they go back to his house after the war. the dursley’s house, he specifies, and he says the name with a perfect mix of anger and apathy. she’d only been there once before, and then she was too busy making sure all the harry versions got to the burrow in one piece that she wasn’t much thinking of a tour. she gets one now, though. that’s the reason they’re here: harry wanted to come back. there was a reason he was going to offer, but hermione shook her head. she didn’t need one. it’s after the war and no one needs a reason. they left ron with his family and the funeral preparations. there was no space for them there. not yet.
harry strolls past the staircase and into the kitchen, but hermione freezes in the hallway. her fingers dust against the doorknob of the cupboard under the stairs for less than a second before pulling back as though her fingers had landed on dry ice.
“hermione?” harry asks, turning from the kitchen when he realizes she’s not beside him.
she turns from the cupboard. ”this is where you lived,” she says, and it sounds like a question as she walks from the cupboard into the kitchen. harry looks behind her for a moment, glancing at the cupboard under the stairs without flinching.
he shakes his head. ”i didn’t live here; i just was here. you know that.”
she nods. they’re finished now. she’s seen all the wallpapers, the wearing carpets, petunia’s hairbrush accidentally left behind as the only proof anyone ever lived here. harry has his arm around her waist when they apparate out. after that house, she doesn’t want to let him go again. hermione isn’t afraid of magical ghosts, but the human kind, the ghosts left by the dead or dying, of who we used to be? she’ll have nightmares for days. it’d be easier if she could keep hold of him. it’d be easier if she never had to let go.
it’s summer again, a full year since the war. the anniversary parties have died down. it’s too hot, even for england or maybe just for harry, so he prefers being outside only once the sun has begun to set. the grass at the burrow is soft. magical fertilizer, he assumes and then smirks.
“i know that look,” hermione says, settling down next to him. ”you’re thinking of something dirty.”
he laughs. ”literally. do you think they have magical fertilizer for the grass?”
she rolls her eyes. ”are you honestly asking me that question. did you sleep through herbology?”
“i tried,” he jokes, lying back on the grass, “but neville kept kicking me.”
“it saved your life a couple times,” she reminds him.
“you saved my life a couple times too,” he points out. ”but i don’t find you boring.”
she laughs, her head tossing back for a moment as she then shifts to lie next to him on the ground. ”would you rather take a course on me?”
his mouth lifts. ”i’d get an O in that OWL.”
she shrugs. ”i suspect an E. but maybe an O by the skin of your teeth.”
“i think i’m offended,” he says, but she just turns her body so their shoulders press together as the last bit of sun runs from the sky.
“quiet,” she says, pinching his arm. ”i’m having a moment here.”
he laughs. he could have loved her, he knows. and he does, really, just in the ways that don’t matter.
“i want to tell you a story,” hermione says. it’s christmastime, their season. not that anyone else knows that, but harry knows that. there are some things kept locked away for just the two of them, just as there are things between her and ron that harry can’t touch and things between ron and harry that are not hers to witness. but christmastime belongs to them.
harry doesn’t open his eyes from his spot on the couch. ”tell me tomorrow,” he mumbles, but hermione ignores him, slides over to the couch and rests her chin against the cushion by his collarbone. she fits nicely there, in the spaces left by his body.
“are you sure?” hermione says. ”it’s a good story. full of magic and wonder.”
he raises his eyebrows. ”so, like work every day?”
“and love.” her voice doesn’t shake. maybe it should. december is their time but then there’s every other month of the year. but hermione is still young, and sometimes after the war she thinks she can afford to be reckless, especially with this much eggnog in her blood. better that than mud. she still dreams about it sometimes, turning into nothing but a pile of wet dirt.
harry breathes in once, out once. ”i already know the ending to that story, hermione.”
her head tilts. ”do you?”
he nods, his eyes still closed. ”we’d better keep it to ourselves.”
she sits down against her heels, leaning forward so that when she whispers only harry can hear her. there is still laughter in the kitchen where the weasleys sound miles away. she’s a weasley now too, and so is harry, but there’s always that not quite that itches at the middle of her spine.
“you should have let me tell it. it would have made a good story,” hermione whispers, and harry opens his eyes and twists his body so that he’s lying on his side now. hermione doesn’t move away. harry’s left hand floats like a ghost to her neck, index finger above her pulse. hermione feels oddly calm, actually, but that’s harry.
“one for the ages,” he says, staring — yes, staring; harry has always been obvious to her, just as easy to read as any book if not easier — at her mouth.
but he doesn’t kiss her. the laughter in the kitchen grows louder, as though encroaching. the clock ticks to midnight. it is no longer christmas eve.