Dancing in the Dark

Title: Dancing in the Dark
Author: ExcentrykeMuse
Pairing(s): Harry/Hermione, past Harry/Ginny, past Viktor/Hermione, past Ron/Lavender, mentions of possible Ron/Hermione
Rating: M – just to be safe
Summary: The song played on the radio that Ron had listened to…but he wasn’t here anymore.  Instead, Harry held out his hand, and Hermione found herself dancing in his arms.  AU HP7.

Warnings: lemon, violence (canon), torture (canon), character death (canon or pre-story)

I.

The song played on the radio that Ron had listened to … not that he was here to listen any longer. It was strange, the man singing with a twang, Muggle, Hermione realized.  She missed everything that was Muggle.  Magic brought the war, it brought pain, it brought her parents being sent away.

She tried to hold in a tear at the thought of her parents, of her little sister.

Hermione could never even think her name.  She hadn’t mentioned her to Ron or to Harry.  How could she?

Sometimes Hermione wished that her sister’s ghost would haunt her like Sir Nicholas de Mimsey-Popington haunted Hogwarts, but then she would remember that her sister had been a Muggle like both of her parents, had never known magic when she died just after Hermione’s eighth birthday.

Losing herself in the song, a laugh escaped her lips.  Harry twirled her back and forth, words unneeded.  They had been such good friends for so long that words were unneeded.  What were words anyway?  They could be written in books, but books couldn’t possibly understand the pain she was in.  She’d lost her sister, her parents, Ronald … there was nothing left but the pain … and Harry.

Viktor had looked handsome at the wedding, she remembered.  Not that he was ever really handsome.  Distinguished was the correct word.  He’d been her first kiss, her first love, she supposed, in some ways.  He’d danced with her at the Yule Ball, making her feel pretty and girly.  Ron had danced with her once at the wedding.  Now Harry was dancing with her, alone in this hidden tent, in the middle of winter.

Harry pulled her close and they rocked to the music, back and forth, back and forth.  She felt safe in Harry’s arms, like nothing could hurt her.  She wasn’t at all pretty right now.  Her hair was bushy, and while her teeth hadn’t been quite as large as they had when she was younger, they still felt large.  They always did when she was nervous.

She supposed they always would.

The song continued to play, broken up.  They were so far from anyone, from anything.  Just the two of them dancing together in the dark.  She was in jeans and a flannel shirt.  Harry was probably wearing the same. 

Her fingers brushed up against the back of Harry’s neck, but he didn’t seem to really mind.  A smile tugged on her lips.  Harry really couldn’t dance.  Not really.  He never had, not at the Yule Ball, and she hadn’t seen him dance at all at the wedding.  Still he was twirling her, her hair flying, and they laughed quietly together, sharing a knowing smile.

Ron was probably warm at home at the Burrow.  He had family waiting for him, a loving mother and father.  Brothers who cared even if they teased him.  A sister who, well, Hermione wasn’t quite certain what Ginny felt for Ron.  A grudging kind of fondness, but still… and Ron wouldn’t even have to go back to Hogwarts this year as he supposedly at Spattergroit.

O’Children, lift up your voice…

The lyrics filtered through her mind.  What did she have to rejoice about?  She buried her head against Harry’s shoulder. 

It was strange but she was a little taller than her best friend, not that she minded at the moment.  His strong arms still held her close, steadied her, kept her together.  When she cried in the night, he was the one who would slip into her sleeping bag and hold her until her tears were spent.  He was her rock, her comforter.

Ron left, again and again, but Harry remained.

“Do you love her?” she found herself whispering near his ear, finding that she really didn’t know the answer.  She’d spent so many years listening to Ginny talk about how she loved Harry.  Ginny had been convinced of it since she was a girl of eleven, maybe even before that even though she hadn’t really met Harry until she had come to Hogwarts, and even then she barely spent any time with him.

Was that love?  Hermione didn’t really know.

She knew she didn’t love Ron.  She fancied him—at least she thought she had.  She held a fond exasperation for him and, well, she had been so jealous when she saw him with Lavender.  He broke her heart then, just like the song said.  One day, maybe, she would love him.  Or maybe she wouldn’t.  She didn’t know.

She felt so numb—but still Harry danced with her, rocking her side to side.  It didn’t matter that he didn’t answer her question.  Maybe he hadn’t heard her.  Maybe he had.

Still, they danced in their tent, the song in the background.  Then they were just standing there and looking at each other.  She was just a girl, in jeans and a flannel shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail in the hopes that it would stay out of her face.  Her nose brushed Harry’s, lightly, gently, not on purpose—or at least she didn’t think so.

Harry’s eyes shone green behind his glasses, those silly glasses that gave his face such character.

Trembling, she reached out and carefully plucked them off his nose.  Hermione wasn’t really certain why she did it, she hadn’t really even consciously thought about it.  She just wanted to see his eyes without the glasses.

His gaze became unfocused, but Harry didn’t stop her.  Hands around her waist, he stood there, poised.  Neither of them moved, the glasses still in her hand.

“I never noticed before,” she murmured, “but your eyes aren’t really green.”

A gasp escaped her lips as a hesitant kiss was pressed against her mouth, and she dropped the glasses on reflex.  She heard them crack, but her mind had stopped as her hands instinctively came up around Harry, clutching him to her.  The kiss was gentle, slow, almost chaste and absolutely perfect.  There was so much promise in it and yet absolutely no expectations.  Viktor hadn’t kissed her like this, not as if she were precious.

A sob escaped her throat and Harry’s lips immediately retreated, but she followed, running her hand into Harry’s wild mass of black half-curls, pulling him back.  She kissed him once, gently, and then again and again.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured when she finally broke away, their foreheads resting to each other.  “I just—my parents—and Elissa—“

Harry didn’t ask who Elissa was, he just held her close and let her cry, kissing away the tears.  He held her close that night, and Hermione fell asleep sprawled across his chest, still dressed in her jeans and flannel shirt.   The locket hung heavy around her neck, but she didn’t mind.  Harry was holding her and keeping her safe… that’s all that mattered in the hushed gloom.

The days moved on much as they ever had, but now there was the holding of hands and soft kisses that offered comfort.

Harry was nearly silent when Ron returned.  Hermione looked at the boy who had left differently.  He was tall, lanky.  When she had first met him he had a smudge on his nose, she recalled with some distance.  He didn’t stir anything within her any longer, not even real anger.  She half-heartedly hit him again and again, and didn’t quite believe it when Harry said he had destroyed the locket-horcrux.

It could be true, she supposed.  Ron had to be brave to be in Gryffindor, and he had proved it many times.  He followed Harry down the third floor corridor … down to the Chamber of Secrets … to the Department of Mysteries … had fought at the Battle of the Astronomy Tower …

But he was also a coward.  She looked at him critically for the first time in years.  He hung his head and shoulders slightly as if ready to take flight, his blue eyes looking about.  He wasn’t deceitful, by any means, but sometimes when it came to it, he couldn’t be relied on.  When Harry’s name had come out of the Goblet of Fire, he had turned his back on Harry and had later turned it on Hermione when he found out that Viktor was her date for the Yule Ball.  He then abandoned her again when he went off with Lavender.  He thought he was so clever, always making sure to snog in Lavender in places where she would walk in on them.  She’d never told Harry about that cruelty, hadn’t been able to find the words—but she knew Lavender didn’t know her haunts, even though she could imagine her being that cruel if she thought that Hermione fancied her boyfriend.  She was a bit territorial … but she didn’t know which classroom she went to when trying a particularly difficult charm so that the purebloods in Gryffindor wouldn’t see her struggling.  Only Harry and Ron knew that …

The thought still brought tears to her eyes.  Harry had been the shoulder she cried on sixth year.  It seemed so long ago… a lifetime in fact. 

Ron spoke about the Deluminator, and how he could hear her whispering his name.

She thought hard.  She had whispered it, in anger once or twice, and then finally in despair when she let him go.

The thought struck her.  Hermione had let Ronald go, he’d left her and she had decided not to wait any longer.  She waited in fourth year for him to ask her to the ball, waited for him to try to hold her hand after she asked him to the Slugclub Yule Party sixth year, waited while he snogged Lavender instead of kissing her… She was tired of waiting.  A small voice that sounded like her mother whispered in her dreams that she was better than that, and she was beginning to believe it.

Hermione had always felt inferior to others around her; it was why she studied so hard, and it just became worse when she entered the wizarding world.  She wasn’t a pureblood, she wasn’t even a half-blood, but Harry didn’t seem to care, not like Ron seemed to occasionally.

The Deluminator had brought Ron back to her, but it was far too late, even if the fictional ball of light went into his heart.  The thought was nearly romantic, or might have been if she still didn’t want to slip into Harry’s sleeping bag at night to quietly cry and find reassurance.  It wasn’t enough.

She hoped Ron realized that as he looked at her with hope.

It would just never be enough.  He’d left her and Harry never had.

Sitting in the snow one afternoon, keeping lookout, she watched as Harry and Ron ambled toward a frozen river.  The book of Beedle the Bard lay in her numb fingers as her eyes traveled over the breadth of Harry’s shoulders as he began to undress.  First the flannel shirt, then the undershirt.

Ron sent a splash of water toward him and Harry squirmed away from it, the Quidditch toned muscles of his stomach flexing in the chilled air.  He really was handsome.  Not conventionally so, she realized, but definitely handsome.  His lean body held a quiet strength, and a shiver passed through her that had nothing to do with the winter afternoon.

That night, without caring whether or not Ron found out, she slipped in next to Harry and rested her head over his heart, letting the sound of it soothe her.  Harry reached out for her and their fingers entwined.  Although his hands felt like ice, she didn’t pull away.  She was beginning to think that this is where she belonged, the thrum of the song they had danced to playing in her mind.

She barely spoke when they visited Xeno Lovegood, her mind turning to Luna.  She’d been unkind to her when they had all been back at school, she thought self-deprecatingly.  Hermione now understood what it was like to live quietly, inside her own mind, and she realized that perhaps this is what Luna had been doing. 

Her eyes caught Harry’s, and she squinted in order to see the dark blue ring that the green centre couldn’t help but dominate.  Blue like the ocean on a clear day, like an evening sky, like hope.  She could feel Ron’s eyes on her, but she didn’t look at him, instead keeping Harry’s gaze.  Walking over toward him, she sat down on a strange, purple and gold couch.  Her fingers reached out toward his and tangled together, and she smiled quietly to herself.

Mr. Lovegood was downstairs making tea for them.  The sounds drifted up the stairs and she could hear him muttering to himself.

Palms pressed together, she felt safe.  Harry was there.  She felt so weak, so scared, so cut off from everything she knew and loved.  All except for Harry—

Sometimes Hermione wondered if the war would ever be over, if she would ever have a life that was not filled with fear, if she would be able to find her parents who she had sent to Australia… Perhaps it would be better if they didn’t remember that they had a daughter who was a witch, if they didn’t remember they had once had another daughter, so perfect, so smart, who had been taken from them far too soon.

For the millionth time Hermione wondered if magic could have saved Elissa, but she was too afraid to ever really find out… and now there was a war to think about… and all she had grounding her to reality was the feel of Harry’s calloused hand which carefully held hers.  In the dead of night when she was wearing the locket, she wondered if she was going slowly crazy.  There was a fine line between insanity and genius, and she was uncommonly bright, grasped concepts that sometimes her teachers couldn’t quite follow… She knew she was tightly strung, it could take so little to send her over the edge…

“I’m here, Hermione,” Harry said quietly, and she looked up and caught his blue-green gaze.

She sighed in relief and rested her forehead against his shoulder, just breathing slowly and focusing on Harry’s free hand that was now gently rubbing her shoulder.  When Mr. Lovegood finally returned, she caught the jealous look on Ron’s face, but it was soon washed away with the horrible tea they were forced to drink from politeness.

They barely escaped when the Snatchers came—Snatchers or Death Eaters, Hermione wasn’t really certain.  It really didn’t matter.

Ron was yelling, but Hermione only half listened.

“How could you?” he screamed hatefully at Harry.  “You know—you knew how I feel about her, how I’ve always felt about her.”

“I didn’t—not really—“ Harry defended, his face becoming heated.  “Maybe at the wedding, a little—“

Ron shoved him angrily, and Harry stumbled backward.

“Ronald!” Hermione admonished as she stopped putting up the wards that would protect them.

“Oh, of course, takehis side.  You always do,” Ron grumbled, pushing Hermione away from him when she tried to put a hand on his arm.  She fell backward and felt her head crack against a rock.

Ron, though, was still yelling angrily at Harry.  “You saw what that horcrux said, my worst fear, and you’ve just gone and made it come true behind my back.”

Hermione blinked and looked up at the gray sky, her head throbbing.  She felt a presence beside her and her head was lifted up carefully onto Harry’s lap.

“Ron, quiet!  Can’t you see she’s hurt?” he hissed angrily.  A wadded up jacket was put under her head, which seemed to staunch the blood.

“Merlin, Hermione—“ Ron gasped, but Hermione was looking up into Harry’s eyes, which were steady and full of worry. 

“Is it deep?” she murmured, not looking at Ron who was now hovering on her other side and holding her hand.

Harry shook his head.  “There’s blood, but not that much.  You might have a concussion but I don’t think you’ll need stitches.”

She nodded tiredly.

“Just stay awake, Hermione,” he whispered, leaning down and kissing her forehead. 

Hermione could feel Ron’s angry and worried gaze on her, but she ignored him, instead looking up at Harry as he took out his wand and started chanting the spells to keep them hidden.  When he was finished, he ordered Ron to start setting up camp and held Hermione, talking to her about Hogwarts, and how jealous he had been when she paid more attention to her books than to him.  This had Hermione laughing quietly, which brought a lopsided smile to Harry’s face.

“I always paid attention to you,” she promised.  “You’re my best friend.”

He looked uncomfortable and glanced to the side toward Ron.  “What about Ron?” he murmured, seeming a bit distracted.

“What about Ginny?” she countered.

He sighed heavily, looking unusually pensive.  “Ginny—she—“  He let out a labored breath, as if trying to find the words.  “I fancied her,” he finally admitted to her, “but when we broke up, I realized that she looks so much like my mum.  It—“

“It bothers you?”

He nodded, looking down at her again.  “I think what I really wanted was to be closer to the Weasleys.  She’s beautiful and feisty, of course, and good at Quidditch, but she’s also fancied me as a love struck child.  I think she buys into the whole Chosen One nonsense a bit, even if she doesn’t always act like it, at least anymore.  But I think it’s always at the heart of what she’s thinking.  I’m the Harry Potter, not just Harry.”

“Just Harry,” Hermione murmured.  “I think I like that.”

He smiled down at her and shifted the coat under her head a bit.  “How are you feeling?”

She thought for a moment.  “Tired,” she admitted, and he nodded. 

“Ron and I will be on duty all night, but you should stay awake for a few more hours until you don’t feel so tired or light headed.”

“Yes, Healer Potter,” she teased, and he blushed.  The sight brought a smile to her lips.

“What about Ron?” he asked again, and she looked toward their third friend.  He finally had the tent up and was watching them from the entrance, a look of hurt furrowing his brows, the Deluminator in his fingers as he played with it.

“He’s left too often, and I wasn’t going to wait anymore,” she answered truthfully, “and he doesn’t understand what it’s like to have lost, not really.  He complains about Ginny following him about during the summer or trying to butt in with us, but I’d give anything…” A sob caught in her throat.

“Elissa,” Harry murmured in realization.

“My little sister.  She would be seventeen now, if she hadn’t—”

Harry pulled her closer, careful to keep his coat pressed against her head, and held her and tears streamed down her face.  She knew Ron was watching but she just didn’t care.  She needed this, needed comfort, needed Harry.  That night she fell asleep curled up around him as he kept watch.  Harry had bundled her up so she wouldn’t catch cold.  He was thoughtful like that, and she stubbornly refused to go into the tent with Ron, only to have him send her accusing gazes or ask her why she had chosen Harry over him.  She was too tired for that, her head still aching dully.


When she was a child, she would sometimes crawl into her parents’ bed and they would hold her like this.  She felt safe with them, just as she felt safe with Harry.  Hermione knew that he didn’t think less of her for being vulnerable.  He just held her tighter and kissed her softly.  Part of her felt broken, but she knew that Harry would help put her back together again, would quietly and gently support her, and she would yell at him when he was being too moody until he snapped out of it.  They worked somehow together.  She was surprised she hadn’t really noticed sooner.  Ron, she supposed, had distracted her in some ways with their constant bickering.

They didn’t bicker now.  Ron barely spoke to her and not at all to Harry.  Hermione half expected him to leave again; he’d left, after all, once before, and now he had fewer reasons to stay.

It was Valentine’s Day when Harry surprised her, turning on the radio to a slow song, and dancing with her in the tent as they had all those months ago when Ron had yet to return.  She couldn’t help but laugh and smile, letting him twirl her and twirling him.  They swung back and forth together and when Harry looked at her, even though she was wearing an old sweater and denims, she felt prettier than she had at the Yule Ball.

The song was just as bittersweet, but it didn’t really matter.  She was laughing and carefree, even with Ron’s heavy stare on them.

“Aren’t you debonair?” she laughed after Harry dipped her.  “A regular Cary Grant.”

“Did he dance?” Harry asked as they moved back and forth, their eyes never leaving each other, brown and blue-green.

“He must have,” Hermione insisted.  “I can’t imagine him not being able to dance.  Everyone did back then.”

“Dumbledore danced—at the Yule Ball—“

“As did you.  Don’t think I wasn’t sneaking glances to see if you’d manage it.”

Harry threw back his head and laughed.  “That was a horrible night.”

“I had rather a lot of fun, until…”  She glanced over to where Ron was fiddling with his Deluminator, his eyes now pointedly not looking anywhere near them.  When she looked back at Harry, Hermione noticed that his gaze was boring into her.

“If you’d rather—“ he offered a bit self-consciously, and she knew immediately what he was thinking.

“No.  No, I want to dance with you.  Just you,” she promised, her voice little more than a whisper although she was nearly certain Ron had heard them.

They smiled sadly at each other, and she rested her head on his shoulder, dancing back and forth, finding it endearing that Harry really did have two left feet and couldn’t do more than move from side to side to the music and twirl her.  Then again, she couldn’t do much either by herself.  She’d needed Viktor to lead her at the Yule Ball and even McGonagall’s lessons could only teach her so much.  Really, one lesson to learn how to dance … it was ridiculous.  At least McGonagall hadn’t just assumed that they could dance and had given them some form of instruction.

She looked up at Harry and let him kiss her, their bodies barely moving as she opened her mouth to deepen the kiss.  Hermione sighed in bliss, wondering how she had ever considered kissing Ron once.  The song changed, but they didn’t move, languidly and softly kissing each other.  She liked how she didn’t have to crane her neck upward or stand on her toes as she had with Viktor.  Instead, she could easily pull Harry closer and feel the strong lines of his legs against hers. 

Their cold noses brushed against each other, making her laugh happily into the kiss.  This was better than chocolates and flowers, though perhaps that would come later if the war ever ended… if they were ever not running… if neither of them had entered the magical world.  They had both been Muggles once, or thought they had been.  Neither of them had known about magic until they were eleven.  Ron wouldn’t understand, she realized sadly.  Magic wasn’t wondrous to him and he hadn’t had to give up his old life for it.

That night she slept against Harry, burying closer to his flannel shirt for some more warmth.  The heating charms they used were minimal.  The less magic they cast aside from the wards, the less likely they would be detected.

When she woke up to find that Ron had disappeared in the night, she wasn’t surprised.  He’d left before and she’d known he could easily leave again.  

II.

She didn’t cry that morning when they packed up and moved on.  They set up their tent in a deserted field of grain.  It was out in the open, but there wasn’t a house or road in sight.  She doubted anyone would look for them there.

It began with kisses, gentle, soft, full of comfort and fidelity.  One of them should have been serving as lookout, but it was the farthest thought from Hermione’s mind as she placed her hand over Harry’s heart and felt the steady beat—the sound of her sanity.

“Have you ever?” he asked her breathlessly and she shook her head. 

“You?”

His answer was the same. 

She knew that they were being reckless, stupid.  They were on the run from the Ministry, abandoned it seemed by the world, forced to live the lives of nomads, and yet in that one moment all that mattered was that Harry’s blue-green eyes shone with such admiration and love that she couldn’t help but give in to him.  He kissed away her pain, her fears, and she lovingly caressed each scar as she undressed him slowly.

Hermione had read that it would be painful, but it was little more than a discomfort.  She thought that perhaps she could get used to it, even like it, and just being this close to Harry was worth it.  It was a strange need in her, to be as close to him as possible, to have him kiss her, love her… There was no one left to love her, not now that Elissa had been buried for so long and her parents now oblivious Muggles who never suffered loss.

And Harry did love her.  She didn’t think she’d ever known anyone who had such a large capacity to love… but Harry, her Harry…

A soft moan left her throat and she felt as if she could barely breathe, the moment so full of pleasure.  Harry kissed her ravenously, again and again, and she lay boneless in his arms, kissing him slowly back when she gained her senses.

That night, when Harry had carefully redressed her, his head in her lap as he lay sleeping—it was her turn to serve as lookout—she wondered what her mother would say if she saw her.

Jean Granger was a hard woman.  She hadn’t always been, but since Elissa… It didn’t matter.  Hermione didn’t remember her any other way.  Her mother had never been cruel, not intentionally, but Hermione could never seem to live up to her expectations.  Oh, yes, she would brag about her precious daughter, but Hermione couldn’t help but recognize that look in her eye, the one that told her that she wasn’t Elissa.  She never could be, couldn’t replace or surpass that loss, no matter how hard she tried.

This, she knew, would be yet another failing in her mother’s eyes.  Her mother had always stressed that she should be a proper young lady, make informed decisions, and if she were to be reckless with her character as she would say, that Hermione should at least take the proper precautions.

Hermione snorted into the night, her breath visible in the cold air.

Reckless with her character—that was exactly what she had done.  She had been reckless with her character.  She’d run off with a criminal wanted by the government and another boy, lived with them alone in a tent, traipsed about, and now had made love to Harry without using any protection. 

Of course she had read about such things at Hogwarts her sixth year when she blushed whenever Ronald looked at her—before he’d gone and ruined it by running about with Lavender.  The girls in the dormitory talked, too.  Spells on the womb would make a witch barren for life no matter what potions she tried, and on a man would be extremely painful.  There was an herb, an ingredient, a bark that was whispered to work, but it was difficult to come by and while not illegal was seen as character ruining.  Even if she could get some, which she doubted as she wasn’t even certain what it was called and hadn’t been able to find a reference to it, it would ruin her character even more.

Yes, her mother would be appalled.  There were no spells she could use, and she couldn’t risk going to a chemist in the Muggle world … her mother wouldn’t remember her now, though.  It wouldn’t matter to her, but the small, judgmental voice in Hermione’s mind was still there, berating her.

Still, she sat there in the darkness, her breath puffing past her frozen lips, her fingers running through Harry’s hair as he slept curled around her.

They made love again when Harry awoke, this time pressed against the ground, their shirts still on and their breath mingling when they hovered so close to each other, not kissing, not quite, but almost—

Harry’s numb fingers fumbled with the zip of her denims, making Hermione laugh despite herself.  A bashful smile crept across Harry’s lips and his ears turned pink, and that was all the apology Hermione needed.

The denims were pulled down to above her knees and her panties soon followed.  Hermione shivered with cold, but a moment later, Harry had his pants pushed down and was joined with her, which was all she could ever really want.  Slowly she was warmed from the inside and with each thrust, their cold noses brushed.  Still, there were no kisses, no words, no promises, just the continual motion in the light of the dawn illuminating the lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead. 

Boldly, she reached up and traced it with the pad of her thumb, causing Harry to speed up until her head was thrown back, her mouth wide open as she sucked in the cold air.  Her fingers spasmed around her wand with every forward movement, again and again and again, sparks of green and blue flashing out of it when she finally keened.  It was messy and cold and uncomfortable, but then Harry kissed her, his tongue gently exploring her mouth as he hovered above her.

They went to Scotland next, holding hands as Hermione cast the wards that would protect them.  She drew strength from Harry’s presence, and when she was finished, he kissed the tip of her nose, making her smile.

“I sat with you for hours, you know, second year,” he admitted over a meal of stolen bread and chicken eggs.  It was amazing what they were able to scrounge from nearby hamlets when necessary.

Hermione’s nose scrunched a little in confusion, and Harry’s eyes gleamed.

“You’re cute like that, you know, when you’re confused.”

“Cute, am I?” she teased him, smiling to herself.  Viktor had called her beautiful, but he could barely pronounce the word.  She hadn’t believed him then, but the truth shone out of Harry’s eyes.

“Very.  Sometimes you get ink on your cheek when you’re writing an essay, but I never told you so I could keep on watching you.”

“Hardy har har,” she quipped.  “I suppose that’s what you were doing instead of studying.”

“Oh, definitely,” Harry agreed, smiling softly at her. 

Hermione turned back to her dinner, and was startled when Harry spoke again.

“I want to marry you, you know, when this is all over—or before that even.”

She gasped and looked up; Harry was watching her carefully.  “You can’t mean—Harry—“

“Of course I can,” he disagreed simply, turning back to his dinner.  He’d tried to make eggy in the basket with some success, although they didn’t have butter or a proper pan.  “I know in the wizarding world we could, but we have to wait for the Muggle world.”

“Why—“  Hermione was momentarily flabbergasted, her mind going absolutely blank.  Marriage.  Her.  Harry wanted to marry her.  The Know-It-All.  Insufferable Know-It-All, as Snape called her.  Hermy-Own-Ninny.  The Muggle-born.  It was too much, all too much.  She never thought—not Harry—why would he ever look twice at her except to do her homework even if things were different now?  She was clever, yes, but not pretty like Ginny, couldn’t play Quidditch like Cho.

“You may be eighteen, but I’m not,” he reminded her, “and I can’t get parental consent.  Mum and Dad are gone, and well, I have no idea where Aunt Petunia is.  The Order put them into protective custody somewhere, but I really have no idea.”

That would be easy enough to find out, she thought, but that didn’t quite matter at the moment.  “Harry—“

“Of course,” he continued, nibbling at the center of his meal, “I don’t even have my birth certificate.  I assume I was born at Mungo’s, but I can’t walk in there and just ask, so I’ll have to forge one somehow.  It’ll be easy enough, after all, as we won’t be trying to trick wizards, so I could always say I’m eighteen if—“

“Harry!” Hermione shouted, trying to get his attention, and he immediately stopped, his blue-green eyes shining in mischief.  “Let me think for a moment,” she pleaded, feeling overwhelmed.

“Oh yes, of course,” he agreed, solemnly, clearly no longer teasing her.

Closing her eyes, she took in a deep breath through her nose, trying to calm her racing thoughts.  Marriage—Harry—Muggles—dancing in each other’s arms to the radio—living on the run—

“Hermione Potter has a ring to it,” Harry whispered quietly, looking at his hands.  His cheeks were tinged pink and his shoulders hunched, betraying how nervous he really was.  “You’re only my third girlfriend, I know, and I’m only your—er—second?  Does McLaggen count?”

She shook her head resolutely, grasping on Harry’s words.  Her hair was up in a loose bun, unwashed, and she was still wearing the jeans and flannel from the morning when he had made love to her.  Could it really be making love, she wondered to herself, if they were still mostly clothed and lying on the ground?

Yes, her logical mind supplied.  Harry loved her and she loved Harry.  It was certainly making love, for all its fumbling and awkwardness.

“Okay, second boyfriend,” Harry agreed, trying to catch her gaze although she kept her eyes focused on the dying embers of the fire.  “We’re young, but my parents married young—and what with the war—and—I just don’t want to lose you—“

“You’ll never lose me, Harry,” she promised quietly, looking up and reaching out to him. 

His face melted into relief and he drew her closer until she was sitting between his knees.

“Isn’t it too soon?” she tried to reason.  “I know I’m eighteen, but we’d still be at Hogwarts if not for—everything.”

“But we aren’t.  We’re past that—“

“I want to finish Hogwarts, get my degree,” she disagreed, turning her head so that he could kiss her gently, their noses bumping clumsily against each other. 

“And you will,” he murmured when he finally drew away, resting his forehead against her temple.

Hermione closed her eyes and sighed.

“You don’t have to say ‘yes,’ now, but think about it, Hermione.”  A desperate tinge to his voice caused her heart to ache, but she didn’t respond, just snuggling closer to his warmth.

The sounds of the forest filtered around them, and she let them.  She knew Harry was awake; she could feel his gaze upon her, steadfast, hopeful and loving. 

In the fairy stories her mother had read her as a child, the princess always knew the answer.  The prince was charming, had saved her from a dragon or a wicked stepmother, and the proposal and wedding was a culmination of their love.  Their kingdoms were at peace, everything was perfect; but she was just a girl, a Muggle-born girl, living on the run from day to day, subsisting off of stolen food, and she didn’t have a future.  Not yet, not anymore.  They had taken it from her.  The Ministry, Pureblood extremists, Death Eaters, Voldemort.

Thinking the name caused her to flinch out of habit, and Harry held her closely, whispering sweet nothings in her ear.  She felt—she felt loved, and as she slipped into sleep, she knew her answer.

She didn’t tell Harry, of course, not right away.  They kept moving from place to place, never staying more than one night, and each evening they would fumble at each other’s clothes, gasping into each other’s mouths, moving a little less clumsily than before.

“I wonder what it might be like in a bed,” Harry half mused as he was spooned against her one evening.  It was still cold, this early in March, but they were lying on a bed of leaves, darkness hovering above them.

It put a thought in Hermione’s mind, one she couldn’t quite get rid of for all her trying, and so a week later, despite her judgment, she Apparated them to her childhood home. 

The street was just as she remembered it, partially cobbled, too narrow for more than one car or a lorry if it went up partially onto the sidewalk.  She loved her sleepy little village away from the M, but close enough so that her parents could get into the office.  The office … where she had begged again and again to have braces so that she could have slightly smaller teeth.  Her parents wouldn’t remember that anymore. . . would never remember anything about her anymore. 

“Where are we?” Harry whispered, but she just intertwined their fingers and took him to the shed, which was never used.

They stayed out of the streetlight, it was still early morning, and her parents would be bustling about with her breakfasts.  Parents—they never remembered being her parents, would see her only as a stranger—did that mean that she was parentless?

If a tree fell in the middle of a forest with no one around for miles, would it still make a sound?

A tear slipped down her cheek, and she quickly wiped it away with the back of her free hand.

“This is Hamlet-on-Avon,” she began to tell Harry factually, a bit of a quiver in her voice.  “I grew up in that house once upon a time, a very long time ago.”

“Is it safe?” Harry whispered worriedly, as he took his borrowed wand out of his pocket and flexed his fingers around it.  The action caused a smile to sneak up on Hermione’s face.

“Probably not,” she agreed, her eyes narrowed as she saw a curtain flutter from a neighbor’s house.  How she hated busybodies.  Hopefully she wouldn’t be recognized or if she was, the gentle notice-me-not spells on her and Harry would cause the woman to think about her burning breakfast and soon forget out them.  Magic had its uses, after all.  “But,” she reasoned, “I’d rather not have to forge two birth certificates when we get married.”

Harry stilled momentarily behind her, and she turned to see a shocked and happy expression on his face.  “You mean it?”

She opened the shed door and pulled him in, kissing him lightly as the door shut behind them.  “Course I do, Harry,” she murmured.  “You’re my family now—have been for years.”

They rummaged through all the files that Hermione had hid out here, knowing that her father would never come looking, and a Death Eater wouldn’t think to investigate further after using Legilimency on her parents.  They would leave in a huff, thinking they’d found the wrong Grangers.  She’d even gone so far as to turn her room with its girly sheets and stuffed animals into a respectable guest room, no hint that a child had ever lived there, let alone a witch.

She wondered what her sister would have thought if she were still alive, if Elissa would look at her with accusation in her large brown eyes.

When Harry commented that she was crying, she quickly blinked and mentioned that it must be the dust, before attacking another box.  Hermione could still feel Harry’s gaze on her, but she paid it no mind.  It did not do to dwell in the past… she now had a future ahead of her, no matter whether or not she was always on the run or at war.

“Hmm,” Harry hummed in the back of his throat happily, a smile curving his lips and a light in his blue-green eyes. 

Hermione held back a chuckle.  Harry was happy.  He always hummed when he was contented with life—which was far too infrequent.

A song whispered through her mind, and she couldn’t help but smile a little, as she remembered dancing in Harry’s arms all those months ago.  Lift up your voice, lift up your voice…

So sad, so mournful, so without hope, and now for the first time in months, Hermione felt that perhaps not all was lost… there might be a future, they would defeat You-Know-Who, somehow, one day, and they would be together when it happened, hands clasped, in love.  They would remain standing no matter the wreckage; they would survive.  They always did against the odds.  She had her cool logic and Harry—a smile quirked at the side of her lips.  Harry had that strange luck and intuition that rarely led him wrong.  He could make leaps of faith and land on his two feet.  He managed to get to the Philosopher’s Stone first year, saved Ginny second year, fought dozens of Dementors and saved Sirius third, won the Triwizard tournament, stood up against Voldemort…

Like a spectre, her mind flitted back to fifth year, to Cho, then to sixth, to Ginny, who Harry had saved…

“You’re no longer smiling,” Harry remarked sadly, and Hermione turned to see him sifting through a box, photographs from before Elissa had died in his hands.  Elissa was always alone in them or with her parents, Hermione realized.  She’d disappeared with the spell… only the hurt memory, if that, remained. 

She caught Harry’s concerned gaze and she sighed.  “I was just thinking,” she admitted, but he didn’t turn back to the box.

“About—?”

A lie lingered on the tip of her tongue, but she swallowed it at the open question that was written across Harry’s face.  They were getting married, she realized.  Married.  She needed to lay this ghost to rest, couldn’t wonder if things had really been different…

“Ginny,” she admitted quietly, holding his gaze no matter how difficult it strangely was in that moment.  “You said she was too much like your mum.”

“Yes, she was.”

“Well, did it ever occur to you, that I’m rather like your mum, too?” She blushed.

Confusion colored Harry’s eyes briefly, and she quickly explained.

“I’m a Muggle-born, a clever one.  Professor Slughorn said your mother was brilliant, and she was a Muggle-born.”

“I suppose,” he hedged, the bewildered look causing his lips to thin a little.

“And I’m not as pretty as your mother was, or Ginny.”

“Yes, you are,” he quickly defended, now latching onto a part of the conversation he seemed to understand.  “You’re cute, and pretty.  When you are excited about something you’ve read, your cheeks glow pink and you’ve chewed your lips until they shine red, and your eyes—“

“Harry, that hardly—“

“It makes you beautiful,” he argued, his voice quiet.  “Yes, you may be smart like mum, but I never think when I look at you that you might be like her.  I thought that with Ginny… not with you.  You’ve always been Hermione, my Hermione, the girl who lied to Professor McGonagall that first Halloween and said she had gone looking for the troll, just to protect me.  No one had done that for me before.  Yeah, they would lie to protect themselves, Ron always did, but you lied to protect me.”

And Ron, Hermione thought, but she didn’t say it aloud.  She never would.

“You were my knight in shining armor, of a sort,” she admitted quietly.  “I wrote my parents home and told them all about it.”  A blush on her cheeks, she turned back to her box, looking for that ridiculous birth certificate.  “I wonder what would have happened, if the war hadn’t started again.”

“Snape would be torturing us in Potions,” Harry quipped, and Hermione laughed.

“You mean, Defense.”

“Oh, right, Defense,” Harry agreed.  “Slughorn would be torturing us in Potions.”

Professor Slughorn, Harry,” Hermione corrected out of habit, shaking her head and feeling her hair come out of her loose bun.  “You’d be Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, I’d of course be Head Girl…”

“Of course,” Harry answered, a smirk on his lips as he glanced up at her, a twinkle in his eyes.  “No one had anything on you, not even Malfoy.”

“No,” she agreed, slipping into memories of the past.  “Though he always did try.”

“So much for pureblood supremacy,” Harry joked.  “He’d be off complaining to someone about it, and Ron would be snogging Lavender or someone else—and skiving off studying.”

“As would you,” Hermione reminded him.

Harry blushed a deep red.  “No,” he argued.  “I’d fancy you so much that I’d let you bully me into it, and do surprisingly well at it that even you would be surprised in the end.”  Hermione stopped and stared, and saw that the tips of Harry’s ears had even turned pink.

“Would you still want to be an Auror?”  Hermione closed the box she had been sorting through and pushed it aside.  She dusted off another and sneezed while opening it.  Really, if she weren’t afraid of drawing attention to her parents, she’d cast a cleaning spell or two, but it would be best if the house were completely free from magic since she no longer lived there, and never officially had anymore.

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted.  “After all this, I think I’ll be tired of catching dark wizards—and the Ministry is completely inept.  Toilet transportation,” he scoffed, causing the two of them to dissolve into quiet laughter.

“I wonder what Percy thinks of it all,” Hermione finally thought aloud when she gained control of herself.  The two of them were now sitting in the centre of the shed, with so many boxes around them.  Really, this was getting ridiculous.  They should have found it already.  How many places could a birth certificate actually go?

“Probably complains about what it does to his shoes, pompous idiot.”

“True.”

“You fancied—aha!” Harry called out and held up an old piece of paper that was clearly what they had been looking for.

“Finally,” Hermione said with a half-smile.

“So now all we need is mine,” Harry remarked, standing.  He held out his hand to Hermione who accepted it.  As she stood, she found herself standing nose to nose with Harry, and he leaned down and kissed her, leaving her slightly breathless.

The sound of Apparition outside the shed caused them both to look worriedly at the door, and a moment later, Harry had wrapped his arm around her waist, and Disapparated, leaving whoever who had found them behind.

III.

A loud crack resounded across water and they stumbled on the banks of a creek. 

“Wait, isn’t this—?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Harry answered a little sheepish, reluctantly releasing Hermione so that they could start putting up protective spells.  “It’s the first place I could think about on such short notice—and who would really think to look for us in Ottery-St.-Catchpole?”

“Anyone,” Hermione argued, though she quickly returned to chanting spells so that no one would be able to detect their presence.

She felt uneasy the whole afternoon, refusing to leave the boundaries of their spell since so many wizarding families lived nearby.  There were the Weasleys and the Lovegoods, of course, but also the Diggorys and who knew who else.  Luna was probably still missing, so that would make Xenophilius just as (if not more) desperate and, well, one of the unknown families could be Death Eaters or at least sympathizers.  There was also the small matter on the prices on their heads.

“At least I thought of here instead of Hogwarts or Godric’s Hollow,” Harry argued quietly when the last of their protective spells had been put up.  “Death Eaters and You-Know-Who would probably think of there first before here.”

“Yeah, but no one knows about your falling out with—well,” she didn’t want to say his name, not again.  It still stung that he had abandoned the both of them after they had been through so much, especially without the influence of the Horcrux locket this time.  “You’ve always been close with the Weasleys.”

“And yet I missed Bill’s wedding,” Harry quipped, and the tension between them dissolved almost immediately.  “You danced with Ron.”

“He asked me,” Hermione responded quietly, wishing the tension had not seeped back into their conversation.

“Would you have danced with Krum if he had asked?”  The question was far too perceptive, and Hermione wished Harry hadn’t thought to ask it.

“I honestly don’t know,” she answered after a long silence.  “Probably.  Yes.  Yes, I think I would have.”

“And McLaggen?”  Hermione didn’t need to turn around to know that he was now teasing her.

“Ah, Cormac, you mean?”  She turned and when she caught Harry’s gaze, they descended into quiet laughter.  “What a silly thing to do—inviting Cormac to the SlugClub.  I should have just gone with Smith or thought of going with you before you had asked me.”

“Yes, you should have,” Harry agreed.  “I wonder what would have happened if you had?”

Hermione found herself blushing.  “I don’t know.  Any number of things, I suppose?”

“What if I had kissed you?”  Harry moved closer to her and she angled her face upward, her nose brushing the stubble on his chin.

“What if you had?”  She’d meant to be teasing, but instead her voice came out a breathy whisper, but it hardly mattered because now Harry was kissing her again and again, and she was lost in his arms, forgetting about the SlugClub, and anyone else she may have danced with all those months ago.

It was an unspoken agreement that Hermione would forge Harry’s birth certificate as she was better at charms than he was.  They rarely took the lookout separately anymore, and she sat with her back against his chest, staring at her own document with as much concentration as she could muster, given that Harry was playing with a loose strand of her hair.

If she looked up past the piece of paper, she could see the lights go on and off in the Burrow, and she wondered if Ginny would yet be home for Easter.  She’d lost track of the days so long ago; she wondered if there would ever be a time when she would completely find them again.

They made love under the stars, a little way from the river, and all Hermione could hear was Harry’s deep breaths against her neck.  Their denims were pushed clear off this time, and she wrapped her legs around him, her socks rubbing lightly against the back of his thighs.  It wasn’t romantic, to say the least, but it was just her and Harry—no one else existed.  Sometimes she thought she would have gone mad if she hadn’t had this connection with him, if he hadn’t kissed her, if she hadn’t let him, if Ron hadn’t left his radio behind when he’d abandoned them the first time.

When it was over and the world stopped sparkling, Hermione lay curled up against Harry, her hand resting on his stomach as if they were like any two other lovers in the world.  She had come, sharp and painfully, but Harry had held her through it, kissing her unresponsive lips and running his hands through her bushy hair.

“He saw this, you know,” Harry whispered, and she forced herself to listen, although all she wanted to do was sleep in Harry’s arms.  “He saw this, between us, when he destroyed the locket.”

“How strange,” she murmured.  “Why?”

For a long while, she thought Harry had drifted off to sleep, but his arm tightened around her, pulling her up until he could reach down and kiss her chastely.  Salty tears embittered the kiss, but Hermione pressed closer, not willing to draw away first, not when she felt that Harry needed her.

Then there were scrambling hands, and the kiss deepened, catching all her breath, and Hermione wanted Harry’s shirt to be off, just once, it was warm enough now.  She tugged at the bottom of it, sliding it up to reveal his toned stomach, up again and again until he helped her.  With a toss of his hand, it was thrown on the ground, and her fingers immediately found the scar from the locket, when it had almost killed Harry, had almost taken him away from her, before she really knew what it was like to love.

“I love you,” she murmured, as she reached down to kiss the charred flesh, carefully at first so as not to embarrass him.  She was still so new to this—they were still so new to making love, to being together.  The war had forced it to happen more quickly than she thought it would have otherwise, but she didn’t mind, not when Harry pushed her gently away and carefully pulled her sweater over her head until she was wearing only her knickers and an old bra.  It had been pretty once, lacy, and a bright blue, but continual washing in cold rivers had turned it a muddy-bluish-purple.

“You’re so beautiful,” Harry promised her, and then they were kissing again, their hands scrambling at fastenings, and she hissed as the cold air met her breasts before she was pressed against Harry once again.

It was strange and exhilarating when they were finally bared before one another, Harry holding her around the waist as she leaned backward so he could trace the contours of her chest with his tongue.  She had always thought them too small, not pretty enough, but Harry made her forget all her fears and just focus on the fact that they were together and there was no longer anything between them.

Harry fell asleep afterward, sprawled across Hermione, but she didn’t mind.  Instead, she picked up the discarded birth certificate, focusing in on the signature, the place where her parents’ names were listed, and she sighed.  It would be easy enough, she decided, setting it down and stroking Harry’s hair carefully as he slept, her stomach used as a pillow. 

Happiness—this was what happiness felt like, she realized quietly.

Without moving him, she spelled their clothes back on, afraid that they might catch cold.  It was still only early March.

The next morning, Harry kissed her deeply and repeatedly, and she laughed at his enthusiasm.  He packed up their small unused tent, and Hermione quickly copied the birth certificate, making the paper appear faded and folded from years of use, sighing as she scribbled in the two signatures, altering the ink afterwards so it looked like two different pens were used.

“There you are,” she said, holding it up to Harry, who took it and looked it over.  “31 July, 1979.  You’re legally eighteen.”

“Now all we need is a minister or a justice of the peace.”

“That will be easy enough.  A few mind-altering spells and compulsions and they’ll forget that they haven’t waited the needed period or called out our names.”

Harry came up from behind her, and she leaned into his familiar touch.  “When then?” he asked, his voice husky and wanting.

She laughed to herself as she turned in his arms and kissed him sweetly.  “Whenever you want, Mr. Potter.”

They vanished away with a crack, Hermione only just noticing at the edge of her vision a mop of ginger hair turned away from them.

Three days later and they were married, the justice mumbling about young people and their inability to dress for the occasion, though neither of them really cared.  They stood hand in hand, Harry looking at her lovingly, in nothing more than their denims and newly washed shirt.  Harry had managed to scare up two simple wedding rings when he had gone out for food earlier that morning, and no matter how much Hermione pressed and prodded, he wouldn’t tell her where they were from.  When she got a closer look at them, she saw that they were engraved with the name Potter, and wondered if they had been at Godric’s Hollow, as she knew Harry never would have risked going to Gringotts, even if they were in London at the moment.  It was just so much easier to blend in with the crowd, their wands hidden where Muggles couldn’t see them. 

A few spells were all it had taken for the public servant to forget that they’d never filed for a marriage license, one instead magically appearing when he had looked away just for a moment.  Harry chuckled to himself at Hermione’s handiwork, kissing her lips slowly even when the poor Muggle cleared his throat several times to gain their attention.  In the end, it was all done and official within a little more than half an hour.

Hermione could barely remember the words, it had happened so quickly, but her thoughts couldn’t help but stray to her lost parents, to her little sister who had been dead for so long, but then Harry kissed her again and she threw herself into the moment, wanting this little shard of happiness in all the loss and war that surrounded her and threatened to destroy her completely.  Feeling a little reckless, the two had wandered into a small café a few blocks away, wanting a few moments to celebrate instead of always hiding in the middle of nowhere.

“This isn’t safe,” Hermione reminded Harry again, and he just smiled sheepishly at her.

“No, it probably isn’t, but I’d like just one meal in a proper restaurant with my wife.  Hermione Potter.”

“Hermione Potter,” she agreed, letting him pass her a menu which she only glanced at before setting it aside, resting her chin in her hand as she stared, entranced, at Harry.

A blush crept across his cheek at her scrutiny.  “What are you looking at?”

“My husband,” she teased.  “You haven’t shaved in months, darling.”

“Darling, am I?” he asked, his cheeks still slightly pink.

“Well, I could call you something else, but don’t all married couples have pet names for each other?”

“Uncle Vernon called my aunt ‘pet.’  I could never figure out if it was short for Petunia or not.”

The two caught each other’s eyes and immediately broke into laughter.  “Well,” Hermione wheezed out, still laughing, “I promise never to call you ‘pet’ if you promise the same.”

“It’s a deal,” Harry immediately agreed, reaching out for her hand.  Their fingers intertwined, the white gold shining in the dim light of the café.  “Let’s also not name any of our children ‘Dudley.’”

“Elissa,” Hermione whispered, her mood suddenly somber.  “If we have a daughter, could we name her Elissa, for my little sister?”

Harry’s eyes shone green, and Hermione quickly looked away, and started to ramble.  “Strange names run in my father’s family, the Grangers.  They’re almost wizard names, come to think of it.  Elissa for the Queen of Carthage, Hermione for the daughter of Helen of Troy; they’re all Greek or Roman.  I even had a great-grandfather named Priam of all dreadful names—who is named Priam, anyway?”

“Your great-grandfather,” Harry answered carefully.  “And of course we can name our oldest daughter Elissa.”  He smiled lovingly at her and squeezed her hand.

Hermione couldn’t help but blush.  It was their wedding day and they were already speaking about children, although there was no chance of that, not so soon.  A lingering thought flickered across her mind, and Hermione stilled.

“Harry, what’s today’s date?”

“20 March,” he responded.  “I thought you were staring at the marriage certificate,” he teased.

“I was,” she answered distractedly, not noticing that Harry was now looking at her in concern.  “The twentieth.  Two weeks late.” 

“Two weeks?”

“Shh,” Hermione quickly cut him off, taking out her beaded purse and sliding it under the table.  She put her hand in it, rummaging through it, and cursing under her breath.  “How could I be so stupid?”

Harry just sat there, staring at her in bewilderment.  The waitress came by, but Hermione hardly noticed, and Harry must have ordered them their lunch because a few minutes later she realized their menus were gone.

“Two weeks late?” Harry prodded, and Hermione blushed despite herself.

“Er—yes,” she agreed, finally pulling out her academic calendar.  It was practically useless now, except for keeping track of where they’d been, when she—Hermione swallowed.  Flipping open to February, her heart sank when she knew the answer.  “Oh no.”

At Harry’s questioning look, she slid the diary over to him.  He looked down at it in confusion.  “You have 5 February circled,” he stated, and she sighed.  Sometimes she forgot how clueless boys could be, especially Harry.  Ron might have understood, he had a younger sister after all, but Harry had no point of reference. 

“I think—I think I might be pregnant,” she whispered dejectedly.  “We didn’t use—and—oh my God—we’re on the run, Harry.”  She looked up and saw instead of a frown or muddled look that she expected on Harry’s face, a bright smile had taken his face.

“Really?  You’re—really?” he gasped happily, reaching out and cupping her face with his hands.

“I—I think so,” she said, off balance.  Why was Harry so happy?  They lived in a tent, moving from place to place, had prices on their heads, and he was happy to bring a child into that—into a world where there was You-Know-Who and Death Eaters who hated Muggle-borns and, well, Harry?

Was he mental?

“H-Harry?” she gasped, but Harry was leaning across the table, kissing her lingeringly, his thumbs gently brushing away tears she hadn’t even realized she’d been crying.

“A family,” he whispered reverently, and then he was kissing her again and again, and Hermione knew, that no matter what happened, Harry would keep both her and the baby safe, and a small flame of hope ignited in her heart.  Today was a celebration after all; there would be plenty of worrying later, much later…

The days passed lazily, with Harry researching the Deathly Hallows and Hermione trying to scrounge up any information on pregnancy without really having access to a reliable bookstore.  Sometimes, in their search for food, they’d come across a small town, and Hermione would sniff out the bookstore and purchase whatever book they had on the subject, but that happened only once or twice.  Harry would watch her happily with a gleam in his eye, and on those nights he would make love to her carefully within the tent, because he was determined that she not catch cold, even if it was getting warmer.

“Maybe we could find a cottage somewhere,” Harry mused, “far away from everyone.”

“Perhaps,” Hermione agreed, although both knew that it was not possible—not yet.  Someday, hopefully, before or just after the baby was born.

And there was going to be a baby.  Hermione was now nearly a month late and she had even managed to find an obscure spell that would tell her definitively.  There was no question once the spell confirmed what she had already known, and except for the happiness and contentment that radiated off of Harry, she wondered in the dead of night how she could have been so foolish to become pregnant in the middle of a war.

It was too late now, though, and no child of hers would be unwanted, she decided, so she quietly put her fears aside, to be thought of when everything was over and You-Know-Who was finally gone, even if that was decades away.

“Who should we name godparents?” she asked one day when she found nothing interesting in a large book she was reading.  The first names that came to mind were Ron and Ginny, but that would be ridiculous.  She knew that Harry had broken up with Ginny at the end of last year, but Ginny still considered him hers, so that would be ill-advised, and Ron … well, that was just a dreadful idea.

“Luna?” Harry mused, but that only brought about thoughts of how she was probably still missing.

“Yes, Luna,” she agreed, quietly.  “What about Neville?”

Harry nodded solemnly.  “Luna and Neville.  I couldn’t think of better godparents to little Elissa.”

They never discussed what they would call the baby if it were a boy, but that could come later.  Hermione smiled quietly to herself, letting herself lean against Harry for warmth.

It was stupid, really, when it had finally happened.  She remembered that Ron had said the name was taboo, but she had only been half-listening at the time.  The two were sitting in the tent in the middle of a rather heavy rainstorm, listening to Potterwatch on the little radio.

“What if V-Voldemort finds out about the baby?” Hermione asked quietly, worry tainting her voice, but Harry never had a chance to answer.  Almost immediately she felt their wards drop and Harry was pushing her out of the tent in front of him so that she could get away first. 

Everything was a blur.  She remembered casting the spell on Harry to morph his features into that of a gargoyle, and then there were Snatchers, all around them, and there was no way to escape.  Hermione insisted that her name was Penelope Clearwater, of all people, while Harry said he was Vernon Dudley.  Then they had seen his scar, and Hermione knew they had been found out.  She shot Harry a desperate look, but his eyes were calm, telling her that she and the baby would be safe.

But they weren’t.

“Ah, what a pretty little Mudblood,” Bellatrix had cooed, once Harry had been stashed away somewhere else in the Malfoy’s Manor. 

The pain was intolerable, but Hermione remained silent, only screaming when she could no longer hold it in.  She tried to think of Harry, of the child, but that only made her screams worse at the thought of what the Cruciatius would do to her unborn child.  It was so little, only about a month and a half along, and so much could go wrong.  She almost wept for joy when the pain finally stopped only to feel Bellatrix carving the word Mudblood into her arm. 

It was disgusting.  She could feel the dark magic pouring out of it.  It would scar, remain there forever, like the words on the back of Harry’s hand: I must not tell lies.

I must not tell lies, she repeated in her mind, again and again.  I must not tell lies.  Mudblood.  Elissa.  Harry.  Little Elle, as she had taken to thinking of her daughter.

She felt long fingers skate up her arm, past her wrist, and finally to her ring finger, where her wedding band was.  “No,” she begged, tears in her eyes, but it only made Bellatrix cackle.

“Has ickle little Mudblood gone off and married a filthy ickle Muggle?” Bellatrix cooed, sliding her fingers around the ring and attempting to tug it off.

The ring stayed in place.  Hermione could only stare at it, and Bellatrix tried again and again to no avail.

“A magical ring, then, ickle Mudblood?” she spat.  “Whose bloodline are you contaminating?  Whose?”

A wand was thrust into her neck, cutting off Hermione’s breath.  She looked up into deranged gray eyes that looked so much like Sirius’s, but she didn’t speak, not when she felt the Cruciatius Curse take over her body again.  A scream escaped from her lips, and she was too tired to even cry as her body was wracked with pain, every nerve on fire.

Then there was nothing but blackness, and somewhere in her dreams, Hermione thought she must have died, and she wept in her nightmare, wishing to have remained with Harry just a little bit longer.  Their happiness had been far too short and hard-gained, their child not even quickening within her yet.

IV.

She didn’t know how long she floated among the darkness, tears falling in her soul although she didn’t seem to have a body.  It could have been mere moments, a few hours, several years.  All she knew was that her very heart was bleeding from the loss of Harry, whom she adored with every particle of her being.  It had been him all along, she had realized, the boy whose glasses she had to fix upon first meeting him on the Hogwarts Express.  She had almost ruined it then, she realized, telling him every book she had ever read that had his name in it.  She’d meant it to be a compliment, to show that she was knowledgeable and they could be compatible as friends, but he had only thought her strange and let Ron torment her for their first few months at school.

Finally, after an age, she realized that she was no longer in darkness but in dim light.  There was a bed, unfamiliar to her, but she could feel the mattress and the pillow she was lying on, and the strong arm that was wrapped neatly around her waist under the covers.

“Hmm…Harry,” she murmured sleepily.

The arm tightened around her and she sighed in contentment.  Chapped lips were pressed against her neck, and she snuggled closer to the warmth behind her.

“Where are we?” she mumbled, her fingers stroking the pillows.  The last thing she remembered was being in their tent… hidden away from the world.

“Shell Cottage,” Harry replied quietly, pulling her closer.  “You’ve been unwell.”

“Unwell?”  She scrunched up her nose in confusion, trying to remember an illness.

“Yes, but you’re on the mend,” Harry promised cautiously, and without opening her eyes, Hermione turned in his embrace and snuggled against his chest.

“What’s Shell Cottage then?”

“Bill and Fleur’s home,” Harry answered, and immediately Hermione was awake, sitting up and accidentally knocking her head against Harry’s.

“Sorry,” she murmured as she clutched her head, blinking about the strange little room.  They were in a small bed, that would be better suited to fitting one let alone two people, and there were a few others filled with other occupants.  “Luna?”

Harry reached up and brushed the hair from her face and kissed her softly.  “Yes. She and a few others were being held prisoner in the Malfoys’ dungeons.”

Hermione snorted.  “Trust the Malfoys to have dungeons in their house.”  Then there were flashes of light, and she remembered pain and humiliation, and—she looked down at her arm and saw the word etched into it.  It hadn’t healed, just as she supposed.  “The baby?” she whispered desperately and looked up into Harry’s eyes.

“Safe,” he promised.  “As far as we can tell, if you stay in bed until you give birth—“

“In bed!” she exclaimed, and Luna turned over in her sleep, a mess of golden tangles surrounding her face.

“In bed,” Harry stated firmly but quietly.  “You almost lost little Elissa—I won’t lose either of you.”

“But the war—“

“Can and will be fought, but you are staying here, Hermione Jean Potter,” he ordered, his blue-green eyes flashing.

“Harry, you can’t possibly—“

But he kissed her desperately, pouring all of his fear and desperation into it, and she couldn’t help but melt into him, remember all that they had both lost, knowing that he was terrified that they would lose each other… that they almost had lost each other.

“Promise me,” he begged when he finally pulled away.

Hermione sighed.  She reached up and traced his lightning bolt scar on his forehead with the pad of her thumb and breathed out slowly.  “Only if you swear you’ll come back to me and Elle.”

The days were overly quiet from then on at Shell Cottage.  Although she never heard it spoken about, she assumed that Harry had said that her health was delicate or some such nonsense, but no one mentioned their marriage or even her pregnancy—not even Ron who came to visit her the next day, blushing and stammering as he sat at the end of her bed.

“This reminds me of second year,” he said during an awkward pause, and Hermione turned away from him, not liking to remember how she was petrified for several months.  She wondered absently if Crookshanks was still at the Burrow, and asked him so.

“Er—I suppose,” he said, blushing again and reaching for her hand. 

She pulled it out of his reach.  “Any chance Bill or Fleur could ask for him?”  She had her books of course, but Harry had been off speaking with Griphook about breaking into Gringotts.  Harry was trying to keep her separate from the conversation so as not to worry her, but it only worried her more, and she needed some for of distraction since Harry refused to allow her to leave the bed.

“Well, you can ask them yourself,” Ron said petulantly.  “Why won’t you move from bed, anyway?”

“Affects of the Cruciatius,” she responded simply.

“Harry wasn’t in bed for so long after the Final Task,” Ron sulked.

“No,” Hermione responded carefully, “but he was in a Hospital ward with potions and a matron.  I am not.”

At least that quieted Ron for awhile.

Every night Harry would slip into the room and sleep beside her, his hand curled protectively around her stomach.  They didn’t make love, Hermione was too uncomfortable knowing that Luna was sleeping in the room, but Harry would kiss her languidly and repeatedly, until she fell asleep in his embrace.

Fleur, surprisingly, was the first one to confront Hermione about her marriage.  “I ‘ave not stupidity, ‘Ermione,” she chided one day when she brought up lunch.  “I see zee way zat ‘Arry looks at you, and you both ‘ave zee rings.”

Hermione blushed and bit her lip.

“And I am theenking zat zere must be a reason, non, for you to steell be een bed.  A baby, oui?—I ‘ave seen zee spells zat our ‘Arry ‘as looked up when you first arrived.  ‘E would not let anyone near you, Madame.  Ze rings are Muggle, oui?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” she agreed quietly.  She had wondered why Ron hadn’t recognized her wedding ring—though Bellatrix had strangely enough.  Perhaps it had fallen out of practice in the wizarding world or some such nonsense.  “Is there any chance that my cat might be sent over from the Burrow?”

Fleur looked at her speculatively.  “I believe zat Ronald ‘as been trying to ‘ave eet done.  ‘E eez very much in love weeth you, you know.”

“Yes,” Hermione agreed.  “I was afraid of that.”  But not sorry.  She could never be sorry for falling in love with Harry and for loving him instead.

A week and a half later, Crookshanks magically appeared and Hermione had been overjoyed to see her familiar once again.  Harry was quite put out the first night when Crookshanks had hissed at him when he tried to slip into bed, but it made Hermione laugh and in turn he didn’t seem to mind very much, although he did grumble about it for the next few nights.

She found it rather sweet.  “What will you do when we have our own cottage?”

“Hope that Crookshanks takes to protecting Little Elissa and not you in the night.”  Hermione kissed him for his trouble and he seemed pleased with the turn of events.

Hermione was finally released from bed for an afternoon when Lupin came by, having heard that Harry was now there.  “Professor!” she greeted warmly when he entered the small, warm kitchen where she was set up with several pillows and a blanket.  “How are you?  How’s Tonks?”

“I’m well, Miss Granger—Hermione,” he corrected, taking a seat next to her.  “And I am no longer your professor.”

“Of course.  Old habits die hard, I suppose,” she responded, smiling tiredly.

The little kitchen was much deserted except for the two of them, and when Harry came in, he made little pretense of instantly fluffing Hermione’s pillows and kissing her lightly when she begged him to stop. 

“Ah, I see how it is,” Remus mused, taking a sip of his tea.  Harry had pulled up a chair next to Hermione’s and had entwined his fingers with his.  “How long has this been going on?”

“About Christmas,” Harry answered, squeezing Hermione’s hand.  “We were married in March, but haven’t told anyone yet.”

“Fleur knows,” Hermione remarked.  “She recognized our wedding rings.”

Harry seemed startled by this, but didn’t much react.  “Well, I don’t think Bill knows.”

“Ron doesn’t,” Hermione agreed, “though Luna might.”

“Which brings me, strangely, to the reason for my visit,” Remus said, his amber eyes alight, before asking Harry to be his son’s godfather.  He quickly amended the request to include Hermione as godmother, and she agreed as long as Tonks wouldn’t mind.

“Oh, not at all.  Tonks was always fond of you and Ginny.  She never had any sisters of her own.”

The mention of Ginny caused Hermione’s throat to tighten a little, but she removed the thought from her mind.  Still, she became quiet for the rest of the day, instead reading up as much as possible on Gingotts in one of the moldier books that she had managed to bring along from Grimmauld Place.  There wasn’t a great deal known about the Goblin Bank, but there were several suppositions that had made it into books on wizarding security and goblins in general. 

Hermione was in tears when Harry finally made to leave to break into Gringotts.  “Bring Luna,” she insisted, not wanting to trust her husband to their best friend, who had a penchant for abandoning them and jealousy.  Luna was frank and loyal, and had already quietly agreed to be their eldest child’s godmother.  She was essentially family in a way that Ron now never would be—to either of them.

The Daily Prophet was the first way Hermione heard about the Battle at Hogwarts.  Little was known—Voldemort was dead; Harry was alive and victorious, and Kingsley was named Interim Minister for Magic.  That, however, was about it.  Hermione had been left alone in Shell Cottage for the final battle, and Fleur and Bill hadn’t made it back yet.  She was far from helpless, using small bits of magic to cook food, and had fortunately been able to make up a daybed in the kitchen so that she would not have to move extra much.

Harry was alive, thank the Lord.  Tears slipped down her cheeks and she didn’t bother to try to keep herself from weeping.  He was safe, their child was safe and in a month she would begin to show, and now they could walk about without persecution.  It was too much to bear.

Everything had changed in such a short amount of time—she was married, pregnant, and she hadn’t taken her N.E.W.T.s.  For some strange reason, this made her cry even harder, perhaps because she was feeling nostalgic and trapped and alone in a strange house.  She should be by Harry’s side, helping him, not here—not alone—so alone, just like after Elissa had died when she was a child.

They had shared a room before that.  Hermione used to complain about it, claiming that Elissa ruined everything, but after Elissa was gone… the house had felt unbearably empty, and all she could do was retreat into herself and read, because her sister could no longer learn anything, could no longer annoy her, speak with her.

Her sister should be here, holding her hand and telling her what a wonderful mother she would make, tease her about being such a plain bride as she hadn’t even worn a dress.  That’s what sisters were supposed to do, wasn’t it?  Ginny teased Ron about his horrible dress robes and about how he had never kissed a girl.

It was over, Hermione realized, the moment Ginny had said that.  She had fancied Ron before, but he had chosen Lavender over her, and she had stupidly cried for him, stupidly waited—Elissa would have told her she was being ridiculous, and then probably commented on how cluelessly handsome Harry was to make her jealous.

That’s what sisters were for, after all.

Warm arms enveloped her, and calloused fingers stroked her messy hair away from her face.  She hadn’t heard the floo activate, but she had been too lost in her tears.  “Is it really over?” she murmured into Harry’s neck, breathing in his familiar scent.

“It’s really over,” he promised her quietly.  “Why are you crying?”

“Hormones?” she tried, but he only pulled away and stared at her hard.  “There are so many reasons,” she finally answered quietly, reaching up and stroking his bottom lip with her thumb.  I could have lost you, and now we’re free, and Elissa’s not here to tease me about our wedding or—

“Shh, I know,” Harry whispered and then he was kissing her desperately.  She kissed him back, her hands scrabbling at his hair, pulling on it as she just felt that he was safe and alive and whole beneath her fingers.

Hermione almost expected them to make love then and there, but eventually Harry pulled away, one hand tangled in her hair, the other reaching up her shirt to rest on her stomach.

“I’m sorry it took me two days to get here, but the floo was turned off and I was too tired to Apparate, although that’s no excuse.”

“It was a battle, Harry,” Hermione tried to soothe, leaning forward and nuzzling their noses together.  “You are well and you are here now.”

“Only for long enough to bring you back.  Madame Pomfrey has too many patients, but she promised to look at you when she gets the chance, and I don’t trust St. Mungo’s quite yet.”

She kissed him again, lingeringly.  “I understand.  Is the floo quite safe for me?”

“I promise to be there to catch you, and it’s connected directly to the hospital wing.”

“Oh, lucky me,” Hermione sighed as she allowed Harry to help her to her feet.  “I think I’d like to live in a cottage like this.  Nothing grand, somewhere in the wilds where we can escape your fans.”


Harry chuckled.  “Your wish is my command,” he murmured, before throwing floo powder into the fireplace.  A moment later he was gone and, taking a deep breath, Hermione followed him through.

There were so many dead.  Remus, Tonks, one of the twins—no one could quite tell her who, and she was too afraid to ask.  She was immediately bustled into a small quarantine room, away from all the sickness and death, and set up quite nicely in a bed.  Harry was soon busy, making a small cat bed for Crookshanks (“Maybe he’ll get the message”), and unpacking personal items from Hermione’s beaded bag.  Somehow their school trunks made it to the room within a few hours, Hermione supposed someone had sent them on from the Burrow since they were no longer in hiding, and then photographs were being put up, and Hermione couldn’t help but stare at two that were placed side by side—the first of Hermione and Elissa when they were children, and the second of Harry’s parents.

Strangely, it seemed that no one realized that she and Harry were married, except perhaps for Madame Pomfrey who had put Hermione on a regimen of potions to help her and the baby overcome the shock of being placed under the Cruciatius Curse.  Harry had clearly moved into her small hospital room, when she understood that everyone else was up in their dorms, Ron and Ginny included.  Actually, she wasn’t quite certain that anyone realized she was even at Hogwarts and not in hiding somewhere else.

“How do you feel about Grimmauld Place?” Harry cautiously asked a few days later, as they lay entangled together in the hospital wing.  Harry was being far too rigid in his following of Madame Pomfrey’s instructions for Hermione’s health, and wouldn’t make love to her until she was better.  It was becoming quite frustrating, if Hermione were entirely honest.

“To live in?”

Harry’s silence was the only affirmation she needed.

“Why?”

“It was the first home I had,” Harry admitted.  “Sirius saw it as a prison, but to me, it was a place—“

“Well,” Hermione said after a long silence.  “As long as Kreacher can fix it up so that it’s safe for a child, and we get rid of those awful House Elf heads and a few of the carpets—I suppose—“

Harry kissed her again and again, until she was squealing with laughter, to the point that Madame Pomfrey had to come in to tell them that there were other patients, and they couldn’t put up a silencing ward because of the nature of Hermione’s fragile health.  Hermione tried to look apologetic, but it didn’t seem to quite work.  Harry, it appeared, was even less convincing, which was ironic, as he had had more practice over the years.

Still, the castle was full of bustle and finally the funerals began.  Harry had managed to call in Madam Malkin to design Hermione a few mourning dresses and robes.  Hermione had argued at the cost, but he had insisted, especially since their godson’s parents had died. 

Madam Pomfrey only let her out of the Hospital wing in a Muggle wheelchair, which was embarrassing, although Harry fortunately was able to levitate it about the castle with few difficulties so they could make it out to the ground.

No one spoke to each other, they just huddled in small groups, listening as one by one the fallen were buried.  Hermione’s hand was always clasped in Harry’s, or once or twice he was standing behind her and squeezing her shoulders reassuringly.  She wasn’t certain who he was trying to comfort, but she drew strength from his presence.

It took longer than she thought for someone to finally notice that Harry was sleeping in the infirmary, and it wasn’t who she had expected.  Mrs. Weasley, finally able to remember the world outside of her son’s death, came to find Harry and offer him a permanent home at the Burrow.  “You wouldn’t want to go back to that dreary old place in London,” she said, “and I understand your relatives have been relocated.”

“Yes, Dorsetshire,” Harry mumbled, having finally been told where his relatives were a few days before, not that Hermione thought he had any desire to actually visit let alone see them ever again.

“Well, then.  It’s not so cramped anymore.  You can have the twins’ old room, if you like, or perhaps Bill and Charlie’s.”

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Harry responded quietly.  “Hermione and I want to move into Grimmauld Place.  Kreacher is already setting it up for the next generation.”

“Next generation, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked, looking about at the photographs on display, realization and a barely constrained horror dawning in her eyes.  She glanced quickly between them and saw that Harry had a parenting guide on his lap, and that Hermione was blushing.

“Yes, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry said, smiling.  “My wife is pregnant.”

Mrs. Weasley blanched white.  “Oh—I—congratulations, dear.  I had no idea.”  She wasn’t looking at Hermione at all as she said this and barely met Harry’s eyes.  “I had thought, but never mind.  No, never mind.” 

She bustled out shortly after that.

Ginny appeared three days later, when Harry was off at Grimmauld Place to make sure it was inhabitable for Hermione, who was set to be released the next day.  Hermione knew that she would come, eventually.  Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, and it had even been announced the next day in the Daily Prophet.  Skeeter had painted it as a wartime romance, where they were both on the run and had fallen madly in love with each other.  No mention was fortunately made of the baby, but it was only a matter of time before she started showing or someone mentioned it to the wrong person.

“I thought you fancied Ron,” Ginny said by way of an opening.

Hermione didn’t even blush.  “Once, but he left too many times.”

“So did he sweep you off your feet?”  Her brown eyes were swelling with tears, but they remained unshed.

“In a matter of speaking,” Hermione recollected with a smile.  They were dancing in the dark to that strange song.  She didn’t even know the name of it, who had sung it.  Hermione knew, though, that if she ever heard it again, it would bring her back to that moment, when she was dancing on a precipice between friendship and the love of her life.

Hermione didn’t realize she was lost in thought until Ginny’s broken voice whispered, “He was supposed to be my knight in shining armor.”

“Yes,” Hermione agreed.  She remembered all their shared secrets over the years, how Ginny had confided in her during Hermione’s third year just a little, and again the summer of the Quidditch World Cup.  Hermione had advised her what to do, and Ginny had eventually taken it to heart.  It had even worked for a little while, but Ginny had still seen Harry as a hero, as someone to put on a pedestal.  “But he didn’t want to be a knight, or anyone special.  He wanted to be just Harry.”

Ginny wiped her face furiously and Hermione looked up to see that she was crying.  “I thought that if I kissed him on his birthday and he went for so long without seeing anyone else, that he would still be mine after all of this was over.”

The insult was quiet, but Hermione still recognized it for what it was.  “Well, I guess I was someone, wasn’t I?”

And she was.  Hermione slipped her hand over her stomach and smiled to herself.  She was someone, more than someone—she was a Mudblood and proud, she was a mother-to-be, and she was the girl who was loved by a boy.  That’s all she had ever really wanted, and Harry had wanted to be just a boy, and to her he always would be.

That night, Hermione turned in Harry’s embrace and buried her face in his neck, breathing in his familiar scent.  “How’s the house?”

“Nearly ready,” Harry promised, his hand warm at the small of her back.  “Crookshank should like it.”

But Hermione was already drifting off to sleep, a smile of contentment on her lips.

The End.

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