The rain, which had been so light earlier in morning, was now starting to come down hard. Hermione hurried along the path through the trees. She understood that Neville was a herbologist , but why he had to live so far off the beaten path, she would never understand. The ground was rapidly turning to mud beneath her feet. Finally, Neville's small cottage finally came into view, and behind the little house was an enormous greenhouse, with water pouring off its glass roof.
The windows of the cottage were dark, but Hermione could see movement in the greenhouse, so she went there. She opened the glass door and was immediately assailed by a thousand different odors from a veritable jungle of plants.
"Neville?" she called tentatively. She was having second thoughts. After all, she hadn't seen him in ages, and with all her bad press during the last few years, he may not want to see her.
"Hullo?" A man's voice called from somewhere amidst the foliage. The voice was deeper than Hermione remembered Neville's being.
A tall, broad-shouldered man pushed aside an enormous leaf. He'd lost the baby boy face and he was deeply tanned from long hours in the field.
"Neville?" Hermione asked, unsure.
"Hermione?" Neville said, clearly surprised to see her. "What…how nice to see you." He smiled broadly.
Hermione smiled back and stepped forward and wrapped her arms around him. "It's good to see you, Neville."
He hugged her back tentatively. "You too." He stepped back. "What…I mean, why are you…?"
Hermione smiled. "Here? Well, I have a bit of a favor actually."
"Alright. Would you like a cup of tea?"
"That would be lovely," Hermione said, happy for the reprieve. She followed him out of the greenhouse and into the cottage.
Neville filled a kettle with water and touched his wand to it, reciting a heating charm. He pulled out a couple of mugs and dropped teabags into them before setting them on the table. A moment later the kettle whistled and he poured the hot water.
"So, what's up?" he asked, as he sat opposite her at the tiny kitchen table.
"Ron and I are getting married," Hermione said.
Neville grinned. "That's great news. I knew you two would end up together eventually."
Hermione chuckled. "That's what everyone says. I do wish it hadn't taken us quite so long to get ourselves sorted."
"Things happen when they happen." Neville shrugged.
"Yes," Hermione nodded. "But I find myself in a bit of a quandary.
"How's that?" Neville asked.
"I haven't anyone to walk me down the aisle. My parents, well, you know."
He nodded. "Tragic that. Won't Harry—?"
Hermione shook her head. "He's Ron's best man. I don't want to ask him to do both. I'm sure Mr. Weasley or George would do it, but I thought I'd ask you first."
"Me?" Neville said, clearly shocked.
"I owe you my life, so it seems somehow appropriate for you to give me away."
He looked at her and cocked his head to one side. "You don't—"
"I do," she said firmly. "I don't think I ever properly thanked you for that day at the Ministry of Magic."
Neville leaned back in his chair. "Hermione, that was ages ago."
"Still, you carried me after Dolohov cursed me," she touched her fingers against her breastbone, where the scar ran beneath her heavy cloak. "Even though your nose was broken and you'd lost your wand, you carried me."
"Anyone of the others would have done the same."
"Maybe," Hermione said. "But you were the one who did. Will you walk me down the aisle, Neville?"
He smiled at her. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I will. I'd be honored."
She smiled and patted his hand. "Thanks, Neville. So what's been happening in your life?"
They finished their tea and talked for an hour. Neville told her about his greenhouse and some travel he was arranging to gather rare plants. He had a fellowship with the Ministry of Magic and was very excited about his work. Hermione talked about the Weasleys, Ron and Harry. She didn't mention her work with the Ministry and she left out the last three years of her life. Perhaps Neville didn't follow the tabloids, or more likely he was just the same descent man he'd always been. Either way he made no mention of Viktor and neither did she. It was blissful to have a conversation, with someone outside her immediate circle of friends, that didn't work its way around to the years she'd spent with the famous Quidditch player.
It was still early when Hermione left Neville's cottage, so she decided to stop at the Three Broomsticks for a drink and to chat with Harry before heading home. Harry was usually to be found in the Three Broomsticks when he wasn't at work. Ginny ran the place, and he was never far from her when he didn't have to be.
When Hermione pushed open the heavy oak door, Harry was in his usual corner, flipping through a magazine and nursing a butter beer. Hermione ordered a double Ogden's neat and took it to Harry's table. She sat opposite him and he looked up.
"Bit early in the day for the hard stuff, isn't it?" he asked.
"It's five o'clock somewhere, Harry," Hermione quipped.
"I suppose," he nodded with a worried frown. He didn't like her drinking. "Are you off today?"
"I had some errands to run for the wedding. I have plenty of vacation time stored up, so I thought I'd take some."
"Good idea. What'd you do?" He closed the magazine. It was Quidditch Today. Hermione was happy to see that Viktor wasn't on the cover.
"I went to see Neville."
"Neville? Neville Longbottom? How the hell is he? I haven't seen him in ages."
"He's good." She caught him up on Neville's life.
"That's great," Harry said. "What made you go see him?"
She paused and took a sip of her drink. "I asked him if he'd give me away at the wedding."
Harry raised his eyebrows. "Oh. I guess I thought…Neville's a good choice though."
"I know," Hermione said. "I just didn't want you to have to walk me down the aisle and be Ron's best man."
Harry shrugged. "I wouldn't have minded. And if not me, I'm sure Mr. Weasley or George—"
"I know, but those are all Ron's people." Hermione took another sip of her drink and didn't look at him.
"I'm not Ron's people," Harry said quietly.
"You are. I know we're friends, but you're closer to Ron. I just thought I should bring someone on my own. And it's not as though I have loads of people to invite. I'm lucky Neville said yes."
"What are you talking about?"
Hermione traced a scar on the tabletop with her finger. "I'm not like you and Ron. I don't have loads of friends and admirers. I have co-workers that I like quite a bit, but it's awkward for us to gather outside of work, because of what we do. Besides, I'm not really 'friends' with them. Most of my friends since Hogwarts have been Viktor's friends. It's not like I'm going to invite them to the wedding. We're not even dividing up the guests into bride's guests and groom's guests. It's basically just groom's guests."
Harry stared at her for a moment. He opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it again.
Hermione took another long swallow of her drink.
"I'm not Ron's people," Harry finally repeated. "I love you both equally. You're the closest thing I have to sister. He's the closest thing I have to a brother. I know why you think I like him best, but you're wrong. I didn't mean to abandon you to Viktor, Hermione. It's just…after I saw you that time in London…I didn't know what to think. You didn't even seem like yourself. It felt like you'd abandoned me…like you'd abandoned yourself." He shook his head. "I should've tried harder."
She blinked back tears and finished her drink. "Ancient history," she said and patted his hand.
"Hey, what are you two up to?" Ginny asked as she walked over.
Hermione smiled. "Just talking about the wedding."
"Great!" Ginny sat down. "Do you have everything sorted?"
"Just about," Hermione said. "We talked about press last night. We decided there's no real way to avoid it, so we're giving an exclusive to Luna at the Quibbler."
Harry and Ginny both laughed. "That's perfect!" they said in unison.
"That's what we thought," Hermione said. "Not to mention now the Quibbler will work extra hard to keep everyone else out."
"Rita's going to hate that," Ginny said with a smirk.
Hermione smiled and finished her drink. After what had happened at the World Cup, she was pretty sure Rita wouldn't dare show, but she had employees that probably would.
It was a beautiful day at Shell Cottage. The sun was shining and a light breeze blew across the beach. Family and friends had gathered at the shore for Ron and Hermione's wedding. They'd divided evenly creating a makeshift aisle in the sand. Ron and Harry waited at the water's edge.
Hermione checked her hair in the mirror one more time. Ron had asked her to wear it down, so she'd done a spell to cast it in soft ringlets, but she was worried it wouldn't hold in the damp air, so she cast another to keep it in place.
"Hermione, it's time," Ginny said.
She nodded and looked in the mirror one last time. Her pale periwinkle dress was simple and elegant. She'd decided against white. Why give the tabloids another reason to mock her? She wished she could have a drink. A little Ogden's would still the butterflies dancing in her stomach, but she'd promised Ron to ease up on the drinking. Today didn't seem like a good day to go back on that. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could hardly believe this was happening, that she and Ron had managed to find their way back to each other after everything that had happened. She hardly believed her luck. After everything she'd been through, after everything she'd lost, after all she'd done, it hardly seemed real that she could be happy again. She'd been happy for months, even light hearted some days. It was still so foreign after years of feeling mostly numb and going through the motions of life without really engaging. It was a little terrifying at times how aware she was now. Suddenly the whole world was in focus the same way it was at work. She was frightened by the enormity of it. She blew out the breath and opened the door.
"You look really beautiful," Neville told Hermione, as she stepped out of Bill and Fleur's bedroom.
She smiled at him. "Thanks, Neville."
He offered her his arm. "You look as though you could use a bit of Gryffindor courage," he said.
"That I could," she said, taking his arm.
He folded his hand over hers. "Courage," he said as they stepped out into the sunshine.