The End of the Beginning

Chapter 19

Harry had wanted to give Hermione time alone with her family, but it seemed as if she didn't want a moment to go by without him. After three days he finally moved the remainder of their stuff over to the Granger's condo and simply stayed there. He had only been sleeping at the hotel anyways.

They didn't venture very far. The Grangers had taken a few days of holiday and they spent most of the time doing simple things like walks on the beach or evenings out to dinner. It felt somewhat strange for Harry to be treated so nicely in the muggle world, he was used to the neglect and rude stares of Little Whinging.

He thought that the Grangers on the whole were taking this whole thing very well considering, it was by far better than he had dared hope. They were upset for sure; and they and Hermione both were being extra polite with one another, but it seemed like they were more grateful than anything to hear of the war's end and to have their daughter back.

Dan and Emma were very kind to Harry. It was sometimes hard to hold conversation, since Harry's exposure to the muggle world was small for having been raised one, but he could tell they were doing their best to make him feel welcome. The more he got to know them, the more he liked them.

Dan was an avid football fan so he taught Harry the basics of the game. While Harry knew he would always prefer Quidditch, it wasn't too bad and it was nice to have some male company. He missed Ron.

Every evening he and Hermione would go for a walk by themselves. Hermione would talk about her upbringing and tell stories about her parents while Harry would primarily listen.

It was while on one of these walks that Harry finally brought up the topic he knew everyone had been avoiding.

"Hermione, what happens now?"

They stopped walking and sat on a park bench. The beach was largely empty except for a small family with a son and daughter building a sand castle in the dimming evening light.

Hermione let out a long sigh.

"Harry, I'm not sure. My parents are very torn; they really have grown to love it here. Maybe it is just a symptom of the memory charm, but they feel like they've lived two lives and right now this seems the more real of the two to them."

He could see the anxiety written on her face, the uncertainty of her decision and the effects it was having on her life. Harry held her gaze, reaching out to stroke her hand.

"What about you?"

"I…I don't know." She was biting her bottom lip and she was shuffling her feet: Classic Hermione symptoms of having more to say and not sure how to say it.

"Hermione, you can tell me the truth." Her eyes seemed to take on a weary sheen.

"I just…I know that I ought to spend time with them. Give back some of what I took away by staying with them, even if it's here. But….that would also mean leaving you and Ron behind and that's...that would be very hard."

Hermione's eyes were pleading with him. He knew she wanted him to talk her into going back with him to England. She wanted him to tell her that he needed her and that would give her the excuse she needed to leave. It pained him to purposely let her down.

"Hermione, this is your decision. It's your life. It's time that you made a decision for yourself instead of wondering what would happen with other people."

He raised his hand to stop whatever retort she had opened her mouth to give, "No, I mean it. Don't think about what it would mean for me and Ron. We both care about you and want what is best for you. You make that decision and we'll both stand by you one hundred percent."

He could see the warring emotions in her eyes. The affection, the guilt, the worry, and the pain.

"What if they want to stay?"

Harry took her hands into his and looked hard into her face.

"Then you'll have to make a choice. I'm not telling you one way or the other."

He had a preference, of course, he didn't like the idea of returning to England without her the slightest bit. However, it was time to pay her back for all the sacrifices she had made to fight with him. It was time that she started living her life for herself. He was determined to give her that at the very least.

They simply looked at each other for a long time, bright green into chocolate brown. They didn't need words. She knew that he giving back to her for seven years of devotion and he knew that she was grateful to have him put her life back into her hands.

Hermione loved sitting in between her parents on the couch. It made her feel like she was a little girl again, before life had handed her seven years of school, adventure and death. Harry had opted to stay out by the beach a little longer. She knew he was trying to stay out of the way of the conversation she knew she had to have. She hated to spoil the moment, but better to have it now than put it off.

"Mum, dad, can we talk about…what's next?" she felt a lead weight enter her navel region. Her parents looked anxiously at one another.

"Well…" Emma began before looking to her husband. Hermione recognized the look, her mum still had misgivings.

"We were thinking about…about staying here." Dan finished, a look of determination entering his features. Hermione felt her stomach hit the floor. "England, sweetheart, it feels like another life now and we truly love it here. Besides, we're just getting our finances straight after the last move."

"So, you're just never going to come back?" Hermione blurted out.

"Honey, we may go back….eventually." Emma tried to soothe her, but shot another anxious look at her husband. Dan's brow furrowed and Hermione knew her parents were having a silent conversation. It was time to apply the pressure.

"Well I'm not staying here. I have to finish school." Her parents well knew she only had a year left. If nothing else, it would at least buy her some time. It was the best card she had in hand.

"We know how much it means to you to finish school and we want you to finish." Dan took a deep breath, "but we also want our daughter. We feel like you've been slipping away from us and we don't want to lose you. We may not be a part of your world, but you're still our daughter."

She had been afraid of this. She hadn't felt this trapped between the wizarding world and her parents since she first received her Hogwarts invitation.

"Sweetheart, there are plenty of good schools for you to enter once you finish there. You could go right here in Sydney and live with us again." Emma's eyes were pleading with her.

"But, this isn't where I belong." Hermione began, "I belong at Hogwarts, I belong in the wizard world, I belong.."

"You belong with him." Emma finished for her. Her mouth hung open, she had actually meant to say "with her friends", but her mother seemed to think otherwise.

"What do you mean? I belong with my friends."

"Hermione, we know this is about that boy, just be honest with us." Dan entreated.

"Me and Ron aren't even together anymore!" she felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She sincerely hoped they were talking about Ron. She had always been honest with her parents about her love life, but her worst suspicions were confirmed by the look on her mother's face.

"We're not talking about Ron. We're talking about Harry." Emma's voice had that quality of explaining something to a small child.

"Harry? What does he have to do with this?" the room seemed a lot warmer all the sudden.

"We've been watching you the past few days. We see the way you look at him. We remember everything you told us about what you went through with him. We're grateful that he looked after you and kept you safe. We knew asking you to part with him was going to be hard. But we're your parents, your family. We're not forcing you to stay with us. We're asking you to."

Daniel Granger's face was set as firm as his words, but Emma looked torn. Hermione knew she agreed with her husband, but clearly she knew what they were really asking of her. Asking her to stay was asking her to choose them over the world and the people who had grown to be her life for seven years.

"We'll give you some time to think it over." Emma pulled her husband away with a final knowing look to her daughter, leaving her alone to the torment of her thoughts.

She hadn't foreseen the possibility of this particular consequence. She knew her parents were bound to be upset over sending them here. She knew that she had betrayed their trust by using magic on them. She had expected that they might want to stay, but she had thought if they were that upset that they wouldn't have wanted her with them.

The more she thought about it, the more sense it made: she had chosen magic over them in sending them here. Now they wanted her to choose again and they expected her to choose them this time.

"It's not fair." She voiced out loud. But then again, what she had done had not been very fair either. In fact, very few things in her life had seemed very fair up to this point. That was simply a fact of life.

She thought of Hogwarts, of Ron and the Burrow, of the friends who had become as good as her extended family in all the time she had known them. She thought of the future she had planned out of helping rebuild Hogwarts, finishing her N.E.W.T.s and entering the Ministry to make this new world a better one. It all seemed to be on the edge of her fingertips, the slightest slip in her grip and it would be gone.

She was sure that she could be a part of the magical world here. There had to be wizards and witches here. She could get a fresh start, maybe that more than anything is what she really needed. Maybe her parents were right; maybe it was time for her to choose her own flesh and blood.

Then she thought about the one person she had consciously been trying not to think about: Harry. She tried to picture a life where he was alive and not beside her. It filled her with a sense of emptiness and loss. But it was there. She had never even been able to picture it before.

But who would help him rebuild their world? Who would comfort him from his nightmares? Who would notice that something was wrong when he was doing his best to hide it? Who else had been there for it all and could understand what he had gone through.

He has Ginny for that now.

A reasonable voice in her mind told her. The logical part of her brain told her that Harry would be just fine without her. That he had enough of a support structure to not need her to survive. He had even told her to make her own decision. He clearly did not want to be a part of the equation. So why was she letting him enter it anyways?

The logical part of her brain only had one real answer for her. If this wasn't about Harry needing her, then this was about her needing Harry.

Her parents had no idea what she had been through. Even now that she had sat them down and told them the whole story, the disconnect between them and the magical world would always mean they wouldn't be able to empathize like parents normally could. The fact that they hadn't been present for any of it, of her own doing no less, kept them from understanding. They would never be able to understand.

When it came down to it, it wasn't just that she would be leaving behind a lot of people who understood: the Weasleys, Luna, Neville, or any of the remaining Order. It was that she would be leaving the only person who understood completely.

But could she keep living in this dependent relationship with Harry? Surely once he started going with Ginny he wouldn't be around as much to help her anyways. Then what would she do?

It seemed like she was doomed to lose Harry anyways. If that was the case, wouldn't she be better off just staying here and making a clean break of it?

She thought of all the times she could have left him behind. There had been plenty of opportunities. He had never asked her to go anywhere with him, in fact, he usually tried to convince her not to. What if, just once, she allowed him to talk her into it? What if she simply walked away and tried for a normal life?

Then she remembered catching herself looking at Harry as her ears took in the words "bonded for life". Her mind might have told her one thing, but her heart knew that her choice had already been made. She had chosen him.

The fact of the matter was she needed him. It wasn't just a romantic notion; it was simply a fact of life. She needed Harry Potter and come hell or high water she was going to be by his side.

She didn't even try to deny anymore that there was a romantic part of the equation. She had been secretly dreading it for weeks, months, maybe even years now, but she knew now that she harbored feelings for him in her heart. Feelings that she had never meant to feel for him, but there was no stopping it now. She would simply have to deal with it.

All of this left her with only one realistic option. She knew that he had given her this decision to make on her own. He would just have to realize that she was making her own decision. She just wasn't going to make it without him.

Filled with new resolution, she marched out the door into the night.

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