[Fanfic] Unlike a sister – Chapter 1

Unlike a sister

Chapter 1: Wine in the Library

Writer: MADharmony

Summary: Harry told Ron he saw Hermione as his sister. Is i true? Remember, Harry has no sister.

Source: here

Unlikeasister_1

Ginny had disapparated over two hours ago. Harry didn’t expect her back until late that night.

Ginny took a great deal of care with her articles. It was the reason she was considered one of the best sport journalists in Britain. The Prophet’s sport section was a joke when she got there but was now considered the new standard in sport reporting, largely due to her efforts. But her talents also meant Harry would be eating alone tonight with a very distraught Lily.

When Harry parked the car in front of their estate, Lily jumped out of her seat and sprinted inside. She was now locked inside Albus’ room, most likely crying atop of his bedspread and taking in the last whiffs of her brother’s scent on the sheets. Lily was closer to James in temperament than Albus, but she still loved her middle brother dearly.

Harry wasn’t too worried about her, though. He could hear her moving around up stairs. At one point, he was sure he heard bouncing bed springs, suggesting that Lily wasn’t so morose as to resist jumping on her brother’s bed.

It was early into a Saturday evening. Harry was settled into a chair at the kitchen table, occasionally bringing a mug of self-heating coffee to his lips. He had pulled some files out of his attaché to look over before he started cooking dinner. He was distracted, however.

His heart felt strangely hollow. Both his boys were gone.

James was like Harry’s late father in more than just name. He was preternaturally confident and boisterous. Apparently he’d already been involved with a number of girls at Hogwarts. Perhaps by virtue of those captivating bronzed eyes of his that always made him look like he was plotting something deliciously mischievous.

If James resembled his namesake in countenance and composure, Lily was a mixture of both Harry and Ginny. Her hair was a deep red, her eyes a soft gray. She had a slight lisp, which made her hesitant among strangers. Yet, she was like her mother – bold and demanding, never afraid to voice her opinion among family members. But like her father later in life, she was cautious to make judgments and detested extreme opinions.

And Albus…

Harry saw himself in his second child. The boy was scrawny with the same shock of jet-black hair and bottle-green eyes. Of all his children, and Harry hated to rank them, he knew Albus was the most intelligent. He resembled Hermione in the rapidity of his thoughts, but he had the good sense not to be annoying about his breadth of knowledge. Since he was five, Albus had devoured books with abandon. And he was non-discriminating when it came to literature: fiction and non-fiction, wizard and Muggle classics, news and Quidditch magazines. Harry was sure Albus would excel far beyond anything Harry had ever accomplished at Hogwarts…

He glanced at his wristwatch—half past seven. The students would be seated in the Great Hall now. Maybe Albus and Rose were standing in the anteroom, terrified of marching in front of their peers to be Sorted. James would be among his posse of friends at the Gryffindor table, waiting to catch a glimpse of his brother and whisper some wisecrack. Deep down, Harry knew James would be praying Albus ended up in Gryffindor…

Harry took another sip. He looked down at the untouched files and sighed.

Might as well get on with it, he thought.

Harry lurched to his feet, careful not to hit his head on the chandelier above the table, and went to the icebox. He sighed at its near-empty state. He pulled out a catalog of Witch’s Brew and summoned three chicken breasts, some tomato paste, and pasta. He siphoned the pasta into a pot with his wand and placed it over the stove.

“Incendio,” Harry droned.

The tomato paste went flying into a smaller pot and Harry lit a weaker flame beneath it. He was sprinkling the chicken with pepper and spices when there was a faint thud from the front door.

Harry turned on a pin, startled. A moment later, Hermione and Hugo stood before him.

“Oh. Hi,” he said, putting down his wand.

Hermione looked contrite, glancing at his sauce-splattered wand on the countertop. She knew old habits died hard with him.

“Sorry to bother you,” she said. “Hugo really wanted to see Lily.” She shook the boy’s arm gently from where he was gripping her hand. “He doesn’t want to be stuck at home with mum, I reckon.”

Harry looked down at Hugo. The boy looked miserable and Harry took pity on him. Lily had dealt with the separation of one brother before, but Hugo was new to the departure of a sibling.

“Well, you can try Hugo. Lily’s locked herself in Albus’ room, but maybe if you ask real nice she’ll let you in.”

Hugo didn’t need further encouragement. He pulled his hand out of Hermione’s and dashed up the grand staircase, his little feet making a surprising racket.

Harry turned to Hermione. “I’m glad you’re here, actually. Ginny’s writing that damn article. I was hoping she’d be here to talk to Lily. She’s better at that stuff than me.”

“Having Hugo here should help,” she said. “Cooking?”

“Just pasta. You and Hugo want to stay? I summoned enough chicken and I can get more pasta.”

“Will Ginny be in time for dinner?”

“She said she wouldn’t. I don’t blame her. The Prophet keeps the sport office well-stocked. Makes it harder for them to leave. The hours they make them pull…” He shot a stream of water into the sauce.

Hermione laughed and he heard her pull out a chair at the table.

“We’re not ones to cast stones, are we? Before you were Chief, I remember Ginny wasn’t too thrilled that you were never around. You still work unconscionable hours, come to think of it.”

Harry gave her an unimpressed look he usually saved for rookie Aurors. “I could say the same about you,” he replied, sliding the chicken into another pan where he had sautéed onions and mushrooms going. “Don’t know how many times I’ve left the AD and still seen your light on.”

Hermione had the courtesy to look away. “Workaholic. What’s your excuse?”

“Habit? I dunno,” Harry sighed, dolefully prodding the chicken breasts. An enchanted ladle was stirring the sauce in a clockwise direction. “I’ve got to be better about getting away. I look around this place, you know, and see so much I want to do. The carpeting in James’ room is disgusting. I don’t want to know why. Lily’s room is too small by half but she doesn’t want to move down the hall away from us. Ginny’s and my room could use repainting. And the downstairs library needs to be organized, re-shelved, refurbished…”

“Ah, quite happy to help with the last one.”

Harry smirked. “That’s like asking a jewel thief to polish jewelry.”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t know this was bothering you. You know I think Clymene Court is gorgeous, a regular national landmark. There’s twenty-three rooms. You can’t expect to maintain them all. You could hire people, of course…”

Harry wrinkled his brow distastefully and extinguished the flames below the pans. “Too much sensitive material. I’m not having strange people poke about in my own home.”

She sighed, having heard this answer many times before. “Well, maybe around Christmas we can make a project of it. You, me, Ron and Ginny. It’d be like the old days at Grimmauld Place.”

He hissed through his teeth. “That’s when I know it’s bad. You’re comparing it to Grimmauld Place.”

Hermione’s easy laugh rang out. “You know that’s not true…”

Harry grinned and flicked his wand. The utensils shot from the drawers and skidded to a halt over the table. Hermione plucked them from the air and arranged them on the placemats below.

“So you’re staying?” he asked. “What about Ron?”

“Sure, we’ll stay. Ron’s watching the Bats’ match. I doubt I can pull him away,” she sighed. “On the subject of re-modeling, he’d suggest you upgrade to one of the wall projectors he’s been testing out. Until you do that, he won’t be coming over during game time.”

Harry had fallen miserably behind this Quidditch season. He felt a stirring of suitably manly jealousy imagining Ron watching the match with Butterbeer in hand.

“It is a great set-up at your house, though,” said Harry judiciously.

Hermione retched. “It drives me mad. It’s huge and makes such a racket when it’s turned on. I don’t know how he can even hear the commentary. I’m surprised Ginny hasn’t mentioned getting one, though?”

“Well, she usually attends in person, of course,” he said, draining the pasta. “She showed me one of the latest generation Omnioculars the Prophet purchased last month. You can rotate the action in three dimensions now and there are running stats along the edges. But the zoom was the best part. I could see what Langford Boggs had for lunch.”

“Sounds great,” said Hermione. She did not care to know what food was stuck in Langford Boggs’ beard.

Harry chuckled, spooning the sauce atop the steaming pasta. He carried it to the table and patted Hermione’s head as he passed.

“Poor you. You really picked the wrong group of friends.”

“More like picked the wrong country,” she grumbled, directing her wand at the glassware in a high cupboard right of the sink. “Say what you will, but only Britain is this Quidditch-obsessed, honestly.”

“And you think it would be better if you were a Muggle? They’re just as obsessed with football. There’s no avoiding mania over sport, Hermione. Like wizard, like Muggle.”

Hermione smiled slightly. The phrase was a slogan from the months after Voldemort’s fall.

In hindsight, it had been an odd time.

When the full scale of Voldemort’s atrocities finally came to light, the wizarding public—for the first time in several centuries—developed an overt and strange fascination with Muggle-borns and, by extension, Muggles themselves. As if to make reparations for centuries of bigotry and discrimination, Muggle-borns were suddenly cast (whether willingly or not) as the new arbiters of “cool” due to their connection, however tenuous, to the Muggle world. Muggle literature, slang, fashion, cinema, music, drugs, and even religion were looked at with new eyes.

It was a mystifying, and ultimately short-lived, period in magical British history.

Nearly two decades later, it was still official Ministry policy to promote awareness and respect of Muggles among the magical public, a campaign Harry was often obliquely involved in as the head of wizarding law enforcement.

Hermione had been instrumental in the formation of a new Ministry department: the Office of Wizard-Muggle Exchange. It replaced the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office and was actually properly funded. Its primary function was to serve as a liaison between young or emigrated Muggle-borns and the magical world: opening bank accounts at Gringotts, setting up tax and identification documentation, etc. The remainder of its resources is used to fund scholarships for both wizards and Muggles to experience life on the other side. So far there had been no need to Obliviate any Muggles. All had kept their word and the wizarding world was as safe as ever from exposure.

“Should I call them?” Harry asked.

Hermione nodded, taking out mango juice from the icebox. It was Lily’s favorite. Harry’s silver stag patronus darted out of the kitchen and up the staircase towards Albus’ room.

She sucked in a breath. “That’s always caught me off guard.”

He smiled bemusedly.

“That’s when you know your house is too big,” she explained teasingly. “When you use a patronus to call your kids to dinner.”

Harry passed a hand through his hair. “I figure it’s less startling than apparating in their….”

The patter of feet on the staircase echoed like rain on the windowpanes.

“SPAGHETTI!” Lily cried, rounding the corner into the kitchen. A giddy Hugo was just behind her.

“Yes, yes. Wash your hands first,” said Harry.

Lily skidded to a halt in front of the sink. “Daddy!”

Harry swished and flicked and Lily rose several inches off the ground. Her waiflike arms stretched out to reach the taps.

Harry watched curiously as Hermione waved her wand over Hugo’s hands. A viscid, ice-blue blob floated below her wand. Hugo stuck his hands inside and scrubbed his palms.

“What is that?” asked Harry.

“New spell,” she said offhandedly. “I’ve been using it with the kids at the park. It’s just a water spell, sanitation charm, and plasticity element together.”

Harry raised a brow. This wasn’t the first time Hermione had “invented” a spell. She’d been doing it somewhat frequently since leaving Hogwarts. Technically speaking, spell creation was a licensed and registered affair at the Ministry. But in this matter Hermione didn’t precisely follow regulations. Yet another thing that had changed after the war.

“Right,” said Harry as he lowered Lily to the ground. “Teach it to me later.”


Providentially, there was not one mention of the missing siblings at dinner.

Hugo and Lily chattered about school friends and other meaningless drabble, at least to Harry’s ears. His food was complimented. Hermione moaned a few times that Ron had never mustered up the effort to make anything so good. By the time they finished, it was past nine and time for bed.

Harry was a loving father. But, in some ways, he was also very strict.

Lily and Hugo cleaned their plates with soap and water when a simple Scourgify from him or Hermione would have worked just as well. He didn’t want to make their lives harder, but he reckoned understanding the menial way of doing things was important. Soon they’d have the use of a wand and things would become all too easy for them. It was one of the biggest problems he faced in communicating the difficulties of Muggle life to wizards. If he couldn’t make his own children imagine a life without magic, how could he expect wizarding society to?

None of the kids put up much of a fight, though. They knew there were certain things Daddy didn’t budge on. Like the washing up. And talking to strangers. And conversing with enchanted objects. And using spells you just found handwritten in some book. And jumping on the backs of mountain trolls. That was it, really.

“Daddy? Story tonight?” Lily asked, pulling at Harry’s large hand with her small ones.

“Sure, honey.” He hid a smile, relieved Lily was so cheerful. “Why don’t you pick one out? I’ll be up in a bit.”

“Mum, can I hear the story too?” Hugo whined at Hermione. “I like it when Uncle Harry reads stories.”

Hermione looked to Harry and he nodded.

“All right. Go upstairs with Lily and we’ll be up in a few minutes.”

The pair careened out of the kitchen as quickly as they’d come. Harry and Hermione were left alone.

“Thanks for that,” she said. “I think it’s good if they don’t dwell on the others’ leaving. Hugo was unusually quiet when we got home. Being around Lily helps, I’m sure.”

“I know what you mean,” said Harry, rinsing his hands at the sink. “I think Lily was crying for a good half hour in Albus’ room. Good thing is Albus is great at writing letters. It’ll be a opportunity for them to build up a correspondence.”

Hermione moved towards him as he dried his hands.

“I agree.” She hesitated before touching his arm. “I didn’t get a chance to ask you. How are you with Albus leaving?”

He started, surprised. “I—”

“Dad-deeeeee!” A high-pitched squeal that could raise Inferi.

“Coming, sweetheart!” Harry yelled back. “This is why we have patronuses,” he whispered to Hermione.

She giggled as he turned down the lights with a wave of his wand.


Lily picked one of Hermione’s favorites. Peter Pan.

It was one of many Muggle classics littering Lily’s small, pink room. It was a magical edition of Barrie’s story, however, published after the war. Peter and Wendy flew out the window on page seven, fairy dust glimmering on parchment. And the crocodile growled appreciatively on page twenty-five, satiated with his carryout Captain Hook.

Despite Lily’s small room, her bed was quite roomy. Hugo and Lily snuggled together in the middle of the bedspread, each holding a corner of the book. Harry stretched out next to Hugo while Lily nestled against Hermione’s chest. Hermione absentmindedly braided Lily’s hair as Harry read.

Harry was about to crow like a Lost Boy celebrating Peter’s victory when Hermione touched his shoulder. Hugo and Lily were asleep. Harry’s shout came out as a strangled squawk and he loosened the spine of the book from Hugo’s grasp. Hermione gently pulled Lily off her chest and lowered her onto the bed.

Harry returned Peter Pan to the bookshelf and followed Hermione into the hall.

“We can leave them for a bit,” he whispered, shutting the door softly. “Nightcap before you go? I got some wine in yesterday.”

Hermione sighed and gave a distracted glance down the corridor. “If I was smart, I’d go home and work on that Callahan brief. I hope Ron’s fixed himself something…”

“I’m supposed to be looking over the quarterly review,” said Harry, burrowing his shoe into the carpet. “They need my comments by Tuesday. Haven’t read a page.”

“Well, we’re well past the days when I could have covered for you,” Hermione smiled as they made their way down the hallway. The lights dimmed magically after them. She sighed when they came to the main landing. “Who am I kidding? I would love some wine.”

Harry laughed under his breath. “Red or white?”

“Red.”

“I’ve got a Malbec and a red Riesling in the kitchen. What do you think?”

“Malbec. You?”

“Same.”

Hermione settled in the library as Harry uncorked the wine, pouring the aromatic liquid into two stemless glasses. He found Hermione curled up on the récamier, her shoes kicked haphazardly aside. Wordlessly, he handed her a glass and seated himself across from her.

“I love this room,” Hermione said. Her eyes ran along the bookshelves like a love-struck teenager.

“You can thank Sirius.”

“Yes, some way to thank him,” she said, mischievous eyes now trained on him. “You inherit perhaps one of the most complete collections of English magical history and don’t even bother to care for it.”

Harry snorted. “Like Sirius would have given two shits. But I do try, you know. I just don’t have the time. Neither does Ginny.”

She waved a hand, taking a long draught of wine. “I know. I guess I can’t blame you. You both are so busy. We all are, really.”

Harry blinked and smiled slowly at her. “Yes, we’re all busy. But we’re not all up for promotion, are we?”

She started, wine running down her chin like a thin ribbon from reddened lips.

“Hermione Jean Granger,” he said, smug. “Made general counsel in three years. Deputy Director in another ten. What next? Head of the Department before the decade’s out?”

She wiped at her chin, looking anywhere but him. Her face was approaching the color of the liquid in her glass. “No one’s supposed to know anything about that,” she mumbled.

“I don’t really know,” he said, looking at her fondly. “You know how rumors spread. The Ministry holds secrets as well as an unregulated cauldron bottom. So, what’s the offer?”

If possible, she flushed even deeper. “Nothing’s been said officially. John Lakey has approached me about making me Deputy Director. I told him I’d have to think about it.”

He grinned. “Well, congratulations. I could feign surprise, but I doubt anyone would believe it. It doesn’t take an arithmancer to know they’ve got a legal genius in their midst. I’m going to have to start saluting you soon when you become Minister.”

Her face was practically radiating in the dim light. “This is great wine, by the way.”

He laughed with a gravelly rumble she was used to hearing when he drank. “If I’m not feigning surprise, you don’t have to feign modesty, Hermione.”

“I’m not being modest,” she protested, indignant and embarrassed. “In all seriousness, I haven’t decided what to do. Nothing’s going to happen right away. I’ve got my current caseload to manage and then there’s Hugo. He’s got two years left with us before Hogwarts,” she said, sounding almost angry. “I’m not going to throw away the time I could have spent with him buried in my work. I never…I didn’t imagine it would feel like everything is moving so fast. Everyone says that about children. I’m not sure I really believed it until today.”

Harry nodded, face outwardly impassive as it often was in the years since he became Chief. “I felt the same way about James. And Albus.”

She sat up a little straighter. “You didn’t answer me before. About Albus.”

“About his leaving?”

She nodded. He took a slow breath. His expression didn’t change, but his eyes came to rest on the glass in Hermione’s hand.

“I felt like…I feel like I understand Albus,” he began. “He’s me, to some extent. At least some version of me if I’d had a different childhood.”

Hermione nodded. She had always noticed the similarities. Not just in appearance, but in the incorporeal aspects of their characters. Albus was loyal. He was tender. He was strong-willed. But he could also be sacrificing, possessive, and self-critical to a fault. As though he gestated in a potent stew of his father’s neuroses, rather than his mother’s womb. He emerged a startling simulacrum of Harry Potter. All angular limbs, baby milk-white skin, and eyes as green as a Dark Mark. A proffered second chance to right the wrongs done to the Boy Who Lived.

“I think I understand him. Who knows if I really do?” he said. “But just recently I started to wonder what if he doesn’t know me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you said it before. I wasn’t around when they were little,” he replied, tone flat. “I could blame it on the work. There were still Death Eaters. There was talk of an insurgency. But you remember how I was then. I was so focused on making my way in the Department, to be judged on who I was, not on what I’d been forced to take on. So, I was never home. I didn’t want to be home. I was addicted to the adrenaline of those days.”

Hermione’s toes curled into the carpet as if longing to stand and come to him.

“I think I was jolted out of it when I first saw James. He was two weeks old. The instant Ginny put him in my arms, he started crying. He wouldn’t stop no matter what I did. I felt sick. I know I shouldn’t put stock in what a baby does, but I still think about it. Too much.” He laughed somewhat bitterly. “I think Ginny wanted me to feel that horrible. I deserved it, after all.”

Harry fell quiet, so Hermione ventured a response. “Things were better once you were made Chief.”

“They were better,” he agreed. “But I was still working eighteen-hour shifts. I’d come home some days when the kids were eating breakfast. They were wonderful, kissing and hugging me like I was back from a war and not the office. Ginny told them I was working very hard for them.

“But that was their first education of who I was, wasn’t it? I was some man who showed up too tired to read them stories or brush their hair. Who didn’t know James wouldn’t eat potatoes if they were touching eggs or Albus couldn’t sleep if there were thunderstorms.” He sat back in his chair, looking very old. “Whatever other education they got about me came from the press, I reckon. Or from the kids in their class who looked up when they heard their last name. I’m sure they noticed how all the teachers and parents treated me differently. Only you and Ron were the same.”

Hermione waited. She watched for signs – the tension of his neck, the ticks of his hands, the hunch of his shoulders.

“The kids had different ways of dealing with me. James loved the Harry Potter bits. He’d ask if rumors were true. Did you really look at a basilisk and nothing happened? Did you cast a patronus when you were eleven? Were you really recruited by the Tornadoes? That sort of shit.

“Lily…Lily’s pure,” Harry smiled. “She doesn’t care who I am or where I work. She only cares that I do daddy things with her. Read stories, buy her toys, teach her to fly. Maybe that’ll change. I don’t know…

“Then there’s Albus…”

Harry released a breath that rattled his whole body. Hermione watched his veneer of impassivity fall away and, for the briefest moment, she saw the boy she first knew.

She blinked. Harry was smiling at her.

“Maybe you’ll think this odd, but I think I named Albus well. I know the papers hated it when they found out. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know Dumbledore. Al’s got those same piercing eyes, the kind that go straight through you.” He glanced at his wine, smile fading. “So, I felt like Albus—unlike James and Lily—understood there was a famous, public version of me and a daddy version. All he was trying to do was figure out what I really was. It’s my own fault that I was never around enough or open enough for him to work it out. And now he’s at Hogwarts.”

He said the last word like a curse and Hermione’s mouth fell open slightly. Was this the first time she’d heard him refer to their former school without a loving lilt in his voice?

Again, she watched. She studied the plane of his brow and cords of his neck as carefully as a spellbook. Knowing all the while that Harry Potter never made cries for help. He telegraphed them from miles away, like pings from a black-box at the bottom of the ocean. Save me. Don’t save me. They were obfuscated, muddled, and strangled under calcified layers of pride and experience. There was a time in his life when no one had cared. And he still half-believed it.

Hermione stood and padded over to him. She lowered herself on the ottoman next to his chair.

“Listen to me,” she said, grasping his knee in her small hand. “You are an exceptional father. I know this. James, Lily, Albus – they adore you. Not because you’re famous but because you are theirs.” She squeezed her hand for emphasis. “They’ve got their whole lives to know you. A child’s relationship to their parents…it always changes. It’s not one way forever. If Albus feels disconnected to you now—even while I’m sure that’s not true—there’s no reason to believe it will stay like that. Children grow, they mature. Parents do too, come to think of it. You’ve raised wonderful children and you should be proud of that.”

Harry didn’t reply. His eyes were closed, whether to avoid meeting her gaze or the effects of drink she wasn’t sure. As the seconds stretched on, her fingers slid from his knee and she tried a different tack.

“Harry, you’re not alone in feeling this way,” she said, voice soft and insistent. “Rose is so bright. ‘Just like me,’ people always say. But since she was eight or so, she’s always preferred Ron. And that hurts, it hurts all the time.” Harry reluctantly opened his eyes. “But she’s my daughter. I don’t despair that she doesn’t love me or understand me. There will be a time when she needs me again and when she does, I’ll try like hell to form a stronger connection with her. If she falls away again, I’ll wait. All she has to know is she can come back whenever she’s ready.”

Harry let out a short breath through his nose and shook his head. Her eyes widened when he reached out and held the arc of her face in his palm.

“What?”

“How did you get like this? How did you get to be you?” he murmured, voice marvel-tinged with a razor edge of envy beneath.

“Like what?” She seemed to have trouble concentrating. His thumb was running across the curve of her cheek.

He dropped his hand. “Nothing,” he sighed. “You’re right, of course.”

He leaned back as if to stand. Hermione blinked rapidly and held out an arm to stop him.

“You do hear me though, don’t you? You’re no worse a parent than me or anyone else,” she said. “Raising kids – it’s supposed to be hard. It’s maddening. We’d hardly be human if we didn’t second-guess ourselves. You understand that, right?”

“Of course,” he said in a tone that indicated he very much didn’t. “I’m being dramatic—”

“But you’re not! That’s what I’m saying.”

Harry smiled fondly at her, but not in a way she liked. It was a look that said she couldn’t possibly understand what went on in the rank abattoir of his mind. Speaking of dramatic…

“I’m sorry,” he said and he genuinely looked it. He took her hand.

“There’s no reason to apologize,” she mumbled, watching their entwined fingers. “It’s been an emotional day.”

He nodded, patted her hand, and stood up. Hermione looked at the clock on the mantelpiece.

“It’s almost eleven. I should take Hugo home,” she said, standing also. “Thank god it’s only Saturday. I have one more day to finish that brief, at least.”

“Done with your wine?”

Hermione glanced at her glass, half-full and abandoned on a side table. She picked it up and threw it back in a single draught.

“Careful, Granger,” he chuckled.

She rolled her eyes as she handed him the glass. Harry returned the glasses to the kitchen and followed Hermione up the stairs in easy silence.

“Have you talked to Ginny about this?” Hermione asked when they reached the landing. “About you and the kids?”

“No.” He stuffed his hands in his pockets. “I’m not…I’m not sure she’d understand. I mean…Ginny understands me, but she’s too close to this. She knows first-hand how I wasn’t there. Besides, she’d think I’m being ridiculous…”

Hermione shook her head. “She wouldn’t. You should tell her. She said goodbye to Albus too, you know. Maybe she’s hoping you bring it up.”

“Maybe,” he said, noncommittal. “Have you told Ron about your job offer?”

She looked at the ground as they rounded the corner. “I haven’t. I was hoping that bit of gossip would stay quiet until I made up my mind.”

“You’re going to take the job without asking him about it?”

“No, no,” she said quickly. “I’ll definitely consult him.”

Harry laughed under his breath.

“What?”

“Consult?” he repeated, amused.

She rolled her eyes again. Sometimes he wondered if her pupils liked it more back there than in the real world.

“You know what I mean,” she said, pushing against his shoulder with hers.

Lily and Hugo were just where they’d left them. Hermione turned to Harry before entering the room.

“Have a good night,” she said softly.

He leaned down and kissed her cheek. Her cheekbone brushed against his glasses. She could smell the wine in his breath against her neck.

“See you Wednesday?” Harry asked, stepping back.

“If not Monday.”

“Right. Callahan,” he grumbled. “Remind Hugo about his broom for Wednesday.”

“Sure, sure,” she yawned. “Thanks for suggesting it. It was exactly what he needed.”

He shook his head, dismissing her thanks. She squeezed his elbow as she had at King’s Cross. Hugo woke up enough to put his arms around her neck and, a moment later, they were gone.

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