Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related plot events and characters are the property of JK Rowling.

Summary: PostHogwarts. Harry must deal with the horrors of war, and in doing so he will embrace his heritage and leave a lasting legacy on the world.

A/N: I know I usually stay omniscient with one character per scene, but there is a specific scene in this chapter that I needed to be with two. Sorry if it's slightly confusing. Also, see if you catch my tiny homage to JK's work (specifically, something in HBP). Enjoy!

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Chapter 21: Reconciliation

Hermione drifted awake slowly, and peacefully, with a soft breeze billowing the white curtains into the room, and the sounds of the beach reaching her ears. It took her a moment to recall where she was, because she couldn't ever remember a bed so soft or the smell of water so pleasant…

She sat up slowly as the images of the previous day came back to her, letting the satin sheets fall away from her scantily clad body. Sicilian nights were hot, and she had only worn her knickers and bra to bed. She must have slept all evening and all night; perhaps she was more tired than she had thought. The tint of the sun coming in told her that it was sometime during the midmorning, and that she should probably get up and see about getting something to eat and returning to the task of rebuilding her life.

She slipped from the bed and stood by the window for a moment, inhaling the salty, fresh scent of the Mediterranean. It was already quite warm…so she decided to put on a bikini. Maybe she could start to work on that golden tan.

The villa was fairly silent as she made her way toward the kitchen. She did not see or hear Harry or Helen anywhere, but shrugged it off. They may have gone out, or perhaps they were working out somewhere. Helen had looked like she trained just as much Harry did. She opened the Muggle refrigerator and smiled at how well stocked it was. She selected some orange juice and some bread, and set about making her breakfast. After toasting and buttering the bread, she poured a tall glass of the juice and cleaned up. She paused for a second, unsure of exactly where she should eat, and then decided that the veranda would be a nice setting.

She walked through the kitchen and the sitting room, slid the glass door open with her foot, and emerged into the sunshine. She couldn't help the smile that broke across her lips as the first rays warmed her skin; she walked around the pool and sat down at the small picnic table on the other side. She had a nice view of the beach from this point, as well as still being in the sun.

As she nibbled on the toast and sipped the juice, she perused the occupants of the beach. There were many just lounging about, sunning themselves; a few were moving about, and she could see several that were running. There also seemed to be two people that were…fighting with each other? Upon closer inspection, though, she recognized them as Harry and Helen, and that they were sparring with each other—with swords.

She had not questioned Harry about his sword the previous day, because she'd had other things on her mind, such as what she would say to him; now that there were no such immediately pressing matters, she did have a host of questions. For one…why did Helen have a sword also, and why were they both apparently so good at wielding them?

Harry's sword had been crimson and gold…and now she saw that Helen's was blue and bronze. Blue and crimson weren't the colors of any metal she could name, but her eyes widened in realization that the colors were of two of Hogwarts' houses. That must have had something to do with it…

Another thing that bothered her was that the swords were different. Harry's looked like some kind of long sword, or something medieval like that, and was pretty hefty. He was handling it well with one hand, though, which hinted to Hermione just how strong Harry really was. Helen, on the other hand, was using what Hermione knew to be a scimitar—she recalled the shape from many pirate stories she'd heard or read as a young girl.

And they were so fast. She could scarcely follow their movements, especially Helen's, but it didn't seem to attract any undue attention from the people on the beach. They must have been used to it at this point, because most barely gave their swordplay a second glance.

As she finished her breakfast, draining the last of the juice, she resolved to ask them about it later. For now, though…she smiled again to herself as she took a towel off a nearby chair and laid it across the warm stones of the veranda. For now she would get some sun. The questions would come later. She lay down on the towel and closed her eyes, and sure enough, the soft whisper of the waves, combined with the sun, soon lulled her back to sleep.

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"Will you just wait a minute!" Hermione yelled at Ron's back, frustrated.

Ron threw up his arms and whirled on Hermione. She stood her ground against the furious look on his face.

"What is it?" he asked, with that same frustration in his voice.

Hermione stopped a few feet in front of him. Her Auror robes billowed around her body in the wind. "What is the problem?"

Ron rolled his eyes. "Look, can't we talk about this later? We have a job to do at the moment."

"It's about the job," she retorted. "Ever since we got here…you've been short with everyone."

"Just what is that supposed to mean?" he asked.

"Oh, come on, Ron! We've been here for three years now, and I don't think you've once stopped working for more than eight hours at a time." She watched as he pursed his lips. "You snap at everyone…including me…all of the other Aurors think you're an arrogant prick."

"Well, big fuckin' deal!" he yelled, and turned his back to her. He started to walk away.

Hermione sighed and put her hands on her hips, watching him go for a moment, and then followed. "Ron, wait a second." He just continued walking. "Ron!" He put up his hand, shook his head, and continued walking away.

"You're just gonna walk away from me!" she cried at him. He stopped, and looked up to the sky.

"So what if I do?"

Hermione approached his back slowly. "Ron…what are you talking about?"

"So what if I walk away from you. It's not like it matters." His voice had grown quiet. She was now a foot from his back. The wind swept up again, and she watched as his red hair flew up on his head.

"Of course it matters. You know it does. Why would I want you to walk away?" She was confused.

"Sometime we're going to have to stop playing games, Hermione."

"What…what games? Since when have we been playing games? We pursue dark wizards for a living. Tell me how that is a game," she demanded.

He whirled on her, as he had done before. That same furious look encompassed his features.

"I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT OUR FUCKING JOB!" he yelled in her face. She recoiled from the volume his voice, and his tone. There was something terrible in it.

They regarded each other for a moment in silence. Hermione eventually spoke: "Then what is a game?"

Ron's face clenched for a moment, and he looked away. He gazed at something in the distance, following it with his eyes, and then brought them back to hers.

"Us, Hermione. We are."

Hermione bit her lip. "What…I…I don't understand. What are you saying?"

"Come on. Do I really have to explain it to you?"

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, and then closed it. She stood still for a second, and then nodded mutely.

"How long have we been together, now?" Ron asked. "For what…four and a half years?" Hermione nodded. "That's a long time…a long time for anything."

"Yeah, so what? We've been together for a long time." Hermione repeated.

"But we haven't been together," Ron replied. At Hermione's disgusted look, Ron continued. "I meant just more than that, you know. I meant in terms of emotionally, intellectually…and yes, physically."

"I…" Hermione started.

Ron held up his hand. "I know what the problem is, though."

Hermione cocked her head at him. "Oh," she said, almost sarcastically. Ron must have noticed her tone, because a shadow passed over his face.

"It's you," he said. Hermione couldn't believe her ears; she couldn't believe he had just said that.

"Me? ME?" she screeched. "I hardly think this is one-sided!"

"No, no…you don't understand. It is you, because you aren't willing to give yourself fully to this relationship."

Hermione's eyes widened and she shook her head incredulously. "What…how can you possibly know that about me?"

"I've known you for eleven years…I think I know enough to be able to tell that."

Hermione had had enough. "It's funny that this is all my fault, Ron…you're the one who can't get over the past."

"Don't…don't talk about my past. You know nothing about it."

Hermione laughed mirthlessly. "Nothing? Nothing, you say? So those same eleven years…they haven't meant the same to me? Well, I beg to differ. I was there, Ron…I was there through it all."

"No you weren't. Where were you before we left?" he spat back.

"I WAS RIGHT BY YOUR SIDE!" she screamed, red in the face. "I stood by your side when you abandoned Harry…I stood by your side when you abandoned your sister—"

Ron slapped her. He had turned an alarming shade of red. The stinging on her cheek was almost unbearable, but she ignored it. There was fire in her eyes when she raised them to look into Ron's.

"I can't believe you just did that," she ground out. Ron, however, looked too angry to even care.

"And I can't believe you said that. I DID NOT abandon Ginny." He was breathing very heavily.

The stinging finally prompted Hermione to raise a hand to her cheek. "Whatever you want to call it, Ron…you never even went to her grave."

His anger seemed to only grow. "Neither did you…and how could you even bring up Harry?" His voice was low and guttural. "He…he still is the cause of all of my problems."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "How did you work that one out?"

"He took Ginny…and he took you!" he yelled, but then his face contorted terribly, and he fell to his knees. Hermione was still trying to work out what he meant, but the real, genuine pain on his face made her forget it. She dropped to her knees in front of him, taking his face in her hands. His breath was coming in short, rasping gasps, and he clutched at his chest.

"Ron? Ron!" She shook him. "What's the matter?" she yelled into his face. His eyes were unfocused, staring at nothing.

He grunted. "My…chest…" he gasped. His face contorted again, and then his eyes rolled up into his head. He fell over onto his side, flat on the ground. Hermione just stared for a moment.

"Ron…?" she queried tentatively. There was no response. She reached out quickly, grabbed his limp arm, and tandem Apparated to the Auror clinic.

He was taken immediately upon arrival away from her, and she was directed to a debriefing room in an adjacent building. She hated to leave Ron…but she couldn't disobey a direct order from her superior. She only had to wait two minutes before the door opened and Timothy White, the Head Auror for her division, stepped into the room. She stood from her seat to greet him.

"Sit, please, Miss Granger," he said. She took her seat and he sat across from her. "Please explain what happened."

"Umm…" she started. She didn't really want to bring the personal argument Ron and her had up with her professional supervisor. "We were moving to the rendezvous point—"

Timothy cut her off. "You hadn't left yet? This isn't a combat injury?"

Hermione shook her head. She was surprised that he hadn't been informed. "No…he just collapsed. He was clutching at his chest." Something was nagging at the back of her head, but she dismissed it.

"He's a little young for cardiac arrest," he muttered, and then opened Ron's file. Hermione watched him peruse the contents for a few moments.

Timothy looked up suddenly. "He had a sister…that died of a heart condition?" he asked.

Hermione's eyes widened. No…that couldn't be possible. Could it be? "Uh, yes, but he can't possibly have it. Males can only carry it."

"Indeed," Timothy said, and he excused himself. Hermione was left alone in the room, with only her increasingly worried and morbid thoughts to occupy herself. Was it possible?

It turned out that it was. She found out later that day—July 1st, 2002—that Ron had caused the activation of the gene that started the degeneration of his heart tissue. Ron had been unable to accept it, even at the end, and he had died an unhappy person. She was at his side when he took his last breath, but he never apologized or regretted anything he'd done. His bitterness—his inability to face his mistakes—was the cause of it.

Hermione suffered a similar problem for many years after his death. Rather than her mistakes, though, she was unable to face the truth about herself, and her feelings. Every time she'd get close to accepting it, she'd berate herself for betraying the memory of Ron.

Over time, though…she learned a crucial truth: she had to start living her life the way she wanted to if she didn't want to end up like Ron. She didn't want to wallow in bitterness and depreciation for the rest of her life, so in May 2009—a little over six years after Ron had died—she decided to leave America. She decided to confront herself, her past, and her true feelings. She went home—home to England…home to Hogwarts…and home to Harry.

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Clink… Clink… Clink…was the sound Hermione woke to. Her eyelids fluttered open, and then immediately shut again as the bright sun threatened to blind her. Clink… Clink… Clink…came the sound. She sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes and stretching her sedentary muscles; she arched her back, thrusting her bikini-clad chest into the air. The sound faltered for a second, and then resumed it's steady clink.

She opened her eyes fully and looked around. At first she didn't see anything, but when she turned completely, she saw that Harry was sitting at the table, tapping the point of the blade against the tiles of the veranda. He was regarding her with a keen gaze.

"Have a nice nap?" he asked. His voice was soft and warm; it was then that Hermione saw what he was wearing, which wasn't much at all. He certainly liked to work out in those confounded short shorts.

"Err…yeah. What time is it?" she asked, a little disoriented. She hadn't really meant to fall asleep.

Harry looked at his wrist, which was the first time in several minutes…or maybe even an hour…that he'd looked away from Hermione. She had looked so peaceful, lying there, asleep in the sun. Of course, she'd been in a wonderfully—or maybe, cursedly?—skimpy bikini, and his eyes had naturally been drawn to the slow rise and fall of her chest…

"Harry?" Hermione called. He had looked at his watch, but had remained staring at it, not answering her question.

He shook himself. It was remarkable how easily Hermione distracted him. He checked the time once again, because he'd already forgotten it, and looked back at her. She had an inquisitive smirk on her face; her lips were curved up at one corner slightly.

"Uh…it's almost one o'clock," he finally enunciated.

Hermione was slightly shocked. She definitely hadn't meant to sleep for three hours. She looked down, and mentally berated herself. She would be burned later. That's what she got for falling asleep in the sun; perhaps she could have done that after a week or two, but not on her first exposure.

"Ugh…" she half-moaned, and stood.

"There a problem?" Harry asked, as he watched her grimace and stand. Merlin…she was killing him in that goddamn bathing suit. It was then that, through randomly firing neurons in his brain, he realized that he hadn't been with someone in a very long time. He felt his face redden at the thought, especially because Hermione had seemed to trigger it. He had never really looked at her that way when he was younger, so why should he be now?

Hermione watched as Harry's face took on some color briefly before answering. "Not really…I'm just the stupid one who's going to be sunburned later on." She stretched again, working the kinks from lying on the stones out of her muscles.

Harry almost rolled his eyes at her stretching. It was almost as if she was doing it to torture him. Didn't she know what it did to him?

"Sleep well last night?" he asked.

"As a matter of fact, yes I did," she replied, and thought wistfully of that oh-so-soft bed, with those silky-satiny sheets. "The beds here are very comfortable," she said, and laughed at the ridiculousness of her statement. Of course they were…beds were supposed to be.

Her laugh was like music to his ears. He hadn't heard that genuine, breathy, musical laugh in so long…

"Well, they should be, considering everything here cost a fortune," Harry said. Money was no object to him, but even he was surprised at the cost of real estate on the shores of the Mediterranean. Hermione grabbed the towel from the stones and wrapped it around her waist…and Harry secretly mourned the loss of the view of her insanely alluring legs. He shook his head lightly as she moved to sit at the table. He really needed to stop thinking like that.

As Hermione sat down next to Harry, she saw him shake his head slightly. "What is it?" she asked.

Harry looked at her. "Hmm?"

"Why'd you shake your head?" she asked.

"Oh…well I was just thinking about something," was all he managed to say. He almost shook his head again, at his poor excuse for a cover, but managed to refrain from doing so.

"Care to tell me what about?" she asked, trying to keep her voice as innocent as possible.

Harry shifted uncomfortably, and his sword glinted in the sun, which actually saved him from having to explain.

"Actually, why don't you tell me why you have that crimson and gold sword?" She watched as he laid it across the table, hand still on the hilt, and turned to face her.

"What does the name 'Lucifer' mean to you, Hermione?" he asked her. And so he told her exactly what Dumbledore had told him, Helen, and Ginny so many years ago, almost verbatim.

Hermione was shocked at first, especially because it altered the very history of the Wizarding world and Hogwarts, but then realized that there were far more important things embedded in the knowledge.

It had taken Harry a half hour to tell the complete story, and he was quite hungry. He was about to get up to fetch them some food, when Hermione asked, "So you can manipulate magic?"

He paused, smiled at her, and said, "Just wait a minute. I'm gonna get us something to eat."

Hermione watched him stand and enter the villa, and then come back a minute or so later with some lunch for the both of them. He placed them on the table, next to his wand—it must have turned back into it when he let go of it—and sat down next to her once again.

"So…can you?" she reiterated her question.

"Yes…and no. It's incredibly…complex." He watched her arch an eyebrow at him. "I've found that a lot of what I can do in my ascended or altered state, or whatever you want to call it, is innate. It kind of just happens…it's instinctual."

Hermione thought back to the day they'd defeated Voldemort. He had been able to manipulate those Killing Curses, but at that time she'd assumed it had something to do with the blood protection.

"So when you stopped Voldemort, that was just your magical instincts taking over?"

"I guess…I don't know really. I haven't had much cause to prevent Killing Curses since then." Harry smiled peacefully. "I don't know about America, but Britain has been pretty serene since that day."

The word 'America' brought sudden and sharp recollections of the dream she'd been having; or rather, the memory that she'd been dreaming of.

Harry watched as her face clouded slightly. He put down his drink and looked into her eyes. He saw doubt, confusion…and something else there.

"Did you apprehend many dark wizards?" he asked, trying to continue the conversation. It was nice to just be able to sit there and talk.

"Err…" Hermione started. To talk about her job would most likely be to talk about Ron. "Not really," she finally just said.

"Oh? There weren't many, or you had tough assignments?" Harry didn't realize it, but he was pressing her on a subject she did not want to talk about.

"No…just, Ron made it difficult. That's all," she said, and she looked away from him. She stared out at the Sea, willing away the myriad feelings that were threatening to well up inside of her. Why was her life so goddamn confusing? Why couldn't she just be normal and happy?

"Oh," Harry intoned, and fell silent. Ron was not really someone he wanted to talk about, either, but he supposed if him and Hermione were ever going to be to get over their past they had to at some point. He laid a hand over hers, which caused her to look back at him.

"About Ron," he started, and slipped his fingers between hers, hoping to give her at least some comfort. "I know this is a difficult subject for you…but what happened?" When she didn't answer forthwith, he said, "I'm sorry that I don't understand, but as far as I knew, you and him were destined for marriage and a family."

Hermione closed her eyes and drew in a slow, deep breath. Harry had just touched upon something that she was hesitant to talk about, especially so directly, but it was what she ultimately had come back to do. If she couldn't do it…here and now…then she probably would never be able to.

"At one time, Harry, we might have been," she said, slowly, and then was struck by the duality of that statement. Depending on whether emphasis was placed on 'we' or not, she could have either been referring to Harry or Ron. And judging by the way Harry was looking at her, she might have put that emphasis on it…

"Ron and I, from the very beginning, seemed to be suited for each other. It was almost…it was as if it was expected of us, you know?"

Harry nodded slowly. He had gotten that feeling sometimes, during their time as students at Hogwarts. But…as an adult, he could look back and honestly say that they were not meant for each other. Their personalities clashed too much; regardless of that old adage, that opposites attract, polar opposites usually do not.

The thing that struck him, though, was that Hermione no longer seemed to be a polar opposite of Ron's personality. The time had mellowed her some…evened her out. It was obviously too late for Ron, but it was just a fleeting thought he had.

"And so…you two conformed to the opinion and entered into a relationship." She nodded at his words. "At the time, though…you really did love each other, didn't you?" he asked. He felt her grip tighten in his momentarily.

She didn't answer him right away, and dropped her eyes to inspect their hands. Finally, she said, "I think we thought we loved each other."

"I just can't remember Ron ever being quite so self-destructive as he was in that last year you two were in Britain. Didn't it strike you as odd?" Harry asked. That was a question he'd been wanting to ask for a long time. He still saw the image of Hermione standing by as Ron criticized—and hit—Harry the night of his wedding.

"Yes, but…I was just so confused, Harry," she said. She could feel the emotions bubbling to the surface, but she wouldn't cry. Not this time; not again.

"I was torn…I was torn between what I thought I should do and what I wanted to do," she elaborated. She was actually going to say it…

Harry was confused. What exactly was she talking about? He absently noted that she was now gripping his hand like a vice.

"I'm not sure I follow you…" he said, and watched as Hermione turned completely in her chair to face him. Her speckled chocolate brown eyes were boring into his emerald ones.

"Do you know have any idea why I waited so long to come back, after he died?" she asked. Harry could hear a clear and intense purpose in her voice.

"No…I really have no idea."

"I needed the time, Harry. I needed the time to come to terms with my true feelings, and what I'd done."

"What you'd done?"

"Yes…what I'd done to you, and to Ginny…and," she added, "to Helen. It took a long time for me to see everything that I needed to see."

Harry searched her face for some kind of answer, some clue as to what she was talking about, but could find nothing.

"So you answered those questions, and that's why you're back?"

"Yes," she responded. She stood from her chair, with her hand still in his, and moved to his chair. She then did something completely unexpected: she sat in his lap.

Harry was so surprised he couldn't move, and he didn't stop her when she wrapped his arms around her and leaned back into his chest. Harry could smell the shampoo in her hair…and he closed his eyes against the emotions swelling up in his soul. This was…right.

"Hermione…" he managed, but fell silent when she spoke up again.

"I answered the question that I'd been trying to for years…ever since we were first years. I finally knew who my heart belonged to." Hermione felt a great weight lift from her shoulders, and her heart, and almost grinned at the sun. She could literally feel that Harry was beginning to understand, which wasn't altogether unwanted, and shifted slightly in his lap.

"It was you, Harry. It always has been," she said, and she turned twisted her upper body around. The look on his face was priceless…there was desire, compassion, and genuine affection rolled up into one warm and inviting gaze.

Harry could only stare at her face; she really was so beautiful. He was trying to force the physical reactions to her sitting in his lap away, but he realized that it was futile. She didn't seem to mind, even though it was a bit awkward, so he stopped trying to deny it. He realized she was leaning towards him…

Hermione grazed Harry's lips with her own, almost moaning at the silky smooth quality of them, and then leaned in fully to capture them in hers. It was a one-sided kiss at first, but Harry soon responded with gusto that she could only describe as exquisite. She turned her lower body in the chair, laying her legs over the armrest, and slung her arms around his neck.

Harry closed his eyes, feeling Hermione shift in his lap and put her arms around his neck, and lost himself in the wonder of her lips. When he felt the tip of her tongue press hesitantly on the inside of lips, he parted them slightly and allowed her entry. She turned her head to take full advantage of the access, and they were soon lost in a passionate and long overdue kiss.

Harry didn't know how long it was—a few seconds, perhaps minutes, or maybe even several sunlit years—but he knew it was too short when she eventually pulled back.

Hermione stared into Harry's eyes; her lips were still tingling from the passion she had put into the kiss, which Harry had evidently reciprocated. Her heart was beating with the long awaited, and long denied, feeling of elation that was her love for Harry. She hoped he was feeling the same.

"Wow…" Harry breathed, and closed his eyes once again.

Hermione leaned her forehead against Harry's, closing her own eyes. They rested comfortably like that for a few moments, glowing from the warmth of the sun and each other's bodies.

"Harry…" Hermione started, but he brought a finger to her lips. She was tempted to start kissing it, but withheld from that impulse.

"No talking…not yet, at least," he said. "Let's just enjoy this," he added, softly, and withdrew his finger. She nodded slightly against his forehead, and didn't say another word.

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Helen hadn't heard or seen her father, or Hermione for that matter, in a few hours, and she was curious as to where they'd gotten. She raised the glass of cold pumpkin juice to her lips as she stepped out onto the veranda, and almost choked at what she saw.

Hermione was sitting sideways in her father's lap, with her legs draped over an arm of the chair they were in. She was wearing the same bikini as before, with a towel loosely wrapped around her waist, and Harry was still wearing only his shorts. Hermione's head was drooped onto his shoulder, with her arms around his neck; her father head's was lolled slightly back, and his arms were around her hips. They were both asleep.

The sight was totally unexpected. Helen had been prepared for a protracted reacquaintance between them, and was willing to work with Hermione and her father over her own hard feelings, but it seemed like they had gone and taken some sort of leap in a very short time. It didn't make sense to her, but she supposed that her resentment for Hermione clouded her judgment.

As she watched them sitting there, sleeping peacefully in each other's arm, she couldn't help the feeling of contentment that slowly stole over her. She hadn't seen her father look so satisfied, even in his sleep, for a long time, and she reasoned that Hermione had something to do with that. A little of the resentment faded, simply for what the older woman appeared to be doing for Harry, but that didn't mean she was ready to completely forgive Hermione; she might never be able to. Only time would tell…

As for how quickly things had happened…there must have been some feelings between the two of them already for this to happen so soon, because it certainly wasn't a platonic position that they were in. Helen didn't know, but judging by how Harry had been acting, taken in conjunction with this picture, she guessed that he'd had some long buried feelings for her…and Hermione for him.

Helen shook her head. Everything was so confusing. Why couldn't she just have a normal life? She shoved that thought away, though, because she was very happy with her life now. It may have started badly, but she couldn't ask for more than she had now—a loving father, magical and physical strength, intelligence, and beauty. There was only one thing she was missing…but she thought she might have found that, and she would know for sure when she returned to Britain.

She surveyed the scene for another moment, and then a devious smile crept over her face. She never had gotten her father back for Apparating her into the pool the other day…

Very carefully, so as to not disturb their position or their sleep, she levitated the chair Hermione and Harry were sitting in. She slowly inched it over the pool, so that it came to rest above the center of the water. She paused for a second, and then released the spell. They plunged into the pool.

There was much ado for a moment, including sputtering, some mild curses, and a shriek, but it soon settled down. When everything calmed, Helen was looking into the surprised and annoyed eyes of Harry and Hermione. She smiled sweetly at them.

"Yes?" Helen asked, coyly. Hermione raised her eyebrows and looked at Harry. He shrugged.

"I thought you two lovebirds had slept for long enough," she said, and watched with some bemusement as they both blushed. Blushes on the cheeks of almost-thirty year olds was pretty funny, if she did say so herself. It was almost like their parents had caught them doing something naughty.

Harry cleared his throat. "Yes, well…thank you for that…wet…wake-up," he said, and narrowed his eyes slightly at her. "You forgot, though, that I'm the most powerful wizard in the world."

Helen barely had time to process his words before she found herself in the pool, looking up at the smiling faces of Harry and Hermione. They were both dry.

Helen grimaced and Disapparated from the water. She stood on the deck, hands on hips, staring at them.

"Well?" she finally asked.

"Well what?" Harry responded.

Helen gestured to the chair that was still floating in the pool. She wasn't going to make this easy for them. "What was that all about?"

Harry looked distinctly uncomfortable, and Hermione looked as if she couldn't believe Helen was asking that of them. Helen decided to address Hermione directly.

"I'm sure you could explain, right?"

Hermione stood silent for a second. "Helen…I'm not sure we have to explain to you…" she trailed off at the murderous look on Helen's face. Oh…they had to explain, especially Hermione, because she would not stand by and let things go awry again. She was happy for her father, if he was happy, but she wanted him to stay that way.

"What's the problem, Helen?" Harry asked.

"There is no problem—not specifically, at least. I'm just curious as to the state of things…"

Harry looked sideways at Hermione, who looked sideways at him. He looked back to Helen.

"Things are…complicated…at the moment," he answered. Hermione nodded slightly.

"Alright…well let me know when they are uncomplicated," Helen responded. She stared at the two of them for an instant more, cast a drying charm over herself, and walked back into the villa. She closed the door behind her.

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Harry watched his daughter stalk back into the villa with some remorse. He hadn't meant to be short or off with her, but things really were complicated. He couldn't explain what was going on just yet, because he really didn't know. He turned to Hermione.

"I guess we fell asleep…" he said, and faded away at her smirk.

"Yeah, I guess we did." Hermione suddenly grimaced. "Oooh…that's twice I've fallen asleep in the sun today," she said, and gingerly rubbed her stomach. Harry watched her hand caress the smooth skin above her navel. "Sunburn is going to be a problem later."

"Hermione…are we not magical?" he asked her, and watched as she widened her eyes in realization.

"Do you know a charm to stop it, Harry?" she asked. She looked mildly hopeful.

"Yeah, actually, I do."

"I didn't know there was one."

"No, neither did I, until I started coming here," he said, gesturing all around with his hand. "It's a problem at first, before you get used to the exposure here. I mentioned something about it to Dumbledore, and he knew of a charm to either prevent it or soothe it."

"What is it?"

"Conservare bellam," he said, and waved his hand over her body. Her face immediately relaxed.

"Ah…much better. Thanks," she said, smiling at him.

"No problem," he said, and then an awkward silence suddenly descended upon them.

Hermione averted her eyes toward the ground. "Yeah…so…" she said. She glanced back at Harry.

"Err…look, we're both adults. What just happened?" Harry asked her.

Hermione moved away from Harry toward the railing of the veranda. She placed her elbows on it and leaned over. Harry heard her sigh. He slowly came up behind her.

"Hermione?"

"Did it mean anything to you?" Her voice was very quiet.

"Yes…of course it did. I—" but he was struggling with what he wanted to say, with what he'd come to realize. He leaned on the railing next to her, glancing sideways. Her face was partially obscured by her hair. He reached up and tucked the errant curls behind her ear. She smiled slightly, but remained looking out over the beach.

Harry tried again. "I'll admit that I was reluctant about you coming back, at first." He paused, gauging her reaction, but there was none. "I think I had some sort of image of you built up over the years; one that was not who you really were."

"Who am I really?"

"You're Hermione Granger…smart, kind, compassionate…beautiful…" She tilted her head, so that she could look at him.

"What about stubborn, naïve, and blind?"

Harry almost laughed, but held it back. It would probably be misconstrued if he did so. "If you say so, but I think our harshest critics are ourselves."

"Then would it be harsh to say that I've been a fool for almost twenty years now?"

Harry thought he knew what she was hinting at. "I think so, yes. We were young…we had to deal with a war…suffering, sickness, death…I think we were all very confused for a long time."

Hermione seemed to take a deep breath. "I realized that I've always loved you, Harry," and turned her head to look at him fully. He felt a warm feeling spreading through his chest.

"And I think that a part of me has always loved you, Hermione," he responded. Her face softened a bit.

"What about…what about Ginny, though?" Harry could tell that she was waiting for some kind of negative reaction from him, but there wasn't going to be any. The hurt had faded long ago.

"That's hard for me to explain," he said. "I…Ginny was…easy for me." He grimaced at his words. "That sounds terrible, but I think that is the truth. I did love her, but I think part of it might have been because I was expected to…" he trailed off, unsure of whether or not he had explained it correctly.

Hermione chuckled lightly for a second. "Kind of like Ron and I…"

"You know, the irony is amazing," Harry said after a moment. He absently noted that the afternoon was waning.

"How so?"

Harry debated with himself for a short time over whether or not he should say what he wanted to, but decided that he had better, or it would sit with him for a long time.

"We both had what we really wanted in front of us for eight years, and when we finally realized it, we were thousands of miles apart." Hermione turned her body toward him; she was now facing him fully. He turned toward her.

"Do you really mean that?"

"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't," he responded, simply.

"Oh, Harry…" she intoned, and leapt into an embrace with him. It was a familiar one—she was holding onto him tightly, almost as if she was making sure he was real. He could remember several similar hugs during their time at Hogwarts—they made a lot more sense now.

Hermione leaned her head back and met his lips in another searing kiss. They stayed like that for a little while, reveling in the closeness and the feel of each other's lips. Harry eventually pulled back, stepping out of the embrace. Hermione looked curiously at him.

"I think I've just realized something," he said. His eyes were drawn to a couple walking hand-in-hand along the beach.

"What?" she asked.

"Before…before you came back, I couldn't find a way to make amends with myself. I couldn't totally get over what happened. I was looking in all directions; all except the right one." Harry stopped for a second, and then brought his eyes back to Hermione's face.

"I know I chose the wrong way, but I was still getting over who I was. I wasn't happy with what I'd done, or the decisions I'd made, and I thought that burying it all would make it better.

"I know now, though, that it's not who you were, or even who you are, but it's who you believe in who really guide you. And now…now I can see clearly which way I want to go. I remember the way I was, and how hard I fell, but that won't happen again." His eyes were boring into hers.

"You're the way I want to go, Hermione." Harry stepped forward and pressed his lips against hers, reigniting their passion from earlier.

----------

The rest of their time in Sicily moved by quickly. Harry and Hermione continued to dance around each other, kissing or hugging occasionally, but they were still somewhat shy about their feelings. They both knew what they wanted, but they were afraid to foul things up like they had been.

Helen, who was a casual witness to the slow coming together of her father and Hermione, felt the reluctance on their part, and that helped to lessen any hard feelings she had. She sensed that they were slightly hesitant, and she was glad that they weren't just rushing into things. It showed her that they were able to see that the world wasn't perfect, and that good things could end very quickly. The longer they took to flesh out their relationship and feelings, the better off they would be in the long run.

Hermione was greatly impressed by all that Harry and Helen could do, and vowed to get herself into better shape once they returned to Britain. She saw all that Harry could do, physically and magically, and there was awe; there was also jealousy, though. He had needed her when they were younger, but there was literally almost nothing he couldn't accomplish now. Helen was much the same way, and she and Hermione had a mild unspoken rivalry over who was sharper—Helen may have been the heir to Ravenclaw with vast wells of natural intellect, but Hermione's drive to succeed and be knowledgeable was a formidable opponent.

It never escalated beyond friendly competition, but Harry was secretly worried that whatever had been left unsaid between them would come out at some point, and that it wouldn't be pretty when it did. He tried to talk about it with Helen once or twice, as well as Hermione, but they both denied that there were still any ill feelings between them. Harry wasn't convinced, and resigned himself to watching, and waiting.

All in all, the six weeks in Sicily were as relaxing as they were confusing, and the three readied themselves for the return to Scotland with mixed emotions. They all loved the sun and the warmth, and the temporary escape from life the villa offered, but they knew they would have to get back to reality at some point.

On the morning of the 15th of August, Harry, Hermione, and Helen exited the villa from the front door. Harry hung back for a moment, casting strong locking and imperturbable charms over the house, and joined the girls.

"Do we have everything?" he asked.

"I wish we could bring the beach with us," Helen said.

"I'd like to bring the sun with us," Hermione said, and Harry's eyes were drawn to the change in her appearance. Her skin was a dark brown, and her hair had lightened to a dark blond. Hermione caught him staring, and shook her head, smirking at him.

"There's always next year," he said, and turned away for one last look at the villa. He loved it here, and he would miss it, as he did more and more every year. "Well…I'll see you both at Hogwarts." He Disapparated with a soft whisper of air, and Hermione and Helen soon followed.