Disclaimer: Everything recognisable is the property of Rowling and Meyer.
A/N: I know the premise isn't very original, but honestly I drew a complete blank at how to get things started.
Chapter 1: Goodbye's are Hard (Even When They're Not)
I'm not being selfish, Hermione thought with fierce determination. The words beat an endless rhythm in her head; a chant that was more dispiriting than it was convincing. For as much as she tried to convince herself that she just needed to get some distance from everything that had happened, she couldn't escape the fact that she was still leaving.
"It's okay, you know." Luna's voice broke the quiet that had settled around the house, a melodious counterpart to the dull beat of Hermione's depressing thoughts.
"What's okay?" asked Hermione, looking up from the photo in her hands.
"Putting yourself first sometimes," Luna stated with a bright smile, tilting her head as her eyes traced invisible patterns in the air.
If she was being completely honest with herself, Hermione wasn't even entirely sure Luna was actually talking to her.
They'd been flatting together for months now and in that time Hermione had found herself at a loss for words more times than she cared to count. In all the time they'd spent together she still wasn't quite used to Luna's blunt honesty and her erratic trains of thought. It left her floundering to find her footing in situations like these; where Luna seemed to be having an entirely different conversation from the one that they were actually having.
Or the one that they weren't, because all Hermione could do was stand there and stare awkwardly at her with furrowed brows.
Luna's hands batted at the space above Hermione's head, her pale grey eyes focusing in on thin air. "Wrackspurts," she explained. "They can feel you're conflicted so they circle around your head, pushing it out of your ears and up into the air. It's a real treat for them you know, they love eating conflict. It fills them right up."
A soft "Oh," was all Hermione managed.
Because of course the wrackspurts.
It didn't matter that Hermione didn't believe in the wrackspurts. It didn't even matter that Luna did believe in them – not now anyway. Not after the Hallows incident and everything they'd been through in the last year.
Perspective, she thought with a wry little smile.
It didn't stick though, slid from her face as soon as her gaze dropped down to the photo of her, Harry and Ron sitting under a Beech tree a few weeks after Riddle's death. It was a stolen moment of self-indulgence – one of the rare few they'd had in recent months. It was what they all needed more of, and what Hermione was leaving to find.
What she was leaving Harry and Ron to find.
"You shouldn't feel guilty for leaving." It was a simple statement, more perceptive an observation than anyone would expect of Luna. With her vacant stare, her wan smile and the muddled mead corks that dangled from her purple poncho, it was easy to write her off. Indeed, sometimes it still took effort for Hermione to see past the 'loony'.
"Just because I shouldn't feel guilty doesn't mean that I don't," Hermione sighed, shoving the photo hastily into her backpack.
"It's the Guilt Giblets," said Luna seriously. "A good bout of rain chases them right away."
"I don't think the Giblets will leave me alone any time soon, rain or no," Hermione said quietly because she remembered how things had gone with Harry and Ron – and it wasn't well.
"You're what?!" shouted Ron with such incredulity that his voice strained thin and high. A low 'thud' and a muffled curse from behind the closed kitchen door followed his outburst and really, there was no need for the others to huddle so closely behind it. They all knew well enough how loud Ron could be – how loud they both could be when they got worked up.
She knew how Ron would react; knew he'd take the news about as well as a heart attack. It was why it took her so long to tell him, why she left it to the last possible moment to have this confrontation and maybe that was cowardly, but she'd had enough fights, enough bickering to last her a lifetime.
"I'm going away for a little bit," repeated Hermione evenly. It would've been easy to rise to the occasion, to get her back up at the look of betrayal on Ron's face, but it was the forlorn one on Harry's that kept her from losing her cool. It was nothing less than what she expected of him and she would be lying if she said that Harry's quiet reaction was easier to take than Ron's loud one.
"What do you mean you're 'going away'?" asked Ron, the disbelief in his tone bordered on sarcastic when he pulled his fingers up to frame apostrophes around his words. When his emotions weren't busy reducing Ron to an immature child, they made him act like an insufferable tit.
"I mean I'm going away," replied Hermione tightly. "I need to put some space between myself and everything that's happened."
"But what does that mean?" stressed Ron, leaning forward to squint at her like he could find the answer if he just looked hard enough; like she wasn't already telling him.
"It means I'm leaving," said Hermione, irritation leeching into her voice. "Too much has happened and I can't move past it if I can't deal with it and I can't deal with it if I'm still in it."
"But Riddle's dead, Hermione. It's over, it's done-"
"Except it's not," she fired back. "Hogwarts is still pile of rubble, half of Diagon Alley is a mess and the rest of wizarding Britain are still too busy trying to figure out what happened they won't give us a moment's peace. I can't even go and help with the rebuild, never mind a funeral, without being accosted or gawked at. I need a break; I need some air so I can breathe."
"Then go for a bloody walk!" replied Ron hotly. "I don't know if you've noticed but there's plenty of air outside!"
He didn't get it and that was unsurprising and saddening all at once. Ron was her friend – her best friend – and a small, foolishly desperate part of her had held out hope that he might be able to see past himself.
"I'm just tired, Ron." Hermione sighed, fiddling with the straw in her iced tea. It was better this way, easier to admit if she didn't have to see the understanding in Harry's eyes – or worse, the absence of it in Ron's. "I can't keep living this way, in the state I'm in. I haven't even dealt with what happened to my parents, or what I – what I did to them. I'm allowed to take a moment."
She knew Ron well enough to know that the silence that followed her words wasn't one of consideration, of realization; knew that he was no doubt gaping at her, disbelieving and confused. It was Harry who broke it, speaking for the first time since Hermione had told them she was leaving. "Yeah, you're allowed a moment, Hermione."
Her gaze flicked up, desperately hopeful. She found acceptance in the way Harry was looking at her, and maybe she'd hoped for it, but seeing it was something else entirely. Her lips lifted in a small if somewhat sad smile, because if anyone needed some room to breathe; if anyone deserved to take a moment, it was Harry.
Tiny choked sounds of disbelief fell from Ron's lips as he turned his betrayed face on Harry. "She doesn't need to go anywhere to take a moment!" He said. "You need a break, Hermione? Hogwarts doesn't start for months! Months! You've got all that time to do whatever you damn well please before starting back!And after the whole You-Know-Who thing, you don't even have to go back if you don't want! What do you need to go away for? We're here, I'm here! Your friends are here. All that you'd be leaving is us and why would you want to do that?!"
"I don't," said Hermione quietly. "But I have to."
"But you don't!"
"Yes, I do Ron. Haven't you been listening?" She asked, running a frustrated hand through her hair, finally giving herself over to her emotions because it was obvious he hadn't been listening. "I want to get away from 'the whole You-Know-Who thing'. I want to be able to leave my house and not be afraid that rogue Death Eaters are going to jump me when I reach down for the potatoes at the store. I want to be able to walk into Flourish and Blotts and not see my face plastered across every surface conceivable. I want to walk down Diagon Ally and not have people pointing and whispering and staring at me with pitying looks. I shouldn't have to ignore them; I should be allowed to be normal. I want to be able to go back to Hogwarts and not remember the bodies everywhere! I want to be able to breathe air that isn't filled with sorrow and war and loss. I want to be able to come here, Ron and sit with you and Harry and just be happy. Please Ron, I just – I want to live," she finished on a groan. Her cheeks burned a bright, angry red and she couldn't quite keep the irritation from her voice.
"It's been rough the last few months, trying to get on with life but it's getting easier and it'll keep getting easier! It won't if you run away! Things have been hectic yes, but people need us! They need our support. You should be proud that people know you; that people recognise what you've done! You should be bloody happy!" Ron shouted. "Why're you being so difficult? People respect us! We'd never want for anything – why are you so eager to run away from that?"
He didn't understand but really what had she expected? Ron, who'd never gotten enough attention his entire life, was finally getting his fair share and more. She knew he deserved it, especially now, it's just she didn't want it – not so much of it anyway.
Not anymore. Not for this.
"I just told you why I want to get away from it," said Hermione tightly and she didn't know what more she could say that would make him see.
"But what's out there that isn't here?"
"Ron," Harry groaned.
"No, she needs to tell me because I don't bloody well understand! What're you expecting to find out there, Hermione?"
"I don't know, Ron! Maybe a little peace?" And though her words were thrown at him like sarcasm, they were no less true. "Some air to breathe at the very least!"
"Again with the bloody air," Ron growled, folding his arms tightly across his chest. "Where're you going? What's so great about this air that it's got you leaving?"
The mocking condescension in his tone had her sucking in a sharp breath, made her shoulders tense with anger. "That's none of your business," she replied petulantly.
Ron's brows shot up his forehead, flirted with the bits of his hair that'd fallen down in the peak of his vehemence. He felt things with his entire being, Ron did, and Hermione could see the spread of emotion flow down from his raised brows, flushing his ears red, curling his lips inwards and tensing his shoulders.
"No, Harry. He obviously doesn't care enough to at least try to see things from my perspective, why should I tell him anything?"
"I don't care?" Disbelief and incredulity pitched Ron's voice higher. "You're leaving and I don't care?!"
"Are you saying I don't?!" Hermione fired back, glaring at him.
"If you did then you wouldn't be leaving!"
"If you did, then you would listen to me telling you why I have to go!"
"I've listened plenty! I've heard you say how you need this, how you can't move on, how you need to get away from Riddle but what about us? Do you have any idea how selfish you're being? Y-"
"Selfish?" She knew it was true, but she couldn't stand the way Ron was throwing it at her, the way he was using it to make his point. "Selfish?!" She squawked.
"Yeah, selfish," Ron repeated.
"Oi," said Harry, his voice quiet in the face of their yelling, but no less fierce. "That's not fair."
"What?!" Ron spluttered, rounding on Harry.
Harry rarely intervened when she and Ron started tearing into each other, and when he did it was usually a frustrated outburst that ended with him storming from the room. This time though, he sat there and spoke in a level voice, easily the calmest person in the room. "If there's one thing Hermione isn't, it's selfish."
"She is now! She's leaving. That's a selfish act. You're being selfish, Hermione," he declared.
"Well if I am it's because I have to be! Maybe I have to take care of myself, think of myself, because you certainly aren't!"
Ron's laugh was forced, though there was a slightly maniacal edge to it. "Can you hear yourself? I'm not thinking about you? You're not thinking of us in this decision that you've made. You're leaving Harry after everything that's happened to him. You're leaving me after everything we were, after everything we've been through, together! We need you!" Ron shouted, leaping to his feet. "But no, you don't care about us. You're leaving us to go off and do Merlin knows what with Merlin knows who!" He shouted angrily.
"I'm going with Luna; we're not likely to be partying up on the high seas! It's not some great holiday we're taking!"
"Of course bloody Luna. You let her talk you into this? You realize she'll probably have you camped out in the desert living in a sandcastle."
"Don't," Harry warned, irritation colouring his voice for the first time. He leaned away from Ron, folding his forearms along the edge of the table and looked at Hermione, long and hard. Stress pulled his features tightly together; lines furrowed the skin around his eyes and heavy bags underneath lingered, even now so long after he'd destroyed Riddle's Horcruxes. There was a lingering stillness about him that he'd never had before and he looked so old. "It's okay," Harry said bringing his hand up to cover hers.
"Except it isn't," Ron growled, scrubbing a hand roughly down his face. "Nothing about this is okay."
"She's not moving to another planet."
"She could be for all we know!"
"It's Hermione. She's-"
"She's not acting like Hermione," Ron retorted, "and I don't know what the hell's wrong with you that you're letting this happen." His chair clattered loudly to the floor as he stormed from the room, the backdoor slamming so hard behind him that the windows shuddered in their frames.
Hermione shook her head, willing the prickle of tears in the back of her eyes away. She could feel the back of her throat close up though, feel the telling warmth in her cheeks and so, she scrubbed roughly at her face, the ribbed cotton of her sleeve catching the wet that squeezed out between her scrunched together eyelids. "He's such – he's – he's…"
It startled a laugh out of her, weak and shaky. "Yeah," Hermione admitted sadly. Ron had reacted exactly how she thought he would (though she'd hoped for more) and as expected as it was, it still hurt.
"C'mon, Hermione, he's just…"
"Being Ron, I know but we've been friends seven years, Harry and he still – he still gets to me and I know I shouldn't expect any more from him than what he is, but he's my friend and he should know that I need this, he should be supporting me, not bringing me down." The words tumbled from her lips in one long rush and even to her own ears, her voice sounded thick with tears. Whether they were angry ones or ones borne of heartache, she didn't know – didn't care because really, what difference did it make?
"I support you," said Harry quietly, squeezing her hand gently.
It caught her off guard (though it really shouldn't have); startled her into glancing up at him. A faint pink tinged his cheeks at his admission and an unsure smile kicked the corners of his mouth up. "Don't look so surprised, Hermione. If there's anyone who knows where you're coming from, it's me."
"God, Harry, I know, I know," she stressed, "and I'm sorry that it's me leaving and not you."
"But I don't want to leave," said Harry easily. "I get that you have to, but I don't. I can be here as easily as I can be anywhere else because I can see past all the things that are in the way, for you, here."
"How? How can you-"
"Because I've gone through it before. With Cedric, and with Sirius. I've had longer to get used to it than you have and you should know that it does get easier, Hermione. The guilt never goes away, but you get used to that. The grief becomes more bearable, the pity and the way people look at you? You get used to that, too, even if you shouldn't have to."
"But you don't have peace here, Harry. I see the way it irritates you when people walk up to you, praising you and I know you hate it as much as I do - more than I do."
"Yeah, but I can deal with it because I've always dealt with it. I don't have peace, but I'm working at it, same as you and I can do that here, even if you can't, so don't feel guilty for leaving me here, Hermione. Just, don't."
"Ron'll get over it."
"No he won't."
"Yeah, but you've done plenty he's not been happy with, before." The firm pressure of his hand on hers was more reassuring than his weak grin. "You've looked out for us all through Hogwarts and then kept us alive in the hunt for the Horcruxes. You've always been there, Hermione, and now you need time away from that. You deserve a break; you decided to give that to yourself, so take it."
Saying that she was going to take a break and then actually taking one, despite Ron's feelings on the matter, was easier said than done though.
Because while she'd bought their plane tickets, packed up their house and said her goodbyes, she'd been standing in the empty living room, staring at a photo of the three of them for going on an hour.
"Perhaps the Guilt Giblets won't leave you alone," said Luna, "but we'll never know until we try."
"I don't think I'm ready to," admitted Hermione because as hard as it had been the last few months, there'd been good moments – brilliant ones even and a lot of them had happened in their home.
It was a small cottage just outside of Ottery St Catchpole that was a part of her parents real estate portfolio and she'd fled to it from The Burrow. With herself, Luna, Harry, Fleur's parents and sister, Andromeda and Teddy staying there as well as all of the Weasley's (minus Fred) things had gotten a bit claustrophobic. She'd shuddered at the thought of living alone though, and Luna was the only person willing to move out of The Borrow, with her.
Not even after Riddle's death could Hermione have imagined living with Luna Lovegood, but now she couldn't imagine living without her. More times than she cared to count, Hermione had woken from a nightmare so intense that the very idea of sleep, the possibility of going back to a dark place prompted her to shuffle into the living room only to find Luna huddled in front of the fire. They shared the same demons, lived through such dark times that they understood each other – finally. Hermione would be lying if she said that she could've gotten through the nights where she simply couldn't be alone with her memories, without Luna. They'd spent so much time camped in front of the fireplace that Hermione didn't know how she was supposed to leave this house, that fireplace, without feeling a sense of loss.
How was she supposed to be ready to leave the house where Teddy Lupin had taken his first steps? The far wall of the sitting room had a slight green tinge to it that the new renters wouldn't know was because one of Neville's Gargantula plants had splattered its oil when he'd brushed the leaves the wrong way. The back meadow was where Luna and Charlie had herded in dozens of strange looking animals, for Hagrid's birthday party. It was the same party where Hagrid had gotten Draco Malfoy so rip roaring drunk he never made it to the bathroom and threw up all over the carpet in the hallway – and then again in Hermione's wardrobe.
The kitchen was filled with memories of Bill telling them about powerful protective enchantments they should use on the house while Fleur taught Luna and her how to cook; memories of Mr Weasley marvelling at Hermione's cell phone, accidently taking pictures of Mrs Weasley's bum as she stuffed their fridge full of food. The laundry where she'd found George and Lee Jordan passed out, too drunk to apparate all the way to their flat or go back to The Burrow and face Mrs Weasley. The sitting room was where Hermione and Luna had fell down in exhaustion many nights, too anxious to be so alone in their own rooms. The front patio was where she, Harry, Ginny, Luna and Ron had whiled away precious few free afternoons.
How was she supposed to be ready to say goodbye to a place that had given her some of the only good memories she had of the last few months? How was she supposed to leave Harry and Ron?
"Moving on always means that you're leaving something behind," said Luna. "You'll never be ready to do it until you have."
"That doesn't make sense."
"It does if you think about it," she replied, smiling brightly before she jammed on a bright pink beanie Hermione recognised as an enlarged version of the house-elf hats she'd made back in her fourth year. "It's not goodbye and it's not forever. There's no such thing, really."
More than anything else that she'd said, anything that Harry said, it made sense to Hermione; had her feet moving forward out the door and down the garden path. And if she looked back more than once, then it was because while she wasn't leaving forever, she was still leaving for now.