(A/N: This story will be based on the song "Sunny Road" by Emiliana Torrini. And now, on with the story…)
Chapter 1 – Graduation Day
It was a clear, bright and sunny morning, though cool for this time of year. The lake shone out beautifully, its waters covered in gentle ripples, occasionally disturbed by a tentacle from the Giant Squid. The trees in the forest were swaying slightly to the soft blow of the wind. In other words, it was a perfect morning. Perfect for the annual Commencement Exercises at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The seventh years of Hogwarts, those that had returned to school, were growing more excited as the morning progressed. They were all in their traditional school robes, each bearing their own house crest, excitedly chattering with each other as they waited for the program to start. Their graduation was to be held outside on the grounds beside the lake.
Most of these students were not aware of one lone figure standing at the other side of lake observing everything that was happening from his lone vantage point. No one noticed as he started to walk away from all of it. No one noticed as he walked towards the gates, head down, readying himself to Disapparate. No one noticed, except one.
Hermione Granger quickly caught up with him as he was nearing the school gates. Her hair a bit windswept from running. She held his arm just as he was about to step out.
"Harry, wait. Where are you going?" she asked, her eyes boring through him, her small hand on his arm.
Harry Potter, The Chosen One, The Savior of the Wizarding World, looked at her with eyes devoid of any emotion. Hermione winced slightly upon being looked upon by those emerald-green emotionless eyes.
"I'm leaving, Hermione," he replied, looking once more at the gates.
Hermione looked at him skeptically and asked, "What? But why?"
"I can't stand it, Hermione," he answered vaguely. "I need to leave. I just need to go somewhere, where I am not going to be recognized as Harry Potter. Even for just a moment."
"But, Harry. The graduation – it's about to –"
"I know, Hermione. But I can't stand being there knowing that I lost too many, too much. I can't stand there and pretend that I'm happy. I can't stand there and look at all of them knowing that –" Harry trailed off, not needing to continue on his trail of thoughts.
Hermione, however, just lowered her hand from his arm and nodded at him, showing that she understood. She smiled at him slowly and was glad when he returned it.
"Go. You should be there," he told Hermione. "I'll catch up with you guys, later."
Before he stepped out of the school gates, Hermione ran up to him and hugged him. "Be careful, Harry. I still want to see you tonight after this." And with that – she let go of him and she did something she never did with him. She kissed him on the lips lightly. Harry was surprised, but smiled nonetheless at her sweet gesture. He then stepped out of the school gates and Disapparated away.
Hermione stood there for a while and looked at the spot where Harry had just been standing. She, too, was remembering their final year at Hogwarts and what had just transpired a couple of weeks ago at that very same ground.
Their last year at Hogwarts was anything but peaceful. Yes, Hogwarts was home and Hermione somehow convinced Harry, together with Ron, to come back. This was after they had purposely said at the end of their 6th year that they were not going to go back, so they could continue what Dumbledore started – the quest for the remaining Horcruxes of Voldemort. Hermione reasoned out that Hogwarts was still the best place to start their research since the school has an extensive library. Plus Hogwarts was about the safest place on earth, even during the midst of war.
Of course, Hermione was named Head Girl by Headmistress McGonagall when she found out that the Trio was going back. To the surprise of Harry and Ron and the dismay of McGonagall, Hermione declined the offer, saying that she had more important things to attend to than being the head prefect of the school. She went on, asking from Professor McGonagall that they be given more privilege than the majority of the student population of Hogwarts.
McGonagall was not entirely surprised by her request, certainly not as much as Harry and Ron. Hermione insisted that they be granted the ability to go in and out of the school whenever they chose. She did not say why. She only said that there would be times that they would need to go for days to complete a mission that they had been entrusted. Dumbledore's portrait was smiling serenely at them and Ron could swear that the portrait's eyes were twinkling as Hermione made her request.
McGonagall had no choice but to grant her request, since she really couldn't do anything about it. Even Albus Dumbledore did not tell her what he was doing with Harry when he was still alive. She supposed that she should just be putting her trust on these kids to carry on what Dumbledore started. She only made one request of Hermione, Harry and Ron before granting them their request. She asked them to go on through an extensive training far ahead of the 7th year's curriculum, but one she was sure that they would be able to do. She thought that that might aid them in their mission. They would be exempted from the regular classes provided that they attend the special courses that Dumbledore himself made for them should they continue their study at Hogwarts. Dumbledore believed that Hermione and Ron would be the only help that Harry would need when he finally faced Tom Riddle.
The Trio agreed and the deal was settled. Throughout the whole year, the Trio relentlessly worked on finding the Horcruxes, training for the Final Battle, studying for what was to come.
Hermione turned around and faced the Quidditch Pitch. She remembered their relentless training with Mad-Eye and Tonks as well as with Lupin and several of the Order members at that pitch. She remembered Harry, tired after a whole day of training but in his eyes, one could see that he was determined to learn everything and anything that would help in his quest to defeat Voldemort. She remembered when Harry still wanted to continue, although his body was saying otherwise. How she, along with Ron, would convince him to stop for a while and rest – tomorrow, they would continue.
She looked down at the ground and saw no traces of the battle that just happened two weeks ago. It's been two weeks. Just two weeks. And everyone seems to be trying to forget that it ever happened.
A month ago, when they finally destroyed and killed the last Horcrux of Tom Riddle (Dumbledore was right, it was Nagini), Hermione was pretty sure that the last battle between good and evil was already nearing. Ron was scared, deathly scared of what was about to happen. But during the course of the whole year – he matured and became more confident. He shone in his own light and progressed in his magic as well.
Harry was dreading the day when he would be facing Tom. He didn't underestimate his own magic, he finally mastered doing wandless magic in a short span of a year and his magic was now stronger than before, but he also didn't underestimate Tom's magic either. He knew that they were sort of equal now in power but he wasn't entirely sure if he would be able to defeat him given that Riddle had more experience in using and weaving magic, and would resort to Dark methods that Harry would not even consider. A large part of him knew that he needed to vanquish Riddle in order for the whole magical community as well as the Muggle ones to be protected from Tom's evil but there was this little nagging part of him that kept on saying, "What if he failed?"
Hermione, ever the brains in their group, armed them with a lot of information and new spells that would be helpful in their final fight with evil. She found a spell that would aid Harry in his final confrontation with Tom, one that would require the help of her and Ron. Together, they would cast that spell at the right time and the world would finally be rid of Voldemort. She told her boys that this spell would just be a back-up should Harry be unsuccessful in his first attempt to kill Voldemort. She really didn't want to resort to using that since she wasn't at all sure that the spell would work, given that it hadn't been tested yet.
Finally, two weeks ago – the fate of the Wizarding World was determined on the very same ground Hermione was standing on. The Final Battle took place on Hogwarts grounds, where both Harry and Tom had loved and considered home. The very same place where they both learned and studied magic and enhanced the magic that was within them. It was here, Hermione brooded, that Harry took the life of one of the greatest, albeit evil, wizards of all time without having to result to the one desperate spell that she had come up with for the three of them needed to cast, which only proved Harry's power.
After Voldemort's death, the remaining Death Eaters that were caught were gathered and were all sent to Azkaban without trial. All of them were sentenced to death via the Dementor's kiss. Harry had the grim duty of seeing Bellatrix Lestrange, who survived the battle, being kissed as she was shouting profanities and cursing Harry and the others before him Hermione knew she deserved it for killing Sirius Black, Harry's godfather and for all the undocumented terror that she wreaked.
After that, there was a big mass funeral for those who died during battle which was officiated by the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, and which Harry, Hermione and Ron didn't attend. Although they were mourning the loss of a lot of loved ones and friends, they didn't want to be shoved around like celebrities, which they were sure the Minister would do, especially to Harry. So, they quietly stayed indoors at the Gryffindor tower, while everyone was outside on the grounds for the funeral.
Hermione understood why Harry wanted to leave that graduation day. She still saw, no, felt the grief that was in Harry's stature and blank face. He was still mourning the loss of a lot of people that were close to him and those that weren't, but were there to help him fight. He felt like it was his fault, yet again, that those people had to die. He couldn't pretend to be happy for their graduation when all he could see was the bloodshed and carnage that stained the grounds of Hogwarts. No, Harry would much prefer to be alone at the moment where no one would recognize him as Harry Potter, the Savior of the Wizarding World. Where he would just be Harry. Just Harry.
Hermione continued to stand there, just thinking, when Ron came ambling towards her. "'Mione? What are you doing here? Where is Harry?" he asked.
"He left for a while, Ron."
"What?" asked Ron incredulously. "But it's Graduation day and –"
"He just wanted to be alone. He needed to leave, Ron. I'm sure you know why," Hermione replied, still looking at the spot where Harry just stood. She sighed. "Let's just go back. People will be wondering where we are if we don't." She turned and walked back to the direction of the lake.
"But, won't they wonder as well if we don't have Harry with us?" asked Ron as he followed Hermione.
Hermione stopped and looked at Ron. She smiled when she saw the genuine worry that he had on his face for Harry. She walked up to him and slipped her right arm through Ron's left arm. "They will," she answered, "but Harry deserves to have peace and quiet for now. He promised to catch up with us later though. I think that would be after this whole affair." Ron just nodded and together they went back to the Graduation.
Ron and Hermione had gotten together for a brief while at the start of their 7th year. Everybody breathed, "Finally!" but they didn't last long. Their classmates were puzzled at first as to why they had suddenly broken up, but remained friends after that. They both explained that it was like having your sibling in a relationship. Although the snogging part was good, the knowledge of having to kiss one who was like your brother or sister bothered them after a while. They both then agreed that it would just be better if they just stayed friends.
When they arrived at the near side of the lake, Hermione was instantly pulled away from Ron by Ginny. Ginny grabbed her and pulled her into her traditional Weasley bone-crushing hug. After that, she proceeded to greet Ron in the same manner. "Ugh! Ginny! Geroff me! You're making it impossible to breathe!" complained Ron, although he was smiling as he hugged his sister back.
"Oh, I can't believe you guys are already graduating!" she exclaimed, sniffing. "Life at Hogwarts wouldn't be the same without you guys here!"
"Ginny, hush. We'll still try and visit you during your Hogsmeade visits. Then we could catch up. We also get to spend Christmas and this summer together so don't fret," Hermione assured the younger woman.
Ron suddenly looked at Hermione and shrugged, leaving it all up to her to explain. "Harry is…" she started, "well – he left. He just want some moment alone if you know what I mean, Ginny."
"Oh," was the only thing Ginny said. She looked neither disappointed nor sad. If it came down to it – she looked a bit unconcerned.
Everyone knew what Ginny and Harry had the previous year, prior to the trio's last year at Hogwarts. And everyone knew as well that they broke up right after Dumbledore's funeral. When Harry came back to Hogwarts for their 7th year, Ginny was quite ecstatic, assuming that they would get back together. But after 4 months of trying to get Harry's attention and failing each time, she tired of it and resumed to just being his friend. This time, however, no one knew if they were actually going to continue their relationship now that the war was over.
Ginny continued to talk with Hermione and Ron about future plans now that Voldemort was finally gone before the Commencement Exercises began, when she suddenly stiffened upon hearing a voice interrupting them.
"Weasley," the voice drawled from behind her. Hermione immediately noticed the change in Ginny upon hearing the said voice. Ron stiffened as well but returned the acknowledgement nonetheless, "Malfoy."
"Granger," said Draco turning to Hermione. Hermione simply nodded and gave the barest hint of a smile.
"Ginny…" he trailed and slowly, Ginny turned towards him. "Malfoy," she acknowledged quietly. Hermione didn't miss the fact that Draco called Ginny by her first name when he called her and Ron by their last. It seems like there was more to these two people than meets the eye.
Draco looked back at both Hermione and Ron after gazing intently at Ginny. "I just want to congratulate both of you. For the last time and for today, obviously."
"Is that the only reason you dropped by, Malfoy?" asked Hermione, looking at him then to Ginny then back to him. "I think there might be something else that –"
"Hermione, Ron – could you leave us for a second?" interrupted Ginny, her gaze never wavering from Draco. Ron started to protest but stopped when Ginny said, "Please?" Hermione began to pull him away from Ginny and Draco but not without thinking that she would have a long talk to Ginny after all these were over.
Ron turned to her. "Why did you agree with leaving them alone?" he demanded. "Even if he proved himself useful for the past year didn't mean that we have to trust him that much already!"
"I know. But Ginny is a big girl now, Ron. She can take care of herself. So let's just go and find our housemates so we could sit with them throughout the whole program, ok?" Ron started to argue more but Hermione glared at him to just follow her and he just sighed and went with her.
Draco Malfoy came back to Hogwarts during the second term of the past year with the sole intention of speaking only to Harry and no one else. Ron threw a fit when he heard that and Hermione had qualms and doubts as to why Draco would want to speak to Harry. But Harry, being who he was, went out and spoke to Draco with the condition that they speak in the office of the Headmistress. Their meeting lasted the whole afternoon and well into the night. Finally, when they both emerged from the Headmistress' office, the only thing that Harry told them was, "He'll be helping us. He's telling the truth." And left it at that. Since then, Draco only talked and reported to Harry during his entire stay at Hogwarts and Draco proved himself to be true since he had gotten Harry's trust.
"When is the program going to start?" asked Ron impatiently as both he and Hermione sat together with their housemates in the set of seats reserved for the Gryffindor graduates.
Hermione simply rolled her eyes at Ron and said, "Honestly, Ron. You are insufferable!" Ron turned to her and grinned. It had been a while since he last heard Hermione tell him "Honestly!" Hermione saw him grin at her and she smiled in return despite herself. They both waited for the program to begin.
(A/N: Thanks to my wonderful and beloved beta, Lady Starlight. You're the best beta a writer in this site could ever have. Mwah!)