After all the crying had stopped, Hermione found herself in a heavy silence with her parents. The weight of what had truly happened seemed to be sinking in.
"Why?" Dan finally blurts out. "Of all the things you could have done….why this?"
She flinches at the hurt in his voice. She knows she's upset them both. She can see in both of their demeanors the disappointment.
"I…I thought it was the best thing….for everyone." She takes a deep steadying breath, "You don't know what it was like, everyone was scared. Muggleborn families were being tracked by the Ministry, to allow them to track you would have been a death sentence because of my relationship to Harry….to hide from the Ministry in the U.K. would have been no better. I had to get you out of the country, I couldn't do what I had to do without knowing that you were safe."
Hermione felt the tears start to prick at the back of her eyes again, but they faded as she filled with conviction. She had done what was best; her parents would have to understand.
"I knew you wouldn't go, that you wouldn't let me go."
"Sweetie, how could they have needed a seventeen year old to fight a war?" her mum was trying, Hermione gave her that.
"Because, Harry was the only one who could defeat Voldemort, and he needed Ron and me to do it." She registered how strange it was that her parents didn't flinch at the name.
When her parents took matching incredulous looks, she launched into explaining the truth of what had happened the past two and a half years. The Prophecy, the Death Eater attack at Hogwarts, the revelation of the Horcruxes, Dumbledore's death, the Hallows, and the final battle. Her dad took it in quietly while her mum covered her mouth and sobbed at the particularly bad parts.
When she finished it was again followed by a heavy silence.
"So…that's the truth of it. I had to be there. If I hadn't gone, we would have never finished Voldemort, Harry would be dead and…"
She abruptly stopped. The memory of Harry in Hagrid's arms swam into her mind. It was still too close and too real to her. She had to take a couple of deep breaths to steady herself.
He didn't die. You were just with him.
She sometimes had to remind herself of that truth. That Harry was indeed alive. She had caught herself numerous times over the past couple of months going to his room in the middle of the night just to ensure he really and truly was there.
"Hermione..?" Emma brought her attention back to the real world.
"I'm sorry that I've hurt you. I'm sorry that I couldn't find another way," she steeled herself to say the truth, "but I'm not sorry for what I did. I did what I thought was right and given the chance, I would do it again."
It took a moment for her words to really sink into her parents. Emma grasped it first, a knowing look entering her eyes before she joined Hermione in gazing at Dan. She could see the wheels turning in his mind; she knew he was examining all this information every which way. She was so like him in that regard. Finally, he slumped his shoulders and nodded his head.
"I hate to say it, but I can completely understand where you're coming from." Hermione loosed a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "But that doesn't mean I like it. You promised us Hermione."
Her mind flashed back to the day before her first day at Hogwarts. She had stood in the living room with her parents and promised them that she would never use her magic on them. That she would never betray their trust by hoodwinking them with something they couldn't hope to defend themselves against.
She had gone over that promise a thousand times back during that summer, before she broke it once and for all. It had nearly torn her in two to betray them, but she had done the best with the time and resources she had. It hadn't been an easy choice, but she would do it a hundred times over to see them safe.
"I know, you're entitled to be angry. You deserve to be hurt and I don't deserve any sympathy or forgiveness from you." Emma yelped. "It's true mum. I don't, but I want you to know that it's all worth it to me now that I can see you now: safe and whole. The war is over and here you are. That makes it worth it a million times over to me."
Having said all she was planning on saying, Hermione took a seat on the couch and faced her parents. Dan and Emma didn't say anything to one another, but she knew that her parents didn't always need words to communicate. She knew that they were silently coming to an agreement over how they were going to handle this.
They finally broke their gaze at each other and looked at her. Emma's eyes were watery and Dan's were glazed over with anxiety, but there was softness in their demeanors that lifted Hermione's spirits.
"We…we know you did what you thought was best." Emma started, "And it may take us some time to work past how hurt and confused we are."
Dan finished for her, "But we forgive you Hermione. You're our only daughter. You're all that we have and cherish in this world. Everything else pales in comparison to the fact that you're safe and sound."
Hermione's felt her heart catch in her throat and she stood and took her parents in her arms. They both wrapped their arms around her as a fresh batch of tears spilled from everyone's eyes. There would be more decisions to make and more discussions to be had, but they were all here. They had their whole lives ahead of them to figure out the details.
That was enough for her.
Ron scanned the beach for the Grangers. A waving hand soon directed him to a collection of chairs in a more secluded part of the waterfront.
"Why do you have your bag Ron?" Hermione looked worried.
"I need to go Hermione." He smiled to let her know that everything was okay. She looked from him to Harry, as if to ask if it was somehow her fault. Harry shook his head.
"Don't worry Hermione; you know he wouldn't go without a good reason. He can explain it to you."
Harry gave Ron a firm embrace before leaving to join Mr. and Mrs. Granger at the beach front bar, leaving Ron and Hermione alone.
"How are your parents?" Ron twiddled his fingers together, not sure what else to say.
"They're adjusting. We ran the gamut of reactions last night: surprise, relief anger, sadness…..it took a lot of explaining, but I think we'll be okay. Things will just be…strained for awhile." Hermione was biting her bottom lip and wringing her hands together.
"Ron, what's going to happen to us?" So that was bothering her too. She always was straightforward.
"I…I don't know." Hermione looked downcast. "I wish I had something better to say, but I don't." Ron sincerely wished he had been gifted to be as comforting as his mother could be.
There was a hurt look in Hermione's eyes and worry etched across her brow. "Ron, we'll still be friends….right?"
Ron knew that his future with Hermione hinged on his next words. He could either start building a bridge or burning one.
"Hermione, nothing will ever change that." he gave her a small smile, "We've been through too much to call it quits now."
He thought she would be relieved, but instead she looked, if possible, even more disappointed. Just when he thought the mystery of women would forever elude him, a thought occurred to him.
"You know that I care about you right?"
"It's always nice to hear it." Her voice was quivering. He knew she was close to tears.
"I do Hermione. Regardless if you're my girlfriend or my best friend, I love you."
There was a long moment between them, simply looking into each other's eyes. Ron could see the wheels turning in her mind. She could probably see the worry on his face. He didn't want to mess this up.
"I love you too Ron. You're my best friend." Her smile reached up and touched her eyes. In that instant he knew everything was going to be alright. He couldn't help himself but laugh.
"I thought Harry had that honor?" He threw her a mischievous grin. Hermione briefly looked scandalized before catching onto him. Yes, they'd be just fine.
"Thank you Ron, for everything."
"Of course Hermione. Now that you're family is taken care of, it's time I returned to mine." The smile vanished from his face. The image of Fred's face crept across his mind.
Hermione took a step closer and gave him a signature Hermione hug. "You'll help them Ron. You're much stronger than you think."
Ron laughed. "My mother said that too."
Hermione laughed into his chest. "Mum knows best."
He could have stayed this way for hours and been content, but just when he thought it she let go. Another tense silence fell between them. He wondered if it would always be this way between them now, the ghost of what used to be hanging between them.
Her brown eyes stared back into his. His chest felt constricted as numerous feelings fought for control. He wanted to kiss her and he wanted to run away all at once. A mixture of pain and love filled his heart.
It was Hermione who broke the spell. She lifted her hand and gave him a small wave with her fingers.
"Goodbye Ron." Her voice sounded small and distant. She smiled, but this time it didn't reach her eyes.
Ron smiled weakly back, one last time fighting the urge to kiss her. "Goodbye Hermione."
He turned on the spot and was gone.
The weight that had been constricting her windpipe settled into her chest. She felt movement and a presence behind her. She knew who it was without turning around.
"Will it always be this way Harry?"
Harry stepped in front of her, his emerald eyes meeting her brown ones.
"No." and he gave her a genuine smile.
It wasn't elegant, but it did the trick. Hermione felt her own smile slide across her face. She would have to tell him sometime how much progress he's making in the "comforting an upset girl" department.
Ron walked up the steps of his childhood home with purpose. He had no illusions of why he was here, of what had brought him back.
The surroundings felt like they were a part of him. The small, overgrown garden, the cobblestone steps, the chimneys and windows; they all felt so familiar and small warmth fluttered in his chest. It wasn't much, but it was home.
Yet, even before he reached the door there was something, the feeling of a missing piece. Like it would forever be an incomplete puzzle or a nearly finished painting. Amid the familiar was the sickening feeling of loss.
But Ron stood for a moment and took it all in. It was still home. Nothing would ever take that away from him. To let that feeling slip away would be letting Voldemort win. Fred would turn in his grave knowing that his boisterous and happy family would never be so again. They would be so again and Ron would make sure and see to it.
He didn't bother knocking, walking straight into the small kitchen. His mother was watching several pots and pans clean themselves. His father, his stomach lurched, was staring blankly at a Daily Prophet from last week.
Molly jerked around and flung herself at her son, crushing him in her arms. He thought he heard the muffled sound of sobbing coming from his shoulder. The smells of the kitchen bombarded him: soap, bread, musty wood, and grease. Seemingly every memory of this kitchen went flying through his brain.
That time that Fred and George transfigured the bread into spiders when Ron was slicing it, the time they tricked Ginny into the cupboard and locked her in, all those times that washing the dishes had turned into soap fights.
When Ron finally broke away from his mother, Arthur was still looking blankly at his paper.
"Dad? I'm home." Arthur finally looked up and, to Ron's relief, a small twinkle of recognition flared in his eyes before quickly ebbing away.
"Ron?" He spoke so softly it was barely audible. Ron walked over and embraced his father who, to his surprise, broke down in his arms. His father had never been the demonstrative type. He had always been the cool one in the family. Ron had always reckoned that was where Bill got it from.
Molly soon joined them in an awkward group embrace. They might have stayed that way for minutes, hours, or years. Ron would never know and never care. He had never been more grateful for his parents in his whole life. He could sit here for the rest of his life in their arms and it wouldn't be a wasted life.
Here, when all the war's business was finally over, they were: broken, but still together.
It wasn't much, but it was home.