Author's Note: Hey! Listen, I know Harry winds up as an Auror. But he's young. That doesn't mean he comes to that decision right away, or that he takes it lightly.
"I think I'm going to get a job at Flourish and Blotts," she said as they got off the plane in London. She had been taken aback when she had taken a good look in the mirror that morning. Her skin was quite tan and her hair was much lighter than it had been when she had left England a week ago. She and Ron had spent a great deal of time on the beach once she had come to terms with her parents. She hoped that things would work out with them, but for now, she was happy just to take things one day at a time.
"What, for the summer?" Ron asked. Hermione nodded, her near-blond hair falling out of its clip a bit. Her parents were walking behind them, looking groggy, but Hermione was wide awake. She was ready to see Harry again --- she had missed him quite a bit.
"Hermione," said her mother as they moved down the escalator, "Are you sure you don't want to come home with us?"
Hermione smiled a bit. "I'm sure, mom. I'm going to stay with Ron and his family and I'm going to get a summer job in our world," she said. They smiled a little, and Hermione could see a shadow of regret on their faces.
"You'll write, won't you?" her father said.
"Of course I will. Every week. But this is something I need to do."
They nodded a bit, and Hermione looked up. She saw Harry standing with his hands in his pockets, watching them descend with that quirky smile on his face. Hermione grinned and slipped between the people in front of her, muttering "excuse me" and "pardon me" as she did so, running to him once she reached the bottom.
"I've missed you!" she said as she jumped into his arms. As always, he caught her.
"I missed you too, 'Mione," he said. He clapped Ron on the shoulder once he reached them, then looked up to the Grangers, who were keeping their distance.
"Did things go okay?" he asked. Hermione had sent him a short, slightly distressed letter the day after she and Ron had arrived in Australia, and she was sure that Harry had been worried about them.
Hermione bit her lip and gave a non-committal shrug that plainly said 'we'll talk about it later over something alcoholic', and motioned for her parents to come over, which they did.
"Mom, dad, you remember Harry, don't you?"
They nodded, and they both shook hands with Harry, who had a very protective arm around their daughter.
"Yes. Its lovely to see you again. Hermione told us all about what... well, what happened."
Harry smiled sadly and nodded. "Well, we're all just glad that its over, aren't we?"
Ron nodded quickly. "Absolutely."
"Well... um," Mr. Granger started, "We're going to go get our bags and go home, I think. We'll hear from you soon, Hermione?" he said. She nodded.
"Yes. Soon. I'll send Pig."
"Don't ask," said Ron. Hermione grinned and hugged her parents goodbye. She knew that they were watching her as she walked away, with one arm around Harry and one around Ron, and Hermione hoped they saw that she was happy. She hoped that they could accept that she was no longer theirs, but she belonged to the two men beside her as a sister and a lover, and that their family was hers now.
"Well, I thought we'd spend a few days at Grimmauld place, you know," Harry said as they approached his small rental car. He pulled out the keys that Hermione quickly snatched from him,
"Do you even have a permit, Harry?" she asked. His eyes didn't leave the keys.
"No, but I can drive."
She sighed and shook her head, climbing into the driver's seat. "At least I have a permit. You better let me drive."
"But I want to drive," he protested, leaning in through her door and trying to capture the keys again.
"No," she said, turning the car on. Harry glared at her before climbing into the back seat.
"Girls are so pushy," he said childishly as Ron climbed into the front passenger's seat.
"Tell me about it," he said.
Hermione glanced in the rear view mirror and saw Harry grin at her.
"Ginny's waiting there," Harry said, looking at Ron, "She's not doing so well. She can't sleep. She's usually so... active, but she's exhausted, so I thought a change of scenery might help."
"And you left her there alone?!" Ron cried, turning to face Harry. "Why?!"
"Ron," Hermione said softly, "There's no reason to panic anymore."
Ron looked at her for a moment, then turned around in his seat. Hermione drove and the boys rode in silence for a few moments. They all just stared ahead, and Harry, for a moment, realized that he had felt that his decision to leave her there was stupid and dangerous. What if the Death Eaters... Voldemort...
"Its going to take a while to get rid of that impulse to panic, I guess," he said. Hermione nodded sadly.
"It will, won't it?" Ron said. They had become so used to being afraid of being left alone at any time --- of being left vulnerable and without support --- that it had become an instinct to panic when it was mentioned that someone they cared about was on their own anywhere.
"Is it still protected?" Hermione asked. Harry nodded.
"Muggles still can't see it, but its not like anyone we don't want coming knows about it, and anyone we do want knows where it is and how to get there. So what does it matter?"
"What about the protection inside..." she said, trailing off.
Harry smiled a bit. "I left the dust Dumbledore, if thats what you're asking. I think having him jump out at unaware people would be something Dumbledore himself would have liked. So until everyone has been startled by the dust bunny,he stays."
Ron laughed, but Hermione scowled. "You think frightening people with the figure of someone they cared about who died is funny,, Harry?"
Harry considered her question for a moment.
"Yeah. I do."
When they finally made it through the London traffic to Grimmauld place, Hermione was swearing.
"Where the hell do these people learn to drive?!" she asked, parallel parking expertly, "I mean really, all cars come equipped with a turn signal for a reason."
Ron was trying his hardest not to laugh at her. It had been so long since they had all had the luxury of just being themselves and not having a small part of themselves on guard that he truly couldn't remember what normal Hermione was like.
They got out of the car and Hermione looked around, unwilling to let a muggle see them enter a door that wasn't really there as far as they were concerned. The war may be over, but violation of the statute of secrecy could still land them all in jail.
When they entered, Kreacher met them with a bow.
"Welcome home," he said in his scratchy voice. Hermione smiled at him fondly, remembering the way he had led the house elves into battle against the Death Eaters. He was quite brave for one so small and old.
"Good evening, Kreacher," she said, hanging her coat on the rack by the door. She tossed the beaded bag onto an counter with a disproportionate klunk and collapsed into a chair in the kitchen as Ginny entered from the other door. Her eyes looked tired, but she smiled none the less.
"Hey," she said, approaching her brother and hugging him tight. Harry had never known the two of them to be particularly close or affectionate, but he knew that Fred's death had probably changed both their perspectives permanently. So what if they annoyed the hell out of each other? You never really knew what would happen tomorrow.
"Hey. Have fun while we were gone?" he asked.
She nodded a bit, "Yeah. Looks like you had fun too," she said, seeing his sunburned cheeks and slapping him hard on the back. He winced an jolted a bit, and Ginny grinned an impish grin, and sat down beside Hermione, seizing a chocolate cookie off of the golden plate in the center of the table.
"You look tan and blond, Hermione," Ginny said, munching. Hermione grinned a bit.
"Yeah," she said as Kreacher sauntered into the room.
"What would masters like for dinner?" he asked.
"What are the options?" Ginny inquired.
"Anything," he said. She looked to Harry.
"You two pick something," he said, nodding to the young women at the table, "'Cause me and Ron, we'll eat anything."
The joke shop had seen a boom in business since the fall of Voldemort, since everyone was quite keen on celebrating. George was quite happy that day to be closing. It had not been a good day.
Some days were better than others. That was to be expected, he knew. Some days he would wake up and be ready to take on the world. Others... well, he would wake up and wonder why he even bothered.
The bell on the door of the shop rang as it opened. They had been closed for a half an hour, but George wasn't used to locking the door yet. That had been Fred's job. He wondered how many months it would take for him to remember to lock the door without repeating it to himself for hours.
"We're closed," he said without even looking up.
"Even for me?" said a familiar voice. George jumped.
It was Alicia Spinnet, his former Quidditch teammate and friend. He grinned wearily and stepped out from behind the counter. She spoke with just a hint of an Italian accent. Last he had heard, she had taken a year to be in Venice.
"I guess I can make an exception just this once."
She was quickly hugging him tight, and George appreciated her embrace. Of all the girls he had known in his time at Hogwarts, she was the one had had known, appreciated and liked the best, and seeing her face lifted his spirits more than he wanted to admit to himself.
"I couldn't make it back in time, George. I'm so sorry," she said. He squeezed her tighter for a moment before letting go.
"Its ok." he said with a small shrug.
"No, its not," she said, "I wanted to be here for you and for... well, for Fred's funeral, but I couldn't make it. I wanted to help fight, but... I don't know, George. Every day I said, I'll go tomorrow and every day I was just so... so..."
"Scared," he finished for her, "Alicia, I know. Its okay. You had always wanted to go to Italy for a year and you were there before things got bad How could you have possibly talked yourself into leaving a place that you wanted to be in so badly just to come back here and risk being killed?"
Her expression gave away that this was something that bothered her deeply, "I'm so sorry. I feel so horrible, George."
George hugged her again, but didn't let go.
"Don't. I'm glad you didn't come back in time to fight. I'm glad you weren't at Fred's funeral. I'm glad you're okay."
not. It could have been me instead of someone's mother or daughter or
"You're a daughter and a sister and a friend and maybe someday you'll be a mother," he said.
"I'm not a good daughter," she laughed a little against her will, "Remember when I flew into my mother's window and ripped the curtains? Then I told her it was okay because they were hideous and I hated them anyway?"
"And she had made them herself."
"Thats why they were so ugly." she said, chuckling, "She never did have much taste."
"How is your mother?" he asked. Alicia swallowed, and he knew that the news was not good.
"Not well. Thats part of why I didn't come back. She's taken quite ill and there's nothing the healers can do. I just... I can't see her like this. I was never as strong as the rest of you."
"Of course you were. You are. Just I a different way," George said. She took a few steps toward the counter and hopped up on it.
"I'll have to go see her," she said, "Find a life here again. I want to. I'm ready to come back," she said. George grinned.
"I'm so glad to hear it," he said, kissing his best friend's forehead, "I live upstairs, actually. There's a bed with your name on it. Or there can be in just a few flicks of a wand."
Alicia giggled. "I'll take you up on that offer," she said. "Is it Fred's room?"
George nodded. "Yeah, but I've all ready cleaned it out. He would have wanted me to move on quickly, you know. Keep going what ever it took."
Alicia smiled a bit. "Yeah. And what better way to move on than to have me there to annoy you in his place."
"Exactly. The apartment is so empty now. And quiet. I'm not used to quiet. Not after the Burrow and living with Fred."
"Well, I promise I'll make as much noise as I can," she said, picking up a box of small, not-so-dangerous fireworks off the counter. Fred has designed them mainly to amuse small children, and parents often picked them up as they were checking out.
"Real, fiery butterflies?" she said, examining one side of the box. He smiled.
"Yeah. They erupt from the box and fly in circles about 10 feet in the air. They're pretty cool, actually. I can show you once the sidewalks outside are a little clearer."
She smiled a bit. "Sure. Any other new, fun inventions?"
George grinned a genuine, friendly grin fo the first time since the battle. He instantly began pulling things off the shelves to show her all that he and Fred had created over the past few years, finally available to the masses.
After giving her a full tour and explanation of their better items, George looked to her, letting a small silence settle over them. There were still a few voices filtering in from the streets.
"Well, what do you think?" he asked.
"I think I want to work here with you," she said. He smiled again.
"It'll pay my rent."
"Pffft. Who cares about rent? I own the building."
She began to laugh, and so did he, and for quite a long time, they didn't stop. Somehow, in their laughter, they began to sing a song that they had once sang with their team their first year of playing Quidditch at Hogwarts. They sang loudly and enthusiastically, though out of tune with one another, reduced to acting like children playing outside. They ran from each other through the shelves for a long time, laughing and singing and, for the first time in a long time, celebrating being alive and together.