The End of the Beginning

Chapter 16

Hermione woke with a start, the last thing she remembered was drinking some tea at the edge of the bed and then….

Harry had spiked her drink with the last of the Dreamless Sleep potion. While her first instinct was to be furious, she remembered that she had done the very same thing just a few weeks before to both Harry and Ron when they had needed it. They had just been returning the favor.

She surveyed the room. It was early, only eight o'clock. Ron was snoring over on the couch. Harry's small cot was empty. Wondering what had him out of bed; Hermione took a quick shower before changing into a loose pair of jeans. She first grabbed one of Ron's old quidditch jersey's by instinct, but decided that it was still a little too soon and went with one of Harry's instead. It still smelled vaguely of him and it soothed her nerves.

Feeling invigorated, she went downstairs to look for Harry. She found him asleep in a chair in the lobby.

"Don't tell me you slept down here all night?" She gave him a concerned look. Harry woke and ran his hand through his already messy hair groggily.

"What time is it?" He muttered, stretching out his lean arms.

"It's almost nine. Did you sleep down here?" she repeated.

"No, I came down here when I woke up late last night and couldn't get back to sleep. Just thinking." Harry rubbed his eyes and gave her a reassuring smile.

"Okay. What were you thinking about?" He had a determined look in his eyes that puzzled her.

"I was thinking that you have given me so much, that it is time for me to give something to you."

Hermione's mind went into overdrive to figure out what he was talking about. Surely he didn't mean some kind of physical gift, that much was apparent. That could only mean it had something to do with today and her parents, but what could that possibly have to do with anything?

"Harry I don't understand. You're helping me get my parents back, that's wonderful of you, but I already knew that so what are you talking about?"

Harry had a borderline mischievous look in his eyes. He was certainly up to something and it certainly had to do with her parents. She was growing more frustrated the more she thought about it. It didn't seem fair that he would put any more stress on her by keeping her in the dark about his plans.

"Harry, please tell me what you're planning. I really can't take anymore worry in my life right now." It felt satisfying to see his reaction to the edge in her voice. She was in no mood for games.

"Hermione, I'm just trying to do right by you." Harry looked apologetically at her but didn't offer anything else.

"Harry James Potter, you tell me this instant what you are planning!"

She could tell by the look on his face that he regretted bringing this whole thing up to her, but seeing the fire in her eyes she saw him relent.

"I'm going to tell your parents the truth: that this entire situation is my fault."

Hermione felt her brain go numb for a split second before it was quickly replaced by white hot anger.

"And why would you do something stupid like that?" She asked coldly.

"Because it's true. There were other ways that we could have protected them, protected you, but I was selfish and wanted you with me. I didn't stop you from doing this when I should have. I let you gamble your whole life just so you would be with me and Ron." Harry had his patented guilt on full display, but if anything it made her even angrier.

"Harry stop trying to feel guilty about every little thing!" her voice was getting higher and louder by the second, but she couldn't care less that they were in public. She needed him to know how mad she was.

"This was my decision! I'm not some boy crazed teenager who did something stupid just for your sake! I made a hard decision because I knew it was for the best. It kept them safe and allowed me to fight. I wanted to fight! Dumbledore trusted me as much as he trusted you to do what had to be done! Don't you think there was as much at stake for me as there was for you?! Don't you dare try and take responsibility for my actions! What good do you think that would do? Then my parents wouldn't want me to see you again and then what am I supposed to do? It would be a disaster!"

Harry looked dumbstruck. His mouth just hung open stupidly.

"Let's just get one thing straight Harry: I am not some helpless lass for you to save! I know you, I know you want to save everyone, but Harry you can't do this."

Hermione felt her rage leaving her to be replaced with a knot in her chest. She always found it hard to stay mad at Harry.

"I'm already very grateful for you coming with me and helping me, for slipping me the potion to help me sleep. I know you want to help, I know you have good intentions, but you can't just take responsibility for things you didn't do."

There was a ringing silence between the two. Harry's face was screwed up in thought. Hermione closed the gap between the two of them, taking his hands in hers. She met his eyes with hers, his emerald orbs full of hurt. He shifted his gaze down to the floor.

"I just….I'm supposed to protect you Hermione."

By Harry's standards, this was being quite effusive about his feelings. He had never been one to talk about how he felt. She felt privileged that he let her even a little ways past his barriers. She knew he felt like a failure, it was the same look he had worn when she saw him in the hospital wing after the Department of Mysteries.

"Harry, you haven't failed me. You've always protected me." She took his chin into one of her hands and forced him to look into her eyes again. "But you can't save me from everything. The best you're going to do I'm afraid is be there for whatever happens next. I know you will be."

Hermione gave him her most reassuring smile as they parted. She knew he could understand that she trusted him completely, that he hadn't betrayed her with his inability to protect her from the consequences of her actions. He always seemed to know these things.

He answered her with a small smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. Something behind her then caught his eye. Hermione turned around to see Ron walking towards them, smiling cheerfully.

"Get a good night's rest Hermione?" Ron gave a huge wink to Harry who chuckled behind her.

"I did Ron. Thanks for asking, I have no idea of course how I fell asleep considering the right state I was in, but I'm grateful none the less." Ron started laughing and she turned to give Harry a wink of her own. It was fun, not to mention distracting, to be playing this little game with Ron.

"I guess the world will never know." Ron gave them both a huge grin. "You two had breakfast yet?"

"No, have anything special in mind?" Harry grinned back.

"I saw this café I wouldn't mind trying yesterday….Oh! I nearly forgot, mum sent each of us a letter! Hermes showed up right when I woke up." Ron handed Harry and Hermione both sealed letters addressed from .

Not really thinking about what the topic of the letter could be, Hermione opened hers and quickly read through it. By the time she began to read it a second time, she could feel tears building behind her eyes.

Dearest Hermione,

First of all, I hope that this letter has found you before you found your parents. I wanted to encourage you that, speaking as a mother, the largest emotion I'm sure your parents will be experiencing upon seeing you again will be relief that you are safe and sound. I can safely speak on your parents behalf: your parents love you more than they love anything else in the world. They may be upset, they may even be angry about what you have done, but you did what you thought was right. Any grudge they may wish to hold will be outweighed by the knowledge that the awful war is over and they now have a lifetime to safely spend with their only daughter.

I also wanted to express to you that as long as me and Arthur are under this roof, this house will always be a home for you. You are as welcome here as any daughter or son of mine. I know that you and Ronald find your problems irreconcilable (Charlie passed along to me what happened), but listen Hermione: I of all people know the faults of my children. I can't begrudge you doing what is best for you. I am disappointed for sure, he is my son, but you are my daughter, regardless of your future with Ron. Know that nothing that happens between you two will ever make me or Arthur feel any differently. We love you Hermione.

Speaking of Ron, please look after him and Harry. I know you wouldn't let anything happen to my boys, to your boys. I worry about them so much. I worry about you so much. I know you will all make it home safe. Do send word when you will be headed back. We will want to welcome you home properly! Send a return note to let me know you lot are alright.

All my love,

Molly

Molly's words sent warm waves radiating through her whole body. Despite what had happened with Ron, the Burrow would still welcome her home. If Molly could put aside her breaking Ron's heart, maybe her parents could put aside what she had done to them. If not she still had family, a home, to belong to. It made her heart melt and strengthened her resolve.

"Are you alright?" Ron was the one who asked but both boys were looking concernedly at her.

"I am actually." She looked from Ron to Harry. It wasn't just Molly or the Burrow that would love her no matter what. Feeling better than she had in a solid week, she accompanied them to find Ron's café.

It turned out to be a small hole in the wall a couple blocks from their hotel. "These places tend to have excellent food. If you don't mind 'em being a bit shabby." Ron cheerfully noted as they walked in.

Shabby described it to a tee. The sign looked like it was from another decade, the paint was peeling from the walls, and the entire place seemed to have an air of neglect about it. However, as was often the case when it came to food, Ron was correct. It was some of the best breakfast food Hermione had ever had.

"This was an excellent idea Ron." She shot him a smile. His eyes seemed to gleam in triumph as Harry enthusiastically nodded his support. His mouth was too full to verbally assent.

Hermione thought to herself that Ron was particularly handsome when he had the airy confidence on his face as he did now. It was a shame that his insecurities kept him from feeling that way more often. Maybe it was best for him that he found someone other than her after all; Hermione had always felt like she was a major source of his insecurity instead of a bulwark against it.

Molly's letter had her feeling better about Ron than she had in weeks. It brought her a sense of closure to know that the Weasley family knew of their breakup and hadn't decided to shun her. Her greatest fear had been that both the Weasley's and her own family would abandon her with all that she had done. That would leave Harry; until he married Ginny and then Hermione would be truly alone. Molly had laid that fear to rest and she felt like a massive weight had been taken off of her shoulders.

This newfound relief could only do so much to alleviate the tension in her gut about her parents. As they spent the day moving restlessly around the neighborhood Hermione found herself nervously checking the time every few minutes or pacing the sidewalk whenever they came to a stop. She noticed that both Ron and Harry were nervous too and where not as interested in the shops they perused as they pretended to be.

Finally six o'clock came and they knew the Wilkins' practice had closed and they were most likely home. It was time.

They all boarded a bus and took a seat together on the back row, Ron and Harry on either side of her. They both held one of her hands and spoke the occasional word of moral support. Hermione kept running Molly's words through her mind to calm her nerves.

They reached their stop at six-thirty. A short walk brought them to the condominium and to the Wilkins' front door. Ron and Harry checked that the coast was clear while Hermione donned the Invisibility Cloak. They each gave her a thumbs up and a reassuring smile before knocking on the door.

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