It was the sight of the house that jolted her the most. When Hermione laid her eyes on the small place her parents had been living in for nearly a year, a dwelling in which they had carried out their lives, completely ignorant of their only daughter's predicament, she felt the emotion well up in her chest. The anticipation and nervous excitement had been present all day, from the moment she had woken up (had she really even slept?) to the moment she had grasped the Portkey with Ron, Ginny, Harry and Kingsley by her side, but now her emotions had morphed into something different. She had expected the jittery excitement: she had not expected to feel the need to sob.
"You alright there?" came Ron's voice.
Hermione couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from the house. She nodded wordlessly.
"Shall we go in then, Hermione?" asked Harry delicately.
"Yeah..." she said slowly. "I'm just...I feel..."
"I know," came Harry's gentle voice.
Hermione glanced at her friend: he was giving her an understanding look, and suddenly she remembered that it had only been five months ago when she had accompanied him to the place his parents had lived, and what an emotional day that had been. Yet her parents were, by the grace of God, alive, and with this realization, and with Harry's pat on the back and Ron's hand in hers, she headed for the door of the house.
It was smaller than her home back in England, yet it was nice. It had a beachy feel to it, and she imagined the inside of it smelled like saltwater and sunscreen. How strange that her parents had taken up residence by the sea.
"Looks promising, Hermione," Ginny said as her eyes roved around the outside of the house.
"And this is definitely their place, Kingsley?" asked Harry.
Kingsley nodded patiently. "We're certain of it." He looked at Hermione questioningly, and when she nodded, he rapped on the door.
There was the sound of a chair scraping the floor, then footsteps could be heard approaching the door in a mere matter of seconds. Hermione's heart was hammering so fast that her breathing increased.
The door opened and a salt-and-pepper-haired man looked out and said, "Yes?"
Hermione's heart jumped to her throat and it was all she could do not to throw herself into her father's arms. Ron could sense this: he placed his arm around her body to steady her.
"Good day, Dr. Wilkins," said Kingsley's deep voice. "My name is Kingsley Shacklebolt. I work for the government. I was wondering whether I might have a word?"
Mr. Granger looked very confused. "Is there a problem?"
"Oh no, sir, quite the contrary," Kingsley returned cheerily. "It's your outstanding reputation in the dental industry that has me coming to call today. I've brought some university students, our most promising bunch—they're eager to find internships, and with the emphasis our government places on dental health and hygiene, we're eager to land them some. May we come in?"
Mr. Granger still looked overwhelmed and flustered, but he recovered his manners quickly. "Oh, yes, of course...please do...I'll go call my wife, she's a dentist too, as I'm sure you know."
Kingsley nodded as Mr. Granger bustled off down the hallway calling, "Monica!"
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny followed Kingsley into the house. It was a one-story place with a small kitchen and family room, but it had a beautiful blue porch that was accessible through at least four sliding glass doors. Harry, Ron, and Ginny sat themselves upon the couch, but Hermione walked around the house, studying it and searching for signs of familiarity. Almost at once, she found her father's newspaper, with the crossword puzzle half-completed. His reading glasses were laying on the table next to it.
"Do you like crossword puzzles, young lady?" her father asked as he shuffled back into the room, leading her mother behind him.
Hermione had to swallow the lump that rose in her throat at the sight of her mother. She blinked rapidly and said to her father, "Yes, they're very enjoyable, I find."
Her father bestowed a cursory smile on her before he settled himself in a cushy blue armchair and addressed Kingsley.
"Mr. Shacklebolt, this is my wife, Monica," he said.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," said Kingsley, shaking hands. He then locked eyes with Hermione, who inched forward into the room, gazing at her parents.
Her mum and dad looked politely bemused and expectant as she walked toward them. In a kind of bizarre stupor, she pulled her wand out of her jeans and pointed it toward them. Before they had time to even look alarmed, she had opened her mouth and voiced two Stunning spells.
Her mother and father slumped into their chairs immediately. Hermione let out a sigh of relief and faced Kingsley and the other three.
"You know what to do now, Hermione?" Kingsley asked her.
She nodded and sat herself upon the glass coffee table that faced her parents' armchairs. She cleared her mind of superfluous, distracting thoughts and feelings, took a deep breath, and set to work.
It took her only a couple of minutes, but the atmosphere in the room was so intense that it seemed longer. Kingsley, Ron, Harry and Ginny sat motionless, hardly breathing. Hermione was conscious of their presence as she worked to restore her parents' memories, all the while trying to keep that one nightmarish thought at bay.
What if...the evil thought always began.
She shut down that brainwave before it could finish itself. She would not think of the alternative, not now, not while she was so diligently working to make her family and her world whole again.
And finally she finished. Shaking slightly with feverish anticipation, she raised her wand and in two quick movements yelled, "Enervate!"
Her parents' eyes snapped open at the same time. They both looked disoriented for the slightest of seconds, and then—
She was engulfed in the same instant by her mother and father, who were hugging her and showering her with kisses, laughing delightedly. They couldn't understand why she was crying.
"Hermione, honey, what's wrong?" said her mum, drawing back and studying her face.
Hermione sniffed. "N-nothing," she stammered, "I've just missed you."
"Missed us?" said Dad. "Didn't we just see you yesterday?"
Hermione wiped at her eyes and looked at her father. "You probably want to sit down again, Dad," she said, "I have a long story to tell you, and you're not going to be very happy with me."
It took hours to relay the events of the past year to Hermione's parents. They sat with identical expressions on their faces: expressions Ron could not quite name. At some points they voiced their horror at certain things that had happened; at other points they were affectionately proud of Hermione. Yet overall, Ron had the sense that they almost felt somewhat betrayed—their only daughter, whom they loved, had prevented them from being able to love her for an entire year.
Ron almost wished that he, Harry, and Ginny had not been privy to the long exchange. Kingsley, who realized his presence would have made Hermione less candid, gracefully bowed out with the promise that he would return that evening. Ron would have done the same, but Hermione needed her three best friends there to help her fill in the gaps and to give legitimacy to her story, her claims, and her motivation for protecting her parents.
When she was finished, and while her parents still looked heartbroken and stunned, Hermione turned her attention to her friends. She looked pleadingly at Ron and he instantly understood what she needed.
"Do you think you could—" she began.
"Of course," said Ron, jumping to his feet. Nodding at Harry and Ginny, he said, "Let's go roam the beach." As they filed out of the room, he called back to Hermione, "Message me when it's alright for us to come back, okay?"
She gave him a loving smile. "Okay."
As he closed the door, Ron glanced at the scene in the room: Hermione was holding both of her parents' hands in hers; they shuffled their chairs closer towards her, and her mother bent her head down, praying for restoration.
Ron, Harry, and Ginny managed to entertain themselves for hours before Ron felt the fake Galleon from his fifth year suddenly warm in his pocket.
"Oh, hold on, this'll be Hermione," he told the other two, who were wolfing down their ice cream cones.
Hi, her message read, Dramatic emotional scene over with. They're okay. Please come home?
Ron smiled as he inscribed a message back: Be there soon. I'll bring ice cream! Chocolate or vanilla?
"Will you get that stupid grin off your face?" Ginny said to him. "You look like a moron."
"Shut it," said Ron as he received Hermione's reply: Chocolate. He started to walk back to the ice cream booth to buy another cone, but halfway there he received a follow-up message: And thanks, Ron…both for the ice cream and for being so wonderful today. I love you.
His heart thumped as he read the words quickly. He had never seen her write "I love you" before, and actually seeing the words caused a different exhilaration in him than when he heard them spoken aloud. Feeling giddy, he paid for a chocolate cone and headed back toward Harry and Ginny.
"She says we can go back now," he told them. "Shall we Disapparate?"
"Yeah, that'll make things easier," said Harry. "Just make sure you don't mess up that cone."
The lights were still on in the house when they Pop!—appeared in the street a minute later. Ron wasn't sure if that meant Hermione's parents were in bed yet or not. The three of them ventured up the path to the door and Ron tapped upon it lightly.
Hermione opened it five seconds later. She looked weary but relieved and smiled at the sight of them. "How was the exploring?" she asked as they filed past her into the house, Ron handing her the ice cream cone in the process.
Harry shrugged. "Pretty cool. I'm looking forward to going back to the beach."
"We can go tomorrow," Hermione assured him.
"Did Kingsley come back?" Ron asked her.
"I did," came a booming voice. Startled, Ron looked around: Kingsley was seated at the kitchen table, drinking tea.
"Oh," said Ron stupidly, "Missed you there."
The four friends migrated to the table and sat themselves around Kingsley. He stared into his tea mug before raising his head and addressing them.
"We're going to leave it up to you four to decide when you want to return home," Kingsley explained. "There are procedures in place which will keep you protected—and believe me, you will certainly be watched."
Harry smiled humorlessly, but nodded his understanding.
"So we're here indefinitely?" Ginny asked. When Kingsley nodded she continued, "And my parents are okay with that?"
"Molly isn't jumping up and down, but she has other things to worry about," said Kingsley.
Ginny looked at Ron. "This might be some nice time for Mum and Dad, I guess. You know, to heal."
Ron shrugged uncomfortably: every time Fred was referenced, Ron felt like he was wearing an invisible coat that he needed to throw off right away.
"And Hermione's parents have been informed of everything that's going on?" Harry asked Kingsley.
"They have," he confirmed. "And they understand perfectly that this is still a delicate time. But frankly, staying in another country might be best for the four of you right now. It's not only safer, but it will probably keep you away from the media until things start to calm down somewhat."
They asked him a few logistical questions for the next few minutes and then Kingsley rose from his chair, heeded them to be ever-vigilant, and took his leave. The Grangers had already gone to bed, emotionally depleted and exhausted. Hermione was left to play hostess: she showed her friends the two extra bedrooms which the four of them would be staying in.
"I'm guessing we can find extra pillows and blankets in the closets," she said uncertainly, "but really, just help yourselves. I feel like a stranger here right now, too."
"Oh, Hermione," said Ginny, putting an arm around her waist and hugging her. "Everything's going to go back to normal soon enough. We're going to have fun. I promise you."
Hermione returned the hug but looked at Ron. He knew she wanted to unwind from the stress.
"Come on," said Ron, pulling her by the hand and leaving Harry and Ginny behind, "Let's go relax on the couch."
They headed back into the family room, where Hermione collapsed on the sofa, kicking her shoes off and adjusting the pillow below her neck. Ron made his way into the kitchen and foraged for tea bags, kettle, and mug, then set about making tea.
After fixing the kettle, he turned around and saw her watching him, a tired but pleasant smile on her face.
"When did you get so domestic?" she asked him.
Ron laughed. "I'm not domestic, Hermione," he said. "I just want to take care of you."
She beamed. Her fingers extended toward him, so he walked into the family room, sat himself on the coffee table across from her, and grasped her hand.
"It was a long day, wasn't it?" he asked her.
She shook her head yes, like he was her father talking to her after a rough day at school.
"Did it go over well with your parents?"
Hermione's eyes roved around the room as she composed her answer.
"They're upset with me," she told him. "Upset that I put myself in so much danger and kept them out of my life. But I think they understand. They said this is all really painful, but that they're really proud of me and are so happy I'm okay."
She swallowed the lump in her throat and wiped at her eyes. Ron rubbed her fingers with his hands. The tea kettle sounded from the kitchen.
He brought her the mug of tea and she gratefully took a sip. Ron kicked off his trainers and climbed over her body so that he could lay down next to her on the inner side of the couch. She placed her hand in his hair at once, and he snuggled into her side, claiming her waist with his arm and resting his head somewhere between her neck and her breasts.
"Thank God you're here," Hermione whispered into his hair.
He responded by clutching her more tightly.