend genuinely.
"Thank you, Harry."
"No problem," he said smiling lightly.
She could tell that the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. He looked disappointed and hurt; something she never wanted to be the cause of. And she knew that she had to leave before her mind makes an unwanted connection and she does something that ruins their friendship.
But years of living a safe life with people she could trust with anything, didn't quite give her the power to ignore her feelings. She had stayed with Ron for an extra five unwanted years simply because she was too scared to see the truth, take the leap into the unknown. She had promised herself that she wouldn't waste such precious time as she once did.
She was reaching for the door knob to let herself out when she was suddenly slammed with questions. Was she really willing to go through life not knowing the answer to the question she had asked herself for years? Her main impulse was to leave, but the Gryffindor and the intellectual in her wanted answers. Now was the only time she could demand them. Now that she wasn't attached to another.
Dropping her hand, she twirled around and looked at her best friend in determination. "Was it all in my head?"
Harry, who had been in the process of grabbing his own jacket, stopped and looked at her in confusion. "What?"
"Was it all in my head?" When his green eyes still eyed her like she had just grown a second head, Hermione decided to reiterate. "This thing between us, was it all in my head?"
"Don't tell me that I'm crazy, Harry Potter-"
"Never," he interrupted her with a cocky grin even as he took a few steps towards her.
Hermione fought the urge to smile, instead focusing all of her energy on keeping her eyes narrowed intensely at him. "Don't you play with me. You know what I'm talking about. Did you think I wouldn't notice?"
Harry smirked in good humour, as if she herself amused him. "Notice what?"
"You! How could I not notice you?"
"Well, there is a scar..."
"Don't try being cute with me. What I'm talking about is serious!"
He straightened his features to one of seriousness, giving her his utmost attention. "Of course." But his eyes continued to smile at her in amusement. "You have my attention."
"Good!" she said quickly before she realized that maybe she was too worked up to have this conversation right at this moment. "Good," she then mumbled half-heartedly.
She stared at him, suddenly unaware of what to do next. She decided to focus her pent up nervousness into anger and charge it at him.
He stared at her. "Well what?"
She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at him in a no nonsense manner. "What have you to say about yourself?"
"I..." He shook his head in good humour. "You haven't accused me of anything."
She couldn't believe her ears. How much more eloquent could she have been? "Well then, you weren't listening, were you?" How else was she able to explain exactly what his very demeanour was doing to her?
Harry's lips split into an amused grin. "And what was I not listening to?"
"Me complaining about you!"
"I figured that out, funny enough."
She huffed. "Did you think I wouldn't notice? For years all you've ever done is be there for me, no matter what."
"Then, there are the looks," she interrupted triumphantly. How could he defend himself against that fact?
He raised a curious eyebrow at her. "Looks?"
"Yes! The looks! I know I didn't imagine all of them. Your eyes would always linger on me, not on Ginny. And you would always watch me. Always." His eyes widened slightly, and she could see him staring at her in barely hidden panic. His expression only served to strengthen her resolve. She needed to say her thoughts and finally get them off her chest. "And... you wouldn't touch me. Not since the war. Did you think I wouldn't notice it after all these years? How you make excuses not to touch me? How you have never actually hugged me? We have been meeting once a month for years for our own little lunch date, and you always have to rush out afterwards and you simply forget to say goodbye to me properly. Care to explain that?"
Harry shifted nervously from one foot to the other, his eyes dropping away from her concentrated gaze. "I-"
"And silly me, I thought you fancied me." His head snapped up in surprise, but Hermione barely registered the change. She was on a roll, and she was determined to finish this. "I was not sure of coming here today, Harry. For the first time in twenty five years, we are both single. Do you realize what was going through my mind as I made my way over here? I was thinking about ways to turn you down!" He stared at her in surprise for a moment before his features shut down entirely. She couldn't read his thoughts even if she used her arsenal of information from years of knowing him. She let out a short, sarcastic laugh. "I was so sure that you would do or say something the moment I arrived. About how you feel about me. And I couldn't handle it! I haven't been legally divorced for more than an hour, and I knew I couldn't get into it with my ex-husband's best friend. At least, not yet."
As Hermione finally looked at him in defeat while taking a few deep breaths to calm her racing nerves, Harry looked at her curiously. "Yet?" he asked softly, his gaze boring into hers intensely.
Hermione paused, her eyes widening almost comically. If there had been a rating system to decide her most embarrassing moment up to date, this would definitely make it to top three. She had just confessed her attraction to her best friend and accused him of having that same interest towards her with only substantial evidence to back her claim. She might have been forty three, but she was acting like a fifteen year old who let tiny little moments dictate her. Nervously, she licked her lips and moved a few loose, curly strands behind her ear, suddenly aware that her face had heated up with a violent blush.
Hermione felt the need to salvage this situation and be able to leave with her dignity intact. She cleared her throat, focusing her gaze on a torn patch in the worn out carpet. "I think you might have guessed that I will not be seeing you for the next few months while I get over the embarrassment of my outburst. And I would greatly appreciate it if you never mention this to anyone and forget it ever happened. Alright, Harry?"
He stayed silent, and Hermione wasn't desperate enough to gauge his reaction by meeting his eyes.
"Alright," she mumbled, taking his silence as assent while keeping her gaze firmly fixed away from him. "It has been great knowing you, and if ever a Dark Lord feels the need to kill you again, know that I'll always be your bookworm." She couldn't help but wince at what she had blurted out before turning around quickly in an effort to hide her face and the flush that just wasn't going away. She reached for the door, determined to leave this conversation with the last bit of integrity she had. That is iif/i she had any integrity left.
Hermione had just opened the door, intent on leaving as quickly as possible, when his arm shot out over her shoulder and shut the door with a loud thud. The next thing she knew she was twirled around forcefully, her back hitting the door with a slight gasp escaping her. "You said yet," Harry mumbled huskily against her skin before his lips met hers in a short, bruising kiss. Her eyes widened in surprise even as her body immediately responded to him and her purse fell to the floor with a dull clatter. Even though she hadn't expected it and she was determined to not want it, the moment his lips detached from hers, she fisted her hands in the material of his shirt and pulled him closer, kissing him with as much want and passion as she had denied herself for years. Harry immediately deepened the kiss; their hot breaths mingling breathlessly, and his tongue meeting hers in wild abandon. He kept her pinned against him, his hand at the back of her neck and an arm around her waist, almost as if he was reluctant to let her go even for a second. Hermione welcomed the sizzling sensation of having his body so close against hers while her hands followed the covered contours of his arms and back; studying the shape of the muscles she was so unfamiliar with. No thought seemed to penetrate her mind. She was a blank slate with only feelings and emotions coursing through her, and she didn't want it to end.
It was Harry who finally stopped the kiss, his lips breathlessly parting from hers to ghost over her cheek and rest against her hair. He let out a light chuckle as he tightened his grip around her, causing Hermione to close her eyes at the familiar sound as it bounced against her soft curls. "You should have told me," he whispered against her hair, following it with a light kiss against her temple.
Hermione stayed silent, unusually aware of his ragged breathing against her, just as she was aware of her own uneven warm breath that bounced lightly against his neck. She couldn't ignore the quick succession of her chest against his; his heartbeat seeming to match hers beat for beat. Had it always been that way? Had they always been so in sync?
Harry whispered her name, his arm nudging her gently. "Have I finally made you speechless? I guess there's a first time for everything." Hermione could feel the smirk, rather than hear it in the cockiness of his tone.
The twelve year old in her wanted desperately to prove him wrong. Lightly, she kissed the base of his exposed neck, thrilled when a shiver wracked his entire body from that one tiny touch. "You should have told me." While his tone had been light, hers was accusatory. She couldn't help but think of all the lost time, the sleepless nights she spent dissecting every action, every word, and every look. She never liked wasting her time. It usually spouted regret. And she hates regret.
He trailed searching fingers around the column of her neck before burying her head against his chest, his other hand moving an aimless path across the rough material of her jacket. "There was never a good time."
"And this is finally the right moment for it?"
He chuckled lightly again. "We always did have bad timing." With gentle fingers he coaxed her head up so he could look directly into her eyes. "Better late than never, right?"
Hermione looked at him in surprise. She hadn't expected him to look so unsure, so nervous. And even though she had come with every intention of not doing this with him, she felt the unexplainable need to reassure him. Leaning up on her toes, she kissed him lightly, intending for the kiss to simply be a small token of unspoken understanding. But the moment her lips touched his, his grip tightened around her and his lips responded against her like he was a man drinking her in. Hermione found herself lost in the tingling sensations that surged throughout her body in response to him. Almost without thought, her hands tightened around him as she kissed him back, a moan escaping from the back of her throat.
There was something absolutely thrilling about how he kissed her; how he held her. How his hands roamed across her body, burning her through the layers of material that covered her body. She couldn't help but moan every time he pulled at her bottom lip or sucked in her tongue. Her breath would hitch whenever he grabbed her bottom or palmed her breast. What had started as slow and sweet soon became rough and passionate. And Hermione found herself a willing participant, welcoming the thrumming of her skin as her desires seemed to pool at the bottom of her belly to such an extent that she ached. She ached for him. All of him.
It was Harry who pulled away from her again, leaving her almost breathless as she looked up into his eyes questioningly. He kept his gaze intensely on hers as he raised a hand to gently cup her cheek, his thumb stroking her bottom lip lovingly.
"I would like nothing better," he began huskily, "than to take you home with me."
That very thought, his words and the look in his eyes made her want to agree with him whole heartedly. But she could hear the doubt in his voice, and she wasn't the type to ignore a sign so blatant. "But?" she whispered, knowing full well that he was about to state something that she would probably agree with.
His features sobered instantly. "But, you'll probably hex me in the morning."
He said it so seriously, so factually, that she couldn't help but laugh. "You're right. And you remember how good my jinxes are, don't you?"
He grinned cheekily at her. "Vividly."
"What do you propose then?" she asked lightly, hoping that he wouldn't regret what had happened between them.
With a deep sigh, he untangled his arms from around her. Hermione stared at him in surprise as he made his way to the door. She partly expected him to walk out and expect her to follow him - as she had done most of her life, or to lock the door for privacy. Harry chose the latter.
The moment he turned the lock, she felt her heartbeat quicken.
Harry turned slowly, his expression very much serious as he started walking back towards her. "We need to discuss things."
If there was any a sentence that had the dual effect of slowing down her heartbeat to a dull patter, and reduce the tingle of anticipation, that was it. "Oh." The idea that there was a bed in the adjoining room didn't even materialize in her mind; not at all.
Harry stepped closer to her, his chest barely gracing hers. Keeping his gaze intensely locked on hers, he raised his hands to the clumsy knot she had tied around her waist. "The kids won't be happy about this," he said softly, his eyes looking down at what he was doing as he pulled one strap, allowing the knot to fall into two individual strands by her sides.
Hermione's breath hitched as he lifted both hands to her shoulders, his fingers lightly nudging the jacket off her. "Then there's Ginny," he continued as he moved the jacket off her by slowly moving his hands down her arms, his gaze following the movement reverently. Had she not been so excited by the physical need that was overwhelming her, Hermione might have been a bit more self-conscious. As it was, Harry appraised her body slowly, his gaze blazing right through her with unbridled need and lust that made her breath come out in short, deep puffs.
The moment her jacket fell to the ground, Harry looked at her, his gaze causing that fiery ache between her legs to keep her from thinking any other thought but him. "And there's Ron," he said softly as he ran the back of his knuckles lightly over her skin; from her cheek, down the column of her neck, to the skin exposed by the V-neck of her dress.
It was all Hermione could do not to grab him at that moment and fulfil that deep need within her. But she was human after all, and she never claimed to be a woman of perfect control. "What do you want, Harry?" she asked shakily, her legs almost giving out from under her from the anticipation she was feeling.
His eyes darkened behind those glasses before he took that final step closer to her, his arms circling her tightly. "I want you to stay the night with me," he said hoarsely, his gaze boring into hers so intensely that his intention couldn't be any clearer. "And tomorrow, we'll figure it out."
Hermione fingered the buttons of his shirt teasingly, biting her lower lip in thought before she could voice her assent. "Where?"
"There's a perfectly fine room right next to this."
Hermione couldn't help the blush that spread across her cheeks. She felt like a right teenager. "And what about your place?"
"A friendly get-together is currently underway," Harry said cheekily.
"Now," he muttered as he bent his head to her neck, his next words brushing her skin tantalizingly. "Any objections to a plan that is so well thought of?" he questioned huskily before placing light kisses right below her ear.
Hermione couldn't help but bite her lower lip in an effort to suppress the moan that needed to escape from feeling of his lips against her skin and the sound of his low voice against her ear as her fingers traced the defined contours of his chest. She wanted this. She truly did.
Harry chuckled lightly before bending quickly to pick her up bridal style. "I'll take that as a yes." With a wide grin, he kissed her, his arms holding her tightly against him.
Hermione kissed him back passionately, her fingers burring itself in his short, messy hair as he took strong, confident steps towards the adjoining bedroom. How could she 'no' to Harry? She could never really say 'no' to him; and right now, she found that she just didn't want to.