The Last Turner of Time

Chapter One

The unusually bright moonlight washed in through the floor to ceiling windows filtered to a gossamer glow by the thin gauze sheers billowing in the soft autumn breeze causing light and shadow to dance in a twirling cadence across the floor.

It was mostly silent except for the occasional night song of a cricket somewhere in the shadowy places of the small park across the street.

Hermione Jean Granger lay in her bed lost in a restless, uneasy sleep. For the past few weeks she had been troubled by those all-to-vivid reoccurring dreams. The images that flashed behind her eyelids were frightening, confusing and dark. Memories haunted her…always haunting.

It began the same – surrounded by complete oppressing darkness…

There was the sensation of flying – hurling through the blackness in a direction she could not see.

Scenes appeared out of the all-encompassing nothingness – Shifting as if she were on one of those old fashioned carnival fun-house rides…

She was at the cottage – His new cottage at Godric's Hollow. All three of them were there. Moments later they were running – running for the front door. She heard herself yelling for him to wait. She turned to see a face, a mask of terror and apprehension. She watched herself tear out after him with another right behind…

The scene shifted, blackness blanking the vision a moment until it shifted…

She was at the Burrow. Curses and spells flying in every direction. Order members and Death Eaters fell everywhere. The house was in flames. She looked up and saw it – The Dark Mark hung high in the night sky – Mocking, proclaiming victory. It was as if the writhing green visceral serpent was feeding on the flames, death and destruction below.

Darkness, then another scene…

She was now standing on the wild and unkempt grounds surrounding the Riddle House. She saw herself kneeling over a figure sprawled out, perfectly outlined in the high grass. She could see the wide eyed, open-mouthed expression of his face – The face of the boy she had come to love - The milky white haze in his eyes confirmed her worst fear…once again.

The scene shifted again…

She was standing in a dark, decrepit but ornate great room decorated in turn-of-the-century styles. The walls were stained, expensive wall paper pealing in tectonic sheets. Tendrils of paint hung from the ceiling like the fingers of skeletons reaching down, waiting to wrench souls free from their corporal forms. What once would have been considered priceless rugs and antiques were now reduced to moldering ruin. Cob webs draped the massive crystal chandelier hanging in the center of the room. It was a bleak and dreary place…a place of death.

She watched again as he – The Chosen One – The Boy Who Lived – The Savior of the Wizarding World – The only one known to have ever survived the Killing Curse – stood face to face with their bitterest enemy. She heard herself scream his name as she watched helplessly. He - defiantly dropping his wand at his feet.

She watched as the face of pure evil become enraged at his simple act of defiance. He let out a visceral high-pitched scream that echoed in her head, stabbing at her mind like a dagger.

In a blinding blast of red light the room was filled with a deafening explosion that rattled the very foundation of the house itself. When the roiling smoke dissipated and the swirling dust settled – only one teen-aged boy was left standing…

Darkness swallowed her once more…

Now she was standing in the doorway of a dimly lit room. She saw her own hand and wand pointing at the back of a tall silver-blonde haired young man standing near the back silhouetted by a window. As he turned to face her she heard herself utter the words – words to a spell she never thought she could say.

In another flash of bright red light the figure crumpled in a heap in the shadows of the dark room and lay lifeless in a swirling cloud of dust.

She turned then and saw his face – She could see the utter shock and dismay on his bruised and battered visage as she walked passed without a word.

The world faded to black…

She was now watching him coming out of the depths of the Riddle House carrying the shattered and bloody remains of a slender red-haired girl. His face contorted in raw grief and rage so strong the air crackled with electricity around him.

Others were there now but no-one dare approach him. He laid her body on the damp grass and stepped back, head bowed, hands clenched in tight fists. He was shaking from head to toe.

When she looked up the Riddle House exploded in an all-encompassing tower of billowing flames.

The sound of the destruction was unmistakable. It was as if the house was being consumed by a living, breathing thing…

It was then she saw it…

In the darkness, masked against the bright orange and yellow glow of the raging inferno that engulfed the huge mansion – She saw his eyes…and the hideous red glow that flashed across them for just a single beat of a human heart – but it had been there – she had seen it…and the pure terror that filled her had no name…

Hermione woke with a violent start. Her body was bathed in sweat and all her limbs tangled in the bed linens.

She stopped struggling and tried to calm her gasping breath, the pain throbbing at her temples almost unbearable.

After she extracted herself from the confines of her bed she rolled off the side and silently padded her way to the adjoining bathroom in her trendy and modern flat in downtown Muggle London.

The bathroom was large. It was tiled – floor and walls, with large black and white checker board pattern ceramic. On the left was a large glass-enclosed double-headed shower stall in front of a huge refurbished, antique cast iron claw-foot tub. The tub was surrounded by a tiled ledge covered in candles and small baskets of flowers.

On the right near the entrance to the bathroom was a door to her cavernous walk-in closet. Set on the wall next to it was a black lacquer, floor to ceiling cabinet that ran half the length of the bathroom. The rest of the right wall was covered with smoked mirror. Set in front of that was a black pedestal sink and a black lavatory set in the far right corner.

Set in the back wall was a floor to ceiling glass block window that let natural light flood the space in the day…but at the moment the space was filled with the same ethereal glow of the full moon that washed across the sparking tile floor like a spectral wave.

Hermione stepped up to the sink, grasping the edges she leaned over the bowl for a moment, hunched over trying desperately to get control of her shuddering form. With a trembling hand she reached for the stopper and placed it in the bottom of the black shiny basin. With a twist of her slender wrist she turned on the cold water and let the basin fill as she closed her eyes and tried to calm the raging emotional tempest inside her.

A bead of sweat rolled off the tip of her tiny nose and fell, lost in the swirling water that filled the basin.

Letting go of the sides of the basin she straightened and, crossing her arms she grabbed the hem of her sweat-soaked tank top and pulled it off over her head whipping her long mane sideways as she let the soaked garment fall to the floor. It clung to her slender body like a second skin. The color of gold glinted in the pale light.

The night air, kissed with a veiled hint of the coming season caressed her over-heated skin causing goose bumps to rise all over and her woman's body to react in a most sensual way as if caressed by a lover's touch…but with the dark thoughts plaguing her, she barely noticed.

The sink filled, she reached out to turn off the tap and the room – her entire world, it seemed – was plunged into silence. She watched as the water in the basin settled to form a smooth glassy surface that reflected her worn and beleaguered face until another drop of sweat dripped from her nose to mare the placid pool, obscuring her reflection.

She reached out again, this time to the right to a towel rack attached to the side of the cabinet next to the sink. She snatched a washcloth from the gleaming chrome bar and plunged it into the basin.

She then withdrew the dripping washcloth and raising her hand over her head...

She squeezed.

Cool water cascaded down over her sweat-soaked head and rushed to as many over heated places as it could reach. She rubbed the dripping cloth across the back of her neck, down over each shoulder and over her breasts not caring that the tile at her feet became spattered with droplets like a rain shower in early spring.

She dipped the cloth back into the basin and doused herself again - This time, a steady stream of the cool fluid coursed down her spine under the back of the tiny boy shorts, between her firm bottom and farther to trace a path across her most private place.

Her whole body shuddered as if she had been caressed by an invisible finger gliding feather light across her most sensitive spot. The goose flesh appeared again and her knees gave way to an almost alien sensation of sensual bliss.

She had to grip both sides of the basin again to steady herself taking her lower lip between her teeth and closing her eyes tightly until the sensation passed.

She was panting.

Memories of the dream swirled in her exhausted mind, paging through the images until a face came into sharp focus behind her eyelids.

Why his?

Hermione soaked herself again and as the cool liquid found the depths of her body lights exploded behind her eyelids obliterating the disembodied face that hovered there. She allowed the sensation to carry her away…

She was no longer in her flat in London. She had been carried back to that small quaint cottage nestled in the shadows of the hills that ringed the valley. She could see it clearly.

She moved inside. She was naked, lying on the floor of the small sitting room on a pallet of blankets and soft pillows in front of a warm fire in the small stone fireplace.

Someone was behind her, an arm draped casually over her middle. She was covered in sweat and shaking slightly, the feeling of utter bliss settling over her like a warm, soft blanket. She had never felt so alive – so utterly fulfilled and at peace.

When she slowly rolled over she found herself starring into his beautiful green eyes…

As soon as recognition hit her she jumped, pushing herself away from the sink, a wild bewildered look staring back at her from the mirror. She dropped the cloth from her trembling hand and started shaking uncontrollably. She wrapped herself tightly with her arms as if to keep all her bits from falling to the floor in a jumble of unrecognizable pieces.

Unstoppable tears coursed down her cheeks falling to the immaculate shiny tiled floor as her body was wracked with silent sobs, mouth open wide in a silent scream.

How could you!

The haunting words reverberated in her head like the echo of a tolling bell.

She had desecrated those feeling she once had for another betraying the memories she held onto so tightly – but then another voice filled her mind's ear.

It's been three years – It's time Hermione…time to let him go…

How can I possibly? We had so little time.

But as those thoughts drifted into the dark recesses inside her conscious mind she had begun to feel the dawning of new sensations – Ones that had been creeping into her for the past few weeks. It was undeniable need and yearning to be touched and wanted and…loved again.

Her self-imposed solitary existence was testing even her stalwart endurance. Besides…there were those who simply would not allow her to fall to loneliness and despair.

The unbidden thoughts and fantasies filled her dreams often now along with the haunting memoires. She seemed powerless to stop them. It was as if her own mind was trying to pull her from the wreckage of her dark and debilitating past.

As Hermione stared into the mirror across the moonlit room droplets of water still glistened from her mostly naked body. The glint of gold flashed in the reflection once again, this time arresting her gaze on the locket and fine gold chain that hung from her slender neck, the locket nestled quite easily between her breasts.

It was as if she had only just remembered it was there…but she knew it had been there for over three years now and it never left her – not ever. Another memory invaded her mind…

Three years to the day…and it's his birthday – July 31st.

Hermione took the locket in her hand and peered down at it. Her emotions were a jumble and her mind fatigued, but in the confusion she wondered where he was tonight. She wondered if he thought of her at all.

She wondered why he had separated himself almost completely from her world. Hermione knew – it was the darkness that plagued him. She had seen – It had scared her and she had recoiled from him just that once – but it had been enough…

She wondered if he had dreams and fantasies as she did…

NO! He wouldn't!

She chastised herself, closing her eyes tightly.

He would never betray the memory of his love that way! He's made of stronger stuff Granger! You're the weak one…

As she realized those things the emptiness and utter desolation of her life washed over her like an invisible crushing tidal wave.

She just barely managed to make the edge of her tub before her knees buckled and she sat heavily on the tiled edge, bending double trying desperately not to vomit.

There in the silence of the moon-washed night she could feel the unmistakable shattering of her very soul…once again.

Morning brought with it bright sun light. As she opened her weary eyes she became instantly aware she was not alone…but no panic or fear caused her to lurch upright.

She instantly recognized the all too familiar scent of her mother's perfume as she blearily realized the older Granger was moving about her room – putting away laundry.

Daphne Granger turned toward the disheveled bed with a slight smirk.

"Morning sleeping beauty," she chuckled, "I called at eight but when there was no answer I thought you might have gone in to the office. Thought I'd bring round your clean things you left the other night."

All Hermione could manage was a mumble of something wholly unintelligible and rolled to her side, covering her head with her comforter.

Her mother stopped and peered at her for a moment appraisingly as mothers are often want to do when their brilliant and presently enigmatic offspring act completely out of character.

The elder Granger could not help notice the deep bruise-colored circles beneath her child's eyes before she flipped the covers over her head.

"Oh dear," her mother said putting the laundry basket on the floor.

She moved to the side of the huge bed and sat near where she suspected her daughter's head to be.

"Must have been a bad one."

She peeled the covers back to expose her daughter's head and shoulders. Reaching out she gently stroked Hermione's hair.

The Granger matriarch knew all about the things that plagued her daughter – The nightmares that haunted her in the night.

Even though they were her parents, her mother and father had been largely shielded from the war. Hermione had cleverly modified their memories and sent them to the wilds of Australia while all hell broke loose in Wizard London.

After it was all over she brought them back and with the assistance of Minerva McGonagall they had planted memories of a well earned and very restful vacation in their minds.

It was a guilt that Hermione had carried with her mounted on top of everything else but she justified her actions because her parents were still alive, unlike many others she had known. Loosing them would have been the final blow that would have sent her into the abyss with no chance of ever finding her way out.

The death of Ronald Bilius Weasley had pushed her right to the edge but another had reached down and pulled her back from the brink just short of too late. The wounds were still bleeding and raw…even after all this time but she knew she owed him her life…in more ways than one.

After a while, with the gentle prodding at the hands of her wise and cleaver mother Hermione had decided to confide in her all that had happened while they were away. It became therapy for her.

She felt her mother handled it all rather well for someone with no magical aptitude – only fainting once.

Her father, on the other hand, was blissfully unaware of any of it because Hermione was certain if he knew the truth, even just the basic facts, he would never allow his only child to set foot in the wizard world again…ever!

It was this secret she shared with her mother that served to bring them closer than they had ever been. It was something Hermione needed desperately. Their talks had helped keep her from loosing all vestiges of sanity and aided in a lightening of the constant crushing weight of grief and loss.

But, as she constantly reminded herself, there was another who had played a pivotal roll in helping her through the first days after…it was something she would never forget.

Daphne looked down at her daughter.

"Want to talk about it?"

Hermione slithered out from under the covers to wrap her arms around her mother's waist burrowing her head in her lap letting the tears of utter exhaustion and frustration go again.

She told her mother everything – well – almost everything. She didn't feel the need to share the knowledge she had a near orgasmic experience thinking about doing it with the bloody Savior of the Wizard World! There were just some things one needed to keep to one's self.

Daphne leaned back against the dark mahogany headboard and started gently rubbing her beleaguered daughter's head.

"Oh sweetheart," her mother whispered, "There's nothing wrong with wanting to move on. I know how you felt about Ron," she paused, "but I don't think even he would have wanted you to lock yourself away like this pining over him for the rest of your days. It isn't healthy."

Funny…That's exactly what Ron would have wanted…

It was the first thought that popped into Hermione's mind after her mother had said it but she chastised herself for it vehemently. Her mother went on…

"You know I would never tell you what to do with your life dear but I wish – I wish you would allow yourself to make peace with your past. I won't lie to you darling. I don't like standing by and watching these memoires haunt you relentlessly. It tears my heart out knowing you're so…so miserable."

Her mother began to cry softly and pulled Hermione into a tight embrace. She leaned back and kissed her mother on the tear-soaked cheek as her own tears continued to fall.

She knew her mother was right. It was time to drag herself out of the darkness that encompassed her life. It seemed that the nightmare had been real since the day she had stepped onto the Hogwarts Express, punctuated only by a few brief moments of joy and happiness.

One of those moments was when she entered their compartment in the guise of helping Neville Longbottom look for his missing toad Trevor. That was the very day her life changed forever…

…But it was time. Time to move passed all the pain and misery – Time to move forward.

With a renewed sense of purpose she got out of bed, showered, got dressed in some old faded sweats and sweatshirt and helped her mother put the rest of her things away. With only a little pleading Daphne convinced Hermione to come home with her and spend her Saturday with her folks – and that's precisely what she did.

She helped her mother with her everyday mundane chores and even assisted her father in painting the trim and shutters on the house – with the assistance of some covert magic, of course. Her father was so grateful for her help he took them to Hermione's favorite Italian restaurant for dinner that evening.

Returning home that night she felt life returning to her slowly, even though she was mentally and physically exhausted. She fell into bed that night and slept completely dream free for the first time in her recent memory…and it felt good.

The next morning, while sitting at her small black marble-topped bar that separated the small stainless steel kitchen from her sitting room reading the Daily Prophet, she heard a soft tapping on the small window set at the end of the bar.

It was a tawny owl with a fancy light blue envelope attached. She raised the sash as the owl held out its leg for her. She untied the letter, reached over to a small stainless bowl she kept full of owl treats (she received a lot of correspondence from members of the Ministry as a result of her job) and gave a few to the very appreciative owl and off he flew.

She settled back in her bar stool and looked at the envelope for a moment. Her name was written in perfect calligraphic script across the front in rich dark ink. Opening it up she slipped out a card.

On the front were the white silhouettes of a man and a woman holding hands facing one-another. The woman was in what Hermione saw was unmistakably a wedding gown, complete with tiara, veil and train. The man wore an old-fashioned top hat and tails. Above their heads were two white bells with a ribbon holding them together. The whole thing was embossed on the face of the card. She thought it beautiful as she let the pads of her fingers glide gently over the raised images, smiling sadly.

When she opened the card she found inside the same perfect calligraphy announcing the pending union of Neville Franklin Longbottom to one Destiny Rachel Lattermore. The blessed union was to take place a week from that day and her attendance was respectfully requested by the bride-to-be and her groom.

Strange…I don't even know a Destiny Rachel Lattermore…

…But Hermione knew that hardly mattered. She was well acquainted with the groom.

At the bottom of the card were two very elaborately drawn "L's" leaning into one another linked at the top. Hermione thought it very sweet.

So Neville's getting married! I'm very happy for him. I just hope this girl is sweet and good to him.

Her first reaction was to decline but as she sat there sipping her Earl Grey she decided otherwise. She reasoned her mother was right. She needed to stop hiding in her office until all hours of the night then running to her flat, (even though she loved her flat), and hiding herself away like a bleeding hermit.

Pretty soon she was going to start turning into Gollum, the freaky little character from The Lord of the Rings, the one who used to be known as Smeagol before he came into the possession of the ring of power!

Eek! Can't let that happen can I?

And give up the wardrobe? Not on your life!

She decided she would send an R.S.V.P. (réspondez s'il vous plaît ) when she got to her office first thing in the morning.

Besides, someone's got to put a stamp of approval on this girl! However, if she's passed the Gran test then she's more than adequate.

Harry Potter sat in the sitting room at his new residence in Godric's Hollow. He purchased the home of an old Hogwarts History of Magic professor. It was small on the outside but had a magically larger and very comfortable living space within.

He had decided to donate #12 Girmmuald Place to the Order of the Phoenix for their meeting and general gatherings. He felt that's what Sirius and Remus would have wanted him to do.

The Order had flourished after the final confrontation and its membership soared into the hundreds shortly after. The study at the old Black home had to be magically enlarged to accommodate all the new members. Harry was one of them.

Shortly after the fall of Lord Voldemort and some of his minions Kingsley Shacklebolt was permanently placed as Minister and it didn't take long for significant and sweeping changes to occur throughout the Wizard world.

Shortly after that, the Minister, along with some none-too-gentile prodding from Minerva McGonagall, convinced Harry to join the ranks of the Aurors and began his training. In a program that usually spanned 13 months, Harry finished in 10. Over the next two years he found himself climbing through the ranks to become a Captain, or as Kinsley liked to refer to Harry as his Trouble Shooter.

When a witch or wizard baring the dark mark was sighted, Harry was always there, however, it wasn't long until his impatience and impetuousness cost him dearly.

On a cold rainy night he was dispatched to Liverpool on a report several possible Death Eaters were in the area. Harry was first on the scene (as usual) but ignored Kingsley's order to wait for back-up. When he charged in he found himself surrounded by several very nasty werewolves and they didn't take too kindly to the intrusion. They had been a part of the raid on Hogwarts for the other side.

Harry had been lucky to escape with his life. One of the older werewolves had jumped him from behind raking a claw across his face. It took out his right eye and left a nasty scar that ran from the end of the lightning bolt shaped one to about two inches below his eye. The werewolf was in full transformation.

Luckily for Harry help arrived just before the lycan sank his fangs into his neck. A well placed reducto blasted the beast off him and into the end of a steel pipe sticking out of the wall. It pierced the werewolf right through the chest. He was dead in seconds.

It took several weeks and some incredibly intensive and excruciatingly painful therapy to heal, but just as it was with Bill Weasley – it wasn't just the scars that remained. Harry's lycanthropic infection was a bit more severe but not bad enough that he would fully turn.

On or nearing full moons he found he would grow a bit. His fingers would lengthen and his nails would sharpen a little. He could feel his k-nines grow a bit longer and sharper as well. Just enough to press against his lips. His wild and untamable hair would get a bit longer and...even less tamable.

He would also become moody and restless and would be quick to temper with very little provocation. He would seek solitude during those times and Kingsley would cover for him.

It was one of the best kept secrets at the Ministry. Those involved in the incident were either memory wiped or forced to undergo the Fedelius. It would not due to have the Savior of the Wizard World branded a monster. It was Madam Pomfrey who came to the rescue along with the help of Headmistress McGonagall and a few Unspeakables at the Department of Mysteries. They had worked together to develop a fool-proof glamor for Harry that would hide his scars and the milky-white dead right eye.

The focus object for the glamor was a rather ingenious idea – it was a tattoo. They had placed a small tattoo of the Gryffindor coat of arms on his upper-right shoulder and placed the glamor on it.

As a result of his affliction he had made a conscious decision to remove himself from many of his old friend's lives – Hermione being the most significant. He knew she would eventually discover his secret if he stayed around. She had already realized there was something different about Harry after the final confrontation with Voldemort. It had scared her. He had seen the sheer look of terror on her face.

Now – He was certain there was no way she would understand what he had become so he separated himself from her world almost completely – and it hurt…a lot!

As he sat eating a spot of breakfast Kreacher had made him he heard the unmistakable sound of a Postal Owl land on the perch built for that very reason just outside the kitchen window.

Kreacher poked his head around the corner of the doorway leading from the dining area to the kitchen.

"Can Kreacher get Harry Potter anything else before Kreacher leaves for Hogwarts?"

"No…no thank you Kreacher, I'm fine but I appreciate you asking."

"It is Kreacher who is thankful Harry Potter." With that the wizened old elf snapped his fingers and was gone.

Kreacher had followed Harry of his own free will. Though he was now a free elf (it had been part of the deal), he split his time between Harry's, #12 during Order meetings and the kitchens at Hogwarts. He was a busy little elf these days but loved his life.

Since Dobby's death Harry's outlook towards house elves had changed. His attitude was more along the lines of Hermione's old Society for the Preservation of Elfish Welfare movement.

It took several attempts at getting Kreacher to accept his freedom and every time the barmy old elf would try to do himself in. It was after he found Kreacher trying to hang himself from the pot rack over the island in the kitchen he decided to take a different approach. He simply ordered Kreacher to accept a pair of worn out socks.

As soon as the old elf accepted his fate and took the socks Kreacher found out that freedom wasn't the end…it was actually the beginning of a whole new life and he liked it very much.

The elf was now paid a salary for his services, both from Harry and the Order of the Phoenix. When he first attempted to take his money and deposit it in Gringotts, the Goblins wouldn't even let him in the door. After he had returned to Godric's Hollow and told Harry what had happened Harry simply went to Diagon Alley and paid the Goblins a little visit.

Needless to say the Goblins were very cordial and friendly to the little elf after. It just happened to be on a day just prior to the full moon…

Harry and Kreacher became inseparable after that. Gone was Kreachers incessant loyalty to those of his past. After a while even he became weary of the old Black matriarchs wailing portrait.

It had been during a meeting of the Order one evening. Justin Finch-Fletchly had just arrived when he sneezed. The old Black woman started screaming her usual epithets at everyone. When she insulted Harry Kreacher seemed to snap. With a powerful burst of magic he incinerated the painting with a wave of his tiny hand. Everyone was stunned.

When Arthur Weasley asked Kreacher why he did it he just shrugged his little shoulders and croaked, quite frankly, "No one insults the one who dispatched He Who Must Not Be Named – Not even her!"

Harry got up and fetched several letters. Some were official communications from the Ministry, one a fancy light blue envelope with his name in fancy script across the front. He already knew it was his invitation to Neville's wedding.

Since Neville had become Harry's (sometimes) partner over the past year they had become closer than ever. His respect for his fellow Gryffindor and D.A. member had grown immensely after not only what the bloke did at Hogwarts to stir up trouble at the cost of great pain but also pulling the sword from the Sorting Hat and dispatching that dirty great snake. (As Ron had once called it)

The last was a small folded piece of parchment containing a green wax seal. He also knew exactly who that was from as well…

Gabrielle Delacour!

The instantly recognizable beautifully swirling hand and the hint of her maddeningly sensual perfume was enough to make Harry grin stupidly as if the gorgeous young half-Veela was standing in front of him at that moment.

They had become close after Voldemort fell. Unknown to most everyone, Gabrielle and Ginny had become fast friends. It was a bit surprising to discover since Ginny had made no secret of her disdain for Gabrielle's older sister Fleur.

After hearing of Ginny's death Gabrielle knew almost at once Harry would be devastated because Ginny had confided many thing to her about her love for the Boy Who Lived.

It was not long after Hermione left Godric's Hollow Gabrielle started contacting him. She had become a constant source of tender kindness and healing for him. It didn't hurt that Gabrielle, being half-Veela, had a most unusual calming effect on him around the times of the full moon.

Not long after she began writing to him she started visiting his home on a semi-regular basis. Now, at 17, Gabrielle had become even more beautiful and alluring than her older sister, (much to the consternation of Fleur because it grated on the elder's sense of vanity) however, Gabrielle was nothing like her sister. She was very intelligent, down-to-Earth, sweet and kind and compassionate. The girl had developed some mad magical skills as well.

She was also the stuff of almost every young man's fantasy (and most older ones too.) and the envy of almost every young woman breathing. The little part Veela wasn't so little any more. With her long silvery-blond hair, sparkling light grey eyes and perfect female body, she had become a force within herself. It was impossible to ignore her presence.

Even though the petite Delacour had become so incredibly seductive and desirable, she and Harry remained only friends and it was in their friendship Harry found healing and it was a relationship he valued highly.

Harry smiled as he broke the wax seal and began to read her letter written in her perfect swirling hand.

'Harry Dearest,

I hope this letter finds you well, mon cheri. I miss you immensely. I am not only writing to inquire how you are getting along but also to inform you that I have received an invitation to Neville Longbottom's pending nuptials. I am very excited. I adore weddings and all manner of happy occasions. I do hope you are planning to attend as I will be most sad and disappointed if you are not there. I do miss our weekends at the cottage and hope we can find time to share one again soon. I realize we are both very busy these days but that is a terrible excuse, no? I have much to share with you mon ami!

Until the wedding, take care of my Harry and keep him safe. Your friend and confidant as always…Gabrielle.'

The way she signed her name made Harry smile. It was a mass of swirling looping letters, perfectly written and formed. The perfume was having a rather un-platonic effect on other parts of him.

She does that on purpose the little Nymph…

He certainly couldn't disappoint her after a letter like that. He consulted the lunar calendar hung on the wall of his small study and discovered the moon would be waxing on the night of the wedding so he should be fine.

Not long after the final conflict and Voldemort's downfall Harry had been approached one evening during a meeting of the Order by then acting Headmistress Minerva McGonagall about what his plans were for the future. He couldn't answer. It was then she had suggested Auror training.

Harry had little time to think of such things before that. He had spent the better part of a week in seclusion at his cottage with a desperately distraught Hermione Granger. Reflecting back on it as he leaned back in his desk chair, he could still feel the cold emptiness that had gripped him then. Both he and Hermione had their worlds ripped from them like the tearing of their very souls.

For Harry, it should have been unendurable to loose Ginny. He was certain he was falling in love with the youngest Weasley – at least, as much as he knew about love, anyway – but as much as he was loathed to admit it he had become all too familiar with loss and pain.

Still yet, the loss of his parents had been terrible. The loss of his Godfather Sirius Black was devastating. The loss of Albus Dumbledore had been debilitating…but the loss of both Ginny and his only true friend besides Hermione was the complete and utter shattering of his heart.

But it had been even harder for Hermione. Even though she had fought and suffered right beside him she had been spared the pain and anguish of personal tragedy. She had wisely protected her own. It hurt her to lose those Harry had loved but it had not been the same…not as personal or close to the heart as it had been for Harry – At least, not until Ron. Loosing Ron had almost crushed her.

Her spirit had been mutilated into something almost unrecognizable and she was not the same for it. Harry could see it in her eyes just as she had seen the darkness in his.

The scars and emptiness left in the aftermath made it difficult for Harry to feel anything and if it was not for the need to care for Hermione as she bled from her own wounds he would have gone utterly insane with grief.

It was shortly after that a young woman, nothing more than a girl at the time, had come and helped put the pieces of his heart back together with enough courage and strength to give Harry what he so desperately needed – Hope.

After Hermione had managed to find some semblance of balance after that dark and debilitating first week after the demise of the Dark Lord, she was also approached by her mentor, Headmistress McGonagall.

It had been a plan put in place months before the final confrontation behind the scenes and completely unknown to the brilliant Gryffindor student then.

McGonagall had met with an old friend of hers, a Mrs. Wisteria Abercrombie, then Director for the Muggle Liaison's Office under the Department of Muggle Affairs. It was a division of the Ministry hastily thrown together by Kingsley Shacklebolt to deal with the fallout from the damage done to the Muggle world by Voldemort's lot.

McGonagall thought it a perfect place for her young protégé to begin a career that she felt would eventually lead to Hermione becoming highly placed within the Ministry in a very short time…and of course, she had been correct.

Hermione loved her job and got on with Mrs. Abercrombie and her staff from the very first meeting. Wisteria thought the young Muggle-born witch extremely intelligent, thoroughly engaging, clever, resourceful and, most importantly, well-liked by not only the Muggle Prime Minister's staff but the Prime Minster himself.

After their initial meeting, the Prime Minister began requesting Ms. Granger be included in their affaires and began working with her almost exclusively as Liaison.

Wisteria was thrilled, not only because of Hermione's progress with Wizard-Muggle relations but also because the often over-worked Mrs. Abercrombie was almost 70 years old and had every intention of retiring as soon as her young and quite capable assistant was ready to take over.

It didn't take long. In less than two years Hermione had found herself moving from an internship to taking over the Muggle Liaison's Office as Assistant Director. Wisteria agreed to stay on until most all reparations were complete and the planned Muggle-Wizard World Conference was pulled from the planning stages and made a reality.

It proved to be a daunting task to co-ordinate magical world Ministers as well as Muggle world leaders to meet at a super-secret location to hold meetings and talks to discuss ways of improving security and preventing something like what happened in London from ever occurring again.

Hermione proved she was well up to the challenge. She handled the details of the pending Conference as if she were born into her roll.

Her first task was securing a location that would be not only completely secret but secure as well. With the help of the Prime Minister's staff she found an old underground military facility used during World War Two as a secure location for the then Prime Minister as well as the Muggle British Royalty during the Luftwaffe bombing raids.

It was perfect so she set the Department of Mysteries to work to create whatever changes and improvement that would be necessary to accommodate a large number of V.I.P's as well as staff and security. The Unspeakable did a marvelous job of making the location secure and ready.

She had also met with the heads of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement to provide the necessary security for the Conference as well. Plans were quickly drawn up and an unprecedented co-ordinated effort between Muggle and Wizard law enforcement personnel was set in place. In a joint effort to work with an innumerable number of transportation and accommodation requests they had put it all together with all the precision of a well-oiled machine.

Her staff liked and respected her even though many were quite a bit older. There were some who questioned her competence in the beginning but after she dug in and started making things happen they all fell in step with her very quickly. Most agreed she had accepted a daunting task that would have tried the patience of a martyred Saint and agreed very quickly they would not have wanted the job for all the galleons in Gringotts.

But, in less than four months Hermione Jean Granger, just 20 years old, spear-headed one of the most unprecedented, complicated, historical and important Conferences of all time…and it went off without a hitch!

Everyone from the Wizard press to the Minister of Magic himself declared the Muggle-Wizard World Conference (or the M.W.W.C. as it would come to be known) a complete success and the information and knowledge gained at the Conference an absolutely invaluable resource to be implemented as sweeping changes to Wizard law enforcement and security. There was even ratification to the Statute of Secrecy to require such a meeting take place on an annual basis as a result of its success…and everyone tagged Hermione Granger as the one who had made it all possible.

The young woman who had been pegged as one of the most important people who had helped dispatch the vilest and most evil wizard in modern history was now vaulted into the stratosphere of the Wizard public eye. Everyone wanted a piece of the Amazing Ms. Granger – But even after all her success and notoriety she still bore her almost debilitating burden of emptiness, pain and loss...and she did it in complete secret to all but her own mother.

She avoided most all public appearances and only did interviews on rare occasions. One of the few was with her friend Luna Lovegood to whom she granted an exclusive for the Quibbler. It was the second-largest selling issue in the magazine's history. The first was Harry Potter's own exclusive interview right after he joined the ranks of the Aurors and it has remained the only one he's ever done. A rumor had floated around for a time that Rita Skeeter offered him a million galleons for an exclusive. He did Luna's for free!

Neville and his bride-to-be chose the perfect location for their wedding. They decided to hold an outdoor ceremony at the edge of the Hogwarts Lake. The decorations were in the same theme, style and colors as their wedding announcement.

The reception was to be held in the Herbology greenhouse. It had been converted into what looked like a quaint French sidewalk café with trellises of grape vines and ivy over wrought iron tables and chairs. Colorful festoon lighting was draped around the periphery while thousands of twinkling lights were interwoven with the vines overhead.

It was all breathtakingly beautiful…

It was the first thought that came to Hermione as she made her way into the reception area. Much to her surprise a smiling Auror took her invitation and waved his wand over it. They both watched as the Hogwarts coat-of-arms appeared in a space at the bottom of the card. The Auror smiled at her warmly.

"Just a bit of security Ma'am," the Auror bowed slightly, "sorry for the inconvenience."

"Oh believe me," Hermione smirked, "I understand completely."

The Auror bowed again, a bit more reverently this time.

"I'm sure you do Ms. Granger. Enjoy the ceremony."

"Thank you…" Hermione was about to enquire if he knew Harry would attend when she heard a familiar voice behind her.

"My, you certainly do polish up nicely don't you Ms. Granger!" The voice quipped. She knew it at once.

"George!" Hermione turned and rushed forward to give him a warm embrace, "How wonderful to see you. How've you been?"

"Well that depends on who you ask," He gave her a sneaky grin, "To most of the wizard world I am still as ear-itating as ever!"

Hermione couldn't help but laugh.

"Lovely dress, by the way!" George said eyeing her a little. If it were anyone else ogling her in that fashion she would have felt very uncomfortable but with George she knew he was harmless and just being his usual playful self.

Hermione had decided to pull out all the stops for the occasion. She had accompanied her mother to a Muggle day spa for the full treatment. Her hair was done in much the same way it had been during the Tri-Wizard Ball. The dress was a beautiful slender black backless, sleeveless evening gown that hugged the right places, slit up just above her knee and even had a small train in the back. It was one of the very few times she decided to opt for heels instead of her usual flats she wore to work.

Her mother told her she looked radiant and lovely. Her father joked that she was going to steal all the bride's thunder.

It wasn't long until she found herself surrounded by many of her old Hogwarts classmates and D.A. members. Dean, Seamus, Dennis Creevey, the Patil sisters, Lee Jordan, Justin Finch-Fletchly, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet and even Lavender Brown and Cho Chang showed up to greet her, Cho looking more beautiful than ever.

Lune was there wearing a bright pink chiffon gown that landed somewhere between ostentatious and utterly ridiculous. She still wore her ever-present butter beer cork necklace and her radish earrings.

"I'm actually working undercover for the Quibbler," she had whispered in Hermione's ear, winking at her as if it were a secret just between them.

Hermione just couldn't find it in her heart to point out there was a Quick-Quotes quill sticking out over her left ear. She just smiled at her eccentric friend.

It was when the rest of the Weasleys arrived the attention finally shifted elsewhere. Fleur had arrived in her usual 'I'm zee most beautiful one in zee room' flair but it wasn't her who was capturing the attention of most everyone at the reception this time.

Hermione barely recognized the young woman standing next to Molly Weasley until she looked a second time. To her amazement she finally realized it was Gabrielle, Fleur's younger sister. The girl was positively stunning in a gown that made Hermione's look almost prim and stodgy in comparison. The young woman was actually glowing with radiance from her rather skimpy shimmering silver dress.

Hermione did her best to shrug off the sensation of inferiority when Neville finally appeared.

He wrapped Hermione in a warm and loving embrace and they held one another for a moment.

"I'm so glad you're here Hermione," he said, looking like he was on the verge of tears, "I must admit it wouldn't have been the same without you."

"Stop Neville," Hermione grimaced swatting him playfully, "You're going to make me cry. I wouldn't have missed it."

"Well," Neville said a bit sadly, "I know how difficult things have been for you."

"Yes…well," she had to swallow a huge lump in her throat before she went on, "enough of that. Today's your day Neville and I am so very happy for you!" She beamed up at him.

"Thank you," Neville said then stopped dead, "Merlin's beard…What am I thinking!" He smacked himself in the forehead, "You haven't even met Destiny yet. I feel right foolish all of a sudden." He then hooked Hermione's arm and began guiding her toward a small group of women huddled in a corner of the greenhouse by what looked to be the bar.

"Don't be silly," Hermione said as they made their way toward the group, "I'm sure if your Gran approves…"

"Oh, Gran thinks she's a peach!" Neville beamed.

"Well then, that's all that matters."

"Not really," Neville looked at her seriously but then grinned, "I value you opinion as well Hermione. You're one of most intelligent and practical people I've ever known."

It was Hermione's turn to blush bright red as she was ushered in among the small group of tittering young ladies. Neville introduced Hermione to a rather lovely looking girl with hair much the same color as her own. She was petite with rather sharp, elfin like features with large beautiful green eyes.

The girl was lovely and sweet and absolutely gushed over Hermione telling her what an honor it was to have her at the wedding. When she caught Neville's eye she winked and nodded at him slightly with her complete approval of the girl.

Hermione chatted with them politely for a while then she excused herself to have a word alone with Neville for a moment.

"Well?" He asked grinning.

"Oh Neville, the girl is perfect," Hermione huffed, "but you already knew that."

Neville nodded looking a bit sheepish.

Hermione wasn't sure if she really wanted to ask him the next question. She wasn't sure what answer she wanted to hear…

"Neville," She finally decided to just be out with it. He probably already knew she would ask anyway, "Is Harry coming?" She mentally braced herself.

"Well," Neville answered looking thoughtful, "We sent him an invitation although he already knew about the wedding from work," he shrugged a shoulder, "He didn't say one way or the other. I'd like to think he'll be here…He's my Best Man after all but who's to say Hermione. I've got Dean and Seamus who'll fill in if he doesn't show."

"He's Best Man?" she asked a bit surprised. She liked to think she still knew Harry Potter well enough to know he would not back out on Neville like that. The thought of it was a bit alarming. Part of her longed to see him but another part dreaded it.

Most all her angst stemmed from what happened that night at the Riddle house. It was because of what she had seen. The pure evil… It had terrified her at first and she recoiled from him. She pulled away from Harry not certain of what she had witnessed. She had tried to explain later but she knew it had hurt him…hurt him deeply.

Harry had lost everyone and the knowledge his only remaining true friend feared him had been more than he could bear. She knew it but even so Harry had stayed – He'd helped her and her repayment to him for his devotion and kindness was fear.

He had helped her deal with the grief and loss of Ron and in the end she had decided to return to her parents. It was that separation that drove the wedge that now existed between them. She should have stayed – She should have helped him in return…

But you can't go back Granger, she thought as she fingered the golden locket hanging around her neck, the damage is done. It may be too late for that now…

She suddenly felt depressed as she moved off toward the bar. She had never been much of a drinker but today she decided to have a shot of Fire Whiskey, both to celebrate the joining of her good friend to his lovely bride and to drown her guilt and sorrow.

It burned her throat like she swallowed one of her now famous Bluebell flames! She coughed and gagged as her eyes watered obscenely. The bartender looked at her with a mischievous grin as he wiped glasses with a towel.

"Alright there Miss," he asked smirking, "How about another?" He started chuckling.

Hermione was about to hold up her hand letting him know one had been enough when she heard a very familiar but much deeper and more masculine voice behind her.

"Make it two if you please," the voice said.

Hermione froze. She wasn't sure how she should react to his sudden presence. Her mind whirled for a moment when he spoke again.

"May I join you?" He asked.

Hermione turned and looked up into his smiling face.


Harry Bloody Potter had become drop-dead gorgeous!

Much to her surprise he had done away with his glasses. He was taller and broader and looked almost fierce with the dark expression. The look in his intense gaze was a cross between concern and sorrow but he was smiling.

…But there was something else – something smoldering below the surface – she could feel it. Whatever it was radiated out of him like a furnace. It was almost…frightening!

She nodded, not quite certain she trusted herself enough to speak.

…And just like that the old fear flared anew and even though she tried so hard not to let it show she knew she had failed. She saw the brightness of his entrancing green eyes fade slightly as he gazed into hers but his warm smile, now tinged with a bit of sadness, never left his face as he slid smoothly onto the bar stool next to hers.

The bartender sat two more small glasses of Fire Whiskey on the bar. Harry glanced up at the man with a nod then turned his attention back to Hermione.

Her shame consumed her as she sat there trying desperately to dispel the odd mixture of feelings that plagued her. Part of her would have gladly spread herself across the bar and allowed this man to have his wicked way with her – The other part was terrified at the sheer power of him and felt like he could snap her neck with a twist of one of his wrists.

Merlin Granger! This-is-Harry! You've known him half your life. You have been closer to him than any other!

But even with her self-admonition she couldn't help but sense there was something different about him…something darker…and she just wanted to cry.

"You look absolutely breathtaking," he said in a soft voice that was so completely at odds with his intensity that it made Hermione blush profusely.

"Th…thank you Harry," she replied in an almost breathless whisper glancing at him. She couldn't even seem to force herself to hold his gaze.

He shifted.

"I'm making you uncomfortable aren't I," Harry said cradling his glass staring into the depths of the smoking amber liquid, "I'm sorry…maybe I should leave." His voice was still soft and undemanding.

Before Hermione could react Harry tossed back his shot and slid off the bar stool – Before she could reach out to touch his arm to bid him stay he was gone.

Not again! Hermione Jean Granger…you blithering IDIOT! I swear I should write a book – 101 ways to tear your best friend's heart out and smash it to bits! UGH!

The dam, that had held years of sorrow and pain pooled in a reservoir deep inside her, crumbled into rubble in her heart. Her face fell into her hands as tears filled her palms overflowing and splashing on the rich shiny mahogany surface of the bar.

Her body was wracked with desperate heaving silent sobs as she sat there falling to pieces just as she did almost every other night in her bathroom. Even the bartender was reluctant to approach her.

After what seemed like a long time she finally forced herself to lean back gasping for air trying desperately to quell her tears. The bartender, now looking at her with face filled with compassion, handed her a clean bar towel. Hermione accepted it with as much grace as she could manage at the moment and attempted to pull herself back together. It seemed harder to do each time.

She then inquired about a ladies room and the bartender pointed her toward the far corner of the greenhouse.

"Are you going to be alright Miss?" He asked politely.

"Probably not," Hermione answered honestly feeling positively miserable but pulled in a deep breath and sighed heavily, "but this is my good friend Neville's wedding day so I'll do my best to fake it."

He nodded as Hermione made her way to the restroom. When she emerged she felt reasonably sure she had not wrecked herself too badly as she made her way toward where Neville was standing. As she approached she stopped when she noticed Harry with Gabrielle.

The girl was wrapped so tightly around him it was difficult to see where Harry began and the radiant half-Veela ended. It didn't help that the barely there gown she was wearing seemed even less substantial against Harry's formal cloak.

The look on her face suggested she was quite comfortable in such a position and Harry didn't seem at all uneasy about the situation. It was quite the contrary. Harry looked very relaxed and calm standing there with as much of the young Delacour pressed against him as humanly possible without being obscene.

They were in casual conversation with Bill, Fleur and all the other Weasleys. Even Fleur seemed unconcerned by their closeness.

Are Harry and Gabrielle together?

No, surely not! Gabrielle is only a child! She couldn't be more than…what, 16?

Hermione knew at once there had to be a reasonable explanation as she tried to propel herself forward to join them with as much dignity as she could. She felt compelled to try and talk to him again. It was important.

It was then Hermione watched as Harry placed a hand on the side of Gabrielle's face with his thumb resting on the apple of her cheek with what could only be described as loving tenderness. The look on the young girl's face as she gazed up at him was filled with pure unbridled love and utter adoration. He leaned down and kissed her on her forehead as she closed her eyes and pressed her perfect body even closer. He then released her but her hand lingered on his arm as he pulled away, Gabrielle turning back to join the conversation as if their closeness was the most natural thing in the world.

That simple but profound exchange had such an effect on Hermione she thought she could actually hear her heart shatter like glass inside her chest. She wasn't sure why seeing that hurt her so much but it was now almost impossible for her to remain…but she knew she must.

For Neville…

Those words kept echoing inside her head as she moved around the reception in a trance-like state. She tried desperately to pull herself out of the sudden debilitating stupor she seemed to have fallen. When she practically bowled Dean Thomas over she finally snapped out of what she could only describe as a walking nightmare. She apologized profusely and turned to go back the way she came when she smashed right into what felt like a wall of hard muscle.

She lost it then and turned to apparate but the person she crashed into held on tightly as they were both swept away.

Hermione had not given her destination a second thought when she jumped but whoever had latched on to her was at the mercy of her jumbled subconscious mind. When she opened her eyes and wiped away the tears that blurred her vision she realized where she had landed.

Oh no!

Part of her was hoping she would look up and find herself staring into the face of a stranger but she knew better. She knew this man better than any other…

"I'm s…so…sorry Harry," Hermione stammered as she broke down again and practically collapsed boneless against him.

"I've got you Hermione," he whispered taking a firm hold on her and sweeping her up in his steel hard arms, "It's going to be alright."

Harry clutched a sobbing Hermione to his chest and made his way into his own home in Godric's Hollow. It was surprising the wards had let her through. He had strengthened them a few years back but maybe the magic was still smarter than he was. Even invisible and unplottable she had still managed to remember the way back after all this time even when she didn't even know she was doing it. That had to mean something.

He laid her gently down on the overstuffed sofa in the sitting room and moved to go start water for tea when she practically jumped off the couch grabbing his arm.

"Please don't leave me!" she practically shouted then crumpled again in a renewed fit of weeping. She had no idea why she was acting like this. It was so unlike her and so ridiculous…(You're the cast-iron bitch Granger!)…but she couldn't seem to reign her emotions in long enough to get control. It was like…like…

Like you never left Godric's Hollow at all!

The pain and haunting memories flooded in like water pouring over the bow of a sinking ship. If she didn't do something she would drown…

But he was there, just like before, Harry was there enfolding her in a tight embrace as the pieces came flying off her like she had exploded. Her desperately gasping sobs shaking them both.

"I…I…" she stammered helplessly.

"Shhhh," Harry whispered in her reddening ear, "Just let it go Hermione...Let it out. Don't hold it back any longer. This is me…this is Harry. I'm right here and I'll catch you. I won't let you fall!"

…and that's exactly what she did.

Years of suppressed emptiness and pain oozed out of every pore of her body. The fear of a lifetime of loneliness and rejection evaporated off her forehead like steam. The wavering phantasmal visage of Ron Weasley formed inside her beleaguered mind. He smiled and she could hear his voice.

"You know I'll always love you Hermione but it's time…you know this! And here I thought you were the clever one. Be happy! Colin Creevey is starting to call you a crybaby! I'll have to smack him for you. No more stupid blubbering. It's embarrassing – Really!"

"I'll always love you too…" she whispered in a barely intelligible voice, "Goodbye Ronald. I have to let you go. I can't do this to myself any more. Please understand."

She clung to Harry for dear life as her emotions battered her like a hurricane but after what seemed like an eternity she had finally exorcised as many demons as she had strength for. She felt something closing inside her like a door that led to that part of her past filled with pain and death and sorrow. It left a hollow clanging sound echoing inside the depths of her conscious mind.

Hermione Jean Granger cried herself out. The sharp edges of her pain were finally dulled to smooth rounded surfaces. She took a deep gasping breath. It was like coming to the surface of the water after being submerged and drowning for years.

She finally released her death grip on him and leaned back on the sofa. She was still clutching the bar towel in her hand.

"I'm sorry Harry," she whispered.

"You know, you keep saying that but I'm not sure what you're supposed to be sorry for," he replied trying to keep his tone light and playful.

"For everything Harry," Hermione looked up into his eyes now, they were searching and Harry knew what for, "For being weak, for not being there for you the way you were for me, for turning into a stranger, Merlin," she threw a hand up, "for this evening for dragging you away from our good friend's wedding…" she could go on and on but Harry stopped her by taking her hand in his.

"Just for the record," he said smirking slightly, "you didn't drag me anywhere. I followed uninvited and as for the rest of that stuff…"

Harry shifted leaning slightly closer. He was on his knee next to the couch she was laying on. This time she did not pull away from him.

"There's a reason it's called the past Hermione. We try to leave it behind us and do our best to move forward. It isn't easy. I think it's something we have to learn…like casting a competent spell."

He paused for a moment lost in reflection, then smiled so sadly it almost caused her to start weeping again but she swallowed hard and listened to the familiar soft cadence of his voice.

"I've always thought magic was the answer to everything but it's funny to think there are some things it can't fix. It works ok for things like my glasses, a snapped wand or dispatching a barmy dark wizard but it's useless for things like a broken heart or a shattered life. The only thing that works for those is time…"

Hermione let his words sink in all the way to her bones. It was like a healing salve to a bleeding wound. She found herself smirking even through the misery that plagued her.

"The famous Hermione Granger gets taught a lesson in rational common sense," she whispered trying her best to smile.

"Stop the presses, yes?" Harry chuckled softly.

Hermione reached out without hesitation or tentativeness and threaded her fingers in his wild untamable hair. The contact was almost electric. She could feel something almost like heat radiating off him. It was warm and comforting but contained an edge of…something she couldn't identify, a strength or some unknown power inside him. It was almost frightening but she would not let her fear betray her again. Not now, not ever again.

To Harry the feeling of Hermione's soft touch was like the sensation of coming home after years of being alone and lost, the memory of her scent, the beauty and familiarity of her face. He closed his eyes and sighed. Having her so close after all those years apart was like finding a part of him he had misplaced but as he knelt there basking in the gentleness of her loving touch the reality of his life lurked just under the surface of his consciousness.

She'll discover the truth eventually and then what…

I'll lose her forever…

He opened his eyes and with deliberate care he took her hand, kissed her palm (which made her shudder) and rose to his feet.

"There are things you and I should talk about Hermione," Harry said softly, "and we will but I made a commitment to someone very important to me and it would be wrong and selfish to let him down. I hope you understand. I would like nothing more…"

Hermione got up and placed a finger gently on his lips quelling his explanation with a watery smile.

"I understand," she said, "Can't have a wedding without the Best Man now can we?"

Harry nodded looking at his hands.

The question came out of her like she had vomited the words and she could not believe she could be so shallow and petty after the tender kindness he had just shown her. It made her sick with the vile taste it left in her mouth.

"Are you in love with her Harry?"

If a person could use an unforgivable curse on themselves she would have struck herself dead that very moment.

Harry looked into Hermione's face with a rather surprised expression mingled with confusion.

"Who?" He asked.

Hermione shook her head closing her eyes tightly.

"No Harry," she chastised herself, "Don't even answer that. I am such an empty arrogant bitch!" She covered her face with her hands.

Suddenly it dawned on him what she was asking.

She must have seen Gabrielle leaning against me at the reception.

He thought maybe he should try to explain but then another thought occurred to him…

Hermione Jean Granger – Jealous! After all this time could she…No, surely not! She could have any bloke in the world she wanted! She's famous and important.

Then reality slapped him in the temple.

You're a freak Harry…a monster! Well, half a monster but if she knew…

Maybe it was better if he let her believe he and Gabrielle were together but that might look a bit wonkey her only being 17 and all. He wasn't sure he wanted 'Cradle Robber' added to his lists of accomplishments. Harry reached out and pulled her hands down from her embarrassed face.

"Were just friends Hermione, nothing more," he said gently, "She's just turned seventeen. I don't think her mother or Fleur or Molly for that matter would approve nor would they be very happy with me and you're not an empty arrogant anything."

"I'm so sorry Harry," Hermione almost crumbled again, "it was just the way…"

"Can. You. Say. Half-Veela," he smirked.

Hermione stiffened, then leaned her head against his shoulder feeling completely stupid. She moaned.

"I promise I'll explain what happened after you left if you're even interested but I really think we should get back to Hogwarts."

She nodded and followed him out of the cottage and just beyond the wards they disappeared with a pop.

The wedding was a wonderful lovely affair. Hermione found herself sitting with the Weasley family. It was a bit uncomfortable watching how Harry and Gabrielle interacted with one-another but she reminded herself what Harry had told her.

Just before the ceremony ended Hermione found herself standing face to face with the ethereal looking young woman.

"Eet ees wonderful to zee you again 'ermione, after all zis time!"

Gabrielle leaned forward and pulled Hermione into a genuinely warm and friendly embrace. Hermione felt herself physically relax at the girl's warm gesture. She couldn't help it.

"Thank you Gabrielle," Hermione replied, "You've, erm…changed!"

"Oui," Gabrielle quipped, "Eet is zee way of such things I suppose. We all find ourselves getting older. I only pray my wisdom and intelligence keeps up with zee rest of me yes?"

Her warm smile was like a beaming ray of sunlight. This lovely young physically perfect creature was as beautiful on the inside as she was to look upon. Hermione wanted to hate her but simply couldn't. She nodded. What Gabrielle said next almost knocked her on her backside.

"You must find 'appiness 'ermione," Gabrielle whispered, "and I think true 'appiness begins with being honest with yourself," the little Veela paused looking Hermione right in her surprised brown eyes with her piercing light grey ones, "You love 'eem. You should tell 'eem so. Eet is not every day we get a second chance to possess true love. Don't waste eet."

With that Gabrielle turned and moved to join her mother and father. She looked back over her slender shoulder at a stunned Hermione Granger – Cleverest Witch of her Age – gaping at the little vixen like a stunned Troll.

"I envy you 'ermione. I, too, would like nossing more zen to possess 'ees heart but 'arry Potter belongs to only one mon cheri. Go find your 'appiness!"

As Hermione stood there watching the petite Delacour move off with her parents she felt a presence appear over her right shoulder. She glanced back and tried to put on her best smile.

She had been on such an emotional roller coaster since she arrived at Hogwarts she felt drained and stretched to the point of snapping. There was something he wasn't telling. There were secrets he wanted to keep. Part of her wanted him to let her in and part of her was almost afraid to find out what those secrets were. It was an odd place for her to be.

She had tried to date a few times. It was a complete and utter dismal failure. She tried reconnecting with Viktor Crum even going so far as visiting him during one of his Quidditch matches but whatever had been between them then had changed into barely veiled disinterest on his part and the inability or lack of desire to commit on hers.

One thing was certain. She loved Harry Potter. She was aware of that now more than she had ever been in her life. She would have been happy being Mrs. Hermione Granger-Weasley but she was slowly learning to live without Ron even if it still hurt to do so, however, the last three years without Harry had been like stepping off the edge of the abyss into the dark void of loneliness. She thought she had gotten past the worst of it after she left Godric's Hollow but she now knew she had just covered it up with work and a generous portion of denial.

She had failed him then – she knew that. She had left him to struggle with his own demons when he had helped her through the worst of it. It hurt to remember and it didn't help to know he was still willing to forgive and forget. She would not fail him again…

"Have you any plans for later Harry," she asked with a hopeful look.

"No, not really," he shook his head, "I've got a rare weekend off actually," he said smiling his sad smile, "Molly invited me to dinner at the Burrow. I thought I might go there for a bit. It's been a while since I've visited."

"Oh…well," Hermione replied trying desperately to keep the disappointment from showing, "I'm sure they'd love to have you Harry. I'm sure Molly and Arthur miss you very much. You're almost part of the family after all."

"As are you Ms. Granger," Harry added, "Why don't you come with me. I know they would love it."

"I don't…" but she stopped. Gazing up into his eyes she realized she was doing it again – pulling away from him. It had become almost habitual. She straightened up and looked him square in the eyes, "You know, I think that's a wonderful idea Mr. Potter but I'm not sure I want to just invite myself."

Harry rolled his eyes as he scooped her arm in his.

"Don't be ridiculous Hermione," he quipped, "You know, for someone so clever you can be pretty daft sometimes…the notion you'd not be welcome at the Weasleys…the very idea!"

"Think we can pop round to my place so I can change before we go?" She asked, "You've never seen my place in London have you?"

"I think that can be arranged," Harry softly.

The idea of being alone with Hermione in her place made him a bit nervous but this reconnection with her was important even though it was dangerous for both of them. Harry felt he still had plenty to sort out before he would feel prepared enough to entertain the possibility of letting her get close again. He knew he was playing with fire but what had happened today showed him she was still not healed and needed him still.

Once they arrived at her flat in London Hermione gave him the fifty cent tour. The place was large, ultra-modern but comfortable and lived-in.

"Hermione you have impeccable taste you know that?" He said grinning, taking a bar stool, "This place practically screams Hermione Granger."

She beamed. She couldn't help it.

"Thank you Harry. That's very kind of you. Please make yourself at home. I'm just going to change into something a little less formal to go to the Weasley's in. I'll only be a moment."

Thirty minutes later she emerged from her bedroom wearing a rather tight pair of black jeans, a white pull over cashmere sweater with a bit of a plunging turtle-type collar, her white trainers and a black leather bomber jacket. She had fluffed her long hair out from her stylish pinned up curls and now felt a bit unfettered and comfortable.

Harry had removed his formal cloak and underneath was wearing a black Muggle suit coat with a collarless crisp white shirt and a thin black pencil tie. His trousers matched his jacket and his wing tips were polished to a mirror finish. His permanently hap-hazard locks did nothing to detract from his 'Oh-my-goodness-would-you-look-at-that-glorious-hunk-of-manflesh' appearance. It was almost impossible to look at him without grinning like a confunded idiot.

What have you done with Harry?

The disembodied voice echoed in her head as she moved toward the bar.

"Ready," she managed to choke out like a frog. She had to clear her throat.

He nodded and they moved to the door. When they crossed the threshold he turned to her and gazed into her eyes. The feelings and sensations it caused in her were things she had not felt in years and some she had never felt before that moment. Harry gently took her hand in his and smiled. She couldn't help but smile right back.

For the first time in three years she allowed someone else to take the lead. She had little problem letting Harry apparate them to the Weasley's. It wasn't usually like that for Hermione. Control was her thing…not self-control mind you but control of others.

When you ran an entire Ministry department and most of your underlings were (older)lings you had to earn their respect and Hermione had done so by not being a pushover or easy to persuade or manipulate. She did it by being tough, direct and honest but she could be very demanding. She expected the best from her staff and they knew it but as a result of her skills, abilities and knowledge they had come to respect her.

Now, standing next to this man she felt she barely knew any more but had once known better than any other she allowed herself to be led and he did so without hesitation. Even though, she could feel his great respect for her in the kindness of his manner and the tone of his voice. He knew what she had accomplished over the past three years. It was no secret. The whole of Great Briton knew this woman or, at least, those who were the movers and shakers of the day.

The entire Department of Magical Law Enforcement had a deep abiding respect for her for her willingness to accept advice and allow those who were experienced in such things to propose plans for security for the M.W.W.C. and even though she had the final word on implementation she had stepped aside relying on them to do their jobs. It was one of the reasons things had ran like clockwork.

Hermione was tough, practical, serious, dedicated, steadfast, determined and, at times, even a bit voracious in her professional life but standing next to this man she was with…she was just Hermione Granger – a clever little witch.

The Weasley's, as Harry had accurately predicted, were thrilled to see her. Molly fell on her almost at once crying her eyes out lamenting the fact she had been such a stranger but it was Harry who came to her rescue. He simply reminded Molly that Hermione had a very important job in the ministry now and was in high demand.

If Hermione Granger could have ever swooned in her life it would have been right then. Harry Potter had become the type of man you simply could not ignore. He was very quiet most of the time but when he spoke…everyone listened. He was commanding just standing there watching you. His utter masculine magnetism was a force within itself.

As they all sat at the kitchen table talking and laughing and reminiscing about the past Hermione noticed that Harry never sat at the table with the rest of them. He stood leaning against the counter with arms folded and much to Hermione's surprise Bill did the very same thing. They were always part of the conversation and both seemed quite at ease that way but she found it a bit odd.

After a while Harry and Bill slipped silently from the kitchen and went off outside almost unnoticed by the rest of them. The only reason Hermione realized he was no longer standing in the kitchen was because she could barely take her eyes off him all night and the fact that she was so very aware of his presence. It was something that had been a huge void in her life until this night.

After Hermione glanced at a clock she realized what the time was and it was getting rather late. A moment later, as if on cue Bill and Harry slipped back into the kitchen as if nothing were amiss. Bill finally settled into a chair next to Fleur as Hermione got to her feet telling everyone she had an early morning.

After much protests and pleas to stay she finally said her goodbyes and holding Harry's hand again he led her back to her flat. As they walked up the flight of stairs to her second story front door Harry stopped shoving his hands in his pockets.

"That wasn't so bad was it?" He asked in his soft, easy-going voice.

"No Harry," Hermione swallowed hard, "Not so bad at all. Thank you."

His brows pinched together.

"For what?"

Hermione couldn't help but roll her eyes but as she was about to reply when what Gabrielle had said to her at the wedding echoed in her mind.

"For what," she replied incredulously, "For everything! For being there for me today, back then…for this beautiful locket and necklace you gave me," She pulled it out and held it, "It never leaves me you know. It hasn't left me since you put it around my neck yourself three years ago. I remember what you told me. Keep it safe and close to your heart and I do Harry."

Her words were beginning to tumble nervously out of her mouth in a dizzying rush. It was silly. This was not her.

"I would love…erm, I mean my folks would love to see you again Harry. My mother misses you terribly and when I tell her about today she'll insist on having you to dinner so please say you'll come. She'll throttle me if I tell her I've seen you and didn't bring you round to visit and well, I tell my mum everything see so…Merlin…I'll shut up now."

She fell silent but the look on Harry's face let her know it didn't bother him in the slightest. He was content to let her ramble on like a nutter all night if she was so inclined.

"Well," Harry said quietly, "We can't have your mum throttling you now can we. Tell me when and I'll be there."

"I…I'll send you an owl or maybe an inter-office memo plane if that's alright?"

He nodded, "That's fine."

"You should come to the office Harry," her face brightened suddenly, "You've never seen my office either or where I work…" she realized she was beginning to ramble again and fell quiet, "if…you want…that is."

Harry knew what Hermione was trying to do. She wanted him around again. She wanted him to be a part of her life but things had changed. Their lives had changed – Hers…for the better. His…

You cannot let this happen Harry. You know what the end result will be. If she sees the real you she will go off screaming into madness.

The days that followed found Hermione buried up to her armpits with work. The Minister had requested a detailed transcript of the minutes from the M.W.W.C. and she had almost the entire staff working on putting the report together.

The Muggle Prime Minister had respectfully requested her presence at a dinner he was having for his 55'th birthday celebration and had hinted, none to subtly that his youngest twenty-something son would be in attendance and really wanted to meet her.

She had heard nothing from Harry after his reply to her inter-office note about dinner with her parents. She had run into Neville once inquiring where he might be but Neville seemed a bit reluctant to answer. He simply told her that the Minister had him on some rather hush-hush assignments.

It was on the day before the birthday bash she was sitting in her office organizing sections of the report that her secretary Abigail stuck her head in the door looking like she had been knocked on the head with something.

"Erm…Ms. Granger," Abigail mumbled a bit bewilderedly, "There's…egh…someone here to see you."

"Ohhh Kaaay," Hermione said looking oddly at her young assistant, "Perhaps you should show them in, yes?"

"Err…right!" Abigail ducked back out mumbling something Hermione couldn't quite make out. When her assistant opened the door Harry came in passing the young secretary who was looking up at Harry with such an expression of utter longing and desire it made Hermione chuckle.

It will take the girl days to get all the knots out of her dainties!

She rose from behind her desk and reaching out took Harry into a warm and friendly embrace. No fear…no hesitation…no more dark memories. Even though he still radiated his intimidating power she refused to let it affect her any longer. Whatever it was…whatever the secret was he felt he needed to keep she would accept it without question.

"Hello stranger," she whispered softly in his ear as his arms encircled her slender body like taught cords of steel cable. She couldn't help but place a soft kiss on the side of his warm neck, "I've missed you."

Harry's hands gripped her body tightly as he held Hermione. She felt almost fragile in his arms. The warmth and love that radiated from her was so profound and powerful it made him close his eyes and sigh.

"I've missed you too Hermione," he whispered, "So very much."

The things she felt there in his embrace could not be quantified or categorized. No-one could ever understand what they had been through and survived.

As they stood there holding one another saying nothing it was as if time was stripped away and all that remained was the raw truth…the unvarnished reality that had brought them both to where they were at that very moment…