CHAPTER TWENTY:New Beginnings
Hermione found Ron sitting in the quadrangle. He looked so forlorn that part of her just wanted to hold him and tell him it would be all right. But she knew she couldn't do that. Sometimes being cruel was the kindest hing to do. He'd lost his eldest brother and his sister-in-law a matter of months after his sister's death. Now she was going to have to make it worse. And somehow, even though all he'd witnessed was a kiss and a bit of hand holding - not that there had been much more than that anyway - she felt he knew it was coming.
He shifted uncomfortably as she sat down next to him. "So what happens now?"
Hermione sighed. "We get a divorce, I suppose."
She saw the last spark of hope die in him. "Have we really come that far?"
She nodded. "I think so. I think it's been coming for years." She saw how deflated he was and knew then what she'd suspected: He was still in love with her. She wished she felt the same but, although she'd been happy in their marriage, she hadn't felt that way about him for a long time. He was her best friend, no more, no less. "I still love you, Ron, but it's not the way a wife should love you." She took a deep breath, knowing the next words would hurt him but knowing she had to be honest. "The way I love Harry."
Ron looked ahead dully. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I've gone down in history as Harry Potter's friend. Everything great that I've done is because of him. Only thing I ever managed to do by myself was marry you."
Hermione stared at him in shock. "Ron, you've got two children that adore you! All the time we were locked up, Rose knew you'd come and save us. Not Harry, you. And she was right. You saved us, Ron. Harry and I would both be dead I don't know how many times if it wasn't for you so don't ever talk like you're not worth anything."
Ron looked surprised and grateful at her sudden passion. "What do we do about the kids?"he asked at last.
Hermione shrugged. "They'll still be at Hogwarts most of the time, I guess they can split the holidays between us. You can keep the house, it was your family that helped pay for it anyway."
Ron broached the next subject cautiously. "Will you be living with Harry?"
It was a question she'd asked herself many times. "If he'll have me."
"If he doesn't..?" Ron let the question hang in the air.
"Are you my second choice? That's not fair on either of us. We need to make a clean break." Hermione bit her lip nervously. "Do you…do you think they'll understand? The children?"
Ron gave her a reassuring look. "We'll make them understand."
Rose and Hugo stood looking at their parents in confusion. Rose looked at Ron. "So, you'll still be living at home?"
Ron nodded. "But without your mum."
Hugo looked at Hermione. "So where will you be living?"
As with when Ron had asked earlier, Hermione found she didn't know the answer. She opened her mouth, desperately hoping she'd think of something to say.
"She'll be living with me,"another voice replied for her.
Hermione turned at the sound. She hadn't realised Harry had entered the room. He gave her a questioning look and she smiled gratefully.
Rose's gaze flicked between the two of them, taking in the look and the implication of what Harry had just said. Finally she looked back at Ron. "I'd like to go back to class now."
"Of course,"Ron agreed.
Rose stalked out, not looking at either Hermione or Harry. After a moment's hesitation, Hugo followed.
Ron looked at Hermione. "They'll come round,"he assured her. "I'll talk to them later." Then he followed their children out, leaving her and Harry alone.
Harry walked over to Hermione, until they were in touching distance. "Did I do the right thing there? I mean, I didn't want to assume anything or make things worse…"
"You did the right thing,"she promised him.
They stood looking at each other for a moment, then they kissed, softly and tentatively but with a depth of feeling that hadn't been there the first two times, both of them giving entirely of themselves to the other. When finally they disengaged, Harry gripped Hermione's hand tightly. "Now we just have to tell my children."
They'd taken James, Albus and Lily into one of the other classrooms and the three children had sat in silence as they explained the situation. "So, er, any questions?"Harry asked nervously.
Lily spoke. "Is Auntie Hermione our mum now?"
It wasn't a question Harry had been expecting and he didn't know how to respond to it. So he was relieved when Hermione spoke. "No,"she replied. "Your mum will always be your mum, I'll always be Auntie Hermione. But…I will be living with you and your dad, like your mum was."
"Is that all right?"Harry asked.
Albus shrugged. "I guess so." He looked at Lily, who seemed equally unenthusiastic. "We said we'd meet Rose and Hugo."
Harry had a feeling no such meeting had been arranged but could see they wanted to get away. It seemed a lot of people needed space away from him at the moment. "Okay, off you go."
His two younger children scurried out. James got up as well then, to Harry's surprise and delight, he went over to Hermione and hugged her. "Welcome to the family, Aunt Hermione." He turned to Harry. "Congratulations, Dad."
"Thanks, James." Harry tilted his son's head and looked him in the eye.
James was oddly reminded of the way Rookwood had looked at him earlier, when he'd realised who he was. "What is it?"
"You have your mother's eyes,"Harry said softly. He smiled at him gently. "I don't think I've ever noticed that before."
Harry kept hold of Hermione's hand as they left the classroom. He had visions of them being attacked by a raging mob when people found out what they'd done but it was the two of them now and everyone would have to get used to seeing that.
It was just bad luck that the first people that saw them were the Weasleys.
Harry didn't even know that Arthur and Molly had come to the castle but there they were at the other end of the corridor, with Percy, George and Ron. Molly shot him a look of pure venom. He couldn't blame her. Three of her children had died because they'd trusted him and now he'd broken up the marriage of another one. She was the closest thing he'd ever had to a mother and now she hated him. She ushered her sons away. Harry glanced at their faces. Percy looked awkward, George looked oddly reassuring. Ron was the biggest surprise. There was no anger or hatred in his face. He just gave them a simple nod of acknowledgement.
Arthur hung back as his family left and then approached the pair. Harry braced himself for his father-in-law's anger but instead he glanced back at Molly's retreating back. "She's angry,"he said. "And grieving. She'll come round. You two have been part of our family for a long time, your children are our grandchildren, and that's not going to change."
In a way it was worse than anger could have been. But Harry loved the older man for it. "Thanks, Arthur."
He nodded. "Good luck to you both." He headed off to join his family.
Hermione looked at Harry, gripping his hand even tighter, and smiled. "Let's go home."
They Apparated into the hallway and headed upstairs, feeling like two awkward teenagers about to have their first time as they fumbled to remove each other's clothes. But when they made love, the awkwardness disappeared, their bodies feeling like they belonged together. Finally, they lay together, exhausted, a feeling of bliss settling over them both.
Harry thought of Ginny, of all the times he'd laid with her in that bed. He had loved her, had married her and raised a family with her, and he knew his feelings for her would never completely disappear, nor did he want them to. But that life was in the past. He loved Hermione and she was his present and his future. And he wasn't going to let her go.
Hermione thought of Ron. She knew she'd been in love with him once but over the years those feelings she'd felt when they were teenagers had changed, becoming something just as strong but different. And as her feelings for Ron had changed, so too had her feelings for Harry, almost without her noticing, until she'd realised he was the one she wanted to be with. Pretending otherwise wouldn't have been fair on any of them.
"Well, at least the gossip columns will be happy now,"Harry commented.
Hermione rolled over onto her front and looked at him. "What do you mean?"
"Rita Skeeter's been saying we sleep together for years."
Hermione shrugged. "Won't be as much fun now it's true, though. Give it a few weeks and she'll be saying I'm sleeping with Neville or something."
"So long as you're not."
Hermione looked at him seriously. "You're the only person I want to sleep with for the rest of my life."
Harry met her gaze. "I love you,"he told her and realised it was the first time he'd said it to her.
"I love you too,"she replied and kissed him. He pulled her body close to him, both of them feeling they were where they were meant to be.
Harry Potter and Hermione Weasley were married eighteen months later. Neville Longbottom was best man, James and Albus Potter were groomsmen, Luna Lovegood, Rose Weasley and Lily Potter were bridesmaids and Hugo Weasley was page boy. Hermione's ex-husband, Ronald Weasley, did not attend but his father Arthur and brother George did. Nymphadora Ginevra Potter, the only child the couple had with each other, was born the following year. She was much loved by her older half-siblings, which helped improve their relationship with their former in-laws. The couple were married for forty years until Hermione's death from natural causes. With the permission of her ex-husband, they were both buried in the Weasley family plot, alongside Harry's first wife.
Ronald Weasley never remarried and never fully repaired his friendship with Harry and Hermione, although they remained on civil terms. To the surprise of everyone, including himself, he was elected Minister of Magic in later life. His seven year term of office was notable for the repeal of all remaining legislature discriminating against Muggle-borns.
None of them ever saw Lord Voldemort again.
All thoughts on the conclusion, and on the story as a whole, most welcome!