Author's Note: For anyone who has read this before 7 June 2004, I've added onto it to complete chapter one.
Harry Potter was dead. He had been dead for five years. Everyone had felt it in their hearts that it would happen. When he left the common room that last time, she knew that she would never see him again, though at the time it was just a sick feeling in her stomach. She could hardly forgive herself for letting him go. Ron said that he would have gone anyway, no matter what she or anyone else had done to stop him.
For four years his image had haunted her dreams; when she turned a corner, his face lingered in the darkness. She couldn't let go. But on the fifth year, she found herself able to accept what had happened. He was dead, and most likely he was where he belonged: With his parents.
The reason she had even thought of Harry was because it was it birthday. That wasn't to say she didn't think of him often, she had just realized it was the thirty-first of July. It was marked on her calendar above her cluttered desk at the Ministry of Magic. She could justify being employed there because the corruption was gone. Otherwise, it would have been out of the question.
She stared at the framed photograph of she, Harry, and Ron. It was the only still photograph on the desk, and now she wished it was a moving one, like the kind wizards possessed. She sighed deeply. That was the last time they had been happy together. After that, things had gotten out of control. Harry was never back to the common room by the time she went to bed, and he was always gone by the time she got up in the morning.
"All right, Hermione?" someone said, interrupting her thoughts.
"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed. "You startled me." Not knowing what else to do, she hugged him tightly from behind her desk. "It's good to see you."
"Yeah." Ron still had the same flaming red hair and freckles. Hermione suspected they would never leave him. "Listen, my dad keeps talking about having you over for dinner, only he never invites you. I figured this is as good a time as any."
"I'd love to," Hermione replied, smiling. Ron smiled back, cocking his mouth to one side in the way he always used to do. "Uh...I'm sorry this is such a mess. Have a seat."
"That's okay," he replied. "I can't stay long anyway. Training, y'know." He smiled mischievously.
"You mean--? You're training to be an auror?" She threw her arms around him again. "I had no idea! Why didn't you tell me?"
Ron shrugged. "It never seemed like the right time."
"Harry would have been proud."
"I know." Ron suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Well, I should be going. Come around six, okay?" He waved.
"All right! Bye!" Hermione sat down again and picked up a quill. It would be good to spend some time with Ron again.
"Wonderful," Hermione muttered, pulling her coat tighter around her. The rain was pouring down from the sky in great sheets. With every howl of the wind, she was splashed in the face. As she shuffled down the long gravel drive, she began to wonder why she hadn't Apparated closer to the Weasleys' house.
When she reached the door, she took out a mirror and fixed her hair. Before she could knock, the door flew open. Startled, she stumbled back, a hand pressed to her chest.
"Hermione!" a red-haired girl exclaimed. "Oh, for goodness sake, come in!" She grabbed Hermione's hand and pulled her inside, her long red hair bouncing. "You look a mess."
"Thank you, Ginny," Hermione said, once she had closed the door. "It's good to see you too."
Ginny laughed and roughly took Hermione's coat. "Dinner'll be ready in a few minutes. Why don't you come and sit down?" Ginny acted so young, Hermione could hardly believe she was merely a year younger than herself.
Ginny walked off and Hermione followed a few steps behind. It had been a long time since she had last set foot in this house. Too long, probably. She had meant to go, but there was always something nagging at the back of her mind. "Good lord, Hermione, you've changed."
Her heart skipped a beat and she stumbled on her heels. She was nearly speechless...nearly. "George," she breathed. "I..."
"That's a very pretty dress," he said, sitting down. George's hair was longer now, longer than his twin's was. She supposed that now people could tell them apart. "Have a seat. Fred's just nipped off to fetch some butter. Mum ran out, I guess." He turned his head to peer into the kitchen. "She's really cooking up a storm in there."
"There's really quite a storm out there, too," was Hermione's feeble attempt at a joke. And he didn't laugh either. "Er...how's the shop?"
"Fine," he replied. "I heard you graduated top in your class. Congratulations."
"Thanks," she said quickly. "Nothing to brag about really. It just emphasizes the fact that I've got no social life. Nothing to do but study, you know."
"Right." George's one-word answers were quite unsettling to Hermione, yet she couldn't quite figure out why they were so.
She didn't have much time to dwell on it, however, because Mrs. Weasley came bustling in with the food. "Oh, Hermione, dear, it's wonderful to see you! You look so lovely!" She put the food on and hugged Hermione tightly. "It's good to see you've got some meat on those bones. You know, for a while, you really had us worried. Especially my little Ron, you know."
"Mum," Ron whined, sitting down beside Hermione. "Hey, Hermione." She gave him a small smile. "I just want to thank you all for having me over," Hermione said, blushing slightly. "With all the work lately at the Ministry, I really haven't had time for much else."
"You're telling me," said Mr. Weasley. He had just come through the door. "Our department is swamped with paperwork. It's good to have Hermione with us--she's quite an asset. Fast worker, very fast." He grinned at her and sat down. Hermione flushed even more. "Thank you, but there's no better worker than you, Mr. Weasley."
"Enough!" Fred Weasley burst into the room. "Congratulations, you're both responsible for the most irritating conversation ever." "Fred," Mr. Weasley warned. "You shouldn't talk to Hermione like that." "Or your father," Mrs. Weasley interjected.
Fred tossed the butter onto the table and wiped the water droplets from his spiky red hair. "So, let's eat."
"Wait," Ron said quickly. He stood up and raised his glass of red wine. "Any day that brings us all together is a very special day, but five years and two months ago, we all lost a very good friend. Today would be Harry's twenty-second birthday and I just wanted to honor that." He cleared his throat. "To Harry Potter, the bravest man I've ever known."
"Harry Potter," they murmured.
Hermione looked around at the sad faces. Ginny was crying silently and Mrs. Weasley was bawling, blowing her nose on her napkin. Hermione dabbed at her eyes and waited for everyone else to begin the meal.
"What's this?" Hermione picked a card up from the mantle, peering at it closely. It was a sort of sympathy card, though there were many beautifully handwritten S's all over it.
"It's a card from Malfoy--Draco, not his father." Ron looked at it from beside her. "Open it if you want. It was quite shock when Pig brought it. I guess Draco didn't know who else to send it to."
"I can't believe it," Hermione muttered. "It's a written apology...for everything he's done to you." She gaped at Ron. "I never got one."
"No, see, he's written a bit to you." Ron pointed at the curvy scrawl near the bottom. "See? He's sorry he called you a mudblood...well, he's not sure of the exact number of times..."
"He should be." She put the card back in its place.
"I thought about having it framed." Ron smiled thoughtfully, staring at the card. "Just to prove that he'd said it and really meant it."
"I just saw him too," Hermione added. "He barely looked at me."
"Following in his father's dirty footsteps, I suppose," Ron said, a tinge of anger in his voice.
"Ron," she said disapprovingly, touching his shoulder lightly. Then she sat down and stared into the fire. "I'm glad we're still friends, Ron."
"Me too," he replied. He ran a hand through his hair, averting his eyes from hers. "I've been thinking..."
"About?" Hermione prodded.
"About you and me," he said quickly. Ron took a breath, looking at the befuddled expression on her face. "I know that it didn't work between us back in school, but I thought maybe we could give it another go."
Hermione's face fell. "Ron, I can't. It's just not a good time in my life for a relationship. You heard your father, we're swamped at the Ministry. Besides, you're in the middle of your training. I'd only get in the way."
"That's what you said last time," Ron said glumly. "There's never time for anything but work in your life. When will it be a good time for a relationship?" Ron turned around and climbed the stairs to his bedroom.
"Fine, I'll just let myself out," Hermione muttered to herself. The house was dark, she noted, save for a tiny light in the doorway. She put on her coat and stepped outside. "Ooh, rain," she grumbled, pulling on her hood.
"It's let up a bit."
Hermione whirled around, yelping with fright, to face George. "You startled me," she said, observing him tossing his cigarette to the ground and stamping it out. "What are you doing out here?"
"I live here," he replied. "Mum won't let me smoke in the house."
Hermione stared at him, expecting him to say more. She let out a frustrated sigh and said, "It's been five years, George. Can't we just put it behind us? I'm sorry for what I did--don't you think I didn't regret it every day?"
"I thought I loved you and you gave me nothing in return, not even a letter." George sighed and went to the door. "God knows I wrote enough."
"Letters?" Hermione gaped at him. "I've got plenty of letters!" George turned around and watched as she dug around in her cotton satchel. She pulled a bundle out, tied with twine. "Here." She forced the bundle into his hands. "There's five years worth of letters!" Before he could speak, she had Apparated.