***EPILOGUE***

OOOOO

As it transpired, Snape had been absolutely right about Ron. Fewer than six months later, the owls started arriving. Hermione supposed he must have gotten her address from Harry. And she supposed she really ought to be cross with Harry about that, but try as she might, she simply couldn't manage it. It also occurred to her that she should perhaps write back to Ron and thank him for freeing her to become "truly happy." Those had been his own words, after all, on that fateful night when he'd returned from Australia and ripped her world to shreds. Don't we both deserve to be truly happy?

But she could no more bring herself to do that than she could bring herself to be upset with Harry. It would have been a snide thing to do, pointlessly snide, and she was just too blissfully content, too suffused with well-being, too much at peace, to waste time or energy on such unpleasantness. She only read the first letter; skimmed it, really. Took note of certain phrases - such a fool, love you so much, miss you like crazy, lost without you, worst mistake of my life, second chance, please Hermione, please. Smiled and shook her head before sending his owl back empty-handed. Or empty-taloned, as the case may be. The flurry of owls that followed the first one, she simply sent back return-to-sender, still bearing the letters he'd written her, unopened. But she was kind to the birds, and allowed them to rest from their long journey, and gave them food and water before sending them on their way. That's just the sort of person she was. Eventually, they stopped coming.

Which was just as well with her. Not only was she wearing a lovely new wedding ring in place of the one she'd given away, but she was very busy these days. She thought she might return to teaching someday, but for the time being she was pursuing other interests, quite happily. Following the example of her new husband, she'd found that free-lance "consulting" work, in both the wizarding and Muggle sectors of society, was beneficial both financially, and in terms of allowing ample free time for other pursuits. Which was good, because lately she'd been doing a lot of personal reading - more, even, than was usual for her.

Titles such as, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (from the Muggle bookstore down the street) and "The Complete Pregnancy Handbook for the Modern Witch" (ordered by owl post). Things like that.

They already knew that the child she carried within her was a girl, and had been conceived within a day or two of Christmas. They had already settled on a name; appropriately enough, Noelle. Standing in front of the loft's vast windows, more than twice as tall as she was, watching the city's lights twinkle and glow each evening, as both her stomach and the sense of fierce, nearly uncontainable joy within her swelled ever larger, she almost laughed remembering how overwhelmed she'd been by the sheer volume of those lights when she'd first arrived. Now she thought they were among the most beautiful things she'd ever seen. She could afford to be magnanimous.

Because even the doorless bathroom didn't bother her any longer. Halfway around the world from where she had always assumed she'd live out her life, in the arms of the last man she would ever have expected, she had finally come home.