Ron lay panting on the ground staring up at a cloudless blue sky. Hermione lay on top of him and he could feel her heart beating against his chest. He was still tucked inside her and part of him wished they never had to move, but the ground was hard and still damp with the last of the morning dew, and at some point, they were supposed to take a Portkey to Paris. She shifted on top of him and made that same little hitch in her breathing that she always made when the connection between them was broken. He ran his hand up her thigh as she sat up. She smiled down at him and held her hand out and her wand flew into it. She cast a cleaning charm on both of them and reached for her bra. He watched her slip into it and wondered if he would ever tire of seeing that. He supposed in the considerable span of a wizard's life that he might eventually be blasé about his wife putting on her bra, but today wasn't that day. He grinned at her.
"What?" she said. She was still straddling him.
"Nothing. I just like watching you get dressed."
She chuckled. "I hope you're always this easy to please."
She laughed in earnest at that and stood to pull on her knickers. Ron fumbled for his boxers and pulled them on. He handed Hermione her shirt and she shrugged into it. She stared at the tent as she fastened the buttons.
"I guess we should take it down," Ron said. "Didn't you say Harry wanted it?"
"I think Harry's probably done with it."
Ron shook his head. "Don't even tell me."
"I wasn't planning to," Hermione said. "Let's burn it."
"Let's burn it."
"It's a brand-new tent," Ron said.
"You want to take it camping, do you?"
"No, of course not. I'm never going camping again."
"Right. Me neither. I'm guessing Harry feels the same way."
"I think that's a safe bet."
"So, let's burn it," Hermione repeated.
"All right," Ron said. "At least let me get my clothes."
A few minutes later, Hermione cast the spell to collapse the tent. She looked at Ron, "Together?"
They both pointed their wands at the tent and cast Incendio. The tent caught immediately and they stood and watched it burn. Ron put his arms around her and she leaned back against him.
"Good riddance," he said.
"Indeed." Despite the warm day and the heat from the fire, she shivered.
Ron pulled her closer. "Are you all right?"
She nodded. "I just want this to be the end of it."
He kissed the top of her head. "That would be nice."
"It's not though, is it? Burning her wand didn't make Bellatrix go away."
"Maybe not, but it's better without it, right?"
"Yes," Hermione said.
"There's nothing wrong with a little symbolism," Ron said. "As long as you don't expect too much from it."
Hermione smiled. "You're wise, you know that?"
"Always the tone of surprise," Ron sighed.
When the tent had burned to ashes they cast extinguishing charms on the remains and Disapparated back to Kent to pick up the Portkey to Paris.
Harry was coming out of the kitchen when they popped into the foyer. "Hey," he said. "I didn't expect to see you two today."
"We're just picking up the Portkey," Hermione said. "What are you up to?"
"Packing," Harry said. "I'm moving into Grimmauld Place and tomorrow the engagement announcement will run and Gin will be moving in with me."
"Oh," Ron said, running his fingers through his hair.
"What?" Harry said.
"Nothing," Ron said. "Just, you won't be living here anymore."
"No, but I'll still see you at work."
"Right, of course, it's just I hadn't really thought about you moving out while we're in France."
"Had to happen sometime, right?"
"Yeah," Ron said.
Hermione patted Ron's arm. "We should probably go."
"Right," Ron said.
Hermione hugged Harry. "We should all have dinner when we get back."
"That sounds great," Harry said.
Ron stuck his hand out and Harry shook it. "See you in a couple of weeks then."
Harry nodded. "Have a great time."
They started upstairs when Hermione turned around. "Oh, and Harry, no need to pick up the tent."
"Oh, okay. So…?"
"It's gone," Hermione said.
"All right then," Harry said, understanding.
Hermione regretted getting a Portkey from the Portkey Office almost from the moment she and Ron arrived in Magical Paris. As if Portkey travel wasn't bad enough, someone in the Ministry had leaked their arrival time to The Daily Prophet and Witch Weekly. The Portkey had dropped them on to the roof of a hotel, but the moment they walked downstairs and into the lobby a couple of photographers were waiting for them.
"Seriously?" Ron grumbled as the first flashbulb went off.
Hermione sighed and looked up at him. "Let's just give them what they want and Apparate to the other hotel."
He raised his eyebrows.
"Kiss me," she said.
He pulled her to him and leaned down and kissed her. The flashbulbs went off again and Hermione Apparated them while they were still kissing. They appeared in an alley next to the hotel they'd stayed in before.
"Impressive," Ron said. "Apparition while kissing. Risky."
"Not really, I know your body pretty well these days. I'm not likely to Splinch you ever again."
"That wasn't your fault," he said automatically. "And you got Harry there in one piece and that's—"
"What mattered," she finished for him. "I know. You don't always have to say it. Besides, I likely would've Splinched him then too, if I hadn't physically been him before with the Polyjuice."
"Oh," Ron said.
"Oh what?" Hermione asked.
"I guess…nevermind." He started out of the alley.
"Nevermind what?" Hermione asked, following him.
"It's nothing," Ron said without stopping.
"No, seriously," Hermione said, following him into the hotel lobby. "What were you going to say?"
"We need to check in," Ron said.
Hermione frowned at him, but gave the desk clerk her membership card.
"Welcome back, Miss Granger," the clerk said.
"Thank you," Hermione said.
Ron didn't give her time to say anything before he headed for the elevator. Clearly irritated, she followed him. When the elevator doors closed, she turned to him. "Now what were you saying?"
"I wasn't saying anything. Just forget it."
"It's no big deal."
"They why won't you just tell me?"
The elevator chimed and the doors opened on to their floor.
"Let's just get in the room, okay?" Ron said.
Hermione frowned at him, but lead the way toward room 302 and swiped the card to open the door.
"Why don't they just use keys?" Ron asked.
"Because when people lose them, they're expensive to replace. The plastic cards are a lot cheaper."
"Oh," Ron said, following her into the room.
"So, what were you saying?" Hermione said, leaning against the dresser with her arms crossed.
Ron sighed. "Why can't you ever let anything go?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Because I can't. It's not as if you don't know that about me."
He frowned at her. "Fine. I just always wondered how you managed to get Harry safely everywhere, but you Splinched me."
"Only once!" Hermione said defensively. "And out of a double jump."
"I know." Ron said. "I'm just saying, you never Splinched Harry and now I know why. It's because you were him briefly, so that makes perfect sense. You knew his body better at the time. See, no big deal. I'm going to go take a shower."
"Right now?" Hermione said.
"Because I feel like it," Ron snapped.
"Okay," Hermione said.
Ron stood in the shower letting the hot water stream over him. He rested his forehead against the cool tile and tried to relax. Being in the tent had stirred up memories of the locket and he was edgy. He needed to let go of all that and enjoy their time here. It was his honeymoon. The last thing he should be thinking about was a Horcrux, but Hermione's ability to effortlessly Apparate anywhere with Harry was one of the thoughts that the Horcrux used to antagonize him. The locket had an uncanny ability to exploit the slightest little insecurity. He sighed and turned off the water. He dried off and pulled on one of the plush hotel bathrobes that were hanging on the back of the bathroom door.
When he came back into the room, Hermione was on the balcony looking at the city and smoking. Great, Ron thought. He stepped out into the warm evening air. "You're already smoking?" he said. "We haven't even been among Muggles for an hour yet. Where did you even get cigarettes?"
Hermione blew out a long stream of smoke and stubbed out the cigarette. "I nicked one from that man at the café." He looked across the street at a man drinking coffee at a bistro table on the sidewalk. He was reading a book and there was a cigarette in his hand.
Ron shook his head. "And you're stealing too? What is wrong with you in the Muggle world?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Sorry."
He sighed. "I'm sorry too, about before, I'm just tired and a little edgy. I dreamed about the locket last night and all the things it used to say have been rattling around in my head all day."
She closed her eyes. "Me too. The tent was a terrible idea. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be. You meant well. Who knew we'd react that way?"
"It was just meant to be a bit of fun, because of your list, you know."
"I know," he said. "And parts of it were definitely fun."
She smiled. "Yes."
"But I'm glad we're here now."
"Unless you're going to start leading a life of crime," he amended.
"I think you're safe," Hermione said dryly.
Ron leaned on the balcony railing and watched the city move beneath them. "It's nice not having any photographers lurking down there."
"Yes," Hermione agreed. "Apparently it only takes two million Muggles to get some privacy."
He chuckled. "I guess."
They stood quietly watching the hussle and bussle in the street below. After awhile, Ron said quietly, "What did it say to you?"
Hermione knew he was talking about the locket. "Mean things," she said without looking at him.
"What sorts of mean things?"
She sighed. "That I was ugly, that you would never fancy me, that no one would ever love me, so there was no point in trying anymore, no point in living even. I would never be happy."
"But you must have known that stuff wasn't true," Ron said.
She frowned at him. "Oh, really?"
"Come on," he said. "You know you're pretty. Surely, by that point you knew that I fancied you, and clearly, you're loveable. Viktor showed up at Bill and Fleur's wedding hoping to get you back. So, you had good arguments against the locket."
"Is that what you did then? You argued with the locket?"
"I tried to, but it was harder for me."
"Well, I was injured to start with, but also, well you did kind of seem to fancy Harry sometimes. You even said he was fanciable."
"When he was trying to date Cho maybe, I can't remember exactly when, but I know you said it."
"I was just trying to boost his spirits."
"You never tried to boost my spirits. Besides, why did Harry need boosting? He's the bloody Chosen One."
"Yeah, but he was also short and scrawny."
"But nobody cares about that. He's Harry Potter."
"I know that and you know that, but Harry didn't generally see it that way."
"Maybe not, but to me it seemed like you were always boosting him up and running me down."
"I wasn't," Hermione insisted.
"Yes, you were. You told me I had the emotional range of a teaspoon."
"I was teasing, besides you were being thick."
"Maybe, but you didn't believe in me the way you did Harry."
"What are you talking about?"
"You were shocked when Dumbledore made me prefect instead of him."
"So were you!" Hermione said.
"Yeah, but a little support on your end would have been nice. You didn't think I would make Keeper either."
"That's not true. You're a good Quidditch player, but you would get so nervous."
"See, there's always a 'but.' For most of school, you thought I was rubbish."
Hermione's eyes widened. "I did not!"
He frowned at her. "Come on."
"I didn't. I swear I didn't. If I made you feel that way, I'm sorry. I never meant to."
"Well, it doesn't matter now, but when I wore the locket that's the kind of stuff that was constantly running through my head."
Hermione sighed. "Which is exactly how the locket worked. It exploited any kind of weakness or insecurity."
"Then I don't see how it had any effect on you at all," Ron grumbled.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione said. "I hated that thing."
"Oh, come on, from the time you dated Viktor you were confident. I didn't see you as insecure about anything."
She scowled at him. "Viktor did give a boost to my self-esteem, that's true, but you certainly did everything you could to undercut it."
"What?" Ron said, surprised. "I did not."
"Yes, you did. You criticized me contantly."
"What are you talking about?"
She mimicked him. "You have foam on your lip, you have toothpaste on your cheek, there's ink on your fingers, you dropped jam on your sweater, pick, pick, pick."
"I only mentioned that stuff because I noticed, and I only noticed because I couldn't take my eyes off you."
"That might be true, but you never said anything nice. Never, I like your hair like that or you look good today. Nothing."
"I complimented you all the time. I told you you were brilliant and amazing."
"Yes. I never questioned that you thought I was smart and good at magic."
"Why is that not okay?"
"It was, but everybody knows I'm smart and good at magic, including me. I've never been insecure about that."
"You know you're pretty too. I know you know you're pretty."
She shook her head. "I'm a bit more confident about that now, but less so then, especially out in the woods. I always felt dirty and like my hair was mess. I looked pretty haggard."
"We all did."
"True, but since when do you and Harry care about that stuff?"
He shrugged. "We didn't, I guess."
"Like I said before, the locket was great at zeroing in on insecurities. I felt pretty unattractive for a long time. I was flat chested and my hair was hard to control and I had buckteeth. Those feelings didn't automatically go away just because I fixed my teeth, and filled out a bit, and Parvati finally told me how to do my hair."
"Yeah. If you think about it, she and I have similar hair, although hers is black and wavy instead of brown and curly, but she's got a ton of it, and it definitely has to be tamed. It dawned on me one day to ask her how she did it and she showed me all the hair spells she knew. It was life altering."
Ron laughed. "Life altering hair, that's funny."
"You only think that because your hair always looks good."
He shrugged. "It just lays on my head."
"It's straight and shiney and silky and looks like fire. It always looks good."
He smiled at her. "You do like a ginger."
"I like you."
"You like gingers. I see you look when other gingers walk by. Even little Teddy knows."
She chuckled. "Yeah, okay, I might have a thing for gingers."
"I'm probably lucky you didn't meet Charlie first."
Hermione shook her head. "Too short for me."
"What are you talking about? He's the same height as Krum."
"But I was shorter when I dated Viktor. Besides, I like tall men, or have you not noticed?"
"Oh, I've noticed. That French Muggle was pretty tall too."
Hermione blushed. "Yes."
"Well, I'm sorry the locket said that stuff to you. I'm sure it was worse when there were only two of you left to wear it."
Hermione nodded. "It got a lot nastier after you left. I was so hurt and angry. It really latched on to that."
Ron took her hand. "I really am sorry for leaving."
"I know," she said. "You don't have to keep apologizing. Besides, you were the one that destroyed it, so you freed us all."
Ron turned his head away from her. "Yeah."
"What?" Hermione said.
He shook his head.
"Tell me," she said, resting her hand on his back.
"It fought," he said.
"A lot harder than the other Horcruxes, I think because it had spent so much time with us. It didn't just hiss at me. It manifested fully formed, even Harry could see them."
He shook his head. "No. It was you and Harry, saying things to me, doing things to each other." He shook his head again. "It was bloody awful."
"You never said."
"For some reason, I didn't feel the need to say I'd seen you and Harry naked, wrapped around each other, while you told me how you would never pick me over him; that no one in their right mind would pick me over him."
Hermione's mouth dropped open. She shook her head.
"I know you don't feel that way. I know you never felt that way, or at least I do now, but at the time…it was tough."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't realize. If you'd only told me, I could have helped with that."
"Well, if you'd told me what it was saying to you, I could have helped you too. But that's the thing, none of us said, so we all suffered alone."
"Stupid," she said. "Why didn't we say anything?"
"I guess none of us wanted the others to know we thought that stuff."
"I guess," she said. "I tell you what," she said tugging on the sash of his robe. "Why don't you come in here and make me feel pretty and I'll remind you why I chose you."
He smiled at her. "Deal."
Harry had finished packing his things in Kent and had Kreacher take them over to Grimmauld Place. He showered and went to the Burrow for dinner.
Charlie was home for the night and Percy had come by for dinner. Molly was delighted to make an improptu dinner for six and they sat around talking until almost midnight. Percy left, and Molly and Arthur went to bed. No one even bothered to ask where Harry was sleeping or offered to make up a bed for him. He simply slipped upstairs with Ginny. When she came in from brushing her teeth, she sat on the edge of the bed next to him. He could tell there was something on her mind, but she just sat there not saying anything.
"What's wrong?" he finally asked.
"Nothing's wrong. I just…"
He sat up. "Gin, tell me."
She closed her eyes for a moment and said. "How upset would you be if I didn't move in to Grimmauld Place tomorrow?"
"Uh," Harry said, completely surprised by the question. "Why?"
She sighed and rested her hand on his thigh. "I'm supposed to start training camp in a week and I'll be sequestered with the team for a month. After that I'll be in Wales and on the road. It's so much moving around and travel. The idea of moving to London and then to Wales…it's just so much."
"Oh," Harry said. He was already upset that she'd be gone for a month and now she was saying she didn't want to live with him when she wasn't traveling with the team. He blinked and got out of bed.
He turned to look at her. "No. It's okay. I'm just surprised, but I get it, new job, moving, engagement announcement. It's too much. I get it."
"So, you don't mind staying here?"
He looked at her. "What?"
"You don't mind if we stay here? Just until I leave for training camp. When that's over we can get all this sorted."
"Oh, yeah, of course," he said, relief washing over him in a wave. "I thought you meant…never mind."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "What did you think?"
He dropped to his knees in front of her and rested his head in her lap. "Nothing. I didn't think anything. Are you sure your parents won't mind?"
"Mind? They'll be thrilled."
He sat back on his heels and looked at her. "Right. Then we'll stay here."
She smiled at him and touched his cheek. "Thanks. That's going to make the next week a lot less nervewracking."
He nodded. "I wish I didn't have to work, but with Ron out, I can't take any time off."
"I know. But now that I don't have to worry about packing up everything I own, we can at least enjoy our evenings."
"I'd like that," he said. "Starting now?"
She nodded. "Now sounds good."
Ron and Hermione spent three days in Paris, before moving on to the club in Nice. Hermione spent a lot of time sunbathing with her head tilted back so the sun could pull away some of the dark magic from the scar on her neck. After several days of this, not only was she deeply tan, but the scar was smaller and was no longer a dark red, but instead a pale pink. She was looking at it in the mirror while Ron brushed his teeth.
"I think it's better," Hermione was saying.
Ron spit out his toothpaste and nodded. "Definitely." The contrast in their skin tones was marked now. "It's been a long time since I've seen you this tan."
"Tanning's not really good for you, but it does help the scars, which is weird, because if I was a Muggle, the reverse would be true."
"What do you mean?" Ron said.
"Muggles have to be careful with scars in the sun. Madam Pomfrey had to explain to my parents how my scars were different and needed sunshine."
"Oh," Ron said. "Well, it looks better."
She smiled. "Thanks. Are you ready?"
"Yeah, we don't want to miss the unveiling."
Hermione sighed. "I wouldn't mind missing it, but we shouldn't."
"Come on," Ron said. "Don't be like that. This is a huge honor."
"I don't mind that part," she said. "It's the painting I'm not thrilled about."
"Why? I think it's great."
"You don't think they're kind of creepy," Hermione asked as they exited the room and took the stairs to the roof.
"No. And let's face it they can be bloody useful."
"If there are multiple paintings of the same person, yes, but I don't think that's likely," Hermione said.
"I'm guessing you and Harry will both end up with multiple paintings."
"Heh, Harry maybe."
As he followed her up the stairs Ron rolled his eyes. "Oh, please."
She ignored him and cast an unlocking charm on the door to the roof. She opened it and they looked around until they found a crumpled Coke can.
"Ready?" Hermione asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be. I hate these things."
She sighed. "Me too. On the count of three: one, two, three." They both grabbed the can.
A few seconds later Ron felt he was spinning through the air by a fishhook stuck through his belly button. When they landed in their backyard in Kent, Hermione promptly threw up.
"You all right?" Ron asked.
"Fine," she said, wiping her mouth. "I never know if one of those things is going to make me sick."
Ron shrugged. "That's Portkeys for you. Sometimes you puke; sometimes you don't."
Hermione grimaced. "How delightfully unpredictable. How are we doing on time?"
"We've got a few minutes before we need to leave."
"Good. I'm going to go brush my teeth."
Ron followed her inside.
"Miss! Mr. Ron!" Purdy greeted them. "It is so good to be seeing you."
"Hi Purdy," Hermione said. "It's good to see you too."
"I have the mail piled up Miss," Purdy said.
"Thanks, I'll look at it when we get back from the unveiling. Do you want to go?"
Purdy's ears drooped. "Does Miss want me to go?"
"Not if you don't want to."
Purdy shook her head. "Then Purdy will stay here."
"Suit yourself," Hermione said. She walked upstairs with Ron following. When she reached the first landing, she stopped and walked down the hall toward the master bedroom that used to be Harry's.
"What are you doing? Ron asked. He followed her into the room where she stopped and looked around.
"How would you feel if we moved down to this room?" she asked.
Ron shrugged. "Fine. But why?"
"Well," Hermione said. "This room isn't as big as the attic, but it's still big. The bathroom is a lot bigger, and the ceiling is a lot higher so you wouldn't have to duck under the eaves anymore."
Ron nodded. "That would be nice."
"Besides, Mum and Dad gave us the house and this is the master bedroom."
"All right," Ron said. "Let's do it." He took their luggage out of his jacket pocket and cast Engorgio on it.
"We can bring the rest down later," Hermione said.
"Or Purdy can do it while we're gone," Ron said.
"Even better," Hermione said. "We should get going though. Purdy," she called.
After she had explained to the elf that she'd like the upstairs bedroom contents, with the exception of the books, moved to the master. They took the Floo to the Ministry.
The main hall of the Ministry of Magic was crowded when they arrived. They had to make their way around the edges of the room to get to the front where Harry and Ginny were waiting with the Minister of Magic. Ron's whole family was also there as were what appeared to be half the wizarding world.
"Bloody hell," Ron said. "All this for a couple of paintings."
Hermione gasped. "They aren't…"
Ron glanced around to see what she was looking at and then he saw it. Two enormous paintings covered and hanging on the walls of the main hall. "Bloody hell," Ron said again.
Percy stepped up to the podium and called the room to order.
"Surely, they aren't going to leave them in the main hall," Hermione whispered to Ron.
He shook his head. "Can't be." He looked at the other paintings in the hall. The other portraits were of the most famous witches and wizards in England. "They're likely only doing the unveiling here to handle the crowds and then they'll move them."
"Right," Hermione said, but she had a sinking sensation in the pit of her stomach that he was wrong. Shacklebolt was speaking now. He spoke of bravery and honor. Of doing the right thing under trying and deadly circumstances. He spoke of destiny and what the Chosen One had meant to all of them. He repeated their names over and over and talked of the important work Ron and Harry had done since the war as Aurors and he spoke of Hermione's work with house elves. In short, he made the three of them sound like they belonged on that wall.
"So, without further ado," Shacklebolt said. He waved his wand and the drapes that covered the paintings disappeared.
Hermione was shocked by the size of them and by how good the likenesses were. In the bigger than life-sized painting of Harry, he was seated, but the background was dark, only a hint of the chair he sat in was visible. The frame was filled with Harry's intense green-eyed stare as he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and his hands raised with fingers steepled with his wand hanging straight down between his fingers. The triangle of his fingers bisected by his wand with his chin behind them reminded Hermione of the Deathly Hallows symbol. She wondered if Cartwright knew that at one point or another Harry had possessed all of the Hallows.
The second painting, the one of the three of them, was huge. They all appeared to be half life-sized. As they had discussed, it was a wooded scene. She and Harry were in profile. Ron was leaning against a tree on the same side of the painting as Hermione. He was the only one facing forward. They were all dressed as they often had been when they were on the run: flannel shirts, jeans, boots. Hermione's hair was in a braid down her back. Ron's sleeves were rolled up, showing the thin white scars on his arms. Hermione's neck was in profile so the scar was there but not very obvious. Harry's scar was visible, but again, not obvious, until the figures in the paintings started to move. The standard loop was that Harry and Hermione looked out at the audience as though, they'd heard something and Ron stood up straight as though he'd heard it too. When they turned, Hermione's scar as well as Harry's were much more visible. In the painting, when they turned Hermione reached her hand back and Ron reached forward taking it. In the single painting of Harry, his loop was to lean back in the chair, his wand shifting to his right hand. Hermione had to admit, he looked like the Chosen One, like he slayed monsters for a living and enjoyed it.
The Minister had asked Harry to speak on behalf of the three of them. He thanked everyone for coming out. Thanked the Ministry for the honor. Thanked Ron and Hermione for keeping him alive all those years.
When he finished speaking, Percy returned to the podium to announce the reception. The three of them stood in a receiving line with Shacklebolt and shook everyone's hand and had their picture taken what felt like a million times. Ron couldn't help wondering how many more times he'd have to stand in a line just like this. He hoped it wasn't many, but he reckoned that was probably wishful thinking.
Eventually, they all ended up back at the Burrow for a celebratory dinner.
"They're not leaving them in the Great Hall though, right?" Ron said.
"Yes, they are," his father answered.
"Both of them?" Hermione asked. "I mean, I figured they'd leave the one of Harry."
"Of course, both of them," Arthur said. "Why do you think they were painted so large."
Ron sighed. "That's going to make going into work on Monday so much fun."
"You know they'll never stop taking the mickey out of us for this," Harry said.
"No," Hermione said. "I should think that will be endless from now on."
Ginny snorted. "Oh, no, you're heroes. What a tragedy."
George laughed so hard pumpkin juice came out of his nose.
After everyone's laughter had died down, Percy said, "You should know, McGonagall has requested smaller copies of both paintings for Hogwarts. Harry is to go in the main stairwell and the three of you into the Gryffindor common room."
"Seriously?" Ron said, smiling. "Now, that's kind of cool."
"How is that any different?" Angelina asked.
"We don't still go to school there," Hermione answered. "The ones in the main hall of the Ministry are awkward because we'll pass by them every day. Our coworkers will see them. It's weird."
"Okay," Angelina conceded. "I can see that."
Dinner continued with the usual amount of conversation and laughter.
Atypically, Harry and Ginny got up first. "We're flying out to Wales tomorrow. We really need to turn in," Ginny said.
Hermione noticed Bill scowl as Harry and Ginny went upstairs together, but he had the decency not to say anything.
Ron yawned. "I think I'm going to have to turn in too."
"Want to just stay here?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. I'm really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed."
Ron nodded. "All right then. Goodnight all."
They said their goodbyes and Apparated back to Kent.
When they popped into the foyer, Ron said, "Did you think to ask Purdy to switch the beds?"
"They're both Queen size mattresses Ron," Hermione said, yawning.
"But Harry and Ginny have been sleeping in that one. Don't you want ours from upstairs?"
"Fine," Hermione sighed. "Purdy?"
The little elf appeared. "Yes Miss?"
"Could you switch the mattresses in the bedrooms?"
"I already did Miss," Purdy said.
"You did?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"I am thinking Mr. Ron would want his own mattress, Miss."
"You thought right," Ron said.
"Thank you so much, Purdy," Hermione said. "A free elf really is the best elf."
"Yes Miss," Purdy said.
"Goodnight," Hermione said.
As they walked upstairs, Ron said, "I don't understand what her being free has to do with it."
"She's free to think for herself. She doesn't have to receive instructions for everything. She can use her own insight, and obviously, she's very insightful."
Ron nodded. "I guess she is."
Hermione dropped down on the bed and sighed. "This feels so good. I wish I didn't have a pile of mail downstairs to go through."
"Forget the mail until tomorrow. You know what else would feel good?" he said, reaching for her.
She chuckled. "You have the best ideas."
The next morning well before dawn, Harry and Ginny set off for Wales on their brooms. They didn't talk much but they flew so close together sometimes their knees touched. Ginny was excited to be playing for the Holyhead Harpies, but she was dreading being away from Harry for a month, and a season on the road didn't seem that appealing either. Still, she loved Quidditch and the chance to play for the Harpies was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As they approached Anglesey, the sun was just starting to peak above the horizon. They landed at the Harpies training grounds and Harry took a good look around.
"I guess no one's up yet," he said.
"Guess not," Ginny said.
"Want to go into town and get some breakfast?"
Ginny smiled at him. "I'm too nervous."
Harry smiled at her. "You're going to do great."
"Thanks, Harry." She looked around. The training facility was behind them and the practice pitch was next to it."
"I should probably go," Harry said. He didn't want her to have to deal with the team's reaction to him. Today should be about her.
She hugged him. "Thank you so much for flying out here with me. I really appreciate it."
He held her tight. "I was happy to do it. Besides, now that I've seen it, I can Apparate here."
She smiled. "Exactly."
"Thanks to being on the run for so long, I can Apparate all over Britain. Any game, anywhere, you want me, you got me."
"I always want you." She kissed him.
"I appreciate that, but if you'd prefer I come in a glamour charm, just let me know."
She chuckled. "I'll leave it up to you how much attention you feel like attracting, just don't go grabbing me if you're glamoured. I don't want security tackling you or the press reporting that I'm cheating on you."
"Right," Harry said. "I'll do my best."
She sighed and held his face in her hands. "I love you."
"I love you too."
She kissed him again.
"Now go be brilliant," he said.
She winked at him. "Will do."
He watched her walk into the building before he cast a concealment charm and took again to the sky. The flight back left him feeling empty. The idea of the next month at Grimmauld Place without Ginny seemed very grim. She had suggested he stay at the Burrow or go back to Kent, but staying with her parents without her was too weird and he'd just moved out of Kent. He could hardly ask to come back for the next month.
In the end, he didn't last two days on his own. Sunday evening, he stuck his head in the fireplace and checked in on Ron and Hermione. He found them sitting in the parlor.
"…so that's why it's unforgivable," Hermione was saying. "The hole in the center of the spell has to be filled with the caster's own magic, which is why there can't be a counter curse."
"I guess that's why the strength varies too, because what Ginny and Neville described happening to students at Hogwarts, even though it was awful, didn't sound like what happened to you."
"Right," Hermione said. "I doubt many people have the zeal for Crucio that Bellatrix had."
"Hullo," Harry said.
"Harry?" Ron said. "What's up?"
"I was wondering if you two had eaten dinner yet?"
"Not yet," Hermione said. "Care to join us?"
Harry let out a relieved sigh. "Yes, please." His head disappeared and then he stepped out of the fireplace. He stood awkwardly for a moment. "Sorry to show up like this?"
"Why?" Ron asked.
"You're always welcome here, you know that."
"I know, but you two just got married. I just moved out, and here I am, back again."
Ron and Hermione looked at each other and then at Harry. "What difference does it make that we got married?" Ron asked.
"I don't know," Harry said. "I just figured you'd want time on your own."
They looked at each other again. "Do you feel different?" Hermione asked Ron.
"Not really," Ron said. "I do like referring to you as my wife though."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, I quite like calling you my husband as well, but other than that…"
"It's pretty much the same," Ron said.
They looked at Harry.
"I imagine London is pretty lonely without Ginny," Hermione said.
Harry sat on the sofa across from them. "Yeah. The house is huge and Kreacher is great, but he doesn't want to chat or play games or anything."
"I think house elves find us annoying for the most part," Ron said.
"Why don't you just stay here until she gets back?" Hermione said.
"Yeah, mate. There's no reason for you to rattle around in that house by yourself."
Harry sighed. "I feel like such a baby, not being able to stay in my own house by myself."
"Yes, you're such a baby," Ron said.
"In much the same way that we're babies," Hermione said. "I hate sleeping on my own."
"Me too," Ron said.
"When you two did night missions, and Ginny wasn't able to be here, it was awful. I ended up staying up half the night because I couldn't bear to go to bed."
"Really?" Ron said.
"Yes, really," Hermione said. "Actually, now that I'm officially part of the family, I might ask to stay at the Burrow the next time you're gone all night."
"Hermione," Ron said. "You could have done that before."
She shook her head. "I think that would've been weird."
"Exactly," Harry said. "That's why I'm not staying there."
"You two are barmy," Ron said.
"I just thought by now it would be different, you know?" Harry said.
"It is different," Ron said. "At least it is for me. I don't have nearly as many nightmares as I used to."
"Me neither," Hermione said.
"I don't either, but I still have them," Harry said, "so if it's okay with you, I'll just stay here until Gin gets back."
"You can stay here whenever you like, Harry," Hermione said.
"Absolutely," Ron said.
"Although," Hermione said. "We took over the master suite on the second floor, but you can have my old room in the attic."
"That's great," Harry said. "I really appreciate it. I'll just pop home and get my things then."
"We'll have dinner when you get back," Hermione said.
They watched as he stepped back into the fireplace and was swept away by the green flames of the Floo Network.
Ron smiled at Hermione. "The more things change…"
She chuckled. As they waited for Harry to return, Hermione thought about their life and decided she'd never been so happy. Finally, she felt like things were really going their way. She knew, of course, that it wouldn't always be smooth sailing. Life just wasn't like that. But for the moment, she wanted to stop and take note: this was good. This was very good and she was going to enjoy it.