Hermione and Ginny sat at the breakfast table in the Burrow sipping tea and reading the morning paper. Ron and Harry had dragged George off to play Quidditch with some other former Gryffindor players. Ginny had decided not to go. Hermione had been exceptionally quiet for the last couple of days, so Ginny thought a little girl-time might be in order.
"So, what are you up to today?" Ginny asked.
Hermione looked up from the paper. "I was thinking of going out to Kent."
"Whatever for?" Ginny asked.
"I thought I'd check on my parent's house. I haven't been for almost a year."
"I thought they'd moved to Australia," Ginny said.
"Yes," Hermione said, fiddling with the paper. "But they had plenty of money and didn't really need to sell the house, so I had them leave it."
"Oh," Ginny said. "I guess that makes sense. Want some company?"
"If you want, it's likely going to be mostly cleaning spells and new protection charms."
Ginny shrugged. "Thanks to Mum, I'm quite good at cleaning spells and my protection charms are nothing to sneeze at either."
"Alright." Hermione smiled. "It would be nice to have the company."
A little while later, Ginny and Hermione stood in the front yard of the Burrow. Ginny held a bag with Doxicide and some other cleaning potions in it.
"All set," Hermione asked, offering Ginny her arm.
Ginny looked askance. "You've done side along Apparition before, right?"
Hermione laughed. "Many times. I've jumped Ron and Harry all over Britain."
"Okay that came out wrong. You know what I mean."
"Yeah, but it was still funny." Ginny took Hermione's arm and felt as though she were being squeezed to death.
A few moments later they stood in front of a nice white house on a tree-lined street. "Here we are," Hermione said, but she didn't move.
Ginny waited a moment. "Hermione, are we going in?"
"Oh, yes, of course."
Hermione hesitated again at the door, but eventually pulled out her wand and went through the complicated unlocking incantations. When they stepped inside, there was a musty, abandoned odor to the place.
"Doxies," Ginny said.
"Here? It's not a magical place."
"Sure it is," Ginny said, handing her some Doxicide. "It's been under protection charms all this time, not to mention you grew up here and, in case you haven't noticed, you're rather powerful in the magic department."
"Oh please," Hermione said. "You talk like I'm Dumbledore."
"Please yourself. One day you will be."
Hermione gave her a shocked look. "You don't really think that."
"Everyone thinks that," Ginny said matter-of-factly. She walked into the kitchen and set her bag down on the counter and drew her wand. A Doxie was skulking across the counter. She blew it away and began to spray Doxicide everywhere. "This is a nice house," she told Hermione. "It'll be even better once we get rid of the Doxies and air it out a bit.
"That's a good idea," Hermione said. She wandered from room to room pulling open curtains and opening windows. The house was so different without her parents and their things. It was just empty room after empty room and it made her sad to think about it. She wondered how they were doing, if they liked Australia, if they'd made friends, how their practice was going, and whether they felt any hole in their life where she used to be.
After Hermione had opened all the windows, and Ginny had sprayed Doxicide liberally throughout the ground floor, they moved upstairs. They aired out all three bedrooms and the bathroom on the middle level and then moved to the top.
"Is this just the attic?" Ginny asked, as she looked around the unfinished space with only a few tattered cardboard boxes in the corner.
"Not exactly," Hermione said. She pulled out her wand again and went through another series of incantations. The room completely rearranged itself until the entire top floor was one large finished room under the eaves. Unlike the rest of the house it was fully furnished and clearly belonged to Hermione. The two end walls were floor to ceiling bookshelves overflowing with books. There was a large telescope pointing out of one of the dormer windows with piles of astronomy books and notes beneath it. In front of the other dormer was a table full of potions equipment. Tucked away on the opposite side of the room was a double bed with a plush maroon Gryffindor bedspread with tiny gold lions embroidered all over it. Next to the bed was a nightstand overflowing with books and notes on runes.
"Your room?" Ginny said.
Hermione shrugged. "I know. It's a mess."
"Please. I've seen a lot worse." She pulled out the Doxicide. "Better open up the windows and start dusting. This room is going to take a lot longer."
It took over an hour. When they were done, Ginny sat on the edge of Hermione's bed. "Whew. I'm famished. Ready to eat?"
Hermione looked around her room. "Yes, let's."
They walked back downstairs to the kitchen to clean up for lunch. Ginny dug through her bag. She handed a sandwich and some juice to Hermione and they ate at the bar in the kitchen.
"So what are you going to do with this place?" Ginny asked.
Hermione picked at her sandwich. "Well, you know I love the Burrow…"
Ginny smiled. "But it's chaos incarnate and it's weird living with our parents while you're seeing Ron."
Hermione seemed relieved. "Yes. I'd just like a little peace and quiet—"
"And some privacy," Ginny added.
Hermione blushed. "Yes. Some privacy would be nice. After camping all those months with the boys and now living at the Burrow…"
"Camping with the boys. What was that like?"
"Awkward and smelly."
"And special and intimate and dangerous. I wouldn't want to do it again, but I don't regret the experience."
Ginny nodded, then raised her eyebrows. "How intimate?"
"Not like that."
"All that time, you and Ron never."
"No," Hermione said.
"Oh. I thought…I mean I assumed…really?"
Hermione wouldn't look at her. "Really."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know, but you have since, I mean the night after the battle, when I went up to Harry and Ron came down to you."
Hermione shook her head. "No."
"But he was in your bed."
"Yes, but no."
"But George saw you two in the garden—"
"Kissing," Hermione finished. "With a little groping, which is pretty much as far as it's gone, and as far it's likely to go unless I can get out of your parent's house."
Ginny nodded. "Understood. The night after the battle was the last time Harry and I…you know. Hey, how many bedrooms does this house have?"
"Four," Hermione said.
"Really?" Ginny said, her mind a whirl of possibilities. "When were you thinking of moving in."
"Well," Hermione said. "I need some furniture and I'll need to cast more significant security charms."
"You know how to do that?" Ginny asked, impressed.
"Yes. I learned that type of magic while studying protection spells. It's how I would hide our tent."
"How old are you?"
Hermione had to think. "I turned nineteen a couple of weeks ago."
"That's bloody impressive, you know that?"
"I hope it's impressive enough to garner me a N.E.W.T. or two."
"You're going back to school?"
"No. I'm just going to sit for exams. I asked for permission earlier this week and I got the permission letter yesterday, which is another reason I really need some peace and quite. I have a lot of studying to do. I've been completely focused on Defense Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration and Charms. I have a lot of catching up to do in Ancient Runes, Astronomy, Arithmancy, Potions, and Herbology. I don't know how I'm ever going to get to it all."
Ginny sat with her mouth open. "Seriously, Hermione. You're mad, you know that, right?"
Hermione shrugged. "Possibly. But what choice do I have? I really want to finish my education."
Ginny could think of a million different choices, but she thought better than to mention them. "You know, Ron will go spare if you move in here by yourself. Mum and Dad won't like it either. Neither will Harry. It's too dangerous for you to be so far away, all on your own."
"Well, I can hardly ask Ron to move in with me, we're barely even dating. Not to mention your mum wouldn't hear of it. I wish you could move in."
"Oh, believe me, so do I, but Hogwarts is set to reopen next month and Mum and Dad are insisting I complete my seventh year."
"You should Ginny. You don't want to miss that."
"I so do. Harry and I are way passed barely dating and school is going to be a huge inconvenience. Hey, wait a minute, why not Harry?"
"Why not Harry what?"
"Why not ask Harry to move in here. There's loads of room and you two know you can live together—"
"And then you two will have a place to shag," Hermione said blandly.
Ginny grinned. "We'll be really quiet, like church mice. You won't even know we're here."
"I'll think about it. Maybe I'll talk to him when I get back from Australia."
"You're going to Australia?"
"Just for a few days. I just want to see that they're okay."
"You're not going to try to reverse—"
"No. It's too easy to do permanent damage trying something like that. I just want to check on them. That's all."
"So when are you thinking about leaving?"
"I was planning on going tomorrow."
Ginny couldn't believe it. "Tomorrow? Do Ron and Harry know?"
"No. I thought I'd tell them tonight."
"Great, dinner should be loads of fun then," Ginny said sarcastically.
As it turned out dinner was delicious. Mrs. Weasley out did herself with roast pork, three different vegetables, mashed parsnips, gravy and fresh rolls. After everyone had filled their plates and the wine had been poured, there was a lull in the conversation.
"I'm thinking of heading to Australia tomorrow," Hermione blurted.
Ginny clapped a hand over her eyes.
"What?" Ron said around a mouthful of creamed spinach.
"What?" Harry said, choking on his wine.
"Just for a few days," Hermione amended.
Ron and Harry looked at each other. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked very concerned.
"Can I speak to you outside for a tic?" Ron said, standing.
Hermione swallowed another mouthful of wine and followed him from the dining room out the front door. The door was barely closed behind them when he started shouting.
"Bloody hell, Hermione! What kind of thing is that to announce?"
"I'll only be gone for a few days."
"To the other side of the bloody world! By yourself?"
"Please don't curse at me, Ron."
"Then start making some sense."
Hermione frowned. "I just want to check on my parents. I haven't seen them for almost a year. I need to know they're okay. Surely, you can understand that. You listened to that stupid radio every night listening for news of your family when we were camping." They all referred to it as 'camping' as though they had been on an extended holiday in the woods.
"But they won't even know you," Ron said in a calmer voice.
"I'll know them. I just need to see for myself that they're okay."
"But it's not safe. What if you Splinch or something."
She glared at him.
"Okay," Ron said, holding up his palms. "Bad example. I know you don't Splinch, but it's too far to go alone. I'll go with you."
"Your parents aren't going to like that."
"Ron," Hermione rested a hand on his chest. "I don't want you to go. I don't want anyone to go. This is something I need to do alone."
"But…" His protest died on his lips. Instead he put his arms around her and tucked her head under his chin and held her very tight.
She was gone the next morning.