Author's Note: This is it. The last chapter. Thank you for all of your support through this journey, you guys. I've certainly enjoyed writing this story and I sincerely hope that I don't disappoint any of you with this last chapter. I know that there are a lot of expectations now that this is the conclusion of everything. Please try to keep an open mind... I wanted to get things straight and to the point; I wasn't going to bore you guys with long, extensive dialogues, because this story is past that by now, haha. What's needed to be said will be said, and what isn't, well, won't. Please enjoy! :)

Welcome to Hogwarts

Chapter Twenty-One: Welcome Back

The next morning, Hermione woke up earlier than her parents, just as she had told Harry. She spent a few minutes watching Harry's sleeping form, sweeping hair from his forehead and admiring how peaceful he looked. His arms were around her waist and her face had been buried in his chest.

The night before, Harry had asked Hermione was love was. It broke her heart to hear him ask that… his awful relatives made him that way; they destroyed him so much that he hadn't even known was love was. But it was a sign of his trusting her that she did would not laugh at his question. She gave him an answer. They'd told each other that they loved each other, and just the thought of the memory put a wide smile on Hermione's face.

Then, too soon, she heard her parents stir within the room next door and she knew that she had to leave. After kissing his forehead, Hermione got up from his bed and left his room. She went down to the kitchen. Her appearance in that room at such an early hour was never questionable. Her sleeping patterns were off and her parents were aware of it… but just how much they cared was always a question that bothered her.

Just as she was finishing up her breakfast, she heard footsteps descending the staircase from the floor above her.

"Harry?" she asked expectantly, twisting from her seat to get a better view at the new visitor.

"Try again," her mother's voice said.

Hermione's smile faltered. "Oh. Good morning."

"Good morning, dear." Jane crossed the kitchen and began to prepare her own breakfast. She yawned and then asked, "Did you sleep well?"

Hermione bit her lip, trying to suppress the grin that was threatening to reveal itself. "Yes."

Jane nodded. "I'm thinking about getting some clothes for Harry today. The poor boy is wearing clothes far too big for him… you'd think his wardrobe is consisted of hand-me-downs!"

Hermione choked on her food. "Mum, his wardrobe is consisted of hand-me-downs."

Her mother turned around and gave her a questioning look. "What do you –?"

"Well, you already know that his family's horrible… but Mum, they're horrible." Hermione's voice lowered to a whisper, even though there was nobody else near the kitchen to eavesdrop on their conversation. "He's – well, Harry's been through a lot."

"But you don't – you don't m-mean –"

"All I'm saying," Hermione said, angrily slamming down the rest of her uneaten toast on the plate, "is that Harry's not from the best background. Just don't question him about it, whatever you do… please."

She did not want to hear the word "abuse" aloud, nor did she want to say it. It would break her heart. Also, Hermione would never be able to forgive herself if she told her mother details about Harry's homelife without his permission. She knew that Harry would never reveal her own secrets, and it would be unfair to turn her back and reveal his.

"Alright, I won't," Jane said quietly. She looked surprised at Hermione's sudden defensive nature. "You really do like him."

Hermione nodded. "Yes, I do," she said breathlessly. There was a moment's silence between the two of them, and then Hermione added, "I see that Dad hasn't killed him yet."

Jane let out a small laugh and sat back down at the table to face her daughter after a small ding! noise erupted from the toaster. She put her toast on her plate and grabbed a stick of butter. "Your father is not completely reassured about Harry," she explained, "but he says, and I quote, 'he's alright'. I personally think that Harry is fantastic." Jane paused to look hungrily at her daughter's face, as though searching for something in her expression. "You've changed."

"Dad said that same thing," she noted. "I feel different… in good way."

"Oh, of course."

"I wasn't… I wasn't happy before, you know," Hermione admitted in a shaky voice. She looked down at the rest of her breakfast and found that she no longer had an appetite.

"Sweetheart?" Jane leaned forward and gently touched the back of her daughter's hand. Her eyes were wide, her brows were furrowed together, and she was frowning.

"Please don't look at me like that," Hermione said, trying to hold back tears. She could see the sadness in her mother's expression out of the corner of her eye. "You knew I wasn't happy."

"Hermione! What are you – what do you –"

Hermione blinked a few times and then said, "Hogwarts made me unhappy. I loved magic… believe me, I did, and I still do… but Mum, let's not sit here and pretend that I was happy, that I had friends –"

"You had Neville!" Jane exclaimed. "Neville's a fine boy."

Hermione wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She looked up at her mother and saw that Jane was crying.

"I was stuck with Neville," Hermione admitted. "He wasn't really a great friend. I had nobody…."

"Hermione," Jane said in a strained, pleading voice, although what she was pleading for, Hermione did not know.

Hermione just shook her head and covered her face. This wasn't how she wanted to spend the holidays… this wasn't part of the plan….

"Was it – was it that bad?" Jane asked gently. Her voice sounded so… motherly. Her words were dripping with concern and were spoken in such a quiet tone that it sent a chill up Hermione's spine.

"It was worse," Hermione said, her unsteady, choked-up voice spilling out between her fingers. She took in a huge breath of air and shut her eyes tightly. She had to tell her mother, she had to let it out. If Hermione wasn't going to tell Jane now, when would she? How long would her secret be bottling up inside of her? "I couldn't sleep… I didn't sleep…."

"You – what? What do you mean, you couldn't sleep? Did you have nightmares? Because we can get you medicine for that, sweetheart –"

"No!" Hermione shrieked. She didn't want to have to explain it; she had wanted it all to be over in just a few words. She remembered how painful it was, to admit the truth to Harry not too long ago. "I – I stayed out late, away from the dormitory, until the other girls fell asleep.…" Hermione paused, and Jane did not interrupt her. She did not want to see the look on her mother's face just yet. "I waited until, most of the time, past midnight. I was afraid of the girls and I didn't want to have to face them."

"Did this habit stay with you over the summer?" Jane asked, her voice low and monotone. All emotion had been torn away from her voice.


There was an unsettling silence between them. Hermione did not remove her hands from her face. She preferred being kept hidden this way, so that she wouldn't have to face her mother's expression and know how she was taking this in. After all, Hermione had spent so much of her life at Hogwarts trying to stay hidden.

"I should have known," Jane said finally, breaking the silence. "I should have known… I knew that your sleeping pattern was off, but honey – oh, honey, I never knew it was – but I should have known! I should have!"

"Mum –" Hermione began, her voice somewhat muffled behind her hands.

"I tried, I tried.…" Jane interrupted, her voice becoming shaky and alert. "I gave you shopping trips, makeovers, pep-talks… sweetheart, I wanted you to see how beautiful you are!" There was a few seconds of silence, and then: "I'm a horrible mother!"


Hermione finally uncovered her face and saw that her mother was staring at her with redness streaking around her eyes and tears streaming down her cheeks. She had never – never, even when Jane got in horrible fights with Carl when she thought Hermione wasn't around – seen her mother look like this.

"I'm so sorry, Hermione."

"Mum, you're not a horrible mother, don't –"

But before she could say anymore, Jane got up from her seat and rushed to her daughter's side. She wrapped her thin arms around Hermione. "I love you," she said shakily.

"I love you too, Mum."

Hermione hugged Jane back. Her mother smoothed out her hair and continued to cling to her as though she were her lifeline. Jane's sobs continued and all Hermione could think about was how it was their collective ignorance that lead to this.

Hermione held it in; Jane didn't pay enough attention.

It was both of their faults. Both were to blame.

"It's not just your fault," Hermione said, "it's mine, too."

"Sweetheart –"

"Don't pretend like it isn't."

With another squeeze of Hermione's tiny frame, Jane said, "Well – regardless – all it took was a boy," with a half-hearted laugh. "All it took was Harry… I'm buying him the whole department store when we take him shopping!"

"Harry means the world to me, Mum," Hermione said. She felt herself tearing up again. It was nice, after letting go of so many negative bottled-up confessions, to finally let out something positive. "I'm so happy with him."

"I know, sweetie," Jane murmured. "As long as you two are being safe, I'm okay with it."


. . . . .

The days leading up to Christmas were – as Harry had told Hermione himself – some of the best of Harry's life. Harry had noted aloud that there was a renewed life within Hermione's relationship with his mother. Now the two just seemed more open and there was less awkwardness in their conversations… everything was left out in the open between them now. And when Hermione sneaked into his room at night, she told him all about how she admitted everything to Jane. She also told him that her strained relationship with her mother was one thing that had always kept her miserable, and so it was nice to finally get that burden off her chest.

Hermione was sneaking into his room a lot. Nothing happened, of course, other than the one night Hermione tempted him into a snogging session by biting her lip and looking at him with lust-hooded eyes. But besides that, they just enjoyed each other's company. And they'd talk… there was talk of Sirius, playful jokes and hints about what they got for the other for Christmas, and expectations of their undecided future.

Jane took the holidays off at work while Carl stayed in the office for several hours over the days. Carl was civil with Harry, and it seemed like he needed more time to adjust to the fact that his little girl had a boyfriend.

Jane, Harry, and Hermione spent days shopping or just hanging around the house. No matter what they did, Harry told Hermione that was glad to be a part of something like… something like a family.

"Have you ever – have you ever thought about… having a family one day?" Hermione asked him timidly on the night before Christmas. They had spent Christmas Eve – Carl got that day and Christmas off from work – decorating the rest of the house and preparing for the following day.

"A – A family?" Harry choked out.

"I'm not proposing marriage, Harry," Hermione said, chuckling. "I was just wondering…. I mean, I personally never thought about it before, but… now, I guess that somewhere down the line, I'd like one."

Harry looked confused. "I guess I'd like a family," he said slowly and uncertainly. "I just—Never mind."

"What is it?"

"I was wondering if I'd be a good father," he mumbled.

"Of course you'd be a good father," Hermione said. She smiled at him, trying to hide the fact that his worries were breaking her heart. "You'd want the best for any child of yours… you'd want them to – to have the childhood you never had."

Hermione leaned forward and kissed him deeply. She needed him to know that every word she told him was the truth and that she completely and utterly believed in him. Harry breathlessly kissed her back with just as much force.

"I love you, Hermione," he breathed when they pulled apart. His eyes were dark and his hair was even messier than usual from her fingers desperately running through it.

"I love you, Harry," she whispered back as his lips worked their way down his neck. "So, what are – what are you getting me f-for Christmas?" she asked, her breath hitching when he met a particularly sensitive spot on her neck that he knew by heart by now.

"You'll find out tomorrow," he growled into her neck.

She gently threw her head back onto her pillow and clung to him. Harry's body was pressed against hers, and she could feel how solid he was. She felt ashamed for being so close to Harry when her parents were sleeping on the same floor. Her hands dug further into his hair of their own accord.

"Harry, my parents are – my parents are right next door – they're –"

Harry sighed and pulled back from her. "You're right," he said in a low voice, panting. "You're right… We can't…."

"I mean, it's not like we were –"

"I know," Harry reassured her in a soothing tone. "I know, Hermione." He kissed her forehead, and then her cheek. Her skin burned where he'd kissed her.

Hermione shivered under his lack of touch when he pulled back completely from her for a moment to lie beside her. She immediately moved to be comfortably in his embrace and she sighed.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled.

"There's nothing to apologize for," Harry told her, brushing his hands through her hair. "We're not ready."

Hermione stiffened. Both of them knew what he meant. We're not ready. He was right; they weren't. Especially not in a room that neighbored her parents' room.

. . . . .

Harry woke up to Hermione's soft voice welcoming him into consciousness.

"Harry," she said, shaking his shoulder and giggling. "Harry, wake up! It's Christmas!"

Her excited squeal was what shook him awake. He sat straight up and saw a blurry image of his girlfriend, who was kneeling beside him with wide eyes and a grin that lit up the world. Harry had never woken up on Christmas morning to anything even minutely joyful… sometimes he'd forget that it was Christmas until he saw Dudley's numerous presents under the tree, and then his own lame present waiting for him: usually something ridiculous like a paperclip or a pair of old, smelly socks.

Harry reached over to the nightstand to retrieve his glasses and put them on. Hermione grabbed his hand. "Come on!" she said, beckoning him away from the bed.

"You sound like a five year old," Harry said, laughing as he was pulled out of the guest room.

"Christmas is my favorite holiday," Hermione explained. She kissed him on the cheek. They walked down the staircase and straight into the kitchen. "We have to wait for Mum and Dad, though… if you think I'm a five year old, you should see my Mum."

Harry laughed. The two of them prepared breakfast and so by the time Jane and Carl woke up, they were met with Christmas breakfast. Jane squealed, hugged Harry and Hermione, and sat down beside her husband to eat. Carl politely thanked Harry and smiled at his daughter.

"I can't wait for everyone to see their presents," Jane said halfway through the meal.

Hermione caught Harry's eye and grinned, shooting him an I-told-you-so look.

"Presents!" Hermione exclaimed when Carl finished his last bite. She took Harry's hand once again and pulled him into the living room, her parents right behind them.

Harry had seen the Christmas tree before – he helped Jane and Hermione decorate it – but it seemed so much more beautiful on Christmas morning. Its lights were winking at the four of them, and the angel on top was wearing a beautiful gown. There were gifts beneath the tree that were calling to them; Harry found himself smiling at Hermione tugged him down to sit on the ground beside her.

"Yours," she said, thrusting a wrapped small box into his arms.

"Hermione's!" Jane called, throwing a larger box over to her daughter.

Back and forth, the presents were handed out; everyone just shouted the person's name and gave the present over. It was so ordinary and normal that Harry was amazed just from watching them. It was moments like these when he knew that he was right when he told Hermione he wanted a family of his own.

"Well, go on, Harry!" Hermione urged him on as she began to open up her own present.

Harry looked down at the present that lamely sat in his hands. The label read "To: Harry" and "From: Carl". He opened it slowly, wondering what on earth was in store for him –

"Wow! Thanks, Mr. Granger!" Harry exclaimed as he saw a nice silver watch in a small, velvety box. "You have good taste…" he added, taking out the watch and wrapping it around his wrist.

Carl laughed and patted Harry on the back. "Every man should have a nice watch. Isn't that right, honey? Remember when you got me my gold watch the first year we were married?"

"What? Oh, sure, honey," Jane said distractedly as she tore apart the wrappings of one of her gifts.

"Harry! Look – this one's from you!" Hermione squealed. He turned around; she was looking at a label that read that this present was from him. He looked at her nervously in anticipation.

She unwrapped a small box and hastily opened it. There was a small Claddagh ring waiting eagerly for her. A pair of hands was holding a golden heart that had a crown atop it.

"It's not an engagement ring, it's a Claddagh ring, it's just –" Harry began to reassure her, especially after seeing Carl peer over to see what she'd received.

"Oh, no, I know," she said breathlessly, grasping the ring and trying it on her right ring finger. She kept the heart pointed towards her; the woman at the jewelry store had explained to Harry that this meant the wearer's heart was taken.

"It fits perfectly!" she squealed. "Oh, Harry!"

She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

"Is it too unoriginal?" he asked weakly. He hadn't been sure what to get her… in fact, Jane had to pull him into a jewelry store and tell him that he couldn't go wrong with jewelry. He had wished he could buy her something more creative, something that would leave him memorable… It was times like these when he doubted whether or not he deserved to be Hermione's boyfriend.

"No! I love it, Harry!" she exclaimed. "I've always liked these whenever I stopped by jewelry stores… but it feels weird, you know, buying jewelry for myself. Oh, Harry, it's perfect, thank you."

Harry smiled at her and kissed her forehead. He turned back and opened up another gift – this one labeled to be from Hermione, which made his stomach twist – and he saw that Hermione had given him what looked like a scrapbook. He looked at her questioningly, but she was too busy opening up a present from Jane to notice.

Harry opened it up and gasped. It was a photo album. There was a picture of his parents. The figures were moving… they were waving at him, and smiling at him. Harry had the instinct to wave and smile back at them. He flipped through the pages and saw numerous pictures of his parents, including a copy of the one that Sirius had showed him the first night that he entered the wizarding world….

He had no words. He roughly wiped his eyes on the back of his hand. He felt Hermione's hand holding his, and he turned to see that she was giving him a sad smile. He leaned down and gave her a small kiss on the lips before her parents could see. She was perfect. This day was perfect.

He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. He looked right at her and tried to form words, but he had lost his voice completely.

"When Dumbledore called me into his office to give me the location of the Order, I asked him for a few photos… he contacted some people, your parents' old school friends, I'm guessing, and got these for me… and I just put it together," Hermione explained without needing to be questioned.

Harry felt bad for just getting her a ring. He kept flipping through the photos, once again at a loss for words. Hermione squeezed his hand. She seemed to understand how thankful he was.

"You don't need to say anything," she told him.

. . .

It was the last night of the holidays when Harry finally realized that he'd much rather live with the Grangers and not ever go back to Hogwarts….

He'd spent too much time here at the Grangers, too much time surrounded by family-like moments that made him loathe the Dursleys even more. He'd been torn away from this all his life… he had never, ever, spent the holidays like this. Hermione was more than willing to introduce him to her life and her family, and he was eternally grateful for that. She was giving him more than she could ever possibly understand. She meant the world to him. Harry slowly thought of his future family the more he spent time with this family, and he began to see Hermione as a part of that life….

Did he deserve her? Did Harry, the neglected and lonely kid who hadn't known about this world a few months ago, deserve someone so righteous and so selfless? Did he deserve such a beautiful young woman to be his girlfriend?

The day before, Harry and Hermione had gone to Grimmauld Place to visit Sirius. They were aided to and from the house by a guard of Aurors – this included a man with a false, electric blue eye, and a woman who kept changing her appearances. Hermione spent most of the journey questioning her about her abilities. Harry admired her thirst for knowledge.

Sirius was only too glad to give Hermione a big welcome. The Weasleys were also spending time in the house, but Harry, Hermione, and Sirius kept their distance and chatted in an abandoned drawing room that sported china that would occasionally start rattling.

Sirius was shocked at the tales of Harry's improvement when it came to performing magic. He thanked Hermione profusely for her help, and she'd told him that there was no need to thank her, and that she was also proud of Harry. When they had to leave, Harry was certain Sirius was almost as sad to see Hermione go as he was to see Harry go.

"She's a keeper, that one," Sirius had whispered to Harry. Harry had smiled and nodded in agreement.

"What are you thinking about?" Hermione asked now him. They were in his bed in the guest room. She propped her head up on her hand and looked at him curiously. She affectionately pushed a few strands of hair away from his eyes. The little things like that drove him crazy.

"Tomorrow," he replied honestly. The thought had been attacking him all day and made his stomach twist uncomfortably.

Hermione sighed. "Yeah. Me, too. I think it'll be better, though, don't you? You know, going onto the Hogwarts Express without knowing who you'll sit with?" She paused. "Well, I suppose I had Neville, and you had Ron, but… I have a feeling they've made their decisions clear to us."

"That's their problem," he told her.

"I know, I know…." she said distractedly. "I prefer you over Neville, anyway," she added, laughing.

"Oh, good, I was feeling some competition going on.…"

Hermione laughed some more and then lowered herself to Harry's eye level. She curled up next to him and he immediately, without even thinking about it, wrapped his arms around her protectively, as though shielding her from any dangers that might sneak up on her.

It seemed as though Harry was only just falling asleep, his nightmares of Voldemort at bay while his beautiful Hermione was next to him, when Hermione was waking him up and preparing to get ready to go to King's Cross.

It was a trip like no other: never had Harry felt so heartbroken to leave a place. Everything happened so quickly and he wanted to shout at time and tell it to slow the fuck down. How the hell did he end up at the station already? All of it was a blur… Jane crying over their departure, Carl shaking his hand, the Grangers' reassurance that he could visit over the summer, Hermione's double checking that they had everything packed, everyone's laughs at the memories they'd shared and the smiles everyone exchanged….

It was with a knot in his stomach and a heavy heart and that he left the Grangers' and boarded the train with Hermione. There was the usual unwanted attention drawn to them as usual, however even Hermione was able to look beyond it with her head held high. It seemed surreal to be back here, like all of this was

There were tears shining in Hermione's eyes as the train took off and she looked over at her parents, who eventually disappeared from sight when the train turned around a bend.

"I miss them already," Hermione admitted with a sigh. She tucked her legs in towards her and leaned against Harry, who had sat down next to her. Harry wrapped his arm around her tiny shoulders.

"I know, love. But we'll see them in a few months, don't worry…" he reassured her. "Just a few more months in that hellhole."

Hermione sighed. "I know. A few more months…"

"We can make it."

The two of them then sat there in silence, not-so-eagerly awaiting their arrival to Hogwarts. But Harry knew that Hermione would be there by his side, and he was by her side. He knew, with an unsettling feeling starting to loom over him, that they certainly didn't feel welcome at Hogwarts….

But whatever happened, they'd endure it together.

Author's Note: Before I drown you guys in thank yous, I'd like to clear up that yes, the photo album Hermione gave to Harry is like the one that Hagrid gave to Harry in canon, so let me just say that that was J.K. Rowling's idea and please don't kill me. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Now onto drowning you guys in thank yous:

Thank you thank you thank you to everyone who has read/alerted/favorited/reviewed this story! Thank you for reading this and sticking with me to the end. I can't believe this story is over. I hope that you guys are satisfied with the ending! I kept tweaking it because I wanted loose ends to be tied, and hopefully it's good enough :) Your encouragement is what keeps me writing! It's been a pleasure to write this story and I really hope you've enjoyed it. Please let me know what you've thought of the story, I love getting feedback. Thanks again guys! :)