Author's note: Thank you to respitechristopher for helping me finish mine, though he doesn't how. Inspiration comes to me at odd times and in even stranger ways.

"I'm sorry," Hermione whispered just before the tears that had been blurring her vision rolled down either cheek. Harry missed the soft words as he swept out of the tent and into the cold, turning his back in a way that felt like a door being slammed in her face. She let her face drop into her hands then, weeping until her throat was tight and her hitching breaths had settled into the occasional soft hiccup.

This was not how it was supposed to go. This night, their seventh year at Hogwarts, any of it. First they'd lost Ron—her thoughts of him froze instinctively before she could let that pain get a foothold—now it seemed they might lose each other. However much he claimed to understand the nature of the accident, Hermione knew Harry finding out his wand was broken was the final blow to what little hope he may have been holding on to. He could never know how sorry she was for what had happened. She only wished she could do something about it.

There was a time when life was different. Her life was different. She'd been ordinary. Boring, though she never would've admitted as much. She was the bright child of two unassuming parents who sometimes spoke without thinking—or after thinking far too much—and never gave a moment's hesitation if she knew she could help someone. There had been times when Hermione felt the only reason most people became friends with her was because they knew they could always count on her for something; if it wasn't blunt advice, it was help with homework or some other triviality.

Now she was helpless, useless in the face of the one thing Harry needed her help for the most. The threads that normally held her life together in ordered harmony had been slowly unraveling over the past several months, finally giving up any semblance of structure as she watched her best friend cry over his parents' shared grave. In that moment, Harry's pain had become her own. The loss he'd truly felt for the first time had given rise to Hermione's suddenly renewed grief over letting go of her parents. As she handed him the rose wreath, it had taken all she had to not break down.

Hermione hadn't thought it was possible to feel her heart break, but as she watched Harry grieve his parents, the pain that had wracked her body swelled to an immeasurable peak and she'd had to turn away. She'd left him to his pain, putting hers aside until she could deal with it in her own way.

Harry had needed her to be strong; he always did. Over the years, Hermione learned that being strong for him required pulling further and further away from the people who made her who she was, who'd given her the strength to achieve what she had over the years. They'd been the guides who gave her the moral direction she required. They instilled the bravery she'd come to rely on as her strength and faith wavered with each new challenge. They'd pretended to understand as she withdrew into the world she'd inherited, trusting that Hermione would always come back to them, reminding her when they dropped her off at King's Cross that their love and support would always be hers, unconditional and constant.

It pained her to think of her parents as she'd last seen them, laughing over a light lunch that last bright summer day. It reminded her of yet another thing she and Harry had in common. Hermione and her parents hadn't gotten a proper goodbye. As much as they'd tried over the years, she knew they never would've understood what she had to do for him, what she had to do for herself, being aware of the risks involved. She hadn't bothered attempting to explain, knowing the pained expressions on their faces would haunt her forever. Instead, Hermione had kissed her each of parents on one cheek, smiling brightly at their puzzled expressions before erasing herself from their lives with the most difficult series of spells she'd ever attempted. When she was done, she left the house she'd been raised in, leaving her parents to pack their belongings and leave behind a daughter who hadn't remained so much as a memory of a dream.

Hermione imagined they were celebrating Christmas morning, basking in the warmth of an Australian summer. They'd smile at each other over their morning tea, while a world away, their only child cried for them. An idea came to her. It was silly, but somehow the thought of writing a Christmas card to her parents seemed like the most rational thing in the world. Perhaps one day she'd even give it to them, part apology, part explanation for the year of their life they had lost.

She glanced towards the front of the tent. There was no sound save for the thrashing about of branches in the high wind outside. She pulled her beaded bag from beneath the bunk and rummaged in it until she found parchment, a quill and ink. Hermione folded the parchment in half and placed it on the small table. It wasn't a proper Christmas card, but it would have to do. After several long moments of staring at the blank page, she dipped her quill in ink and began writing.

Dear Mum and Dad,

I never knew it before, but I'm lost without you. We haven't had the ideal relationship the past few years; I should know, I stopped trying. I pretended like you couldn't understand any of it when the truth is, I didn't want to put in the effort. I am so sorry. You'll never know how much. I'm sorry for putting you through so much worry and then refusing to explain. That probably made your concern worse. It was for my peace of mind as much as anything else. I couldn't stand to make you worry. I'm sorry for shutting you out of all of the wonderful things that have happened to me over the years.

She glanced towards the front of the tent where Harry was no doubt thinking their friendship was less than wonderful at the moment. Hermione couldn't blame him, if that was true, though she was doing her best. She could hardly be of help to him after what she'd done and the state she was in. She could barely keep herself together. Hermione went back to her letter.

I love you and I miss you more than I could ever say. Dad, I remember when you first put me on the train for school and you said not to be worried that I didn't come from a family of wizards. I would shine brighter than any star in the sky if I did my best at everything and remembered how proud you were and always would be. I think of that every day now. Mum, I remember all the letters you wrote encouraging me to be strong for Harry and telling me it was all right to use my heart as much as my head. I have to believe you both would be proud of me for what I'm doing now. I want to believe you'd understand why I had to send you away. I have to be strong now, in the same way you were when I told you what little I could of the dangers we faced at school.

I hope you're enjoying your days now, and this day especially. If I had my way, we'd be spending Christmas together, one joyous day to make up for the last several I missed. I can't tell you how much I long for something so simple as a cup of hot cocoa and hearing Dad recite 'Twas The Night Before Christmas and you, Mum, putting in the words he always forgets. I'd even pretend to hear Santa on the roof one last time if I could. I love and miss you both.

Gods, she was running out of room. So much for a simple card. It was just as well. She was crying so hard now she could hardly see the page. Hermione pursed her lips and blew over the ink until the shiny black streaks on the paper dried. Staring down at her rambling words, she folded the card over and stuck her hand into her beaded bag, reaching down until her fingers grazed across a familiar worn book cover. It was her mother's copy of Shakespeare's sonnets. Hermione tucked the card between 116 and 117; her eyes teared a bit as she glanced over "Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom." For the briefest moment, she thought she could hear the words spoken in her mother's voice.

She would not think of those words, the book or the person who had tucked it into her bag just before she boarded the train back to Hogwarts after Christmas sixth year. Hermione could no longer allow herself to cry over her own misfortune, to weep as a child who still needed help finding her way. She had given herself this time and had to pull it together again, forgetting the desire to fall into her mother's arms and beg her father to make the monster go away. She could no longer indulge in the luxuries of self-doubt and fear, knowing courage would do battle with the dark shadows that pulsed with danger. The desire to revert to a child, safe in her parent's embrace, was pushed back, suppressed until it was a mere memory of some long ago wish. Hermione could not wish for her broken relationships to be healed and the safe naiveté of childhood. There were more important things just then.