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It had been a busy few weeks for Harry and Hermione. The weekdays were filled with Ministry visits, different class times at Hogwarts and studying sometimes late into the evening. Other than breakfast and sometimes evening meal, they had not spent much time together. Harry suggested a picnic for just the two of them and Hermione liked the idea very much. When the weekend arrived, they floo'd to the Burrow. Harry had always liked the Burrow's secluded and peaceful surroundings. Ginny and Ron greeted them when they arrived. Arthur and Molly had gone to Diagon Alley for the afternoon.

Ginny said, "Hermione, do you have everything you need for your picnic?"

"Yes. I think so. Oh, do you have a blanket we can borrow?"

"Ron," said Harry. "Can I talk to you outside? I need you to show me a good direction to go."

"Sure," said Ron and they went out the kitchen door.

"Sandwiches, fruit, drinks ... ah, the blanket. Thanks Ginny." She placed the blanket on top of the basket under the handle and tucked it in to cover the contents.

"How romantic," said Ginny in a dreamy voice.

"I'm just happy to get some quality time with him."

"I think you'll have a nice quiet afternoon," said Ginny.

"I'm sure we will," said Hermione raising her eyebrows with a mischievous smile. They both grinned at each other.

"Ron, can I borrow a broom?"

"Yeah, of course. Where are you headed?"

"I want to take Hermione to the hillside with that big tree. Remember, you pointed it out to me that day we went flying. You said it was a great place for a picnic. I want today to be special for her."

Ron's eyes brightened. "Really! Yeah ... that would be a great place to take her. Do you remember how to get there?"

"Sort of," Harry pointed. "It's across the meadow in that direction, right?"

"Yeah." Ron pointed and said, "See that mountain peak just above the tree tops?  Start in that direction. When you see a farmhouse with a red barn, turn to your left and head toward a small lake. You'll spot the tree above the lake on the hill."

"Thanks Ron." Harry stepped into the broom shed and a moment later came out with a large broom. "Now I just have to reassure Hermione when she realizes we're going flying."

With basket in hand, Hermione and Ginny made their way to where Harry and Ron were standing. Hermione eyed Harry apprehensively at the sight of a broom in his hand.

"You're not going flying on that are you?" said Ginny in an annoyed tone.

Harry and Ron just glance at each other.

Ginny rolled her eyes. She took the broom from Harry and handed it to Ron. Then, she took out her wand and pointed it toward the Burrow. "Accio broom!"

A moment later, a broom glided silently toward her and she caught it in her hand. Turning back to Harry she said, "Here, use this one."

"Ginny, this is the Nimbus broom you got for your birthday. Are you sure?"

"Yes," said Ginny firmly. "It's in your very good and capable hands. Hermione will enjoy the ride much better."

"Thanks Ginny." Turning to Hermione, "Ready?"

In a unsure voice she said, "Yes, I think so. Not too fast."

Harry smiled and nodded. He put the broom handle through the basket handle and then mounted the broom. He kicked off into a very low hover. Hermione got on and sat behind him putting her arms around his waist. Harry eased the broom forward and they smoothly and silently rose into the sky. They made slow graceful arcs over the meadow and then disappeared above the distant trees.

Ginny looked at Ron. "Do you know where they're headed?"

"The family tree."

"Oh Merlin! Really!? Does that mean..."

"Yeah. He didn't come out and say it to me, but I think that's what he has in mind."

"It will be the perfect place for them." Ginny sighed, "There's so much magic there."

"Does Hermione know about the family tree?"

Ginny thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so. It's not in any books and we've never talked about it. Her parents, being muggles, would never have heard of it either."

"Good," said Ron with a satisfied expression. "It will be much more memorable then. She's really hard to surprise."

"Yeah," said Ginny smiling. "Harry will be happy about that. How much does he know about it?"

"Just that it's a secluded and private place to have a picnic."

"Good. Then Harry will get a surprise too."

"Well sis, what say we have lunch and have a quiet cup of tea for a while."

Looking out over the distant trees, she smiled. "It might be a long while."

Ron put his arm around his sister and they walked back into the house.

Hermione relaxed her tight grip on Harry as he cast a disillusionment charm around them. It was a warm day with a light breeze. The sky was a deep blue and puffy white clouds dotted the skyline. The ride was smooth, the air crystal clear, and the view, spectacular. Many of the trees now had red and gold leaves. From above, fields of amber grain rolled gently in the breeze, like ripples on a lake. Harry flew slow and gentle sometimes skimming the treetops. The countryside stretched below them, checkerboard-like patterns imprinted by the people who lived on that land. All of their cares and concerns were part of the world that was below them. Here above was a feeling of freedom and peace. You could choose your direction, change it at any time, and it all led to the same limitless horizon of possibilities. Flying this way always made Harry feel so alive. Having Hermione along to share it with him was exhilarating.

"Harry, this is so beautiful and peaceful." She drew herself close, took a deep breath and softly sighed.

After about ten minutes, Harry spotted their destination. He circled while gradually descending and lightly touched down by the tree. They spread the blanket and enjoyed a quiet lunch until ...

"Last strawberry for you. Open up," said Harry.

"Make it dark chocolate this time."

Harry pointed his wand and the strawberry floated and dipped itself into a container. Then it floated toward Hermione. She tilted her head back slightly and opened her mouth. She hadn't seen his mischievous grin. The strawberry slid down the bridge of her nose, leaving a trail of chocolate, and dropped into her mouth. Harry grinned broadly.

"You'll pay for that Potter," she muttered to herself while chewing the strawberry. Unnoticed by Harry, she tilted the wand in her hand, mostly hidden from his view, and pointed it at Harry. An instant later, it shot a pink puffball. "Poof!" as it struck him in the forehead leaving a pink cloud as it burst like a child's soap bubble. A pink powder mark now showed on his forehead.

"Ah hah ... being sneaky are we!" said Harry as he retaliated. Two blue puffballs flew from his wand. She dodged one and the other hit her on the arm.

"Eek!" She scrambling to the tree for cover. Then she fired three more at him. "Oof" as one got him on the cheek. He waved his hand trying to clear away the pink cloud in his face.

For the next few minutes, there were shrieks, shouts and considerable laughing as pink and blue puffballs flew between them. Most were deflected or dodged but many found their targeted area of the body. In an all out barrage, she sent fifty pink puffballs flying at him in rapid fire. "Aahhh!" He ducked and dodged as many as he could while running to the other side of the tree. Peeking around the tree, they saw each other and fired at the same instant, but both missed. He quickly ducked back and around the tree silently coming up behind her. He put his arms around her and held her arms at her side.

As she gently squirmed he said, "Truce, truce, kiss and make up now." She stopped squirming and turned around to face him smiling. As she moved her head close to him, she brushed her nose on his cheek. But for some reason, chocolate on his face didn't bother Harry as their lips met and they wrapped their arms around each other.

After a few moments (or maybe longer), they stepped back and laughed at the sight of each other marked in pink, blue and chocolate. After using a cleaning charm, they lay down on the blanket, side by side, and looked up at the clouds in the sky. They spent a long while pointing out cloud pictures in the sky and sometimes changing the shapes with their wands.

... "That one looks like a cute little bunny," said Hermione. "Let me fix the ears a bit. ... There, how's that?"

"Aww... Very nice" ... Then grinning, Harry said, "How about that one over there? It looks like a snitch. See the wispy wings?"

Hermione giggled. Then, in mock sarcasm said, "How romantic ... first a broom, and now, a snitch?"

Harry chuckled. "Okay then. Let's see ... that one over there, just above the tree, looks like an otter."

"Hmm ... sort of, more like this …" Her happy feeling at that moment only needed the spell to be spoken. Softly she said, "Expecto Patronum!" Her patronus appeared and the otter hovered above them.

This being one of the happiest days in his life, Harry softly said, "Expecto Patronum!" The stag appeared instantly. 

Pointing with their wands, the patronus' playfully chased each other. Then, the stag didn't see where the otter was hiding. The stag turned its head and saw the otter reclined on its back looking safe and happily contented. The otter's eyes were soft and inviting. The stag stretched up its head and slowly turned, its great antlers warning any foe that might be watching. Then, with softness in its eyes, the stag's head turned to look at the otter. The two images swirled into each other and merged into a single vaporous cloud that sparkled randomly for a moment and then dissolved.

Still lying on her back and looking up where the patronus' had dissolved she said, "Umm ... Harry, did you feel anything just now?"

"Yeah, during the sparkling. What about you?"

"Yes. I felt something too. What did it feel like to you?"

"Umm ... it's a bit hard to put into words." Looking up at the sky with a thoughtful expression he said, "Kind of like ... a chocolate ice cream sneeze."

Her eyebrows furrowed and she turned her head to look at him. "A chocolate ice cream sneeze? What's that?"

He looked at her. "Well ... it's the good feeling you get when you taste chocolate ice cream. And, the nice tingly feeling you get right after a good sneeze. But it was both feelings at the same time."

She giggled. "Well, I agree with you about the sneeze feeling. ... but ... it seemed more like vanilla to me."

"Did you know that would happen, what we both felt?"

"No, I didn't. Patronus' are from our happy feelings but, I didn't think they could connect and feed back to us."

"Hmm ... seems we've found another connection between us."

For the next few minutes, they quietly lay next to each other gazing up at the sky. Then, Harry sat up and turned his body to face her. Taking her hands, he gently pulled her into a sitting position. He held her hands and they just looked at each other for a moment. Time seemed to slow down.

He thought about what they had been through together since that day he met her on the train. She had always been by his side helping him accomplish what he had been called to do. She had freely chosen to stand by him through it all, enduring the risks and consequences of that choice. Her faithfulness to that decision had never wavered even in their darkest and seemingly hopeless moments.

She looked at him and saw her best friend. She thought of the trust and understanding they shared in each other. He had supported and unconditionally accepted her, just as she was, from the beginning. In spite of all his burdens and uncertainties, there had always been a subtle and steadfast connection between them. She felt so much more now, beyond friendship, and knew that it grew from their deep and genuine care for each other.

"Hermione, your friendship has meant so much to me over all these years. You've made my weakness' strong and helped me become more than I ever thought possible." Smiling he said, "Sorry to have caused you so much trouble."

She smiled and said, "It was a bit challenging at times wasn't it." Then, with a more serious expression she said, "But you helped an insecure little girl grow in so many ways. You helped make her complete by being a kind and supportive friend. It just feels right being with you. I can't imagine my life any other way. In spite of all the hardships and risks we endured, I would not trade it for anything."

Harry felt his heart start to beat faster. He looked deeply into her eyes. Softly and sincerely he said, "You are my closest and dearest friend. I thought it could never be better than that. But over the past months, it has become better. I've fallen in love with you."

The intensity of his gaze into her eyes made her heart race. She said, "Oh Harry, I'm in love with you too. It's such a happy feeling when I'm with you." She looked softly into his eyes, and held her breath.

"I love you so very much ... and ... I want to spend the rest of my life with you. ... Hermione, will you marry me?"

To Harry, it seemed the question hung in the air for such a long time waiting for her answer. Jubilation flared from her heart. Then a sparkle in her eye and a radiant smile dawned on her face.

"Oh yes Harry!" She threw her arms around his neck. "Yes! Yes! Yes I will marry you!" He wrapped his arms around her and they kissed long and lovingly.

They released each other and Harry took her hands again. They looked at the joy in each other's face for a moment. They saw a joyful giddiness in each other's eyes. Then Harry put his hand into his pocket and withdrew a golden engagement ring. The diamond sparkled in the sunlight. She took a quick breath at the sight of it. He slowly slid the ring onto her finger. As he did, the diamond began to sparkle more brightly. He held her hand for a moment and they both looked at it intently. Her beautiful hand, that shimmering ring with two intertwining spirals on the band, it was marvelous. Their parallel lives had just changed direction and were now tracking toward a union. Harry felt great happiness and fulfillment. Hermione felt like she would burst with joy.

She moved forward and guided him onto his back. She lay on top of him and passionately kissed him, pouring in her love and joy. He held her tightly and with similar enthusiasm, focused his happiness on her. They had little perception of anything but each other as a faint golden glow of enchantment enveloped them. The breeze rustled the tree leaves and the birds sang sweetly in that peaceful heavenly place.

A short while later, cuddled in each other's arms, Harry said, "I want to stay with you here like this forever. But, we should start back to the Burrow."

She reluctantly nodded. They packed up everything and were about to mount the broom when Harry stopped. She watched as he took out his wand and moved toward the tree trunk. He carved the shape of a heart into the bark of the tree. He added the words 'Harry and' inside the heart shape and then looked at Hermione. She smiled and took out her wand to complete it, adding 'Hermione 1998 * *' making a pink and blue puffball. They kissed softly.

As their lips parted, they glanced toward the tree and saw that hundreds of other carvings in the tree had appeared. They looked back at each other with delighted smiles. Then, they began looking at the other carvings on the tree. Most were weathered and old.

Harry said, "Look! Arthur and Molly."

"1969, that's not long after they graduated Hogwarts. Ginny mentioned that to me."

"Hermione, look up over there, that small tree branch. There are two leaves on it with Arthur and Molly's name."

"Look, there's seven flowering buds under the leaves; one for each of their children! One has a vine growing out of it."

A brief moment later, she pointed and said, "Oh Harry, look at the tree trunk here!"

Harry silently looked at it for a moment, a heart shape with 'James and Lily 1978' inside it. There was also a doe and a stag.

She bit her lip and pointed. "Harry, the branch is there." He looked to see a small branch with two leaves bearing the names James and Lily. There were two buds under the leaves, one flowering, and the other closed. Harry stared at it.

She put her arm around him. In a quiet voice Harry said, "What do you make of that closed bud?"

"I don't know. We'll have to ask Arthur and Molly."

"Hang on ... where's our carving again?" He led her back to where they had carved their names in the tree. Then, they began looking up at the branches.

"There!" said Hermione pointing. A new small branch with two leaves holding the names Harry and Hermione was there. Under the leaves, two, very tiny, unopened buds.

He turned to her with a soft glorious expression. "Two children? ... Ours?"

She smiled back and softly said, "Perhaps. But Harry, I think this tree shows what might or has happen; not what will happen."

He looked thoughtfully at her and nodded his head. "Guess we'll just have to wait and see what grows from our love. I think I like it better that way."

"Me too Harry."

They shared an embrace and a long kiss. Then, mounting the broom, they kicked off and started back to the Burrow.  

Ron and Ginny were seated at the Weasley picnic table in the shade of the oak tree. Each had a glass of pink lemonade. They had been having a quiet and pleasant brother sister conversation. Ron couldn't remember the last time this had happened but they were both enjoying just spending time talking with each other. They both agreed that they should do it more often.

A spot appeared low over the trees across the meadow and began to grow larger.

"Here they come," said Ron.  

Ron and Ginny walked toward the broom shed watching as they gently touched down. Harry and Hermione were both smiling broadly. Hermione quickly got off the broom and moved toward Ginny with her left hand outstretched in front of her. Ginny squealed and they hugged each other.

Hermione turned to Ron who took her left hand in his. After a brief moment, he looked up at her and said, "Congratulations Hermione."

Hermione embraced him. Ron said, "I wish all the best for both you. I know you will be happy together."

"Thank you Ron," said Hermione with tears in her eyes. She kissed him on the cheek.

Ginny moved to Harry. With a broad smile and tears of joy in her eyes, she hugged him and said, "I'm so happy for the both of you."

"Thanks Ginny," he said as he looked at her again. "I think Hermione likely has a lot she wants to tell you. Go with her, I'll bring your broom."

Ginny smiled and kissed Harry on the cheek. "Thanks." Ginny and Hermione left for the house in excited conversation. Harry and Ron watched as they went inside.

"Did you find it okay, the family tree?"

"Yeah, it was perfect. She's very happy right now. There were also a few surprises in that tree for me too that you didn't mention."

"That makes me feel really good," said Ron smiling. "You look very happy too. Congratulations mate!"

"You are already my best mate but I want to ask you properly. Will you be my best man at the wedding?"

"Yes, I'm honored. When's the bonding day?"

"In a few months, I think the planning and details will get worked out fairly quickly," said Harry with a smile. Ron nodded in agreement.

They were all sitting around the kitchen table sipping tea, talking, laughing and planning. There was a whoosh from the fireplace. The conversation around the table abruptly ended and four very broad smiles greeted Arthur and Molly as they stepped into the kitchen.

Molly's eyes slowly narrowed as she surveyed the scene. "Okay ... what's going on here? I can tell you lot are up to something."

No one said a word. After a moment, Arthur stepped beside his wife and said softly to her, "Molly dear, have a look at Hermione's left hand."

Molly's eyes widened as the realization of a ring on her third finger set in. "Oh my word, you're engaged! How wonderful! Oh, I'm so happy for you! Come here you two." After giving each of them a smothering hug, she smiled and said, "When did this happen?"

Harry said, "Just this afternoon on our picnic at the family tree."

"Oh, how lovely!" said Molly. "Hermione, do your parents know yet?"

"No, not yet."

"Why don't you call them and see if they want to come over for a bit of dinner so you can tell them too."

"Thank you, that would be very nice."

When Arthur arrived with Dan and Emma, it took her mother only a few seconds before she squealed and ran over to hug Hermione and Harry.

Harry went over Dan and said, "I want to ask for your blessing to marry your daughter."

"Thank you Harry. You've had our blessing since our time together in Australia. We know that Hermione will be well cared for and loved by you. We will be very blessed ourselves to have you as a son-in-law."

There was lively conversation as a light meal was quickly prepared. A few bottles of champagne found their way to the kitchen table.

After dinner, they all went to sit in the family room. Harry whispered something to Hermione and she enthusiastically nodded her head.

Harry said, "Arthur, Molly, you've been like a father and mother to me for many years. Will you stand in for my parents at the wedding?"

Molly quickly pulled a hanky from her pocket. Arthur said, "We'd be very honored to Harry."

Hermione said, "Harry took me on a picnic to a place we now know is the family tree." She looked at Harry and smiled. "It was lovely and that's where Harry proposed to me." Turning to Arthur she said, "We saw lots of interesting things in that tree. Can you tell us more about it?"

"The family tree is alive with the life force of the families it represents. You must have seen many names and mementos carved into its trunk. Each branch grows from the bud of a previous generation and the leaves have the parent's names on them. If you want to know about family genealogy, you just need to go and have a look."

"Will my Mum and Dad's names be there too?" asked Hermione.

"Yes, once you and Harry are bonded in marriage. There would be no past generation but they would be the start of a new branch and connected with you and Harry."

Harry said, "We saw unopened flower buds, what are those?"

Arthur said, "Those are possible children if the couple decides so. You should only count the blossoming buds. A bud will blossom when a child is born. When the child marries, the blossom sprouts into a new extension of the branch with vine connections to both sets of parents. I'm sure you noticed the whole tree was very tangled. It show just how interconnected we all really are."

Hermione said, "Mum, Dad, I want you to see the tree after we're married."

"We'd very much like to see it," they responded. "We are learning so many wonderful things about the magical world."

They all talked for a while longer. Then Harry and Hermione thanked the Weasleys for dinner and prepared to take Hermione's parents home. Hermione and Ginny agreed to talk more the next day before Ginny returned to Hogwarts. They floo'd to the Granger home. Harry and Hermione spent a long while with Dan and Emma talking about the Granger's wedding and sharing their joy with them.

A few hours later, Harry and Hermione return home to their flat. They had taken a few steps toward the hall and bedrooms when Hermione stopped and turned to face Harry. There was a bit of uneasiness in each of their faces. It was clear to each of them what the other was thinking.

"Erm ... Harry ... I want to wait to have ... umm ... to consummate our union until our wedding night."

Harry nodded. "And we're both wondering ... can we resist the temptation if we sleep together."

"Ye-es ... Can we do that? ... That is ... wait until then? I read about a special ceremony. There's special magic in this particular marital bonding. I think we'd both want to experience it."

"We slept together last year on Christmas day in the tent."

"Yes, but we were fully clothed and you were in an awful painfully sick state then. I was just trying to comfort you. Our relationship is much different now. We'll both have much stronger desires to be intimate, to keep moving closer in our relationship. It will be hard to wait."

"We could stay mostly dressed like we did on the sofa," said Harry. "Wear pajamas."

"Ye-es, but ... maybe a little bit more comfortable than that ... sometimes?" There was a momentary distant expression on Hermione's face remembering the last time they slept on the sofa. Then, with a slightly shocked look, she said, "Oh my ... see what I mean?! It will be hard!"

"I like that thought," grinned Harry. Hermione rolled her eyes and smiled warmly.

"How about we have my Mum and Dad in the room? They can chaperone us."

"Harry! That's a wonderful idea! But," her eyebrows narrowed, "will they let us snog each other in bed wearing just knickers?"

Harry grinned, "I think so. This is very important and I trust your judgment to know what's best for us. I will honor your desire to wait."

With a mischievous expression she said, "Okay then ... so ... my place or yours?"

"Yours, it has the nice comfy queen size bed."

Hermione giggled.

Harry said, "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"

"Hmm ... why no, not in the last few hours."

"Well, we need to remedy that as soon as my Mum and Dad are settled in your room."

A short time later, Harry used a sticking charm to affix the portrait of his parents by the bed in Hermione's room. He touched the picture frame and James and Lily appeared standing side by side. They briefly glanced around the room and then looked at him.
"Mum, Dad, Hermione and I need your help. We're engaged now and it's important to us that we're not fully intimate with each other until after our bonding. Cool us down a bit if it looks like we're getting physically out of control with each other."

A delighted grin came to the face of James. "This is going to be fun." He walked off the edge of the frame and after a short moment, returned holding a glass pitcher with water sloshing in it. A few drops splashed on Harry and Hermione's faces. He took his place next to Lily and looked out at them with a broad grin. Lily rolled her eyes at James and then smiled as she looked out at them.

Hermione, with a slight worried look on her face said, "Maybe you shouldn't have used the words, 'cool us down'."

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