Disclaimer: J. Rowling's is the owner. She's just letting me play.
Summary: Life after the battle.
Spoilers: Books 1-6
Word Count: 2, 048
It was the smell that woke her. Chlorine? Anti-septic? It made the inside of her nose tingle. Her eyelids were heavy, and she struggled to open them. Then she tried to move and let out a low moan. Pain shot down from her back, running through the back of her thighs and to her toes.
Finally, shoving her elbows back behind her, Hermione could raise her midsection up enough to look around her. She was in the hospital wing of Hogwarts. Every inch of space was taken up with a new body—Professor Lupin, Professor McGonagall, Ginny, Neville, Luna… Ron.
Hermione sat up fully, gasping. A harsh pant came from her lips when she realized it wasn't Ron, only one of the twins. Where were Mr. and Mrs. Weasley? They deserved to hear it from her, and Harry, of course, she and Harry were closest to Ron…
"Harry," Hermione whispered, new panic setting in. She struggled to turn around and nearly collapsed in relief. He was sitting next to her beside, glasses hanging haphazardly off his nose, forehead resting on the mattress near her feet. A small pool of drool had collected on the bed, right near his open mouth.
Hermione laughed. She couldn't help it.
Harry snorted and began to sit up, making Hermione laugh harder. He blinked and reached to straighten his glasses, eyes searching for her.
"Hermione," he said. He swallowed thickly. "Hey."
Hermione nodded, clamping a hand to her mouth to hold back her giggles. "Hey yourself."
Harry frowned. "Are you… what's wrong?"
"N-nothing," Hermione said. As abruptly as her giggles started, they ended, leaving her with tears in her eyes. "Ron…"
Harry looked horrorstruck. "Shhh, it's alright—don't think about that now, you have to get better, Hermione. That was… it was a near-fatal curse you took."
"Right," Hermione said, pressing her fingers to her eyes. "I remember. You were there…"
"Yeah, that's right, Hermione," Harry said. The bed shifted as he sat next to her, the mattress sinking under the extra weight. He took her wrists in his hands, drawing her close to his body. "I need you to get better."
"I am," Hermione whispered against Harry's neck, her voice sounding faint and weak, even to her own ears.
"Can't lose you," Harry said, breath hot on her ear. "That was a stupid thing you did, sacrificing yourself that way."
Hermione squeezed him harder. "But it was worth it, wasn't it? Harry? We won, didn't we?"
Harry's body shuddered with his sigh. "We won."
It didn't really make it better, but it relieved some of Hermione's tension. "We have to tell them, Harry."
"Tell who?" Harry sounded unbearably tired.
"The Weasleys," Hermione said, her tongue thick. "They have to know. About Ron."
"They know Hermione."
"What… how do they…?"
"Shhhh," Harry said, rocking her. "You've been out for… just get some rest. Get your strength back. It's okay."
She dropped off to sleep again, her face still pressed up against Harry's neck.
She turned the corner at the top of the stairs, finding Harry seated on the floor, one of his fingers playing with the loops on his sneakers. "Hey."
"What are you doing?"
Harry shrugged and pushed his glasses up his nose. When Hermione took a step closer, she could see he'd been crying. A lump gathered in her own throat and she looked away.
"I couldn't stand it, being down there."
Hermione bit her lip. She knew what he meant. It was Ron's wake, and there were too many people they knew. Every one of them saying meaningless phrase ("I'm sorry" "He was well loved') and it made Hermione want to scream. None of them knew Ron, their Ron.
"Thought I'd start hexing people," Harry whispered. "Can't even look at Mrs. Weasley. I don't think she's stopped crying since…" Harry bowed his head, resting his forehead on his knees. "It's not fair. Why'd Ron have to go and do that?"
"I keep seeing it," Harry said. "All those years we spent together—playing Quidditch, or that first time, you know, on the Hogwarts Express, when he thought I was some sort of celebrity." Harry paused. "I gave Pig to Ginny. That was the right choice, wasn't it? Ever since she lost Arnold…"
"Yes," Hermione said. "That was a decent thing."
"But it's Pig, Hermione. He's a part of Ron. Maybe I ought to have kept him." Harry gave a strained smile. "Gets on Hedwig's nerves, though. I'm not sure they'd tolerate living together."
"Ginny will take care of him," Hermione said. "She loves Ron too."
"Right," Harry said, continuing to loop his fingers through the laces on his shoe. "What if I forget him?"
"You won't, Harry—"
"I keep forgetting all sorts of stuff," Harry continued. "You wouldn't think I could, but I keep trying to remember what it sounded like when he laughed and I can't."
"Harry, I'm so…" Hermione didn't finish. Instead, she sat down next to him. She didn't touch him, somehow sensing Harry needed to indulge in his grief.
"He was my best friend," Harry said. "And he died because of it."
"Harry, that's not true!" Hermione said, suddenly cross with him. "He died because he couldn't bear the idea of Voldemort taking over the world. For god's sake, take your head out of your arse. Ron's a hero."
Hermione's lip quivered over the last word and she turned away, already feeling guilty for her outburst.
Harry didn't say anything.
"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered.
Harry tapped her knee with his, silently telling her he understood. "I need to go away," he said. "For… a while. I don't know how long."
Hermione sat up straighter, her heart plummeting somewhere down to her toes. "W-what? Away?"
"Yeah," Harry said. He took off his glasses and pressed the heel of his hands to his eyes. "Everywhere I go, someone is congratulating me, wanting an interview. I'm glad the wizarding world is beside itself, but I can't do that. I can't stop thinking about Ron, or you, or—or any of it. If I stay here much longer, I'll go mad, Hermione, I can feel it."
"Oh," Hermione said. "Well, yes… I suppose… that makes sense."
"I've never been on vacation, actually," Harry said. "The Dursleys never took me anywhere, of course."
"When will you go?" Hermione asked.
"Soon as possible," Harry said. "Don't know how much longer I can take it inside Grimmauld Place. It's a horrid house, innit? I reckon the Weasleys could use some time alone, too."
"Oh, Harry… they don't blame…"
"I know," Harry said. "But they've been through so much. They deserve it."
Hermione nodded, before taking a breath and saying her next words, "Harry? Would you mind terribly much if I went with you?"
Harry finally looked up from his sneakers. He smiled. "I was sort of planning on it. You don't have any other blokes to hang around with, do you?"
"Well, I'll have to check my schedule…"
It was raining. Hermione rubbed her name into the fog on her window, her letters smudged and squished together.
Hermione turned around and smiled. Harry toppled back and forth under the weight of five suitcases.
"Let's go to the coast," he said, managing to stick his nose between two of the suitcases. "Did you pack a bikini?"
"Harry!" she said. "That's… that's not appropriate!"
"Yeah, and why not?" Harry said, shifting the suitcases. "I think it's appropriate…"
Harry hauled their stuff down the stairs, groaning with each step.
"Harry, we are wizards, you know," Hermione said.
"Builds character this way," Harry panted. "Where's the fun in using magic?"
Hermione sighed. He'd been avoiding magic since… well, it didn't matter. He'd use it again when he was ready.
The Weasleys were huddled around the door. Ginny clutched Pig with both hands. Her experience with Voldemort damaged her. She was quieter, less argumentative than she had been. The entire Weasley family was.
"Heya, Harry," said George, slapping him on the back. The suitcases wobbled once before dropping to the floor. George shrugged. "Anyone's earned a vacation, it's you mate."
Harry bent down to retrieve the suitcases, but Mrs. Weasley shrunk them with a quick flick of her hand. "There you go, dear," she said.
Harry nodded and straightened. "Well…"
He shifted from one foot to the other, eyeing the family uncomfortably. Finally, Ginny broke the silence. She handed Pig to Bill before hugging Harry tightly.
"Thanks for everything, Harry," she whispered. "You'll always be my hero."
He squeezed her once before releasing her. She hesitated, and then leaned up to place a chaste kiss on the corner of his mouth. Hermione looked away.
Ginny stepped back. Mrs. Weasley sniffed and pulled Harry into a hug, tears tracking down her cheeks and landing in his hair.
Soon Hermione was enveloped in hugs of her own. Fred and George, Bill and Charlie, even Ginny embraced her.
When she and Harry finally made it out the door, there was scarcely a dry eye among them.
"Well," Hermione said shakily. "That went… alright…"
They stood side by side for a moment, letting the cool breeze pass over their faces and rustle their hair.
"So this is the world without Voldemort," Harry stated.
"It feels… well, oddly the same," Hermione muttered, looking around them. She could see a homeless man peeing against a wall. A dog from down the street howled.
"Not exactly," Harry said. He slipped an arm around her shoulders and pressed a kiss to her temple. "For the first time in my life, I'm free."
Hermione glanced sideways at him. "How does it feel?"
"It feels… good," he admitted with a wry shake of his head.
Hermione leaned up to kiss his cheek. "I love you."
"Yeah," Harry said, flushing. "I love you too." He cleared his throat. "Now how about going to the beach?"
Hermione could not say for certain that it was the Unbreakable Vow that allowed Harry to defeat Voldemort. Much later in life, Hermione published one of the most accurate accounts of that night (under Granger, her maiden name). There were blank spots in her memory, of course—from the time she passed out.
She promised to protect Harry under the Unbreakable Vow. In the end, it was Harry who protected her and the rest of the world. Sometimes Hermione liked to pretend that her strength of love or will—or whatever it was—helped Harry. Mostly likely, it was Ron's death that pushed Harry over the edge and helped him to tap into the power he needed.
In her book, Hermione claimed the Unbreakable Vow provided the extra boost of power and devotion that Harry needed. Still, she was never quite sure.
That night changed Harry. It changed both of them, but mostly Harry. There was a hint of bitterness in his smile now, even when he was content.
They liked to travel. Harry hated being in England for too long. England meant Ron and Ron would haunt Harry forever.
They joked that they could never meet new people. Not that it was a new thing, really. When three became two, they didn't bother to expand again. They saw their old school friends, Neville and Luna, but they mostly kept to themselves.
The legend of Harry Potter never died in the wizarding world. In reality, Hermione knew they were dreadfully dull. They slept in every Sunday. Harry cooked, Hermione cleaned, and they kept a tele next to Harry's Firebolt.
Harry and Hermione were always very, very close. Hermione knew it made others nervous, the way they could communicate without speaking.
Sometimes Hermione rolled her eyes and tried to explain. After everything they'd been through together, of course they were close. Honestly. Other times, Hermione adamantly insisted that she and Harry were soulmates, that way from birth, actually. She quickly learned that many preferred the soulmates' explanation to the real one.
They had several fights over the years, but Hermione claimed it made them stronger (Harry thought that was a load of hogwash). Very occasionally, they found themselves restless and itchy for a new adventure. And they quickly discovered there were always more evils to be stopped.
But those were other stories.