Bittersweet. Perhaps the most horrid taste. It's harsh, but comforting. Scary, but liberating.
How does one deal with bittersweet?
I knew somehow, then. I knew things would change. Whether the change would be good or bad, however, was yet a mystery. And it scared me, to be honest. I didn't really want things to change…but then I did…but then I didn't.
It was all so bittersweet.
Returning home proved to be a simple task for the Grangers, much to Hermione's relief. All objects in the house were packed, shrunk, and stowed away for transport, courtesy of Harry and Hermione. And after all affairs were settled, they were ready to take the portkey back to England.
"And we just put our finger on it? Just like that?" Mrs. Granger asked dubiously as she stared at the broken wireless on the ground.
"Yes, it'll feel a bit weird, but it definitely beats sitting on a plane for twenty-one hours," Hermione stated, pushing her father's hand away and hissing a "Not yet, Dad!"
"When does it activate?" Harry asked her.
"In about three minutes, so everyone be prepared."
"What if my finger slips?" Mr. Granger questioned, suddenly.
"It won't," Hermione replied.
"Because it's physically impossible or because it's never happened before?" he pressed. "There's a first for everything, you know."
"Then let's hope you're not the first," she answered swiftly.
They all stared at the portkey in silence until, finally, it began to glow a soft orange colour.
"Fingers on!" Hermione ordered.
After the all too familiar tug at the navel, the four of them went spiralling through a whirlwind of images and colours to tumble seconds later onto a hard ground.
Lifting herself up, Hermione glanced over at her father who appeared to be nursing a sore elbow.
"I may have forgotten to mention the rough landings," she expressed ruefully.
Mrs. Granger looked around, taking in the surroundings before turning to her daughter. "Are we behind the house?"
Hermione nodded, smiling widely. She felt a sudden surge of excitement bubble within her at the thought. It had been over a year since she'd last been home.
"Well, come on, then!" Mr. Granger announced, beckoning for his wife and Harry to join him.
Deciding she couldn't wait any longer, Hermione ran ahead of the group, determined to catch the first glimpse of the familiar rosewood-coloured bricks.
She could remember taking this very same path countless times as a child. Spending long summer days reading a book under the shade of a tree and then racing home through a thicket of well-memorized branches to make it in time for dinner.
Hermione let another smile grace her features as she reached her destination.
It was a lovely home, really.
"Hurry up, you lot!" she called, watching impatiently as they trudged behind her.
"Why all the haste?" her father asked as he approached.
Harry gave her an amused look. "Apparently she has a thing for running through wooded areas," he said.
Hermione grinned, recalling their last adventure with a portkey.
"Is that some sort of euphemism for drugs?" Mr. Granger said suspiciously. "Have you given my daughter drugs, Harry?"
Harry was saved the trouble of responding by Mrs. Granger coming to drag her husband away.
"Close call on that one," Hermione whispered.
"I know," Harry replied, feigning a look of anxiety. "For a second, I was worried I'd have to tell him about all those mushrooms you picked for Ron and me."
She rolled her eyes and threw him a scowl. "You're a git," she stated matter-of-factly.
Mrs. Granger turned to look at the pair of them. "That's no way to talk to a guest, young lady," she admonished, giving Harry an apologetic look.
He shrugged his shoulders. "It's fine, Mrs. Granger. I'm used to it."
Hermione watched as her mother patted Harry gently on the arm and led him inside the house without a second glance at her daughter.
Well, I see I've been replaced, she thought sardonically, following behind them.
The house held a musty smell from lack of use and there was a thin layer of dust upon every surface, but despite that, Hermione couldn't help but gaze lovingly at it all.
"Oh, dear…" Mrs. Granger exclaimed, softly as she walked through every room. "This is going to take a lot of time and energy to fix up."
Hermione cleared her throat. "You know, Mum, I could make things move a whole lot quicker," she suggested, brandishing her wand in front of her.
Her dad supported this idea with gusto, her mum, however, wasn't as easy to convince, claiming that it felt very much like cheating. In the end they settled for Hermione clearing away the dust, while her parents, much to Mr. Granger's dismay, set to unpacking all of their belongings.
"My room's just up here," Hermione said, leading Harry upstairs. "It's the only part of the house that was left untouched. Well, that and the attic. I placed some strong repelling charms on both doors so my parents wouldn't accidentally stumble upon them."
"Aren't we going to go in?" he asked when she simply stood staring at her door.
She nodded quickly, taking a deep breath in. "Here goes nothing…"
Opening the door, she was instantly met with familiar lavender walls and her welcoming bed. She was happy to note that nothing had changed since the last time she'd been here.
Hermione couldn't help but feel a little self-conscious as Harry followed in after her and turned his head every which way to observe her room for the first time.
"What do you think?" she asked, taking a seat on her bed and watching him as he scrutinized one of her bookshelves.
"It's great," he answered warmly, turning to face her. "Definitely a girl's room."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that's its…quite clean. Cleaner than mine and Ron's rooms, anyway," he responded, picking up a picture frame and smiling at it.
"Nice outfit," he commented, as Hermione rapidly snatched the frame away from him.
"Oh, shut it," she quipped, blushing at a younger version of herself in a pink leotard and tutu. "I was five years old and taking ballet lessons."
He shrugged innocently. "No need for explanations," he insisted, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.
"I think that's enough with the pictures!" she said immediately as his hand landed on one of her dressed as a witch for Halloween.
Harry seemed to find this particular photograph exceedingly humorous.
"What is so funny?" she demanded as he continued chuckling.
"You're a witch!" he exclaimed, as if it needed no other explanation.
Hermione stared at him.
"Look," he said, showing her the picture. "Your face is painted all green and you have a fake wart on your nose."
"Yes, Harry, I was there."
"Well…" he prompted with his hand, as if waiting for her to grasp the idea. "Don't you find it the least bit funny? It's like foreshadowing!"
She shook her head, smiling slightly despite herself. "It's slightly amusing," she conceded, finally. "But only just."
This seemed to satisfy Harry as he continued his perusal of the items on her various shelves, making comments here and there as Hermione laid down with her arm propped up against her head.
"Merlin…how many copies of Grimm's Fairy Tales do you own?" he asked from his crouched position by the bookshelf nearest her bed.
"Only two and a half," she replied, somewhat defensively, staring up at the ceiling.
Harry poked his head up to look at her. "Do I want to know what happened to the other half?"
"Nothing ominous," she assured. "I bought that last one at a used book sale. It was only two pounds!"
"Boggling, that…" he mumbled loudly enough for her to hear.
"Well," Harry declared some ten minutes later, plopping himself down on her desk chair, "your room is…very you."
"I'm glad," she laughed. "I would hate for it to be someone else."
Hermione sat up against her headboard, holding a pillow in her arms as she observed Harry.
He was leaning against the chair with a far-off look in his eyes that could only mean he was deep in thought about something.
"Knut for your thoughts?" she asked.
Harry instantly broke out of his stupor as he turned his head to look at her. "Oh, it's—nothing important."
She shrugged. "You can tell me anyway," she offered.
Hermione stayed silent, waiting to see if he would continue.
"Just this thought I had," he said quietly.
"What was it?" she asked, carefully.
Harry sighed heavily. "I was just thinking about—well, what it would be like…if my parents hadn't died. If—if I had my own room. It's stupid, really. But I was just wondering what colour it would be or what sort of things I would have on my wall. You know…things like that," he explained, refusing to meet her eyes.
Hermione shook her head, firmly. "That's not stupid," she breathed, feeling an impossible hollowness in her chest.
He was still staring at the same spot on the wall, however.
"What would it be like?" she asked, suddenly. "Your room, if you could have it right now. What would it be like?"
Harry seemed to consider this for a moment. "I don't really know," he admitted.
"What colour would the walls be?" she said, encouragingly.
"I like red," he replied somewhat hesitantly as he looked up at her.
Hermione smiled at him. "Red it is!" she exclaimed. "Would you want a darker, more calming red or a really bright in your face red?"
"Like the Gryffindor common room, I suppose. More dark and calming," he answered after some deliberation.
"Perfect," Hermione stated, grabbing a pad of paper and pen. "What size bed?"
Harry's eyes appeared to brighten with a sort of child-like excitement as he began to ponder. "Big…but not too big…perhaps like yours."
"Floor: hardwood or carpet?"
"Posters on your wall?"
"Yeah, Quidditch, definitely. Puddlemere United."
"A bunch. Some on the walls, some on shelves, some on my desk."
"A fair few. Mostly advanced ones on Defence Against the Dark Arts."
On and on they went, with Harry spouting out answers and Hermione scribbling down every last detail until they both had a clear vision of this imagined bedroom engrained in their minds.
When she was finished, Hermione carefully tore the pages off the pad and folded them neatly.
She stared into Harry's eyes, searching them silently. "It's yours if you want it," she said softly, placing them into his hand.
Harry looked down, gazing intensely at the folded pages. He tightened his grasp on them ever so slightly, and looked back up at her.
By evening, the house was back to semi-working order with boxes still littering various rooms and walking spaces. Hermione and Harry were helping out some with the kitchen despite Mrs. Granger's protests.
"You really don't have to do this, Harry," her mother said yet again, as he sat on the ground organizing the cutlery.
"It's no trouble," he assured her for the umpteenth time.
Hermione knew he was, in fact, being truthful. Doing these mundane tasks seemed to help him immensely in keeping his mind off things.
They had written a letter to Ron earlier explaining that they had brought her parents back to England and were helping them settle down.
Hermione still had all her belongings at the Burrow, and would eventually have to go back and retrieve them. But if she were being honest, the thought of seeing the Weasleys left her feeling a bit anxious. And though he would never say it aloud, she knew Harry felt the same way. Because going back to the Burrow was like going back to reality.
She felt terrible merely thinking it, and shook her head as if to rid herself of these musings. Her mum, however, appeared to be on a similar train of thought.
"You know, Hermione, I was thinking," she began, turning around to face her daughter as she wiped the inside of a glass, "Your father and I should really pay a visit to the Weasleys. Not only have they taken you in and looked after you all these years, but we have to pay our respects. It's utterly tragic, what happened to their son. I can't even imagine how Molly must be feeling…"
Hermione nodded, feeling the familiar sense of sadness envelope her as she thought of Fred. "I'm sure they'll appreciate it," she replied, softly. "We told Ron we'd come by as soon as everything was settled here."
Mrs. Granger smiled sadly. "I'm sure he misses you two, already. You're quite an inseparable bunch, aren't you?"
"Yes, we are the 'Golden Trio', after all," Hermione stated, exchanging an amused glance with Harry.
"Harry, are you sure you haven't grown tired of this menial work?" Mrs. Granger asked suddenly, as if only just remembering he was still there. "Why don't you just go and have a kip upstairs. Hermione can call you down for dinner. We're ordering in, would you like anything specific?"
"Er…" he replied. "I'm fine, really."
Mrs. Granger put her arms on her hips and levelled him with a calculating gaze.
"I'm having fun," he insisted in a voice that sounded as if he was a child being reprimanded.
"You're having fun?" Hermione laughed out loud, turning her head to look at him. "You're going to have to do better than that."
Harry scowled at her. "Fine…I want to help out and there's nothing better to do."
Mrs. Granger sighed. "Well, if you're going to twist my arm about it," she declared, handing him a box filled with plates, "then be a dear and stack these in the cabinet."
After many hours of unpacking, cleaning, and rearranging, the Grangers and Harry finally decided to call it a night.
"The guest bedroom hasn't been set up yet, but there's a mattress on the floor so you two will have to fight for it," Mr. Granger told Harry and Hermione with a yawn. "Don't kill each other, goodnight!"
"Where do you think you're going?" Hermione asked Harry, stopping him in his tracks.
"To sleep…" he answered, slowly.
"I recall stating that the next time we were in this sort of situation, you would get the bed," she said, folding her arms over her chest.
"Oh, come off it," he replied. "This is a completely different situation. It's your bed to begin with. Therefore, you should be the one to sleep on it."
"I don't care. My house, my rules," she shrugged.
Harry threw his head back and groaned. "It's a mattress, not the floor of a cave. I'll be completely comfortable."
"You'll be even more comfortable in my bed," Hermione retorted.
The sound of a door opening caused both of them to go silent as they turned to see Mr. Granger poke his head out.
"Yes, hello," he acknowledged. "Some of us would like to sleep tonight. So if you could both pipe down, that would be lovely."
"You're taking the bed," Hermione reaffirmed, turning back to look at Harry.
"Why do you have to be so difficult? It's your bed, you take it."
"I'm not being difficult, I'm being reasonable. Just go."
"Just get in my bed, Harry!" she shouted, her proclamation echoing off the walls of the empty landing.
Silence met her words, and she realized too late that that particular statement sounded a lot better in her head than it did aloud.
Her dad cleared his throat in the awkward silence. "Well, you can't really say no to an offer like that, can you lad?" he murmured suggestively, causing Harry to turn beet red.
Hermione could feel her own face burning up spectacularly, and she whipped her head around to glare daggers at her father. "Leave!" she muttered through gritted teeth.
The door instantly closed with a loud click that reverberated off the walls.
"I am so sorry," she said quietly, covering her face with her hands and letting out a muffled groan. "We're not related. I swear we're not related…"
The sound of soft chuckling caused Hermione to cease her ramblings. She looked at Harry through her fingers to see that his face had returned to its normal colour and his eyes were filled with mirth.
She watched him warily as he stuffed his hands in his pockets and fell against the wall behind him, his head lolled back and staring at the ceiling as he continued his quiet laughter.
"Oh, God…he's turned you all barmy," she declared with a worried expression.
"You know, Hermione, if it weren't for your resemblance in looks and uncanny intelligence, I'd have to agree that you and your dad are definitely not related," he proclaimed, staring at her with sparkling eyes.
The look he gave her did nothing to ease her already flushed cheeks.
"Well…what's that supposed to mean?" she responded, folding her arms somewhat defensively. "You know what? Don't answer that."
She led him to her room and flicked on the lights, gesturing for him to enter.
"I guess I've officially lost the battle, then?" he stated, jumping onto her bed.
He laid himself down, his hands clasped behind his head and his legs stretched out in front of him, crossed at the ankles.
Hermione simply stared at him for a moment.
Sweet Merlin, he looks good…
And in my bed, too…
Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip. It's just Harry, remember?
A gorgeous, very desirable-looking Harry…
"Sorry, what?" she asked suddenly, realizing he had just spoken.
"You finally got me in your bed," he explained, waving a hand over himself. "You win."
Hermione choked on her own saliva, all memories of their earlier skirmish vanishing momentarily.
"You okay?" Harry asked with a confused look as he sat up.
She cleared her throat and nodded, giving him a thumbs up sign. "Yeah, yeah I'm…peachy. Just swallowed funny. Must have gone down the wrong pipe," she stated, giving another almighty cough.
"Ah, I hate it when that happens," he frowned sympathetically, lying back down.
Hermione gave him a weak smile as she mentally composed herself once again.
"Well, anyway, point for Granger!" she declared, letting out a nervous laugh that thankfully went unnoticed by Harry.
He was too preoccupied at the moment, it seemed.
"Are you…sniffing my pillows?" she enquired, raising an eyebrow at him.
He turned around to look at her with a guilty expression. "They smell like flowers…It's nice."
Hermione laughed. "Well, I'm glad you approve. Aren't you happy you lost the battle, now?" she smirked. "And, hey, shoes off, Mister!"
She pushed his legs off the bed with a small glare that quickly melted away due to his apologetic smile and her shattering resolve.
She internally groaned. He was just too cute for his own good.
"Change into your pyjamas and go to bed," she ordered with her best stern voice.
"I don't have any pyjamas, remember?" he pointed out.
"You can transfigure your clothing into pyjamas, remember?" she countered, imitating his low voice.
Harry chuckled quietly to himself.
"What?" she demanded.
"I was just imagining the look on your face if I suggested going to sleep starkers, instead."
Hermione's mouth nearly dropped open as she glowered at him.
"There it is," he grinned in satisfaction. "Well worth the oncoming abuse."
And indeed, Hermione left no room for mercy as she continuously clouted him over the head with several pillows and one or two lightweight books.
"I surrender, I surrender!" he exclaimed, his arms raised above his head as he both laughed and cried out in pain.
Giving him one last thump on the shoulder with Goshawk's Guide to Herbology, which admittedly was not a very lightweight book, Hermione finally relented.
She breathed heavily through her nose, blowing a piece of stray hair from her face as she stared down at him.
"Call it even?" Harry suggested timidly.
Hermione studied him for a moment with a shrewd look.
"Fine," she relented at last. "But you best go and change, otherwise you're getting the floor tonight."
Harry grinned broadly. "Goodnight, Hermione."
She turned around to head to the guest room, ready for a nice long slumber after all the hard work of the day. It was rather unfortunate, therefore, that she couldn't seem to get the blasted image of an unclad Harry out of her mind.
Hermione knocked on the door, taking a step back to stand next to her parents and Harry. She felt oddly nervous for some reason as she looked upon the familiar outline of the Burrow. Before she could pinpoint why, however, the door swung open to reveal the kind, but tired face of Mrs. Weasley.
She ushered the four of them in, shaking Mr. and Mrs. Grangers' hands and enveloping Harry and Hermione into warm hugs.
"Oh, it's so good to see you again, dears," she whispered into her ear. "It's not quite been the same without you both here."
"We missed you all, as well, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said.
Before the older woman could reply, a rush of footsteps could be heard clambering down the staircase and everyone turned to see Ron racing over to Harry and Hermione.
He came to an abrupt halt and stood there awkwardly for a moment, but then immediately threw his arms around both of them.
He let go soon after, however and took a step back, his hands stuffed in his trousers. "It's erm…good to have you back," he said in a much deeper voice than he usually spoke with.
Harry and Hermione simply smiled at him in return.
"Ronald, where are your manners?" Mrs. Weasley hissed at her son.
Turning slightly red, Ron turned around and came face to face with Hermione's parents.
"Er…hello. It's nice to meet you Mr. and Mrs. Granger," he said shyly, sticking out his hand.
Mrs. Granger quickly moved his hand away as she wrapped him up in her own embrace. "It's very nice to meet you, too, Ron. We've heard so much about you!"
Ron's face turned even redder as she let him go, but he smiled nonetheless and turned to face Mr. Granger.
Unlike his wife, the man did not appear overtly pleased to be making the acquaintance of the younger boy.
Hermione knew this was due to what she'd told her parents about the hunt for the horcruxes. She suddenly wished she'd left out the part about Ron leaving. It would have made this situation a whole lot less awkward.
Luckily her mum seemed to have realized what was going on, and Hermione saw her discreetly pinch his arm, causing him to force a smile on his face and shake hands with the red-head.
After calling her husband from the shed, Mrs. Weasley led them all into the sitting room. Ginny followed down soon after, exchanging warm greetings with everybody and taking a seat next to Hermione.
"You look good," Hermione said with a soft smile to the girl.
Ginny shrugged. "I'm doing a bit better. Every day is a little less painful, I suppose. And George comes down for meals all the time now. I think that's helped a bit for all of us."
Hermione nodded in understanding.
"I was so glad to hear about your parents, Hermione. Really…I mean…I was just…I was really glad." Ginny paused, looking down and blinking her eyes rapidly. "Oh Merlin, look at me. I'm bloody crying. I keep doing that these days."
"Hey," Hermione said, putting her hand on the girl's shoulder. "I'd be more worried if you didn't."
Ginny took a deep breath in and nodded.
A sudden silence fell over the room, and they looked up to see George standing by the entryway.
"Hello," he announced, hesitantly.
"And you must be George," Mrs. Granger said warmly, as she shook hands with him. "It's lovely to meet you, dear."
George murmured something in return and nodded his head politely before walking over to Harry and Hermione.
"You wayward youths have at last graced us with your presence, I see," he muttered with a small smile.
The smile didn't quite reach his eyes, but Hermione was still pleased, nonetheless. For a moment, it was almost like he was back to his normal self, and she could feel a seed of hope inside her for all the Weasleys that she hadn't felt before.
After having dinner (Mrs. Weasley had insisted on cooking), Mr. and Mrs. Granger headed home while Hermione decided to stay the night so she could have time to gather all her things, and simply because the others insisted she stay.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny headed up to Ron's room where they played a game of Exploding Snap while filling each other in on their respective weeks.
Hermione found that when they were together like this, playing a fun, meaningless game and exchanging pleasant banter, it was almost as if they could forget, for just a moment, the world around them.
They were so young, after all, when she thought about it. All of them barely adults in the muggle and wizarding world, alike. And Hermione found that she wasn't too keen on growing up just yet. She wanted this time to laugh and play and simply be young. She wanted this time while it lasted.
"No, no, no, no!" Ron exclaimed, as the pile of cards slowly started emitting smoke.
Harry, Hermione, and Ginny instantly ducked their heads to avoid the oncoming explosion. When they looked back up they discovered a disgruntled Ron with one eyebrow singed.
"Right, that's it!" he declared, standing up. "I quit."
Ginny giggled. "You're just upset because you're on a three game losing streak."
"Anyone up for some chess?" he asked eagerly, ignoring her remark.
Everyone groaned simultaneously.
"You know none of us can beat you," Hermione said, snappily.
"Speak for yourself," Harry interjected. "I got you that one time in fifth year, didn't I, Ron?"
Ron stared at him with his eyebrows knitted in confusion. "Er…"
"Remember?" Harry implored insistently. "Come on…don't tell me you forgot."
"Perhaps it was a dream?" Ginny asked innocently, trying and failing to hold back a laugh.
"Oh, very funny," he stated sardonically. "I'm telling you, I beat him once!"
"Was he conscious at the time, Harry?" Hermione asked in mock seriousness.
The three of them instantly burst out into laughter, causing Harry to roll his eyes.
"Perhaps a rematch is in order, then?" Ron suggested, after they had finally settled down.
Three gruelling matches later, Harry was no closer to defending his claim. "Maybe it was a dream," he mumbled, annoyed, leaning back against the wardrobe in defeat.
Hermione, Ron, and Ginny proceeded to shower him with placations that could only be described as brutally patronizing and that caused him to laugh out loud despite his stubborn attempts not to.
After receiving a chocolate frog to the head, Harry finally shoved them all away.
"Whatever, I challenge all you sods to a game of quidditch tomorrow. Then we'll see who's laughing," he said, taking a bite out of his frog.
"I'm in!" Ginny agreed immediately with a gleam of competition in her eyes.
"Me too," Ron said, raising his hand.
Hermione smiled wanly. "I'll keep score," she suggested. Then quickly added: "From the ground."
As expected, all three of them burst out into protest. Ginny hung off her arm, whining like a child and Ron was booing her loudly.
"You can't play with three players, Hermione. You just can't," Harry stated in such a matter-of-fact voice that he sounded bizarrely like herself.
"We have this conversation every time!" she huffed, removing Ginny from her arm. "Not only do I not enjoy quidditch, I also happen to be terrible at it. So why do you insist on torturing me?"
"Because you always give in eventually," Ron voiced aloud, earning a chuckle from Harry as the two of them shared a discreet high-five.
Hermione pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. "Well, not this time," she responded clearly, standing and dusting herself off. "You'll just have to find someone else, or invent a way to play with three people."
"Who else is supposed to play with us? Mum?" Ron asked.
All of a sudden the mood in the room seemed to change. No one said anything, but they were all thinking the same thing. There was someone else in the house that could play. Someone who loved quidditch just as much as the next person. George.
"Unless…" Ron added faintly.
"You know he's not going to want to join us, Ron," Ginny muttered quietly to her brother.
The tension was thick as everyone avoided each other's eyes.
Hermione swallowed thickly. "Well, I mean…I'll play, it's no big deal. I've managed to survive past matches…"
They all nodded in acknowledgement, but the energy in the room had greatly dissipated now.
It was back to reality again.
Hermione sighed heavily.
Reality—it was like a bug that constantly buzzed in their ears, but that they couldn't swat.
For the life of her, Hermione couldn't fall asleep that night. She continued to toss and turn in the camp bed in Ginny's room, but no matter what she did, sleep was stubbornly evading her. So after a while, she simply lay there, letting hundreds of thoughts rush through her mind, which of course only caused her to be even more alert.
She was staring at the ceiling, drumming her fingers lightly against her stomach when she heard the tell-tale creak of a stair outside the door. Figuring someone was simply up for a late night snack, she chose to ignore it.
However, when whoever it was still had not returned upstairs after several minutes, Hermione was starting to grow curious.
She groaned softly to herself, suddenly realizing she was never going to fall asleep tonight.
Throwing back her covers, Hermione tip-toed past Ginny's bed and slipped through the doorway. She figured she would try and see who this late night wanderer was and why they had not yet returned to the comfort of their bedroom.
She walked down the stairs as quietly as she could and took a peak into the kitchen. She frowned slightly when she saw the room to be empty.
Maybe they were really quiet on their way back up, Hermione reasoned, turning to head back upstairs.
A noise in the sitting room made her stop, however. It sounded like someone was sniffling.
From the sliver of moonlight she saw Ron, and with a sudden jolt she realized that he was crying.
Hermione knew she should go back upstairs, she knew he would never want her to see him like this, that he would be beyond embarrassed. Yet, she couldn't seem to control the movement of her feet at the moment.
"Ron?" she whispered, standing in the doorway.
His head shot up immediately and he looked at her with wide eyes. "Bloody hell, Hermione, you scared the pants off me!" he said, his voice sounding scratchy.
"I'm sorry," she replied guiltily. "It's just, I heard someone go downstairs, and I was wondering why you didn't come back up…"
He turned his head away from her, trying to wipe his eyes quickly with his hands.
"Ron…?" she said again gently, walking slowly toward him.
"What?" he retorted.
She was quiet for a moment, searching for something to say. She had never, in all the years she'd known him, seen Ron cry. It was such a bizarre sight that seemed to shake something in her very core.
She took a seat next to him on the sofa and turned to face him. "Are you okay?" she asked, mentally chastising herself.
It's quite clear that he is not okay, genius.
"I'm fine," he responded in a tone that clearly proved he wasn't.
Hermione sighed softly. "You can talk to me," she insisted, touching his arm. "Say whatever you want and I'll listen."
"Hermione, really, I'm fine," he stated again, shaking her hand off him. "I was just…I was…"
"You were crying," she said, causing him to grimace.
"Look, this was a one time thing, okay? I don't go bawling my eyes out every night like a little girl. I just came down here because I didn't want to wake up Harry," he insisted, standing up and heading for the stairs.
"Ron," she said a little stronger this time. "It's nothing to be ashamed of! You can't just push this aside like it's nothing. You'll never heal that way."
"Who says I need healing? I'm fine," he hissed, turning around to face her. "Just leave me alone, alright?"
He was about to walk back up the stairs when Hermione reached out to pull him back. She wasn't entirely sure why, but she just knew she couldn't let him push this aside.
"What?" he asked in a low voice.
"You are not fine," she stated emphatically.
Ron stared at her for a moment.
"Please…" she continued, searching his eyes. "Just talk to me."
He stood there in silence for a moment, before falling unceremoniously onto the step below him. Hermione muttered a quick silencing charm around them, and then sat herself down, as well.
"You said that this was a one time thing," she began. "Well, what triggered it?"
He rubbed the heels of his hands against his eyes, and mumbled something under his breath that she couldn't quite decipher.
"What was that?" she asked.
"I said it's stupid," he clarified, with a somewhat biting tone.
Hermione sighed, leaning her had back against the wall and staring at him.
"I just had this dream."
"What kind of dream?" she asked, carefully.
"It was just…did you ever have those dreams where someone in your family—or someone you care about—dies? It's really sudden, and you're not sure how it happened, but you just sort of know?" he said, staring intently at his feet. "And you start crying in your sleep, and you wake up and you're still crying. But then all of a sudden, you realize it was a dream. And you feel so relieved that you just want to run up to that person and hug them and never let go…"
"You're just so happy that they're alive," he added, his voice breaking slightly.
He turned to look at her with tears in his eyes.
"I had a dream like that, Hermione. I had a dream that Fred died…but when I woke up—"
His words cut off for a moment as he let out a sudden heart-wrenching sob.
"I can't run to him and hug him because it's not a dream. No matter how many times I wake up, he'll always be dead…"
Ron was openly sobbing in a manner that made Hermione shake with her own tears. She wrapped him in her arms, and he seemed to hold on for dear life as she whispered words of comfort to him.
It felt so strange, holding him like this and having to comfort him. Yes, Ron had his insecurities and self-doubt, but his life had never been filled with the same grief that someone like Harry had. For the most part, Ron had always been happy and comfortable, and she mourned that loss of him as she mourned the loss of Fred.
She knew now, for certain, that none of the Weasleys would ever truly be the same again.
Ron's eyes were still somewhat bloodshot the next morning, but as this was not an unusual occurrence amongst the family, no one made any comment.
Hermione caught his eye and gave him a gentle smile that caused him to blush and look away in embarrassment. She was not fazed, however. There weren't many things in life that caused greater mortification than openly crying in front of someone else. She just hoped he understood that she would never share that incident with anyone.
As Harry joined the breakfast table, she couldn't help but reflect on the differences in the manner in which the two grieved.
She'd seen Harry break down more than once in her life. And it seemed that nearly every time, his tears stemmed from anger. He shouted and moved about as if he needed some way to release the building emotion trapped inside of him. And when he cried, he rarely ever made a sound. He huddled into himself and didn't seek out touch or comfort.
Ron was different. He'd tried to push away from her at first, yes, but when he'd finally given into his grief, he'd given into it fully. His tears were loud and desperate, and he clung to her and revelled in her touch.
It was a stark difference, but not an altogether surprising one. And it was one that clearly resulted from their very different backgrounds.
This thought caused a slight pang in her chest as she turned to wish Harry a 'good morning'. He smiled at her, though and she was pleased to note that he physically looked much better than he did the last time they sat around the Burrow's kitchen table.
His skin was no longer pallid and his eyes no longer lifeless. He was still unbearably thin, but he'd started to slowly regain some of his previous weight. She doubted that he could ever fill out completely. Disregarding the effects of his dismal childhood, Harry was simply naturally leaner than most people.
And perhaps unfortunately for him, overbearing mothers like her own and Mrs. Weasley seemed to be under the impression that they could change that. Which they couldn't. Despite the traditional third helping that Mrs. Weasley forcefully scooped up for Harry.
"Oh, no no no! I don't think so," Hermione whispered furiously as Harry discreetly placed three strips of bacon onto her plate.
He gave her a pleading look, but she merely pursed her lips and returned them to him.
"I'll burst if I eat another bite," he murmured.
"Not my problem," she muttered out of the corner of her mouth.
"Hey, mate, you going to eat the rest of your bacon?" Ron enquired loudly through a mouthful of eggs.
Harry looked as if Christmas had come early and eagerly passed his plate over, despite Mrs. Weasley's protests.
Hermione shared an amused look with Ginny across the table. She felt a strange sort of contentment in knowing that no matter what happened, nothing could ever ruin Ron's appetite. It was sort of like a constant. She appreciated constants.
Like Mrs. Weasley constantly harping over Harry's weight.
Harry constantly sneaking food to others.
And she and Ginny constantly rolling their eyes at everyone's antics.
Yes, constants were good. They were safe.
Later that evening, Hermione had finished packing all her things. She was planning on returning home the next morning since the Weasleys had practically forced her to stay another night.
She knew it was going to be strange, going home alone. Harry and Ron assured her that they would see each other constantly, and as Ron had never been to her house, he was due for a visit.
For the moment, Hermione chose not to think of what the future would bring. They were past the midpoint of summer, and Harry's birthday was rapidly approaching. With that of course, would come the start of the school year.
The three of them had yet to discuss their plans, but somehow Hermione knew that Harry and Ron wouldn't be returning to Hogwarts. To be honest, she wasn't quite sure herself. It was a scary thought, her finishing off her last year without either of them by her side.
Too scary a thought to ponder.
Hermione shook her head and exhaled heavily. There would be time to think of that later.
Time was on their side now. After years of warring with it.
What would they do with all that time?
A/N: Well, here's another chapter. The story is slowly building now, but to what? Well, that is the question, indeed. Thank you as always for reading and giving me your feedback, you guys are quite spectacular, if I do say so myself. Any questions, comments, complaints, suggestions, just let me know! Sorry, these author's notes are usually quite sucky but I'm always drained after finishing a chapter and tend to ramble. Thank you again, I hope you enjoy!