It was the first of September and, as usual, Platform 9 and ¾ was buzzing with life and activity. Students and parents alike were milling about, as the white steam from the Express hovered across the platform and created a dense haze. Harry, as he had done many times before, emerged through the barrier and stepped out onto the platform. He looked around, a grin on his face as he took in the familiar surroundings. He felt a pang of jealousy as he saw young and innocent first years clambering aboard the train, wishing that he could be in their place. He'd give anything to do it all again if he could. Suddenly, jolting him from his reminiscing, Harry felt something ram sharply into the back of his legs and, after stumbling forwards, turned to see his son Albus standing behind him, peering out from behind his luggage with a sheepish grin on his face.
"Sorry dad, mum told me it would be okay to go. She said you're not supposed to stay standing in front of the barrier."
"And she's right." A voice added, as Ginny swept gracefully through onto the platform, holding their daughter's hand. "But your dad will never learn, no matter how often you tell him!" Moments later, James also barged through the barrier, swatting his younger brother over the head and making his mum jump.
"What's everyone hanging around for?" He asked cheekily, flashing his family a grin. "Let's go and find Uncle Ron."
It did not take long, for it was easy to identify the noisy red-headed rabble in the crowd. Ron stood in the centre of the platform, his arm slung easily around his wife's waist as their daughter chattered to them both and their son stared moodily at everyone. Ron met his wife Maisie, a muggle, about five years after the war when Harry took him on a night out in muggle London. Thankfully, she had been very open-minded about Ron being a wizard, and they'd got married just one year later. Harry, Ginny and the kids approached, greeting each other with warm embraces and lots of laughter.
"I can't believe she's finally going to Hogwarts." Ron said, looking at Rose who was chatting animatedly to James and Albus. "I'd love to do it all again."
"Hopefully their time there'll be a bit quieter than ours was." Harry replied laughingly.
"Too right! It was still a laugh, until...you know."
"Yeah. I wouldn't change it for anything though." Harry said quietly, giving a sigh. He and Ron shared a meaningful look, clearly both thinking the same thing. What about Hermione?
It was at times like that, when everyone was gathered together, that her absence became more noticeable, painful all over again like it had been the first time. That night, when they had parted ways in the Entrance Hall, Harry and Ron waited an hour for her return before they gathered a search party and set out to look for her. They had trawled the castle, the village, the Shrieking Shack, but could find no evidence of her anywhere. It seemed, to everyone, that she had disappeared into thin air. Like ten months before, Hermione Granger was nowhere to be found. Harry was a little suspicious of her whereabouts, particularly as they found no trace of Severus Snape's body in the Shack either. There was just a faint bloodstain on the floorboards, where Harry had left his body and gone to look at his memories. He never raised his suspicions to anyone, however, for the aurors just assumed that Snape's body had been destroyed by Death Eaters, and none of them had known about the true nature of his and Hermione's relationship, or the fact that he had hidden her in plain sight for the whole duration of the war.
Over the years since then, Harry had continued to discretely look for Hermione. He trawled newspapers, muggle and magical alike, for any sign of her – any article, any picture, just some sign that she was still alive and well. He found nothing. About three years after the battle, Harry began to write to her. He would address the letters to Verity Prince or to Hermione Granger, and in them he would simply write about his life, and beg her to come back and be a part of it again. The letters were always returned to him, the seal unbroken and the message unread. Until, that is, on the tenth anniversary of the battle. He was sitting in his office at the Ministry when the owl came; a brown speckled one that almost looked like an eagle. He recognised the handwriting at once, tearing it open and warding his office so that no one could interrupt. The letter read:
Firstly, I have to apologise, for everything. For disappearing the night of the final battle, for not replying to any of your letters, for missing your wedding to Ginny and the birth of your children. In short, I'm sorry for being such a terrible friend. I won't try to explain why I disappeared, but I swear to you that it was a difficult decision. Whilst I do not regret it, I am sorry that it did not permit me to see you and Ron again.
Enough with the apologies, I think, and on to the real reason I wrote you this letter. It has been ten years since you defeated Lord Voldemort and, to this day, my husband and I are still grateful for what you did, for the opportunity you gave us to lead the life we do. My husband wishes to insist that this does not mean that he likes you and, he asserts, he never has, but that does not lessen his gratitude or his thanks. You were brave and courageous, Harry, throughout the whole time you battled against him, and I am as proud today as I was all those years ago.
It is perhaps a little unfair of me, but I've kept up with your life for the past ten years – at least insofar as what the newspapers told me, and what I could discern from discrete enquiries and gossip. I saw a picture of your children in the newspaper; they're beautiful, and I could not quite believe how much your sons look like you. I myself have a son named Sebastian; he is 2 years old, and already shows signs of magic – I can't help but be a little proud that my son, like his mother, seems to be quite keen to learn.
In the first few years after Hogwarts, Hadrian and I went to Australia and reunited with my parents there. It was only expected to be short-term, but we stayed there for the next five years. We married in 2003 and, ever since, have toured the world, jumping from one country to the next. That is why it has been so difficult for you to track me, you see, although I know you have tried; we barely stay in one place for longer than a year, and are always careful to cover our tracks. As strange as it may seem, we like living like this – Hadrian enjoys the freedom to relax and I...well I am happy when I am with him.
I think I've said enough for now, and I hope that the little I have written has satisfied your curiosity. I am sorry that I cannot be there to help you celebrate ten years; we had intended to return to England for the occasion, but we're currently doing some important work in Tibet. I wish you all the best of health and happiness.
Verity and Hadrian Prince.
Harry had not told anyone about the letter, not even Ginny. He had presumed that Hermione would not want him to, that she would prefer it if he kept it a secret. He still had the letter, however, and occasionally reread it to remind himself that everything was okay; he could almost picture her writing it, her head bent over the parchment as her brown curls tickled the tabletop.
On Platform 9 and ¾, Harry gave a sigh and turned to see his two sons rowing about which house Albus would be in. It had always been a somewhat hot topic in their household, as James had always been intent on sticking to traditional house rivalries, whilst Albus had preferred the newer idea of all getting along together. Ginny did not care which house any of their children were sorted into, but Harry had secretly always harboured the desire that they would be Gryffindors; not that he would ever let Ginny or the children know.
"Come on boys." He said, smiling. "You know that it doesn't matter what house you're in."
"But what if I'm in Slytherin?" Albus asked, his face a little pale. Harry suppressed a small smirk, not surprised to find that James' taunts had succeeded in worrying his brother a little.
"It doesn't matter. One of the bravest men I've ever met was in Slytherin." Albus gave a sigh.
"I suppose..." Harry turned to watch his son as he headed off to join Rose and Hugo, but suddenly stopped when he saw the trio that had just stepped onto the platform. There was a tall man, who had long dark hair that was tied back in a ponytail, a little grey showing at the temples, stood next to a younger woman with waist-length black hair. Their son stood next to them, clutching on to a trolley as if his life depended on it and looking around the platform with wide brown eyes. There was an owl balanced on the trolley, hooting pleasantly to itself, and Harry recognised it immediately. It was brown and speckled. It was her.
He watched them carefully as they crossed the platform together, the two adults chattering and smiling as they approached someone else who was familiar to Harry. It was Draco Malfoy, his receding hairline making him look much more like his father than he ever had before. Like Harry, he seemed stunned to see the couple, freezing on the spot with his mouth slightly ajar as they spoke. The older gentleman patted Draco on the back and smiled at him, motioning to the train and to their son before slipping his arm around his wife's waist. Harry inched closer slightly, just so he could hear them speak.
"I had no idea!" Draco said. "I thought...well, I don't know what I thought."
"Sebastian is starting his first year." The woman said, ruffling her son's hair fondly. "We contemplated homeschooling him for a while, but eventually decided that it was worth coming back so he could enjoy Hogwarts, the way we both did."
"He looks a lot like his father." Draco said, looking at the man with a smirk on his face. "There's no doubting it." The couple laughed.
"Although, his personality favours his mother's." The man said. "Unfortunately, he asks incessant questions as she once did." She fondly swatted her husband, giving a high laugh.
Draco called over his son Scorpius, who looked so much like Malfoy that Harry had to do a double take. He watched as they introduced the two boys, and they instantly began to chat and laugh together. Harry found himself wishing that his sons would also be friends with Sebastian Prince; he wanted to take Albus over there, to force them to speak so that they would recreate the friendship he and Hermione had once shared. Harry must have been staring quite obviously, for Draco was suddenly pointing and the man and woman turned to look at him. The woman's lip began to quiver, and she bit hard on it as if to stop herself from crying. Harry watched as her husband bent and whispered in her ear, before placing a gentle kiss on her cheek.
Harry was jolted from his thoughts when he felt a tap on his shoulder, and turned to see Ron and Ginny stood behind him. They were both staring in the same direction, Ron with a look of confusion and Ginny with one of shock.
"Who are they?" Ron asked. "I've never seen them before. They could be muggles, I suppose, but why they would know Malfoy, I have no idea..."
"It's her." Ginny whispered. "Isn't it?"
Almost without thinking, Harry left Ron and Ginny behind and set off towards the group. He was a little surprised when the woman turned too, and they came to a stop in the middle, facing one another with matching looks of nervousness and embarrassment.
"Mrs Prince?" Harry mumbled, uncertain as to why he spoke to her so formally. She smiled, obviously bemused by it too.
"Yes. It's nice to see you, Mr Potter."
"Why are you here?" He blurted. He felt ridiculous, behaving so erratically; it was his former best friend, someone who he had searched years for, not a silly crush or someone he did not know or like. He wanted to hit himself.
"Seb is starting at Hogwarts." She smiled, motioning to where he stood with his father.
"He looks like...Hadrian." Harry answered, repeating what Draco had said just minutes before.
"Yes, and proud of it he is too." Hermione leant a little closer and lowered her voice. "He can see how we really look, you see, and he knows who we really are. " Harry nodded stiffly.
"Those are my children, standing over there with Ginny." Hermione looked past him, to see Ginny had gathered the children and was watching them carefully. The redhead raised her hand in a wave, a small smile on her lips. "Albus Severus is the tallest one; he'll be in the same year as Sebastian."
Hermione stiffened suddenly, and Harry saw that her husband, who had been pretending to ignore the whole conversation, had turned his head to look at the boy who bore his name.
"You...you named him..."
"Yes." Harry said, almost daring her to say something negative about it. He stood even taller when, seconds later, the man himself walked over to join them. He put an arm around his wife's waist, and she leant against him comfortably. "He's called Albus Severus Potter."
"Interesting idea, to join the names of the murderer and the murdered." Snape said a little stiffly, although his voice had been modified so it sounded nothing like Harry remembered.
"They were both good men." Harry replied, staring him directly in the eye. "Men to whom I owe my life." Hermione was grinning almost wildly, her eyes darting from one to the other.
"Perhaps we should talk about something a little...lighter, and more pleasant?" She interrupted. "Hadrian and I are moving to Scotland; to live in a small cottage, tucked away in a muggle village near Hogsmeade. We want to be settled, close by, whilst Seb's at Hogwarts."
"You're...you're staying around?"
"Yes." She smiled tentatively. "I know that it's...it's been a long time, but I...we would really like it if we could get back in touch." Harry looked at Snape, whose facial expression told him that he wasn't particularly fond of the idea.
"I would like that." Harry replied. "A lot." She grinned and reached into her pocket, pulling out a slip of parchment and handing it to him.
"This is our address. Bring Ginny, bring the children." She sighed, relieved. "You're welcome anytime."
"Perhaps," Snape drawled quietly, "you should be a little less enthusiastic, my love." She laughed, flushing a little.
"You're right. I'm just excited, that's all." She squeezed his hand. "Go back to Draco if you like; give him our address too, please." She and Harry watched as he left, returning to Malfoy with another slap to the back. Harry suddenly felt a little overwhelmed as he turned to see that Snape had encouraged Sebastian to go over and talk to Albus, then to look back and see Hermione smiling up at him. And he really did see her – the real her. Her hair was still as it had always been, wild and uncontrollable, she simply looked a little older. He turned back to Snape and saw that he could see him too, realising that his disguise was not as drastically different as Hermione's was. Without thinking, he leapt forwards and threw his arms around Hermione. She laughed, squeezing him tightly. "What's wrong, Harry?"
"I just can't believe you're here. I feel as if I'll look up again and you'll disappear."
"Well I won't – we're going nowhere this time." She stepped back and grinned at him. "All is well, Harry. All is well."
A/N: I could see no sense in waiting to post the epilogue, so here it is! And thus ends A Matter of Trust! Many thanks to all of those who have read and reviewed this story, particularly those who have followed it all along, and those who I can always rely on to give an interesting and honest review. At present I don't have anything new up my sleeve, but with three months of summer extending in front of me and a lot of free time, it's highly likely that I'll be publishing again soon. Many thanks again, and let me know what you think of this final chapter! Thanks! :)