Summary: This is the epilogue of the epilogue. And she doesn't know why she has tears in her eyes. Could it be happiness? OneShot, book-verse.
Set: Post-"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", around 45 years later
Disclaimer: Standards apply.
Encore - French: Again,another time
The last words on the page blur before her eyes as she reads them.
She reads them again, the three words, and a single dear rolls down her cheek. Why is she crying? She doesn't know herself. Her heart is a jumble of happiness and longing and memories and hopes and fears. She shouldn't have wasted her time in reading the book again.
How often she has held it in her hands already.
It has accompanied her throughout her life, since the day it has been given to her. At first, she didn't want to read it. But she had to read it, somehow. And since then, it has stood in her book-shelf. A warning, a reminder. But she hasn't been able to give it away. She has even taken it with her when she moved. The simple, blue cover carries the title she knows so well, the name of the author she knows by heart.
Books are knowledge. Knowledge is wisdom. Wisdom is strength and power and hope.
She has loved them her whole life. She has spend hours reading them, searching for answers, for help and for distraction. Books have saved her more than once. Her life is defined by many things today but written words on rustling pages still are a precious part in it she wouldn't ever want to miss.
But it's this book that makes her cry at the end.
It's not what she normally does.
Not when watching sad movies, not when reading sad books. Her life hasn't been easy. She has had better things to cry over than the ending of a book. And this ending isn't even sad. Rather the opposite: It's a good ending, full of hope and life and happiness. She loves the ending as she loves the book and every single character in it (well, the good ones, at least).
Reading it has brought back her memories of her childhood and teenage years: She can hear a voice telling the story, remembers the words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. She can feel the same mixture of anxiety and expectancy she felt first when she read it. She can see the images in her mind's eye. It's like returning home to a place she has missed since she has grown up – and yet.
It's not like there are only good memories connected to the pages she touches so carefully, touching the book's hard cover like she would touch an injured child.
There is fear in the book, and sadness, and hopelessness. There is death and murder and loss and desperation. But there is love in there, as well, and hope, and a light that she still carries inside her heart today.
Is it a reason to cry?
Maybe. The sadness comes bubbling up again, threatens to overwhelm her. She sees faces she hasn't seen for a long time, faces of people who died long ago. She feels pain she hasn't felt since it ended; hopelessness as black as it was all those years ago. There is relief. It is over. There is sadness. It is over. There is relief. We are alive. She feels memories, bittersweet as black chocolate, and the guilt of the surviving.
And she feels love.
Love for the characters in the book, for every single one of them. And for the people they have become. So grown up, so responsible, so scarred by life and yet so strong.
Hermione gets up from the armchair she has been perched in for the last few hours and flinches as her back reminds her of her hunched position and her age. Pushing a curly strand of hair out of her face (is it turning grey or is she imagining things?) she smoothes a few wrinkles out of her skirt and checks the old grandfather's clock on the wall. They should be here any second.
The book in her hand is heavy.
There is no image on the cover, just the letters of the title and the author, simple and plain. Just as he wanted it. Careful, indefinitely careful, she runs her hand across the cover one last time and puts it back on its usual place in the bookshelf. Her tears have dried out, but the bittersweet memories remain. Maybe she's really getting old.
A voice calls her from the front-door and when she steps into the corridor the voices in front of her house become audible. The shadows of the people in front of it make her heart skip a beat.
Ron opens the door and almost falls over the edge of the carpet (she told him he had to fix it) and behind him, more people become visible and try to push through the door all at the same time.
And Hermione forgets everything – the book, the memories, the sadness – and throws her arms around Harry.
"Hey, hey," he laughs and returns her gesture no less happy. "Let me breathe, okay?"
The tears – damn them! – almost spill over and she sniffs once and lets go of him to hug Ginny as well. Behind the Potters her own children follow, Rose and Hugo and Rose's husband with Hermione's first grandchild and Hugo's girlfriend. And then Ginny's children, James, Lilly and Albus, press through the door with their respective families. And soon her little house (although it's not so little it seems like from the outside) is full of children's laughing and people's chatting and her heart feels so full she feels like crying and laughing at the same time. Only a few minutes later the doorbell rings a second time and the Weasley tribe overtakes her home with loud noise, exploding flowers (she'll talk to George about his grandson's newest tricks later, she definitely will!), the smell of pumpkin juice and chocolate cake and more food than they'll be able to eat.
Late in the evening, when some children are sleeping under the living-room table, some guests already have left and the rest are clustered in the kitchen and the corridor, preparing to leave, Hermione finds herself in front of the bookshelf in the now empty living-room again, staring at the book. Her hand unconsciously follows the golden letters on the cover. She's not really thinking about anything special when steps sound behind her. She recognizes them immediately. Her life has depended on them once.
Harry stands next to her and follows her gaze. She musters him from the corners of her eyes: the dark hair at his temples is grey, and there are more wrinkles in his face than she can remember having seen the last time. But he still carries his shoulders straight and his head high and his eyes sparkle exactly like they always did.
"Well, at least we were spared Rita Skeeter's writing skills this time."
She bursts out laughing. She loves Ron dearly, but Harry always makes her laugh.
"Neville did a great job. I don't think someone else would have been able to write it down as well as he did."
"I wouldn't have wanted anyone to write it except him."
Her fingers feel the hard edges, the soft leather of the cover, the smoothness of the golden letters. Her eyes sting.
"What's wrong with me!" She whispers and wants to wipe away the tear that has escaped her again. But Harry is quicker. He doesn't say anything as he puts his arms around her. And, for the second time of the day, she is transported back in time: Into a tent in a dark, cold forest and she feels Harry's pain and Ron's impatience and her own desperation. And she feels love – so strong it hurts, so strong she can't help but cry. For Ron, her stupid, good-for-nothing, wonderful husband, for Neville and Luna and Ginny and George. For her two beautiful children who aren't children anymore, for her grand-daughter, for her son-in-law and her daughter-in-law-to-be. For the children that almost are hers and yet aren't, James, Albus and Lilly, for the huge Weasley Clan that has adopted her and for all the ones she knew and knows. The love doesn't fit into her heart, threatens to break her or to spill over.
And there is Harry who holds her together, her best and oldest friend. She lets him hold her for a short while and then steps back, sniffing and smiling at the same time.
"I'm getting old," she says and he smiles at her.
"We all are."
At least they're getting old together, she thinks and then is interrupted as George comes storming into the living-room, shouting about fire-crackers in his jacket and where the hell is this stupid son of mine?
Hermione and Harry smile at each other and wander into the corridor, where the rest of the family is assembled. Ron comes to stand next to her. She takes his hand and he throws her a questioning look with both his brows raised. When she doesn't say anything and he doesn't ask anything, she presses his hand thankful and they accompany their guests to the front-door. Ginny embraces her in good-bye. When Harry wraps her into a warm, comforting hug for the last time, he whispers something into her ear. Then, he and Ginny walk down the road (hand in hand, and Ron whispers "Stupid couple" and grins). At the corner, Harry turns a last time and gives her a smile (so familiar) and they disapparate.
The empty street is dark.
Hermione closes the door and she and Ron slowly begin to clean up the mess. They find another full tray of cakes nobody has eaten, a little play-broom in one corner and a few of Fred's goodies in another. Finally, they are finished.
"What did Harry tell you? Before he left?" Ron asks as they lay in bed.
Hermione smiles. "He quoted from a book."
"Hmpf." Ron answers, almost asleep already. "Don't tell me he has started to take up your habits of quoting from Hogwarts – A History."
Hermione giggles quietly and snuggles closer to warm her cold feet. Ron groans good-naturedly and she ignores him.
"Nah. I bet he still hasn't read it. You haven't, either, and it has been almost fifty years."
Soon, Ron is fast asleep, snoring quietly. Hermione lies awake, still feeling the smile Harry's words have cast on her face. Yes, he is right. This was the way it is supposed to be.
All was well.