Hermione glanced around at the scene unfolding before her. She had just flooed to The Burrow, and it was as usual, a hotbed of flurried activity. From the looks, and sound of it, Fred and George had somehow managed to charm the pots and pans into clanging together anytime Ron tried to speak. Mrs. Weasley was nearly beside herself, taking turns yelling at Fred and George while trying to keep Ron from speaking again.
Growing up an only child, Hermione was used to calm, dignified dinners with only her parents in attendance. The Burrow was notorious for not only having rambunctious dinners, not to mention a houseful of people, few of whom could ever be termed 'dignified.'
Without realizing it, Hermione let out a rather undignified laugh of her own. She couldn't help it – just being at The Burrow made all her problems seem to melt away. Her muggle parents didn't have the slightest idea of what was going on in the wizarding world, and she had felt so alone the past few weeks. She loved her parents, and she knew her parents loved her, but she belonged in a different world than they did. Now that she was 20 years old, she felt like it was time to face the wizarding world on her own.
"Hermione!" Harry shouted, running to give her a hug. She could always count on Harry to be happy to see her. Harry was in much the same boat as she was. Although he wasn't a Muggleborn, he was raised by muggles, and he had been a bit of an outsider in the wizarding world. Of course, his name was known by every wizard and witch in the world, so that only served to alienate him further in some aspects. She knew he felt alone sometimes, and she could sympathize with the feeling.
"Harry!" She screamed, hugging him back in return. She noticed the hubbub had died down considerably, and she turned to face everyone once Harry had released her. Instead of running to welcome her like she expected, they all just stared at her with mouths agape. She stood there doing her best not to fidget under their stares. She was mere seconds away from apparating back home when George finally spoke up.
"Hermione?" He asked hesitantly, almost as if she would disappear when he said her name.
"Yes, George, it's me. And don't even try to say you're Fred, I know you're George." She said, giving him her best smile. She couldn't figure out why everyone was acting so weird. It wasn't like they hadn't seen her hug Harry before. Naturally, she and Harry were close, but she and Ron were as well. She and Ron had dated briefly a few years ago, but they quickly realized they made better friends than lovers. She and Harry had never dated, though, and neither one of them ever felt anything more than platonic feelings for each other.
After another full second of staring, George finally broke into a smile. "Hermione! It's really you! Merlin, look at you! We almost-"
"Didn't recognize you." Fred finished, looking at his twin brother with an identical grin on his face. They were always finishing each other sentences, and they were forever causing trouble in the house. If they were quiet, then everyone knew something big was about to happen.
"Oh, well, it's still me, the good ol' bookworm." She replied, laughing a little uneasily. She was starting to feel very self-conscious now. The Burrow had been a place of refuge because she always felt so secure, so welcomed here, but now she just felt…alone again.
"You sure don't look like a bookworm to me!" George said as he continued grinning. Unfortunately, his comment sparked a little temper in Ron, who was known for his unpredictable temper, and he started to speak. Before she could move, Hermione was suddenly surrounded by banging pots and pans.
Mrs. Weasley's shrieking voice could be heard above all the ruckus, and the twins' intermittent pleas for help. After recovering her senses, Hermione quickly whipped out her wand, and muttered a spell to stop the pots and pans.
"I have never seen a more irresponsible…" Mrs. Weasley's voice faded away as the clanging pots and pans were charmed back into their original places by Hermione. She quickly gathered her wits, then turned around to give her a hug. "Thank you, Hermione, I'm so glad at least one civilized person decided to join us for the summer."
"Do you always have to make us look bad?" Fred whined, shooting Hermione a mock glare.
"No, Fred, you make yourself look bad. I just make you look worse." Hermione shot back, returning his mock glare with a smile.
As expected, her comment was meant with peals of laughter. Ron especially seemed to enjoy the comment. "Seriously, 'Mione, what happened to you?" George said, giving her the once-over yet again.
"Nothing happened to me, George. I've already told you." Hermione huffed, getting a little put out at the line of questioning.
"Yeah, well, 'Mione, you really do look, err, nice." Ron said, his face instantly blushing to the color of his hair.
Hermione looked down at herself, then looked at Harry, who was grinning like a fool. "I think they're trying to say that you look great. I saw you over the summer, so I wasn't surprised, but you do look a little different…in a good way." Harry added when he saw Hermione's face.
"Oh, well, thanks, I think." Hermione stammered, desperately wanting to get out from under the spotlight. Ginny, sensing her discomfort, waved Hermione towards the stairs.
"Follow me, Hermione, I'll show you to my room." Hermione hurriedly followed Ginny up the stairs, happy to be away from the stares for the moment.
"Wow, Harry, you didn't tell us Hermione got hot over the summer!" Fred exclaimed, earning a painful jab in the side from Ron.
"Um, well, it's kind of hard to think of Hermione in those terms. I think of her as a sister, so it didn't really cross my mind to tell you." Harry said, laughing at Ron, who was still glaring at Fred.
"Well, I don't care what you think about her new look, I suggest you boys quit trying to make her feel uncomfortable. I'm just so glad she's come here to stay with us, and I don't want you lot messing it up!" Mrs. Weasley said in a firm voice, keeping her hands on her hips in her typical stance.
The boys, not wanting to further enrage her, wisely decided to step outside for a quick Quidditch match. Ginny and Hermione, however, were upstairs getting reacquainted.
"What do you mean you're moving out on your own?" Ginny practically yelled. "I thought you were going to stay with us for a while."
"Ginny, I would love to, you know I would, but it's time for me to get my own place. Maybe you could move in with me?" She asked, anxiously waiting to hear what Ginny's answer would be.
"Really? I would love to! It would be great! We could…" Ginny's voice trailed off as her smile was replaced by a frown. "Oh, I can't!"
"Why not?" Hermione questioned, trying to keep the earnestness out of her voice.
"I already promised Mom I'd help her with Bill and Fleur's wedding. It's only a few months away, and everyone is pitching in to help. She would never forgive me if I moved out now." Ginny said, glum thinking about having to stay in The Burrow.
"Don't worry, Ginny. I'm sure that it won't be that bad. Besides, if I can't find a roommate, you can always move in after the wedding." She added, trying to add a hopeful note to her voice. Ginny didn't look convinced but let it drop anyway.
"So, are you going to tell me how you ended up looking so fabulous in just a few short months?" Ginny inquired, wiggling her eyebrows.
Hermione laughed at Ginny's question. When Ginny was 10, she was so shy she barely talked. Now, she was not only outgoing, but downright nosy when she wanted to be. She also knew some outstanding hexes that even the twins were afraid of.
"Well, you know I went to Spain with my parents in May, and we ended up staying a little longer to see Greece and some parts of Italy. I guess the Mediterranean agreed with me." Hermione said, still feeling a little embarrassed about her appearance.
She knew she had changed a bit over the summer, but she didn't expect that anyone would really notice. Her once-bushy hair had finally tamed down a little, due to its length and a recently-learned taming spell. She had grown a little bit, even though she was still a relatively short 5'4". The warm Mediterranean sun had given her a nice healthy glow, and she had finally taken up jogging, albeit against her will.
Jane Granger, her mother, had gone to the doctor for her annual check-up, only to find out her cholesterol was high. The next thing Hermione knew, they were traipsing around Southern Europe, eating organic food, and jogging every morning. While Hermione was more than happy to give up the disgusting organic food, she realized she actually enjoyed jogging. It gave her time to get her thoughts in order, as well as plan the rest of her day.
"Well, you could certainly say that!" Ginny exclaimed, dragging Hermione over to her bed. "So, any boys in particular you are trying to impress?"
Hermione again laughed at the question. "No way, Ginny. Don't even think of trying to set me up with anyone."
"What about Ron?" Ginny pressed, hoping for a reaction.
"Merlin, no! He and Harry have been my best friends in the whole world, but I don't feel that way about them, you know that."
"You know Ron still fancies you." Ginny said bluntly.
"That may be, but I only like him as a friend."
"So you're serious about moving out on your own? Does this mean you're going to start having a little fun now?" She couldn't help but tease Hermione.
"Very funny! I'll have you know that I plan on having a lot of fun." Hermione shot back, hoping Ginny wouldn't want specifics. No such luck.
"Oh yeah? Doing what?"
"I've been thinking about getting myself a boyfriend on my own." Hermione lied. She had absolutely no intention whatsoever of getting a boyfriend, but she knew that would satisfy her friend's curiosity for the moment.
"Excellent! You need to date more!" Ginny declared, then launched into a thirty-minute explanation of which clubs to visit, which ones to ignore, and a few good pick-up lines. Hermione was never so relieved for dinner.
As usual, the dinner at The Burrow was anything but ordinary. While there wasn't a full-blown food fight, thank goodness, only Hermione, Harry, George, and Mrs. Weasley managed to escape unscathed. Hermione couldn't remember when she had had so much fun. Now that the war was over, everyone was so relaxed and nearly carefree. The Weasleys had even finally come to terms with Percy's betrayal, even though his name still wasn't spoken in the house.
After dinner, they all moved into the sitting room adjoining the kitchen for some wizards' chess and exploding snap. Everything was going along so well until…
"Hermione, dear, how long are we getting to keep you this time?" Arthur Weasley piped up, sending her a brilliant smile. She was so glad to see that smile after 5 long years of heartache and sorrow.
"Well, I'm actually going to be hunting for a flat, starting tomorrow, so I don't know how long I'll be here." Hermione said, hoping her voice sounded firm. She really hadn't planned on telling everyone what she was doing until it was already underway. Mrs. Weasley was bound to be against the idea, and she could be quite the formidable opponent when she wanted to be.
"Oh dear, why don't you stay with us? There's no need to be hunting for a flat just yet. You can stay with us until you've gotten a job and settled on your feet." Mrs. Weasley interjected.
"Actually, Mrs. Weasley, I got a job last week. I'm working with the International Quidditch League as a mediwitch." Hermione said, waiting for the inevitable outburst.
"What?" exclaimed George.
"Seriously?" Ron asked.
"That's awesome!" Harry shouted over the others. Hermione purposefully ignored the look Ginny shot her since she hadn't told her beforehand.
"So, are you assigned to one team?" Ron asked, leaning forward eagerly.
"No, it's actually on a rotation basis at first, so I can live in London until I get a permanent placement. They're really short-handed right now with the fallout from war, so I was able to get fast-tracked based on my test scores."
"Maybe you'll be with the Chudley Cannons!" Ron said, giving Hermione a wink.
"Maybe, Ron." Hermione said, trying to ignore the wink. The last thing she needed was Ron falling for her again. "I just need to find a good flat mate, and then I'll be out of your hair."
Before Mrs. Weasley could protest again, Harry cut in. "I'll be your flat mate, 'Mione."
Hermione glanced in shock at Harry, and noticed everyone else had as well. "Oh Merlin, we're just friends!" Harry shouted exasperatedly. "I need a roommate, too, and since I'm playing for the League now, you could try out some healing charms on me!" He nudged Hemione with his elbow.
"Well, that's…" Hermione hesitated. She wouldn't mind living with Harry, especially since he was a lot neater than Ron. He was making plenty of money playing Quidditch, so paying the rent wouldn't be a problem. She didn't have any romantic feelings for him, so that wasn't an obstacle. Why was she hesitating again? "Terrific! I would love to share a flat with you!"
Harry jumped up and hugged Hermione, not noticing Ron's or Ginny's faces as they fell.