The next day was spent searching for a flat. Harry shared with Ron his hesitance to get one with him because they’d almost never be there at the same time. This didn’t dissuade Ron, however. “Kingsley’ll go easy on us our first rotation,” he explained. “After that...” But what it was, Ron didn’t say because Luna was waiting for them outside the Leaky Cauldron. Ron’s face had turned oddly strained, but he didn’t say anything. She politely insisted that she should help them find their flat and Ron’s almost complete non-reaction to her request made Harry wonder just what had happened between them the previous evening.
Shopping for a flat with Luna was an entertaining experience. She insisted that they be on the third floor to remain a proper distance from the ground. “Nargles infest everything below twenty feet,” but below the sixth floor “Flying Snorcacks” was all she said when asked why. When Harry pointed out that it would be a good thing to be seen by one (as he could then prove that they existed), she very calmly replied that “Being seen by a Flying Snorcack is more dangerous than the Rotfang conspiracy.” Harry wasn’t about to argue the differences between non-existent creatures and the imagined threat of periodontal disease. The only things that concerned him were that work was relatively close by and that he be able to cast an Unplottable Charm on it. The Daily Prophet had been somewhat indifferent with him since he had killed Voldemort, so he wasn’t worried about the likes of Rita Skeeter. It was the throngs of single witches in the country that seemed to have quadrupled overnight. It was a headache he was all too happy to avoid during Auror training.
“Oh look, Ronald,” said Luna in the twelfth flat they’d seen since breakfast. “The curtains match your hair.” She was fingering a set of garish orange drapes that hung pathetically from a bent rod over a grimy window.
Ron scratched his head. He seemed to tolerate Luna much more than he did the previous night, and Harry was curious as to how he went from actively avoiding her to allowing her to have input into where they were going to live. “Who cares about the curtains?” he asked with a scrunched nose. “We can charm them to be whatever colour we like, but this place isn’t fit for Malfoy.”
“Oh, yes,” replied Luna, who had turned her dreamy gaze back to Ron. “I suppose that would work, too.”
They left the dirty orange curtains and looked at one final flat. This one was much cleaner than the rest, but the price was outrageous in Harry’s opinion. “How much?” he said, goggling at the flyer on the wall.
“A thousand a month?” Ron echoed. “That’s... that’s extortion!”
Harry could tell his friend wanted the flat quite a lot. Not only did it satisfy all of Luna’s demands, but it was fully furnished, in a clean building with normal-looking tenants and it had a fireplace that could easily be hooked into the Floo network.
Luna was lounging on the settee, casually examining the ceiling. “I don’t see any Wrackspurts,” which seemed to be her way of approving.
“Well,” Harry said, after the initial shock had worn off. “Between the two of us, we should be able to afford five hundred each.”
Ron seemed to consider this and, like Harry, was performing some quick mental arithmetic. He sat next to Luna and rubbed a hand on the pillowed arm of the settee. “Yeah, all right.”
The papers were signed and Harry made the deposit because he was the only one with Muggle money. “I’ll pay you back,” whispered Ron as they took the keys from the landlord. Luna bid them goodbye, off to help her father with the printing of this month’s Quibbler. Harry and Ron were in a cheerful mood and Ron suggested that they head to the closest Muggle pub to celebrate their newly won freedom.
The pub was crowed for a Thursday night, but Ron and Harry squeezed into a booth near the back. Being the more experienced pub-goer, Ron ordered them a couple baskets of fish and chips and two watery beers.
“To freedom,” Ron said as he held up his mug. Harry gave it a hearty clink and took a great swig from the glass. He much preferred Butterbeer to the Muggle version.
“So,” Ron said as he tucked into his fish. “What were you and Hermione doing at the party last night? You were supposed to be relaxing and you let Mum put you to work.” He shook his head at his basket of food.
“I didn’t mind,” Harry said. “It was better than watching your sister suck Neville’s face off.”
Ron seemed to sober at this information. “Yeah. About that... I’m sorry you and Ginny...”
Harry waved his comment aside. “Don’t worry about it, mate. I’m mostly over it now.” But even as he said it, Harry remembered that he was supposed to be meeting Hermione that evening and two things became very clear in his mind. He didn’t even know where Hermione lived and more importantly, he didn’t know what exactly it was they were supposed to be doing. These thoughts spurred more questions. Was she going to be referring him to a good kissing instructor? Was she going to be volunteering to teach him the fine art of snogging? Did that mean she fancied him? What did that mean for their friendship? He couldn’t bear the thought of damaging almost ten years with one of his best friends over the little problem that he couldn’t kiss his self out of a wet paper bag.
“Harry? Are you all right?” asked Ron suddenly, causing Harry to look at his watch.
“Blimey, is that the time?” He shovelled the last piece of fish into his mouth and gave it a vigorous chew. “You know where Hermione’s flat is?”
“Yeah.” replied Ron, whose expression became suddenly suspicious. “You going there right now?”
“I, er...” Harry faltered and covered it by taking another swig of beer. “I was just going to catch up on stuff. You know...” He made a pathetic face, hoping that Ron wouldn’t press the issue.
“Oh. All right. You know where Demelza Robins lives?”
“The one you punched in sixth year?” asked Harry for confirmation.
Ron winced a little at the memory. “That’s the one. She just got out of Hogwarts and is Hermione’s flatmate.”
“Why would I know where Demelza lives?”
“Well, don’t you get the GQ newsletter?” Ron shot back.
Harry squirmed a little in his seat. The GQ, as the Muggle-borns liked to call it was a weekly letter sent out by Katie Bell to all the Gryffindor Quidditch players. Harry skimmed through the first few, but never really had the time to delve much deeper. “I get it, but I haven’t actually... you know, read it.”
Ron rolled his eyes, something Hermione would have done before she and Ron split up. Now, it seemed that Ron had taken up her impatience and combined it with his usual portion of thick-headedness. “Well, Demelza got an offer from the Canons and she’s starting Chaser this season.”
Scratching his head, Harry plunked a few pounds on the table to cover his half of the meal. “What’s that got to do with where Hermione lives?”
“Demelza is living with Hermione because it’s across the street from the Pitch the Canons train at.”
“Oh,” said Harry, as he slid out from the booth and took one last swig of his drink. “I reckon I can find that, then.”
Ron smirked. “It’s number four. Good luck.”
Harry waved and made his way through the crowded room, wondering what Ron meant by ‘good luck’.
Hermione glanced at the clock and silently cursed, a habit that had crept into being since she had been working with a dozen males that prided themselves on creative ways to swear. Her wand was out and the space that her new flatmate, Demelza usually occupied was being cleared of clutter. Clothes, empty take-away containers, hair clips, balled-up parchment, and several things that she didn’t want to identify were banished to the younger girl’s room. She ignored the indignant muttering that barely reached her ears and transfigured the sofa from a three seat version to a much cosier two seat one. A charm to freshen the air was the last thing to be done before she approached Demelza’s room.
“About ready to leave?” she asked with a cheerful smile.
Demelza looked decidedly ruffled. “I would have been, had you not dumped a week’s worth of clothes on my head.”
“No time for that now,” Hermione said as Demelza untied her pony-tail and picked up a brush. Hermione’s wand was quick, straightening Demelza’s hair and then setting it into a complicated twist that looked much better than simply hanging down her back. There were advantages to rooming with Parvati and Lavender for six years. “I wouldn’t have had to banish your clothes had you done it yourself three hours ago like I asked.”
Demelza looked properly abashed. “How’d you do my hair like this?” she asked, gently touching her head with her hands.
“I’ll show you after my meeting.”
The younger girl nearly choked from holding in a laugh. “A meeting is it? Is that what you call a date?” Demelza leaned casually against the door frame. “Who is it this time? Roger Davies? Terry Boot?” Then she cast an impatient look at Hermione. “Victor Krum isn’t back in town is he?”
Hermione grasped Demelza’s arm and pulled her toward the front door. “No to all three,” she said without addressing her first question. “Remember not to come back until after midnight?”
“Midnight,” she repeated.
There was a knock at the door and a wicked grin crossed Demelza’s face. “I’ll get it.”
Hermione made a half-hearted attempt to stop her, but didn’t even resort to the first ten spells that popped into her head. Harry might not like to help her fix a splinching, unfreeze or otherwise re-animate her flatmate.
“Harry Potter?” came the unbelieving cry from the door. “You’re dating Harry Potter?”
The door creaked open to reveal a slightly dishevelled Harry. “Hullo. You must be Demelza.”
Hermione watched Harry shake the girls hand and give Hermione a tentative glance. A smile formed on her lips as she realised that the first part of her plan was working perfectly. He began to shift from foot to foot as Demelza asked questions and made small talk. Harry was nervous.
“Well,” said Harry, after reliving his last Quidditch match at Hogwarts with the smaller girl. “It was good catching up with you. Maybe we can do it again some time?”
It was a polite brush-off that he’d obviously gotten better at doing since she’d last seen him, but Hermione didn’t think that Demelza noticed.
“All right. See you later!” she said brightly and gave an obvious wink at Hermione. Harry seemed to swallow a little more forcefully that normal.
“Bye,” Harry and Hermione chorused together.
The door closed and Harry shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, avoiding her eyes by staring at the floor. “You have a nice flat.”
“Thanks. I heard from Luna that you have one, too.”
This seemed to catch Harry by surprise. “Y – Yeah. Did Luna come here right after she left us, then?”
“I guess so,” Hermione replied. “Care to sit, or would you rather stand in the entryway?”
Hermione sat first and crossed her legs in a way that caused her skirt to ride slowly up until it exposes the tip of her knees. The small sofa seemed to create a great deal of consternation for Harry, who made several attempts at sitting as far away from Hermione as possible. In the end, he gave up the effort and sat with his back ramrod straight facing the shaded window.
“So...” he said after a second. “What did you have in mind, exactly?”
“About your kissing?”
She leaned in so that their faces were close. “Practical, proper, persistent instruction.”
Harry swallowed again, and then a smile broke across his face. “You sound like Twycross.”
Hermione leaned back and wrinkled her nose. “The Ministry Apparition instructor?”
He turned to face her, fully smiling. “Destination...”
“Determination...” continued Hermione, feeling a smile curve her own lips.
“Deliberation. Of course, you could also use Ron’s favourite substitutes for the three D’s.”
Hermione laughed. “I’d rather not.”
The smile on Harry’s face fell as he stared at her. “You’re going to teach me how to kiss aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she answered honestly. “I should have done it ages ago. Maybe you wouldn’t have lost Ginny...”
Much to her surprise, Harry snorted. “It’s funny, but I would have agreed with you a hundred percent had you said that just two weeks ago.” He let out a weary breath. “Now that I’m away from the situation with her, I can tell that she wasn’t emotionally committed enough. Not for me, anyway.”
Watching the thoughts race across his face, Hermione decided to approach to her friend’s emotional trauma with a bit more sensitivity. She placed her had on his. “I want to help, Harry.”
He smiled again, but it was lined with sadness. “I know, Hermione. You were always there for me.”
“Well, then,” she said, straightening up in the sofa. “Let’s see how bad it is. Kiss me.”
Harry froze for a moment. “Just like that? Just... kiss you?”
“It’s not that complicated,” she replied with a touch of humour behind the words. “I have to know where to start.”
He seemed to contemplate this and shrugged. “All right.” With the skill of a wounded Erumpent, he fell on her face and began to move his mouth on hers. Even knowing that it was going to happen, she hadn’t been prepared. Her lips were dry, her hands were pinned between them, and she couldn’t quite get into a good rhythm. The most positive thing she could say about her first kiss with Harry was that it was short.
“That was a good first effort,” she said as he backed away to his side of the sofa. She congratulated herself that she only needed to use a tiny bit of false cheerfulness. “But there is room for improvement.”
He pursed his lips. “I’d think that was obvious, given that you look like you just kissed the Giant Squid.”
“Never mind that,” said Hermione as she produced a notebook and flipped to a chart she had made that afternoon. “The point is we know where we stand and we know where we need to be.”
“We do?” he asked, trying to look at her notebook.
She tilted it away from him and nodded, scratching in a note on the line marked ‘First Kiss’. “Yes.”
“Oh.” He didn’t sound a bit convinced, but there wasn’t time to waste on explanations about where their relationship was and where it was headed. Hermione was a very smart witch, but sussing out matters of the heart was never her strong suit. Perhaps in teaching Harry to kiss, she would be able to win one in this most miserable area of her life.
After filling in the entire first line and adding a bit on a separate page, she put the notebook away and faced Harry again. “Let’s try it again. This time, you need to give me some indication that you are about to kiss me.”
“But you asked me to kiss you. It doesn’t get any better than that,” he protested.
Hermione made an impatient noise. “Trust me, Harry. You’ve got to give a girl some warning that you are about to kiss her, otherwise, she really will think she’d kissed the Giant Squid.”
She reached out a hand and placed it on the front part of his shoulder. “Partially-intimate physical contact is a great way to declare your intentions without words.” She caught his eye and let her lids relax. “You can use eye contact, too,” she said in a sultry voice, walking her fingers up his shoulder and around his neck. She pursed her lips and positioned them right in front of his. Then, she let her lashes flutter close and gently moved her lips forward.
It wasn’t as bad as the first kiss – by far – but only because Harry sat there like a dead fish while Hermione explored his lips with strict restraint. Kissing Ron for the first time had been strange, too, as kissing a best friend can only be. Her experience with Harry, while definitely lacking in passion and technique, was far different. It was like kissing a different man always was, exciting and new, yet it was also somehow familiar, like sleeping on her favourite pillow. When she pulled away from Harry and saw the dazed expression on his face, she knew that their lessons were going to be a little risky and yet held the potential for a very large reward. She needed time alone with her notebook.
Harry Apparated to his new flat thirty minutes after Hermione kissed him. He knew this because she had marked the time in her notebook and then proceeded to ask him several questions about how he felt while she’d kissed him, how he thought he could improve the experience, and how she should change her kissing style to better accommodate his needs. His needs? He hadn’t had the heart to tell her that a bloke was generally satisfied just to be kissing a pretty girl, let alone to have his needs accommodated.
Ron was sitting on the sofa, listening to a Quidditch match on the Wizarding Wireless, wearing a distinctly smug expression. Harry plopped absently onto the loveseat opposite. “Have a good time?” Ron asked with an innocent voice.
“Yeah,” Harry said distractedly. “We got all caught up.”
“I can tell,” Ron replied cryptically. “I’d say you and her will have some more catching up to do in the near future, eh?”
Harry propped his feat on the coffee table and narrowed his eyes at Ron. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Ron stood and knocked Harry’s feet onto the floor. “Feet off the table.” He jabbed a finger at Harry’s lips. “Hermione only wears ‘Classic Berry’ lipstick. I should know.”
He walked down the hall, waving his wand at the wireless which clicked off, and into his bedroom. Harry wiped the offending lipstick with the back of his hand, remembering the way Hermione’s lips moved on his and wondering how he could do the same with her when they had their next lesson.
Staring at the spot Ron had recently occupied, Harry resolved that no matter what happened with his lessons with Hermione, he would be sure to master the art of kissing, or die a lonely, miserable hermit in the middle of a Giant colony. Death by Giants had to be better than being the worst kisser on the planet.
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