Two feet of parchment covered in black ink sat on the desk before Hermione Granger, the only external evidence of her internal struggle. She had never been one for keeping a journal even before Ginny Weasley's exceptionally horrific experience six years earlier. Still, the only way to see all of the facts was to have them laid out in plain view, and preferably in tidy, minuscule handwriting.
Hermione pushed the paper away and knotted her hands in her long, uncontrolled hair. Just this morning she had broken another hairband trying to tame the accursed locks, which added another unnecessary layer of frustration to her difficult decisions. She hated every minute she spent trying to decide the next step in her life. Did she go to Australia and recover her parents? Did she go back to Hogwarts? Did she do both, and if so, in what order? Her parents would be disoriented after she lifted the Memory Charm. Could she move them back to England knowing that she would be leaving them alone again in just a couple of months? Should she bring them home and then attend university instead of completing her N.E.W.T.s?
While the last idea kept coming up as she considered her future, she knew that she couldn't live with herself if she abandoned her magical education. She had been blessed beyond measure to be a witch and to be able to attend the best Wizarding school in the world. She and Hogwarts had been through so much together, and like her, Hogwarts would be recovering over the course of the next year. In her core, Hermione knew she needed to be in an environment where rebuilding after the war was tangible. She needed to physically see the bricks move back into place and become whole again. It was the only way she would be able to put herself back together.
Living with the Weasleys and Harry was difficult and left Hermione yearning for escape most days. The Burrow had been badly damaged by Death Eaters, which led to less than ideal living arrangements: Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Percy, and Ginny were living with their Aunt Muriel while Bill, Fleur, Ron, Hermione, and Harry lived at Shell Cottage. George disappeared without a word the day after Fred's funeral, leaving the family in panic until Charlie owled three weeks later with the news George had shown up in Romania looking for dragon skin and a place to sleep.
The Ministry had taken quite some time to get itself sorted, but within an hour of Kingsley Shacklebolt's appointment as Minister for Magic, Harry and Ron had been summoned to his office to discuss their expedited Auror training. Meanwhile, Hermione, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Fleur, and Percy spent their days digging through the wreckage of the Burrow as Mr. Weasley and Bill returned to work. Percy, it seemed, had no designs to return to the Ministry until he felt he had paid back his debt to his family.
Hermione wound her hair into a bun and, taking a page from Luna Lovegood's book, used her wand to anchor it in place. As her hands returned to the parchment on the desk, she felt slightly better, if only because her hair was one less thing she needed to worry about.
The door to the tiny bedroom flew open and an energetic blur of ginger hair and scarlet robes barrelled onto the bed. Ginny waved her wand and the door shut soundly.
"Ginny! You are not seventeen yet!" Hermione admonished. "Do you want to get expelled?"
The younger girl scoffed and splayed her arms dramatically across the bed. "Why do wizards wear robes during the summer?" she lamented, pointedly ignoring the question. "Muggle clothing is so much more comfortable. It's not like I'm naked without the robes, but no, Mum says it's inappropriate for a young woman of age to be seen without them. She's so old-fashioned."
"You're not 'of age' yet, which is exactly my point. What if the Ministry decides to punish you for that bit of magic you just did?"
Ginny turned to glare at Hermione. "You know, you're about as much fun as the gnomes, but at least I can throw them over the hedge." The younger girl sat up and glanced out the window. "Maybe I'll see if Phlegm and Percy would be up for three-aside Quidditch once the boys get home."
As Ginny had done with Hermione's question, Hermione ignored the unflattering nickname for Bill's French wife. "Fleur and Percy play Quidditch?"
Ginny shrugged. "Percy's doing anything he can to stay in our good graces and Phlegm's actually a pretty decent Seeker. Beauxbatons didn't have anything like the Quidditch matches at Hogwarts, but the students played casually anyway. Not that she's any match for me or Harry." The young woman stood from the bed and shrugged off her robes, exposing loose trousers and a linen shirt. "And you're right. I'm not of age, so Mum can have kittens about my clothes later. God, this feels better."
The redhead paused by the door and examined the parchment in front of Hermione. "Are you writing a letter or practicing your essays?"
Hermione flushed and shuffled the paper out of sight. "Neither. I just have a lot on my mind."
"Anything I can help with?"
The older girl considered her friend for a long minute. "I modified my parents' memories last summer before—before everything," she confessed. "They don't know who I am. They don't know anything about the Wizarding world. They think they're the Wilkinses, and they pursued their lives' ambitions eleven months ago by moving to Australia."
The youngest Weasley looked stunned by this revelation. "Hermione, I'm so—"
"I did it for their safety and it worked. Voldemort never found them and I can bring them home now, but I just don't know if I should. I mean, there are still Death Eaters on the loose. And what if I remove the Memory Charm but they're disconcerted? If I leave them alone after two months to go back to Hogwarts, am I abandoning them just when they need me? Or would leaving them under the spell for another year while I finish Hogwarts be the right thing to do? And what if they hate me afterwards? I didn't even let them choose to go into hiding, I just modified their memories and sent them off." Hermione felt close to hyperventilating as her concerns poured out in a wave of emotion.
Ginny dropped to her knees and took Hermione's hands in her own. "I can't tell you what to do, but maybe we can find another solution. Maybe there's something you haven't thought of yet. Although," she looked toward the abandoned quill on the desk, "I imagine you've thought of nearly everything."
"What do I do, Ginny?"
The younger girl stood and dragged Hermione to her feet. "You come downstairs and have lunch. Mum and Phlegm are making sandwiches before we go over to the Burrow. Getting away from this and working with your hands for awhile will help."
The charred scars of aggressive spellwork on the door of the Burrow still sent shivers down Hermione's back when she walked into the once-friendly home. As they walked through the barren living room and into the kitchen, Hermione noticed Mrs. Weasley studiously ignored the clock on the wall. Though the hands no longer pointed to Mortal Peril as they had for nearly a year, the absence of one hand reminded the Weasleys of what the war had cost them. Losing their possessions was something that could be dealt with over time; being without Fred was a waking nightmare.
Hermione and Ginny picked through Ron's room, peeling the Chudley Cannons posters off the walls and tossing the bedclothes out the window to the garden below. The Weasleys had decided to completely gut the house to facilitate making all of the necessary repairs. Mr. Weasley even suggested they might as well make some improvements to it while they had the opportunity.
After an hour and a half, Hermione took a break to walk out to the garden. The door to the twins' room was ajar as she passed and, out of morbid curiosity, she pushed it open to glance inside.
Percy sat on the edge of a narrow bed with a picture frame gripped tightly in his hands. A trunk bolstered with an Extension Charm sat open at his feet, where he had been packing away the twins' things. A few toffee wrappers and order forms still littered the floor, but most of the reminders of Percy's brothers were gone.
Hermione edged into the room and sat on the bed across from the third Weasley son. She wondered for a moment which bed had been Fred's and which had been George's.
Without looking up, Percy handed the picture to Hermione. She recognized the nine members of the Weasley family, all grinning and unscarred. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were beaming at the bundle in Mrs. Weasley's arms. The twins couldn't have been much older than three but were already terrorizing their younger brother by pulling at his hair and ears. Tiny Percy stood with his shoulders back and chin up next to his older brothers. Bill was only a head shorter than Mrs. Weasley while Charlie barely reached his elder brother's nose.
It was odd to see the family together; in fact, in all her years of knowing the Weasleys, the only time she'd seen all of them at once was in a copy of the Daily Prophet when they'd vacationed in Egypt after Mr. Weasley won the newspaper's Grand Prize Galleon Draw. Between Bill living in Egypt, Charlie in Romania, and Percy in London, the Weasleys hadn't all physically come together in five years. Fred's funeral marked the last time it would ever happen.
"I should have seen it coming," Percy said, startling Hermione. He rubbed his forehead with an anxious hand and stared at the floor. "If I'd been just a bit faster or hadn't been so flippant toward Thicknesse, maybe he wouldn't have been distracted. Maybe he would have seen it and ducked in time." Percy put his head in both hands and breathed deeply. "I should have saved him."
Hermione moved over next to the distraught brother and rested the picture on the edge of the trunk. "If only Harry, Ron, and I had found the Horcruxes faster. If only Snape hadn't killed Dumbledore. If only Voldemort had really died when Harry was a baby." Percy looked at her with confusion. She shook her head. "It's not your fault that Fred died, Percy. Just the fact that you came back to fight with him—the fact that you fought alongside him made him so proud. And you continued to fight, and you will continue to fight until every last Death Eater is locked away because that's what Fred died for. He knew the risks and he chose to fight anyway. It's not your fault."
Emotions warred on Percy's face; distress, derision, pride, and grief all battled for his attention until he wrapped his arms around his legs and laid his head face down on his knees. Hermione sat by him awkwardly, unsure if she should comfort him or let him work through his grief alone.
Deciding on the latter, she began to stand from the bed. Percy's hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.
"Stay," he whispered. "Please."
She sat back down and he rotated to lay on the bed with his head in her lap. Surprised, Hermione cautiously rested one hand on his shoulder and stroked his hair with the other.
Ginny found them an hour later as Percy lay sleeping with Hermione's hand still absently petting his head. She sat down on the other bed and watched her brother breathe evenly.
"This is the first time he hasn't had nightmares," she said in a low voice.
Hermione nodded, fully aware of what that felt like. Her own nightmares were blessedly infrequent, but she wasn't immune. Some nights—some weeks—were worse than others.
"He and I share a room at Muriel's," Ginny said. "Mum and Dad are afraid of leaving him alone for a long time. I think he's taking this—" she gestured around the twins' room, "—almost as hard as George."
"I think you're right," Hermione agreed. She nodded to the picture on the trunk. "I found him holding that when I came in."
Ginny reached for the frame and looked it over with a grim expression. "Hard to believe there was time before Voldemort." She chuckled. "This was taken on Bill's eleventh birthday. Harry had defeated Voldemort a month earlier." Ginny ran a finger over the glass. "God, they look so happy."
Another hour passed as the girls talked without waking Percy, returning to the discussion of what to do about Hermione's parents. She felt no closer to a decision by the time Ron and Harry arrived to help with the clean-up after their training finished for the day.
The boys looked puzzled when they came across the girls and Percy in the twins' room. Ron's face darkened at the sight of his brother asleep on Hermione's lap while Harry just raised an eyebrow and put a hand on Ginny's shoulder, pulling her backward into an awkward hug.
"How's he doing?" Harry asked. From his tone, Hermione gathered that Ginny had told her boyfriend about Percy's nightmares.
"Better, I think," Hermione answered. "I think he's going to be okay."
"Good," Ron said in a distant voice. "Hermione, can I talk to you?"
Hermione ignored the argument she sensed in his words. If he made comforting Percy into an assault on their tenuous, undefined relationship, it would be the last straw. Jealousy in small amounts, even jealousy enhanced by the Horcrux in Slytherin's locket, was understandable. Jealousy of his own grieving brother edged on absurd.
"Later," she said quietly. She shifted her stiff hand on Percy's shoulder. "I'll come find you when he wakes up."
Ron left the room without a word, followed quickly by an apologetic Harry. Ginny returned the photograph to the trunk before she too left with the boys.
When they were once again alone, Hermione considered the sleeping man on her lap. If she needed evidence that war changes people, she didn't have to look further than Percy Weasley. He was more subdued than the pompous prefect she'd met in her first year at Hogwarts; more loyal than the Junior Assistant to the Minister for Magic she'd seen briefly at Christmas of her sixth year. Percy had changed more than all of them, and it showed in the exhausted lines on his face.
And still, the war wasn't quite over. Percy still had demons to deal with, both in his head and on the street. She saw the way he watched the horizon whenever they stood outside, as if expecting a rogue Death Eater to attack his family out of the blue sky.
As Percy's forehead wrinkled with the first sign of an oncoming nightmare, she admitted the full truth to herself: the only reason she wanted to bring her parents home now was because she missed them, but if she was honest, it still wasn't safe. It wouldn't be safe for a long time.
"No," Percy croaked in a sleep-riddled voice. "No, you can't!"
Hermione shook his shoulder. "Percy." When he didn't wake, she shook harder. "Percy."
Blue eyes fluttered open as the man left his nightmare behind. "Hermione?" He bolted upright, a flush on his cheeks. "Oh, lord, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to—what time is it?" he asked, glancing out the window.
He blanched. "I can't believe you let me sleep for three hours. I am so sorry."
"You seemed like you needed it and I didn't mind."
Percy stood and smoothed out his navy robes. "Still, it was rude of me to fall asleep."
Hermione sighed. "Apology accepted." She stood up and placed her hands on his shoulders for a moment before shaking her head and pulling him into a hug. The man was stiff with surprise but reached his arms around her nevertheless. "You're a fighter, you know," she said in his ear. He pulled back and cocked his head to the side. She nodded. "You're going to make it through this. We all are."
With that, she left to go downstairs, where the rest of the family was gathering to head to Muriel's for an early supper. She slipped her hand into Ron's and rested her head on his shoulder. "How was training?"
She felt the tension go out of his body as he planted a kiss on the top of her head. "It was fine. Ginny told us about your issue with your parents. Have you decided anything?"
Hermione looked at Ginny, who had the grace to look slightly abashed at revealing their private discussion. Harry, on the other hand, looked genuinely concerned.
"I did. Since they haven't caught all of the Death Eaters yet and the Ministry is still getting back on its feet and since I'm going back to Hogwarts, I'm going to wait until next summer. I can't bring them home just to abandon them. Who knows what kind of residual effects the Memory Charm will have?"
Harry caught Hermione's other hand and squeezed it for a quick moment. "I think that's the right decision."
She squeezed back before letting go. "Thank you."