A/N: Some readers have mentioned in their reviews that the dash for the dialogue is confusing to them, as it isn't the usual way in English. As easier as it seems to me (coming from a non-English publishing industry), I write for you, the readers, as well, so I'll stick with the quotation marks that I've used in the past.
At home, all alone
* * *
I'm at home
On my own
Check my phone
* * *
The next morning Harry was awoken by the smell of black pudding and pancakes. At first he was confused; it had been so long since his home had been flooded by the comforting smells of a proper breakfast… his favourite breakfast after the ones in Hogwarts. Slowly, he opened his eyes. He wasn't home. Not in his flat, that is.
Minute by precious minute, the memories of last night came back to him. He didn't want to move so as to not disturb the peace he felt at the moment. His wife, the life he missed so much. The life they couldn't have… but his stomach wasn't as compliant as his mind, and it chose that precise moment to make a grumble worthy of Ronald Weasley.
"You're up!" Hermione said with a perky voice that Harry instantly recognized as one that masked a deep inner struggle; not unlike his own, he could bet. Guess this was how they were going to play it.
"Morning, sunshine," he replied with smile.
"Made your favourite breakfast. You look as if you haven't had a proper sit-down in eons."
"And your estimation would be right."
"You need to take better care of yourself, Harry."
He was about to continue with the pleasant conversation, but the words flew past his lips before he could stop them. "Hard to do that when you have little to no incentive to get out of bed in the morning."
He regretted the words as soon as he heard the slam of a falling pan on the side of the oven, and Hermione's alarmed cry was interrupted when Harry extended two fingers, palm up, in a freezing charm. "Harry, what the…" she responded, picking up her wand and wordlessly casting a levitating spell on the pan and the oil that was a couple of centimetres from burning her bare feet. "When did you learn that?" she asked, confirming her earlier suspicion that his magic was growing stronger by the day.
"Not much to do while not undercover."
She had so many questions about that, but refrained. There was no point. "Right. Uhm… yeah, breakfast is ready," she indicated and waited for Harry to join her at the island table.
Harry opened his mouth, about to respond one of the million questions he was sure Hermione had. But she avoided any personal conversation. He should too. It was the only way. "What time is it anyway?"
Hermione looked at the clock. "Half-past eleven. I thought you could use the sleep. Called in to the office saying I was going to be late."
"And your charges?" Harry asked, knowing how important the children and creatures that came into her Magical Social Services office looking for her help were for her.
She shrugged. "Guess they'll have to wait a little longer."
"You were worried?" Harry couldn't help but asking, hope in his eyes.
"Is that even a question?" she asked defensively.
"A man's got to the right to feel cherished," Harry demanded playfully, trying to keep to light mood. And it worked, because Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled at him.
"A man's ego doesn't really need a boost."
"A man's ego has no limit for boosts."
"And his stomach doesn't either, apparently," she replied when she saw him stuffing his face of breakfast. "Slow down or you're gunna choke."
"Then I'll eat faster," he said and then continued at her confused silence. "So you'll have to give me mouth-to-mouth," he finished with a cheeky smile.
She gave him the stink-eye and a second later put her fork down and her hands in front of her mouth, lips pursed.
"What happened?" Harry asked, mirroring her move. "I was only joking, `Mione," he said carefully.
Hermione closed her eyes and swallowed, picking her cutlery up again. Then she smiled. "Yes. Yes you were, sorry. I've gotta go soon. You'll be all right?"
"No, no I won't, Hermione," he stood up at pace with her. "Please don't go."
"Harry, you know I have to…"
"Yes, but…" he stopped himself.
"But what?" she asked, knowing this was more than him just wanting to be with her.
"The flat is still a secure location."
"And… could you please wait until it cools off a little bit out there?"
"Wasn't this your op?"
"Yes, but these people are ruthless. I wouldn't put it past them to…"
"To what?" He didn't respond, and she knew there was more to the story than what he was saying. She took a few steps closer to him. "Harry, to what?"
"It's this particular mission. I can't tell you any more. I'm sorry!"
A cold sweat made its way down her spine, and the world seemed to narrow. The memories of that fateful day a few months ago; the memories she hadn't shared with anyone, especially Harry, came crashing back and she had to grab the chair to prevent her falling.
Harry closed the distance between the two and held her by the waist. "'Mione, what?" he asked, concern chiselling his expression, his face close to hers. "What's wrong?"
Hermione steeled herself. She'd decided months ago she was tougher than this, even if it broke her heart. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then opened them and focused on Harry's green orbs, then shook her head and forced a soft smile. "Nothing, Harry."
He frowned. He had never been able to stand her keeping things from him. Taking a step back, he drilled her with eyes that would melt the most dangerous death eater to a puddle of fear. "Tell me."
Hermione wasn't deterred by this show of his. She knew him too well, had been through too much with him to know anger from hurt. So she mirrored his stance and frowned as well: "Nothing, really. I just thought we were past this."
"What do you mean?"
"You said you weren't going to take any more dangerous missions."
"That was when we were married."
Now this was migrating to anger for Harry, Hermione recognized. "We're still married," she said coolly. She knew how to handle him.
That last phrase was like a right hook to the gut, and Harry deflated instantly, then looked away and was about to say something as hurtful as what Hermione had just said, but changed his mind. "Precisely why I need you to stay here."
"With you," she completed.
"With me," he echoed.
After a moment of deciding her next move, Hermione opted for honesty and took a step closer: "Harry, I know you worry, but the Ministry is one of the safest places in the world now."
"It's not as safe as being with me," he said and Hermione raised her eyebrows, slipping in familiar territory. "As being with me HERE," Harry amended.
Hermione smiled and hugged him. "You know I can't stay here. The kids…"
"You know they can wait," he said and caressed her back softly, almost defeated.
She rested her head in his chest, her cheekbone fitting perfectly on the crook of his neck, and deepened the embrace, a small laugh escaping her lips. "Yes, they can. But I can't be here."
He pulled slightly away so that he could look her in the eyes, his hand now caressing her hair and sliding down her neck. "Why?" he asked softly, knowing the answer.
"Because it's killing me, Harry, that's why!" she said forcefully and broke the embrace fisting her hands on his chest, resisting the urge to start hitting him so that she could let out some of this frustration.
Harry took her hands in his and raised them to his lips. "It kills me too, `Mione. Please stay with me," he pleaded and drove them to the couch once more. Breakfast forgotten on the island table.
Hermione followed him and started to relax as he slipped his arms around her, almost defeated. "It kills me more to know I'm a liability for you."
He shook his head. "You're not a liability."
She smiled sadly. "Yes, I am. And you're a liability for me too."
"That's married life for us. We managed for four years."
"Four years ago we didn't take such high-profile cases. Have you seen how many people we've helped and saved?" Hermione asked.
Harry thought of the lives Hermione had changed by helping directly or pushing legislation to protect children and sentient creatures. He thought of all the criminal rings he'd single-handedly dismantled and how he'd halted growing gangs and delinquents. He sighed. "It's the price."
"The price we've decided to pay," Hermione completed, a heartbeat from giving in and asking him and the world if they hadn't given enough of their lives and souls to the magical community and its well-being.
Harry bit his bottom lip, reading her loneliness and her doubts perfectly, because they reflected his own. He nodded. "You're right. I'm so sorry. I should go," he said and let go of her hands, leaving her cold and empty inside.
"No, Harry. You really should stay the day. Make sure everything's calm again. Clean around or something," she said lightly and stood up, "I'll go to the office and let you know if anything changes. I'm sure Kingsley will tell me, or you, once he knows you're here and that things are safe again."
Harry nodded, resigned. "I'm sure he will," he said and watched as Hermione disappeared behind the doors of the room that used to be theirs. He was sure he heard sobs in the distance, but they could very easily been his own, so he decided to busy himself cleaning after breakfast the old muggle way as a sad song drifted from the other end of the apartment.
â™ª â™« â™¬
I may cry, ruining my makeup
Wash away all the things you've taken
And I don't care if I don't look pretty
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their hearts are breaking
Big girls cry when their heart is breaking
â™ª â™« â™¬
A few minutes later, Hermione emerged from the room, bathed and dressed in a smart suit, pencil skirt hugging the curves of her body, and Harry had to bite his tongue to keep from saying all the lascivious thoughts that came to mind and settled with an appreciative "You look nice."
Hermione smiled at the compliment, reading full well all the things his mouth wouldn't say but his eyes broadcasted.
"Be safe, and please put the wards up before you leave," she said and slipped out, the sad song still replaying in her head as she reached the apparition spot and disappeared to the life she'd chosen; that they'd both chosen.
It took her a couple of hours to catch up in the cases she was supposed to take in the morning. She was specially moved by the last case she saw: the Dolohov child. All of his immediate family had died in the war, and none of his distant relatives had wanted to take him in. He'd spent the last twelve years going from home to home, trying to fit in but being mistreated and bullied because of his last name. The kid was fifteen now and visited Hermione's office to try and change his name; `anything to be able to live a normal life, he had said.'
These cases broke her heart more than others. Children being judged and treated as if they had responsibility in something that happened way before their time. She thought of Snape, even of Harry, and how these kind of things changed their history and shaped their personalities.
As she grabbed a quick bite, she looked back at her own history and baggage. She could hardly describe how much strength it had demanded of her to walk away from Harry; to try to convince Harry they had no hope of building and sustaining their marriage in these times. She hated herself every time she told him `but', followed with one of the same lame excuses they'd both come to believe as true.
But was it that hard? Was it as impossible as they thought? But Merlin, she loved him. Even seeing him, beaten up and unconscious last night made her smile. Wait, scratch that, she told herself and laughed. Geez, Harry could even make her laugh alone at herself thinking about him.
Making love with him last night had been as sweet as morning rain, as painful as gravel on your feet, as wonderful as sinking your toes in the ocean after a long winter. Every time they'd made love since starting their relationship had been amazing and dreadful at the same time, with unknown dangers and blissful feelings hanging over them.
And now it was even direr. So much was at stake now and so many people depended upon them being the best at what they did. And neither could afford to lose focus or worry about the other being taken, being hurt, his mission going awry because of her.
Hermione sighed. They had been right all those months ago. And now she had to put on her big-girl panties and move on. Nothing good would come from pinning and regrets.
And their happiness? She asked herself one more time and then shook her head. She wasn't going to lose Harry. He was still her best friend and would never turn his back on her, nor would she on him. They loved each other and that wouldn't change.
And that would have to be enough for everyone.Document created with wvWare/wvWare version 1.2.7