Author's Notes: Many thanks to ubiquirk and DeeMichelle for beta reading and Saracen77 for Brit-picking. This story contains some DH spoilers.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no money.
Hermione wiped away the beads of sweat forming on her brow and surveyed the second-floor room that had, on more than one occasion, been her sanctuary, careful to make certain she would leave none of her possessions behind. Very soon, she had a Portkey to catch, and it wouldn't do for her to miss it as Arthur—he'd insisted she stop calling him Mr Weasley; she was practically family, after all—had seen to the arrangements personally.
Portkey. The mere thought of the word made Hermione's stomach lurch and roil in dreaded anticipation of the jerking sensation that accompanied that particular mode of travel, her mind conjuring images of her Quidditch World Cup journey specifically.
Tick-tock, Granger. Best not dawdle with yet another stroll down memory lane; it's time for goodbyes. Hermione gave a combination sniff-sigh at her inner-taskmaster and shook her head to cleanse her mental palate. Taking one last misty-eyed look, she slowly backed from the room and closed the door with a soft snick.
"All packed then?"
Hermione started at the voice, but then smiled to herself, pleased that he would come here of all places—he held it slightly above Hades and his childhood home as the worst place in existence—to see her off.
She turned to face the prickly Potions professor currently interloping in the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black, a smirk lurking beneath her impassive countenance. "Fancy meeting you here."
The typically dour man's scowl was replaced by an expression of incredulity. "You've got a bloody cheek!"
Hermione pressed the jagged edges of her half-bitten fingernails into the flesh of her palms to suppress the laughter that threatened to flood her voice, only just managing to succeed. "Who, me?"
Professor Snape's gaze tightened, and Hermione imagined its fierce quality could pierce the toughest of flesh and strongest of bone.
"One would think a certain know-it-all would be immensely appreciative that someone cared enough to make sure Messers Potter and Weasley hadn't shut away the Gryffindor Princess in some dank, smelly room of the Black family hovel to keep her from escaping the wonder that is Wizarding Britain."
Hermione rolled her eyes and dramatically clutched her chest nearest to her heart. "Oh, black knight in drab armour, perish the thought!"
"Be glad you aren't in school any longer, young lady, else your house would be twenty-five points lighter and you'd find yourself assigned a rather nasty detention."
"School's definitely out, sir. Thank deity for that."
Professor Snape harrumphed and mumbled something that vaguely resembled 'why do I bother at all' when his off-putting demeanour unexpectedly changed, the seemingly permanent frown lines of his face relaxing while his onyx eyes rounded with softness. "Regardless of what others may say," his voice hardened a touch at the not-so-subtle reference to Professor McGonagall and Mrs Weasley's efforts to dissuade Hermione from her transcontinental move, "I think your relocating to Australia is a solid idea, and I have no doubt you will flourish there, just as you did here."
His rare praise caused Hermione's cheeks to suffuse with warmth, but she didn't dare speak for fear she would do him an injustice should she prattle or her voice shake. She settled instead for a warm smile and a grateful but contemplative tilt of her head.
Professor Snape held her eyes for the briefest of moments. "I'll see you when I see you," he whispered perceptively and disappeared from her view into the blackness of the portrait's background.
She didn't have time to dwell on the obviously deeper meaning behind their exchange as Ron and Harry's bellowing for her floated up from the kitchen.
"Oi! Get down here, woman!"
Hermione raced down the flights of stairs, mindful to slow whilst descending the narrow stone set that led to the basement and kitchen. When she entered the cavernous room, she ducked to avoid the iron pots and pans that hung from the ceiling rack and joined her two best mates at the long wooden bench.
Harry reached across the expansive table and hefted Hermione's beaded bag from her hands, giving it a playful shake. "Sure you've got everything in there? I think you might have missed a SPEW hat or three. If you give me a tick, I might be able to scrounge up a 'Potter Stinks' badge for old time sake."
Hermione stuck out her tongue, snatched the bag back from him and opened it, checking to see that Harry hadn't mucked the arrangement of her things too terribly much. "Ha! Ha! Ha! Very funny, you no-good prat." She slapped away his hands when tried to poke at the bulging exterior of the bag. "You needn't worry; it's all here. I made sure to go from room to room here and at my parents' old place. You know how I like to be thorough."
Harry and Ron eyed one another then flashed Hermione twin knowing smirks.
"Besides, can't have you two coming across any of my smelly old socks or, worse, a pair of racy knickers."
The words racy, knickers and Hermione in the same sentence appeared to nearly do Harry in. His face turned an interesting shade of puce, and Hermione imagined his vigorous head shaking was his attempt to escape an onslaught of inappropriate visuals before he decided a divot in the table's wood warranted closer inspection.
Hermione's knickers comment didn't appear to affect Ron in the slightest. Instead, he jerked his thumb in Hermione's direction and scoffed. "Thorough she says. Obsessive's more like it. I'd be willing to bet a couple of Galleons she has a chart of its contents categorized, labelled and cross-referenced for her convenience."
Harry looked up, careful to avoid direct eye contact with Hermione, and waved off. "Sorry, mate. That action's no good. No one in their right mind would bet against Hermione's penchant for organisation."
Hermione's petulance was unmistakable. "Shut it, you two. I didn't come down here to be the butt end of your last-minute jokes."
She watched Harry and Ron's faces suddenly sober as realisation set in that their long-time friend was really leaving for good. Wanting to not waste the precious few moments they had left, each of the men captured one of her hands in their own and squeezed affectionately.
Harry's voice was thick with emotion. "You'll always have a home here, Hermione. Remember that when things seem completely out of sorts or you just need a quick holiday. I'm only a coin message away," he said, his voice cracking, and with his free hand, he pulled his DA coin from his trouser pocket.
Unexpected tears of thanks filled Hermione's eyes as she pulled her hands from theirs and produced her matching coin as well.
"And I promise to write every week," Ron chimed in for good measure.
Hermione bared her teeth in a shark-like grin and couldn't resist taking the piss with the opportunity Ron provided. "Better be careful. Lav-Lav might get jealous and think you're trying to romance me back on English soil."
Harry winced at her rebuke, drawing his shoulders tightly and hissing inwardly though his teeth. The air was heavy with accusation, and he looked to be waiting for the inevitable war of words, eyes darting frantically back and forth between the former bedfellows.
Fully expecting Ron to throw a wobbly, she was surprised when he didn't swallow the bait, hook, line and sinker. "Still sore over it all, yeah?"
She closed her eyes, chewed the inside of her cheek and debated whether to deliver a cutting retort or reply honestly. As this would be their last moments together for a while, the truth won out. "It stings a bit," she raised a hand to forestall any forthcoming explanation from him, "but things happen for a reason. I'm glad we found out sooner rather than later that we weren't meant to be, and I'm most proud of you for coming direct instead of avoiding the conversation all together."
Ron's sighed, wistfull, heavy. "Good old love-hate. Well, hate mostly. It translated well in the bedroom—beautifully, in fact." Naturally, he waggled his eyebrows. "But in the end, it wasn't enough for either of us to make an honest go of things."
Hermione's tone was a mixture of sadness and relief. "I know, Ron, and I'm honestly not that upset that you've started seeing Lavender again. I don't think you threw me over for her. Besides, she'll be good to you, good for you."
"She's easygoing, less intense and less, erm, complex, not that being with you was ever a chore because it wasn't. But know this, Hermione: I don't regret a single snog or row we ever had, and I would gladly do it all over again so long as we always came out friends in the end."
Hermione reached across the tabletop's length and yanked Ron by his shirtsleeves, pulling him into an intense hug. As Harry was not one to be left out of the thick of things, he threw himself at his two best mates, demanding his share of affection.
The trio laughed, hugged and cried until a soft glow from the counter caught Ron's eye.
"That'd be the Portkey counting down to activation. You've got about a minute and a half. Ready?"
Hermione quickly wiped the tears from each of their faces, lovingly bussed their foreheads and signalled that she was indeed set. She walked over to the counter top to grasp her gateway to a new life and stopped short when she discovered the everyday object Arthur had chosen specifically for her. Hermione's entire body shook as she tightly clutched her sides, barking laughter at his unintentional comedic irony.
"A boomerang? Oh, Ron!"
The redhead's grin was wide. "I know! Harry and George both thought dad was being a bit rich considering all its meanings."
"This is so cheesy, but in the best way. Let him know I loved it, okay."
Both men assured her they would relay the message to Ron's Muggle-loving father as the boomerang started to vibrate and glow brighter as time lessened. The last of the seconds ticked away, and the three of them counted aloud in unison. When one was reached, Hermione gave them both brilliant smiles and winked out of number twelve, Grimmauld Place to her next great adventure.