The End of the Beginning

Chapter 20

Harry was cold, but it didn't make him budge. It was quiet here by the sea. Only the sound of the whistling wind and the crashing waves to soothe his mind. He wanted the Grangers to have all the time it took to figure out their future.

He was anxious that Hermione would choose to stay here, but his determination to give her the freedom to live her life overrode any doubts he might have had. She deserved this. His mind went over the words to the letter folded in his pocket.

Dear Harry,

I hope to goodness that you are enjoying yourself sweetheart. No one on earth should have to experience the life you have lived for so long. Ever since I first laid eyes on you at King's Cross I have wanted nothing less than to make your life as care free as I could. It brought me boundless joy to see your friendship with Ron, Hermione, and my other children. I was more than happy to think of you as being as much my son as any of my own. I shudder to think of letting Lily Potter down looking after her son. Especially now that…..now that she can look after one of mine.

I know that the scar on your forehead isn't the only one you have now. This awful war has left many more on your heart. Sweetheart, there's nothing I can do or say to make the feelings go away, but what I can say is this: let your friends in. Ron and Hermione both care for you like they care for no one else on earth. If you haven't figured out now that you can trust them with your very life then I have failed you as a mother. No one can go through these things alone dear and you don't have to. Our house is always a home for you, such as it is. You are my son and I will do everything in my power to help you, come what may.

I hope that you will consider Ginny's feelings Harry. She feels very left out in the cold with you gone. I'm not presuming anything about your relationship with my daughter. What you decide is right for your relationship is your prerogative, but as her mother I would ask that you set things right with her. Whichever direction you take, she needs that certainty to move forward with her life. I know you will do the right thing.

Look after Hermione for me. I worry about her. If something were to go wrong….make sure she knows she can always come home to the Burrow. Take care of her as you always have and I know she will be fine.

Please come by the Burrow whenever you can. We do miss you and our family needs all the support it can get right now. I hate to ask Ron to leave you, but I know that you will understand. We need him right now. We need you too.

Do send word that you are alright. Again, look after Hermione and send her my love. Make sure to stop in before heading to Hogwarts.

All my love,

Molly

He knew that Mrs. Weasley would understand that letting Hermione make her choice was the best way for him to look out for her interests. It bolstered his conviction that he was doing the right thing, even if it pained him to think of leaving her behind.

He felt her presence before he saw her. She took a seat next to him in the sand. They didn't say anything for awhile. Her silence seemed to confirm his worst fears. She was going to stay.

He felt an icy cold go down his spine. He had spent years thinking his worst fear was living his life with her dead, but living a life where she was alive but still not with him was worse. Much worse.

He felt sick. He suddenly doubted that she had ever really wanted to be with him. Maybe she stuck around for so long because of Ron or because it was simply the right thing to do to get the job done. Maybe it had simply been a cold calculation on her part. Now that she had the opportunity to make a choice for herself, she was choosing to leave him.

But this wasn't just about him, he reminded himself, she had a family. It was easy for him to choose his friends because he had no real family. He had often taken for granted that his two closest friends had blood relatives that should come before him in their considerations.

He forced himself to look over at her. To his surprise she was already looking intently at him. Their eyes met and he instantly knew that she knew everything he was thinking.

"I always chose you Harry." Her voice was whisper soft.

"I just…I'm being selfish. I told you to make your choice and you've made it. I'm genuinely happy for you. You deserve this."

He took her hand, but to his surprise she shook her head.

"I haven't made my choice because I have to ask you something first."

"No." Harry surprised himself with the strength of his reply. "I don't want to figure in this. This is your life Hermione."

"I know that Harry." The softness of her voice instantly disarmed him. "I'm asking you this because I want to. There's something I have to know."

Harry's mind went into overdrive, he didn't like this feeling that her choice swung on his answer. For that matter, what could she be planning on asking him?

"Okay."

"Harry, if…." She took a deep breath, "if I asked you to stay here…with me….would you?"

Time seemed to stand still. He had time to take in the fact that Hermione was holding her breath and refusing to break her gaze on him. Molly's words rang through his ears.

Take care of her, as you always have.

He weighed the cost. It would mean leaving the Weasley's behind. Leaving Ginny behind. Maybe he could convince Andromeda to move here with Teddy and make a fresh start, but maybe she wouldn't. It wouldn't make much of a list, he had never had that many attachments, but each carried a weight that Harry knew outstripped how short a list it was.

He could always visit, but there was a knowledge in the back of his mind that it would never be the same.

It would also mean leaving behind every reminder of his former life. Every reminder of those he had failed to protect. He could leave a world that wanted him so desperately to be the hero and the savior that he knew he never wanted to be.

All these faded into the background when compared to the girl sitting beside him. He had never once asked her to stay. He had never had to persuade her to go with him anywhere. She was simply a part of him that went wherever he went, a voice in his mind that spoke even when she wasn't physically present. He had gone over all she had done for him in his mind a hundred times in the past few weeks and he found that whatever his mind told him, the matter was already settled in his heart.

"Yes."

A small genuine smile curled on her lips as a tear escaped from her eyes.

"Harry, I want to go back to England."

"But…"

"Harry, I never wanted to stay here. I just had to know that whatever I chose, that you would be there with me."

"But this choice wasn't about me."

"Harry, all my choices are about you. Don't you get it?" She sounded slightly frustrated. "It's the same choice I've made over and over again. It had nothing to do with not having control over my life and everything to do with the fact that I always wanted…..always needed you. Not my parents, not Ron…you."

Harry was at a loss for what to say. The night felt a lot warmer and fuzzier than it had a few minutes ago. He always knew he needed her, but to know she needed him….he couldn't put into words what it was he felt.

"Wh…what about your parents?" He finally managed.

"I love them Harry, more than they could know. I know they see it as me choosing magic, choosing you over them, but there's really nothing else to do. I'm an adult now and my life isn't here. They will understand that. They got over me going to Hogwarts, they will get over this too. Eventually."

Harry saw her face slide into that determined look Hermione always had when she had made up her mind. It would take forces of nature beyond his control to change it now. He wracked his brain to find something acceptable to say, something to put words to what he felt in his chest. He never had been any good at it.

Then he remembered something she had said just a week or so ago on a warm clear night in Athens.

"I love you, Hermione."

Her eyes watered and her hand squeezed tight on his, "I love you too."

She promptly crushed him in one of her trademark hugs. He felt her start crying into his chest as a few tears escaped his own. He knew that it wasn't just because they were going home or because she had her parents back, or because they had decided to stay together no matter what; they were both crying because for the first time in months, it finally felt over.

After all they had been through, all they had sacrificed, and all that they had fought so hard for; it was finally, really over. Their lives no longer hinged on the next few moments and the future stretched welcomingly before them.

They sat there next to each other long into the night. Harry had never given much thought to the future. He had long felt like he didn't have the luxury.

Now, however, he indulged himself in picturing the many years that stretched hopefully before him. He thought of the years filled with time spent at the Burrow for holidays, the small house decked out in Christmas colors or filled with Easter eggs. He thought of being able to spend all the time in the world with Hermione and Ron with nothing to come between them. It filled him with an overwhelming sense of peace and seemed to fill in the many wounds in his heart. For the first time in his whole life,

All was well.

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