A/N at end.
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. I'm not making money from this.
"Inflamus sanguinem!" An orange light flashed, and the acrid smell of a missed curse sizzled in theclose air of the dueling hall. Outside, a small crowd had gathered to watch the wizard and witch sparring through the large, warded viewing window. Although the chamber was silenced, the light show had been going for thirty minutes. Now, it was clear the duelers were slowing and an end was near.
Hermione dodged again. The muscles of her thighs and forearms were both burning, and her knees had started to tremble with the effort to keep her erect. Sweat plastered her hair to the skin of her forehead and was now running down into her eyes, impairing her vision. Harry was sweating, too, at least, although he didn't look nearly as destroyed as she did. Damn him. He would likely win this match; he generally did, although she liked to think she kept it interesting for him.
An electric blue light scortched the shoulder of her robe, and Hermione winced. Chastising herself for wandering thoughts, she dodged yet another curse and blinked against the moisture in her eyes, huffing as she cast a non-verbal leg-locking jinx followed closely by a wordless wall of air designed to topple. She moved again, knowing she couldn't afford the moment to cast a hair-drying charm. She should have worried less about looking silly and worn a Muggle headband. Their matches always took forever; Harry was her toughest opponent. He always had been. He'd been the only other trainee at the Auror academy she couldn't trounce, and that included Ron (much to his dismay). Hermione tried to make up for Harry's sheer raw power with her creativity, and the resulting combination was why they had an audience.
Still, you had to hand it to him. Harry might use the same damn curses and blocks over and over again, but they worked. Summoning her last reserves of strength, Hermione sent her male friend a devilish, cocky grin. "Siccavit Testiculis!"
He jerked out of the way, but barely, and gave her a dirty look. "Stupify."
"Fuck." Hermione stumbled. That one had almost gotten her. Not letting the opportunity pass, Harry shoved her shoulder with one hand, overbalancing her while simultaneously sweeping her legs. Hermione rolled, once again narrowly missing a hit as his fist connected to the ground instead of her side.
"Incarcerous." She wheezed, gratified when ropes wrapped around Harry, who used a non-verbal charm to turn them into ash and lifted his hand to call a time out.
"I've had it," he admitted. At least he was breathing heavily. "You?"
"Definitely," she said, still gasping for air. "Good session."
Harry nodded his agreement and sagged beside her, his wand held loosely in his hand. Their backs were to the now-dispercing crowd of people. With him sitting so close to her, Hermione could smell his sweat and see that he, too, looked exhausted. "You're getting better with the physical attacks," he said. "That was your weak point in training." He smirked slightly.
"Well, not all of us were coming off a year in Thailand."
Harry snorted. "Yes, so I've been told. Repeatedly. As if beaches, drinking too much, and girls in bikinis somehow prepared me for Auror training better than another year at Hogwarts."
Hermione held her side, which had cramped, and slid to her back on the parquet wood floor of the chamber. Now that the dueling was over, the lights had brightened and the ceiling was reflecting the sky outside, where it was evidently overcast. As usual. She took a deep breath, enjoying the recovery and endorphin rush she always felt after a hard workout.
Harry laid down beside her. "By the way, that spell on my bits, seriously not okay."
Hermione huffed a laugh. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"They're intact, so it was." Harry sighed as two towels popped into existence next to them. He took of his glasses and towelled off his face. "I was serious about the improvement. Any new training you can't speak of?"
"Ha ha," Hermione said. "Really, I never get enough of those Department of Mysteries jokes. And to answer your question, no, the most action I ever see is the lab." Absently she rubbed her right wrist and grimaced as her wrist scars heated in warning. The thin lines from the Unbreakable Vow she had taken looped like dual ropes down and around her wrist in two facing semi-circles. Inside theopening of the loop rested the magical tattoo of a Time Mistress, the symbol of her office and the key for accessing the most secret experiments and objects. Including her own.
Harry's eyes followed the action. His eyes were troubled. "Does it hurt?"
"Not as long as I keep my mouth shut." She sighed. The list of things about which she could not speak was large, overly so in her opinion, but at the time they'd made the Vow, they'd been understandably startled. It was her own fault, really.
Of all the things she could have done to demonstrate her new "invention," she just had to go back in time and being back a lock of the Minister's baby hair.
Oblivious to her thoughts, Harry continued speaking. "It's obvious where you work from the tattoo they gave you," he said, nodding down at the small hourglass image on her wrist. Inside the black hourglass, silver and gold sand continually flowed down the hourglass, up, and then down again. "Not exactly subtle, are they? Arthur said they've given every Time Master since the Room was created the same thing." He grimaced, realizing his mistake in mentioning Ron's father too late.
"It's okay, Harry," Hermione said. "I broke up with Ron, not Arthur." She didn't comment on his observation, although her fingers had moved down to absently trace the tattoo. She didn't tell him what it was for, didn't agree with his acerbic comment. If she did, her scars would start to burn.
Over-controlling bastards, she thought, watching as Harry stood and offered her his hand. She took it, wincing slightly as her thigh muscles complained.
"Same place as usual?"
"Sure," Hermione agreed.
Later, at the Muggle Indian restaurant they normally frequented, safely ensconced in a table at the rear of the restaurant with their backs to the wall, thire conversation continued as if it had never been dropped.
"For what it's worth, Arthur was very impressed," Harry said, a piece of nan in his hand. "He would have told you himself, but he knew you wouldn't be able to talk about it."
Hermione gazed in the direction of the window nearest her, which showed only grey and fog, and just nodded. Despite her determination not to rely on the Weasleys any longer for support and approval, she could feel herself warm at the praise.
"Leaving them is the hardest part of ending things with Ron," she admitted.
Harry looked out the window, not making eye contact. "You miss your parents?"
"Sometimes. Like now, it would be easier."
Harry just nodded. "I know what you mean."
Neither of them said anything more. The healers had told Hermione that, if she attempted reversal of her memory charm, they would have a fifty percent chance of severe brain damage, and she couldn't put them through that, not now that they had what seemed like perfectly contented lives without her. They might gave wanted her to, but she wasn't willing to risk them ending up sharing ward space with Neville's parents.
As usual, I'm a victim of my own success, Hermione thought. Inside her own head, she allowed herself to sound bitter. Sometimes she had the purely selfish urge to do it anyway, revease the charm despite all the years that had passed and let the odds be damned.
"I've been taking Muggle martial arts classes," she said weakly, cutting off her thoughts and changing the subject. "Next time, you're going down, Potter. Just so you know."
Harry went along with the change in topic, and for a while they talked about her progress with Krav Maga and Aikido—which it turned out Harry had taken as well—like the two old friends they were. Finally, and inevitably, the conversation turned back to Ron.
"How are you holding up?" Harry asked. "Should I hope?"
"Hope for us to be done, or not done?" Hermione asked. Her smile was forced. "It's done."
Harry let out a breath. "I had a feeling," he said."Was it anything in particular?"
"A lot of the same things. I just got tired, Harry. I am tired. He'll never change," she said. "And I suppose he shouldn't have to. But I shouldn't, either."
Harry nodded. "I wondered if this wasn't coming," he said.
Hermione played with the handle of her tea mug. "You and everyone else," she said."The Daily Prophet, and most of Muggle London, from the volume of the fight we had. Our waitress here probably heard it."
"I don't think Ron knows it's over, though,"Harry said. "He's acting as usual."
Hermione shrugged. She'd taken Ron back so many times that there was really nothing she could say that would speak louder than the passing of time. "I'm not surprised," she said. "He keeps owling."
"Soon he'll start showing up," Harry observed."Like last time."
"Like every time." Hermioneagreed."Once he finally notices I'm not answering the owls." She felt adull pain in her chest. She'd had the dream of being part of the Weasley family for so long. Of being connected to Harry by law, officially being his sister. She'd planned her wedding in her head since they'd started dating, even know what type of ceremony, what robes she would wear. Resolutely, she ignored her feelings. "I actually wanted to ask a favor,"she said.
"You want to borrow the cloak?"
Hermione sagged, relieved. "Is it okay? Security at work is obviously great, but—"
Harry smiled at her in that squinty way he had that made her always want to take him to an optometrist to check his prescription. "Yes, you can borrow it," he said. "Of course. I never use it now, anyway. If we need invisibility for work we nearly always get the potion. So it's fine. Consider it a long-term loan." He looked away, his expression blank. "It would actually make me feel better, knowing you had it."
"Thank you, Harry. I'm afraid Molly's come visiting already, to tell me how she understands and how she's sure it will all work out, of course."
"Meaning Weasley babies with red curly hair in Molly-speak, and she's not the only one."
Harry cocked his head, obviously thinking. "Who else?"
"Percy, for starters."
"No. Percy? That's odd."
"Oh, yes. And odd does not begin to describe it. He wanted to remind me of how advantageous linking myself to his family would be. On account of my being a Muggle-born, as if I couldn't figure that out."
Harry shook his head. "He never changes, does he?"
"It gets better. Of course, mind you, all of this is in hushed tones in the hallway, very secretive with glances over his shoulder, because he wouldn't want anyone to hear him say the "M" word."
"I thought Muggle-born was the acceptable term."
"No, matrimony," Hermione said. "Because, you see,if it doesn't work out with Ron . . . "
"Merlin's hairy testicles. He didn't."
"He did. But to his credit, or detriment, I'm honestly not sure which, it wasn't an official proposal. More of a request for a meeting, in the event of."
Harry made a choking sound."He's with Penny, isn't he?"
"Was, it seems, and after this I can't blame her. Additionally. On the opposite end of the Weasley spectrum, George sent me some of those terrible daydream charms that really should not be sold to children, the boxes that have the pirate on the cover, you know which ones I mean—"
Now Harry was laughing outright. Seeing him, Hermione belatedly realized how worried and worn he'd been looking. Why hadn't she noticed? She should have.
Harry was still laughing. "He did not. He did."
Through the force of long experience, Hermione continued her story, keeping her tone light. "Oh yes. With a note, 'On behalf of a different Weasley brother, here's something to tide you over."
"You're kidding. No, you have to be."
"Dead serious. I don't even want to know what he was thinking."
Harry wiped tears of mirth from his eyes. Hermione gave him a dirty look and continued, "I mean, honestly, I'm a grown woman, as if I don't have means of taking care of—"
"Sweet Circe," Harry said, clapping his hands over his ears. "No, that's it, stop right there."
Hermione smirked triumphantly. "You deserved it for laughing." She snorted. "Anyway, I just really can't take any more Weasleys for now. No offense to Ginny, of course."
Harry shook his head, still amused. "Don't worry about it. She says the same thing to me all the time."
Their food came, and a silence descended while they ate their food. About half-way through hers, Hermione noticed that Harry wasn't eating, but just picking at his food. She put her fork down, and Harry met her eyes. Once he did, his expression turned serious, and Hermione's heart sank. So she hadn't been imagining it.
"Listen, Hermione,do you still keep those frankly terrifying wards on your home?"
Hermione frowned at him Something in his tone seemed off. "Are you asking as my friend or as head of the Aurory?"
"For now, as a friend."
Hermione stared at him, not reassured. "Has something happened?"
Harry ran a hand over his face, then through his hair, and grimaced. "Just, please, Hermione, humor me."
"They're original to me, Harry," she said, reluctantly answering. "I took the idea of them from an ancient book I got as a present from Bill. The Egyptians used a completely different warding system and philosophy than we do." She forced herself to pause, knowing Harry wouldn't want the details. And she had questions of her own. "Again, Harry, why?"
"And your flat is still unplottable?"He persisted.
Hermione sighed. "Yes. I couldn't put it under Fidelus because it's in a Muggle building and somehow it caused problems with their electrical grid; I still haven't figured out why."
Harry nodded. "And yourself? Did you take my advice?"
Hermione huffed. "Honestly, if you won't tell me what this is about—"
Hermione was starntled into silence. She hadn't heard that tone of voice from Harry in a long time. She'd hoped to never hear it again. "Yes," she said quietly. "I used the same charm you did, when you took your new post at MLE. Although I still maintain the one I found was better, and you should have used that one too." Seeing him open his mouth, she continued,"So no, I can't be found by unknown owls or located with most tracking spells." She couldn't help adding, "You know all this Harry. Will you explain? You're starting to scare me."
Her friend only shook his head and forced a smile. "I can't worry about my honorary sister?"
Hermione stared at him. "Is it … do you feel … you know?" She gestured at her forehead.
Harry shook his head. "No. Not exactly. And you said yourself, that would be impossible, right?"
Hermione nodded. "With the, um," she looked around, "item gone, then it should be, yes. But you can't tell me something's not wrong, Harry."
"It's … it's … " Harry shook his head as if to clear it. "It's nothing, Hermione. Nothing at all."
And for the rest of the meal, he resolutely refused to answer any more questions.
A/N: Thanks to those of you that reviewed and/or followed and favorited this story. I read every single review and appreciate them all. :) So far I only have a loose idea of where I am going with this. Yes, it will be a HG/SS romance, eventually.
About my Latin-ish: Yes, I made up a couple of spells, and no, obviously I don't know Latin. I used Google Translate to learn how to magically shivel someone's private parts. On a completely unrelated topic, reviews are nice. ;) Pretty please ...