"Oh please do come in!" Mrs. Wilkins chimed. "Dan will be right out. Dan! We have guests!"
Emma Wilkins guided them to a sofa in their small sitting room and offered them tea, Dan Wilkins appeared moments later out of the bedroom to shake their hands.
"To what do we owe the pleasure gentlemen?" Dan inquired politely.
"We're from the realtor's office." Harry answered, "We are here to ask you a few questions about your lovely home here. We aim to ensure our customers are one hundred percent satisfied with their purchase."
Dan looked puzzled for the briefest of moments before a smile leapt across his face.
"Well then! It is a bit odd, but it's nice to work with someone who genuinely cares! Emma join us please."
Emma and Dan took a seat in the loveseat opposite Harry and Ron. Now it was a simple matter of giving Hermione the time she needed.
"Alright then, has there been any major problem since you bought the condo?" Ron asked, pretending to be writing on a clipboard.
"No sir, not the slightest. We haven't even replaced a bulb since we got here!" Dan gave a hearty chuckle. Harry spared a glance to the empty space behind the couple.
She couldn't do it. They looked so happy. They didn't miss her at all. Well, of course they didn't, they didn't remember her after all; but it crushed Hermione to see them so well adjusted and happy in their life. She couldn't just take it away from them, plunging them into a world where their daughter broke her biggest promise to them.
She held her wand in a shaking hand behind the couple's heads, willing herself to say the incantation.
All she could do was whimper silently.
They had been sitting there for almost twenty minutes now. Harry was beginning to panic. Ron was clearly running out of questions to ask the Wilkins. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, but Harry was worried that they were soon to be dismissed. Then what would they do?
What could possibly be holding up Hermione? He looked again at the space behind Dan and Emma. Willing himself to somehow make eye contact with a person he couldn't see. He pictured her standing there, biting her bottom lip, unsure what to do.
Then it hit him: maybe she wasn't sure she wanted to do this. After all, her parents were quite oblivious to the life they had left behind. They were very happy and content. It seemed cruel to lift the veil on their eyes and expose the truth, but Harry knew that Hermione had to do this. She would spend her whole life regretting it if she left them here.
Hermione was just about to lower her wand and walk out of the condo when she looked up at Harry's face. He was no longer looking at her parents, he was looking straight at her. How he had managed to make eye contact with her when she was invisible was a riddle for another time, because the look her was giving her rooted her to the spot.
She had had these sorts of silent conversations with Harry before where each seemed to telepathically speak into the others consciousness. She could hear Harry's voice speak calmly in her mind: "You have to do this Hermione. They need to know the truth. You need them to know the truth."
Her eyes began to water. Her wand hand shook more violently than ever. Harry's eyes looked softly into hers. "It's okay. We'll be right here with you. You can do this."
Forcing her hand to steady itself, she looked at the back of her parent's heads, focusing on the incantation with all her might.
Harry knew he had gotten through to her the moment that Dan and Emma stopped mid-sentence and a milky glaze came over their eyes. Their expressions took on a blank look and they lolled slightly from left to right.
Ron looked relieved, he had been stretching the conversation as long as he could but Harry knew he had been close to running out of ideas. The moments seemed to pass on for an eternity before the Wilkins' (now Grangers again Harry corrected himself) eyes took on their natural color again.
They both looked like they had been bludgered over the head. Dan was frowning and had a hand on his temple while Emma was frantically searching the room with her eyes. They were both obviously very confused as to their surroundings.
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger?" It was Ron who spoke; they were more likely to remember him than Harry.
Dan and Emma both jumped a little and looked at Ron with shocked expressions as though he had simply materialized out of thin air.
"I know this is all a little confusing, please just relax." Ron was doing his best to sound reassuring. Emma still looked quite panicked until Dan took her hands in his own. Sparing a glance at Harry, he turned to Ron with a puzzled expression.
"Ronald right? Where are we? Where's Hermione?" Harry looked over his shoulder. Hermione had chosen not to appear just yet. It would probably do more harm than good at the moment. Harry steeled himself to explain.
"Mr. Granger, we've met in passing before. I'm Harry Potter, do you remember?" Harry tried his best not to sound condescending. When Dan nodded Harry continued, "You're in Sidney, Australia. Almost a year ago, Hermione…." Harry paused to take a deep breath, "Hermione modified your memories and sent you here to keep you safe. We were in open war with Lord Voldemort and it was too risky for you to remain in England. Hermione felt like you would never leave on your own or let her take part in the war, so she sent you here."
Dan and Emma both gasped. Emma was already in tears and Dan looked stunned.
"Where….where is she?" Dan looked at Harry pleadingly.
"W-Where's Hermione? Where's my daughter?" Emma was becoming frantic, looking wildly from Ron to Harry.
"She'll be here in a minute, she is safe. I promise." Harry sent a look to both Ron and Hermione communicating that they were to hold tight, he had something he wanted to say.
"Mr. and Mrs. Granger, I want to tell you that Hermione did what she did because she loved you. She couldn't bear the thought of Voldemort or his supporters getting to you. We're here now because the war is over. Voldemort is gone and his supporters are either dead or on the run. We never could have done it without Hermione; she is truly the brightest witch of her age. I hope you can remember that when you see her."
Harry stood up with Ron following suit. Emma had dissolved into tears and Dan was holding his wife, a deep furrow in his brow. It reminded Harry forcefully of the look Hermione got when she was deep in thought.
"When can we see her?" Dan asked.
"Me and Ron are going to step out." At that moment Hermione took off the cloak behind her parents. "If you will turn around, you will find Hermione just as we promised." Harry gave her one last reassuring smile before turning to walk out the door.
"Hermione!" Dan and Emma gasped together. Harry heard them both jump to their feet and rush to wrap their arms around their daughter. Emma Granger was sobbing uncontrollably and Hermione couldn't stop saying "I'm so sorry!"
Ron clapped Harry on the back and they both stepped out to give the family some privacy.
Ron and Harry had decided to find some dinner to give Hermione some time with her family. They were so wrapped up in each other that they hardly realized they were gone.
Ron was extremely happy that it all seemed well with the Grangers. It felt good to see another family restored, even if it reminded him painfully of the gaping hole in his own family. It had been hard to push Fred out of his mind these past few weeks, and it simply wouldn't leave him alone after he had read his last letter from home.
I hope that you are safe and enjoying your time away. Heaven knows that you deserve it. What you children went through is simply mind numbing for me to comprehend. Oh Ron, how I wish that I could make these horrors disappear as easily as I did when you were small and your troubles even smaller. It pains me to know that I can't simply vanish away the scars on your heart.
I'm so sorry things didn't work out with Hermione. I know how deeply you love her. I know it must hurt and on top of everything else I can't imagine how you deal with it. You've always been so much stronger than you realize.
Please son, do not be too hard on Hermione. I know she still means a lot to you. I know how she's the best friend you have besides Harry. Please don't throw it all away because of this. It may never be as it once was, it can't, but it doesn't mean you have to lose her completely. She's a part of you, and it's up to you whether or not it becomes a cancer or a cure.
I know you've been thinking of Fred. We all have dear. I don't think there will come a day when I don't think about him. George's voice sounds so…small without Fred there to finish his sentences. Your brother is struggling Ronald. We're all struggling, even if we don't want to admit it. Bill and Charlie left to escape into their own worlds. Percy can't even focus on his work. Your father and George both look like someone shut off the light in their eyes. It's almost as if no one is home behind their dull, vacant expressions. I've never seen them so broken. Ginny felt so suffocated she left for the Lovegood's weeks ago. I haven't gone a day without breaking down crying. I know you needed to get away, that's how you've always handled things, that's what makes what I am about to say that much harder.
We need you Ronald. We need you to come home. I know you're helping Hermione with her family. It's so very sweet of you, especially under present circumstances with her, but the second she finds them…..please….please come home. I can't do this alone. Your father, George, Percy….it's more than I can handle. Someone has to hold us together and Ronald, I don't think I'm up to the task by myself. Your wit, you're optimism (sarcastic as it may be), your love….these are things this family needs now more than ever.
I know you plan on going back to Hogwarts, I know it won't be long, but please give us all the time you have. It will mean more to me than anything.
Pass on my letters and my love to Harry and Hermione. Make sure they're safe before you leave them. Have them come to the Burrow before school.
Hope to see you soon
All my love,
As badly as he was dreading it, as much as he wanted this escape to last forever, he knew what he had to do.
He and Harry had sat down in the corner booth of a small, out of the way pub when he decided to break the news.
"Harry, I need to leave." He looked pleadingly at his friend, hoping he would understand. Harry looked crestfallen, but nodded solemnly.
"I understand. Your family needs you Ron." Ron thought his wording eerily similar to his mothers'. It must have shown on his face. "Molly wrote me too mate, remember? I really do understand. You need to go. Hermione will understand too. Are you going to tell her goodbye?"
There was a genuinely concerned look in Harry's eyes that had nothing to do with the Burrow.
"Yeah, I'll pack tonight and see you both off tomorrow morning. I hate to bug out, but I just have to go. How long will you stay here? We need you too you know."
"I'll stay until the Grangers figure out their plans. I want to know Hermione's affairs are in order before I leave."
They both gazed in silence at the drinks in front of them.
"It's really starting to feel over isn't it?" Harry didn't even look up when he asked.
"Yeah. Now that her life is in order, the funerals are over, and we're going back home…..it finally feels like it's over and done. It's a new world now."
Ron watched the liquid in his glass move as he tilted it back and forth. Nothing about this his life felt familiar anymore. Everything had something attached to it. A memory. Most of them reminded of people he'd never see again, or a feeling he'd never get back.
The Burrow used to feel so safe, so secluded from the cares of the real world. It used to be the one place where Ron felt like he could just be a kid: carefree and oblivious to the maelstrom surrounding it. Now the real world had permanently shattered the protective charm of its walls. An empty chair at the table would be a constant reminder of just how fragile it had always been.
He had always thought the war would be the hard part, but it was now dawning on him that it would take more courage now to face the peace. The end of war didn't bring back its dead. Without an enemy to focus on, picking up the pieces of a shattered life took its toll.
He thought of his father. Of two brothers who couldn't even live their life's ambitions. Of his mother crying every night. Of two brothers and a sister who simply ran from their grief.
Not him. He wouldn't run anymore. He had done what he needed to do for himself; it was time to do what his family needed him to do. He would be strong for them. He'd pull them together if it took everything he had.