Summary: Post DH. In the year after the final battle, Ron, Hermione, and Harry seek to move out from under the shadow of Voldemort's intense, dark reign and start their long journey toward normal. Rating is for violence, adult themes, and language. This is my first fan fiction so reviews would be hugely appreciated! Thanks for reading.

. . . Chapter 1

. . . Baths and Mourning . . .

The darkness pressed in around them in the sixth year boy's dormitory. She felt and heard their breathing before she opened her eyes: she, Ron, and Harry were all in one small bed. Dirty and on top of the covers, she peaked at the arm thrown across her side in the moonlight. Pale white, freckles, a dreadful scar from splinching: Ron. Harry was sleeping on his back in front of her. Breathing easily for probably the first time in years with no nightmares. He had his glasses on and his wand clenched tightly in his hand across his chest.

Hermione sat up, moving Ron's arm gently, and leaned over Harry to take his glasses off and put them on his side table. She noticed someone had set three glasses of water and a plate of crackers beside the bed and realized someone had taken care of them, like Dobby . . . She tried to change the subject in her own mind. Kreacher? They'd have to thank him or whoever.

All the beds in the room were full in the low light. Neville and Seamus shared one. Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood in another. Molly Weasley in one. Arthur and Percy Weasley slept on the floor. She couldn't see who filled out the other beds. Like everyone had crowded around, glad to be with other friends. Other survivors. She was between Harry and Ron so she started to edge down towards the foot of the bed to keep from disturbing either of them. As she slid off of the red duvet and onto the wooden floor, she almost stepped on Charlie Weasley's left leg. There was a huge tear in his leather vest - must have happened in the battle. Absently, she wondered when they had come in, it had just been the three of them when they had gone up the stairs this afternoon.

Hermione tiptoed across the floor, lit wand and beaded bag in hand, and out onto the stone stairs. She headed across to the girls' bathroom. She'd been wearing the same clothes since they left Shell Cottage - had that really only been two days ago? - and desperately needed to clean up and change clothes. She undressed slowly, noting the blood down her side. Not hers. She threw the stained shirt to the side and watched it slide underneath the sink. In the bath, Hermione sank down into the warm water and shut her eyes.

"We're here, we're at Shell Cottage you're safe."

Her eyes snapped open. She was safe now as she had been when Fleur had helped her bathe except this time. . .this time they'd stay safe. Hermione wondered how many were still out there. Death Eaters. How many would stay in England, would flee, would be captured? How many were dead after last night?

She slowly began to wash all of the grime, blood, and sweat off as she tried not to think about how many good lives were lost or who she'd never see: Tonks and Lupin and Fred and so many others. When she came to her arm, m u d b l o o d, still red and angry, Hermione tried one more time to wash it away. Scrubbing until it hurt her arm, she lifted the washcloth. m u d b l o o d. On a field of raw pink skin.

Now what was left for the three of them?

She'd have to tell them about her parents, she thought as she washed her unruly mass of hair. She would have to visit her ruined home. They would sit together as they buried an inconceivable number of their friends. How strange that just yesterday she and Ron had agreed they were ready to die and now she was here in a bath, very much alive, when so many weren't.

Drying off, a knock sounded on the door, "Hermione?". Parvati's voice. Hermione wrapped the fluffy, red towel, embroidered with golden 'G' around herself and went to the mirror to check her reflection. She sighed.

"Come in."

Parvati walked in wearing a nightgown - her purple one she'd had since fourth year, Hermione noticed - and stood beside Hermione as Hermione combed her hair in the lamp lighting. After standing in a heavy silence for a minute or more, Parvati took the comb out of Hermione's hand and started to help Hermione with her hair.

"Padma is in St. Mungo's. Rookwood, he...he escaped but - she'll probably be ok. That's what they tell me at least, she's still trying to sleep off Skele-Gro. I'm to go back this afternoon," Parvati said with red eyes but no tears fell.

"Parvati - I'm so sorry. She'll be fine, I'm sure of it," Hermione said, placating. Her words were failing her and she knew it sounded superficial. Everything sounded shallow, hollow, after what they'd all been through.

"Yeah," Parvati said as she gathered more of Hermione's wet hair into her hand, working through it gradually. Hermione wondered for the first time why the twins were sorted into different houses. Were they really that different? Padma always seemed so similar to Parvati - maybe it was just that they looked so alike that Hermione thought they were similar.

"It's nice to have you back Hermione. This year was, it was just..."

"Horrible?" Hermione finished. She looked up into Parvati's eyes through the mirror - she had gotten taller in the last year, almost Harry's height.

"The Carrows," she said but didn't elaborate. "Eventually Neville, Ginny and a few others started having to pretty much live in the Room of Requirement just to stay alive out of the Carrows' grasp," Parvati explained.

Hermione stood still and stared at her reflection as Parvati combed her hair. Hermione's eyes were a bit sunken from lack of sleep and food. Her cheekbones were pronounced like they had never been before. Maybe it was just because her hair was wet but even her hair looked thinner. No complains there. The scar on her neck was still there, smaller, but there. She had another cut under her right eye that marred the skin of her cheek. That must have happened last night. She'd need dittany.

Parvati finished and laid the comb down on the edge of the sink and smiled sadly at Hermione's reflection. She was thinner too, Hermione decided.

"There. I'm sure there will be breakfast if you want to walk down, I'll be in the Great Hall...or, wherever if it's not there."

"Thanks, Parvati." Hermione hoped that Parvati could hear the gratefulness in her voice. It was nice to feel taken care of and clean and to have a night's sleep that wasn't under canvas.

As she heard the door to the bathroom shut with a clink that echoed around on the marble floor, Hermione reached into the beaded bag and pulled out some clothes. She smirked as one of Ron's shirts came out in her hand. All of their clothes had been thrown in and disorganized in the last month or two. She eyed Ron's blue t-shirt - she'd be wearing a dress if she pulled on his shirt. She found a pair of her jeans and a grey long-sleeve shirt.

She pulled out the rest of an outfit for Ron and something to wear for Harry and headed to the boy's dormitory to lay their clothes out before she headed out to survey the rest of the castle. She laid out clothes for Harry and Ron on Harry's night stand beside the two of them and headed to the common room. How had she not noticed it before? How beautiful and homey and perfect the common room was. Red heads stuck up above the high back of the couch. Hermione circled it slowly, absently running her hand over the pocket of her jeans to double check her wand's presence.

"Oh, Hermione!" Mrs. Weasley cried. "Dear, I'm so glad you're alright! We woke up and you were gone - were you out of the tower?"

Hermione relished her motherly hug. "No, just cleaning up," she said as she motioned to her hair. She left it wet instead of using a charm. They'd been using charms to hurry through everything all year, taking to sleeping clothed in that tent, forgone showers whenever possible. Rushed.

Mr. Weasley and Ginny sat near on the couch, they both looked up at her as she entered. George in a chair, facing the empty fireplace, a blank look burning in his brown eyes.

What do you say? Where do you start? After Mrs. Weasley released her and took her seat again on the burgundy sofa, Hermione sat down beside Ginny's legs on the floor and joined George in his stare down of the fireplace. As Mrs. Weasley cried quietly, Ginny pushed her legs against Hermione's side and Hermione wrapped an arm behind her calves. It was the best hug she could muster. How do you comfort a family who has lost a child? How many parents would be grieving after the Daily Prophet came out this morning? What would she, Ron, and Harry being doing now? How upset would they be that she had hidden the truth about her parents? Would they come back to Hogwarts or would they . . .could you even finish Hogwarts without actually finishing Hogwarts? Would she want to?

The sun had risen and blasted a beam of light at the wall to their right during the time that Hermione and the Weasleys sat still. Finally, interrupting Hermione's stream of thoughts and turmoil, Ron's gentle voice shattered the oppressive silence, "'Mione?"

"I'm here," Hermione said as she unfurled her arm from Ginny's legs and stood, shaky on her legs after sitting so long, on the spot.

"Hermione," Ron breathed as he stepped forward and embraced her. Sudden relief flooded Hermione. She and Ron and Harry: they'd survived . . .somehow. She'd known, known at the beginning of the year that this wasn't possible but now here they were in Gryffindor tower.

"Ron! Thank Merlin, you're ok! Oh, we've been so worried all year!" Mrs. Weasley's voice was shrill after the long gap between talking. She moved forward to Ron and Hermione stepped back. Ron was greeted with his mother's hug and his dad stood to gather his wife and son together in his arms. She felt happy and jealous at the same time when Ginny reached out and took Ron's hand and even George looked up at Ron. He had so much family. Hermione had not even a single cousin to call up and cry with.

After what she was sure Ron considered a long enough hug, she looked up at met his eyes. The look behind them was fierce, tired, relieved, sad, loving, scared, happy, scary. Hermione's gaze held him steady, how long ago had she said that about a teaspoon of emotional range? Hermione held his stare breathlessly. They'd all changed so much. Ron cleared his throat and gently backed out of his family's hold. Hermione took a step closer.

"Thanks for the clothes, 'Mione," he whispered to her.

"Sure," Hermione said, withholding a small smile at the nickname. The only people in the world who she'd let use a nickname were Ron and Harry. Even then, she liked it better coming from Ron.

"Want to go see if Harry wants any food? It's about eight o'clock. Hasn't eaten in almost a day and he probably doesn't want to see everyone, so we could go for - ," Ron asked her.

"Alright, but if he's still asleep -"

"Oh no, we'll let him be," Ron interrupted, finishing her thought.

"Ok, yeah, then let's go and see," Hermione said back. She glanced over her shoulder at Ginny in an unspoken invitation but Ginny smiled sadly and shook her head.

As they climbed the stairs, Ron stopped and took Hermione's hand. She blinked once down at their joined hands before bringing her eyes to his.

"Ron, what is it?" Bald emotion, Hermione couldn't place which one, was writ plainly across his weary features. Her heart clenched painfully, simultaneously excited and anxious.

"I meant what I said last night," Ron said, seriously. Hermione wondered if his ears were red but couldn't tell with the way he bent his head down to hers, so close she could feel his minty breath on her face.

Hermione had been waiting to see if he'd remember it, what he had said in the middle of the battle as they ran to catch up to Harry in the Great Hall. "I did too."

He leaned in closer to her. Ron smelled like a mixture of the soap at Hogwarts, spearmint toothpaste, and her beaded bag. He kissed her gently on the cheek and wrapped her shoulders in his long arms. As they stood there on the second landing of the stairs, Ron put his chin on top of Hermione's head and she finally allowed herself to consider something that had been completely unthinkable until this day - the future.