'Harry James Potter!' It was Hermione. Of course it was. They saw each other not ten hours ago, she couldn't possibly be angry about him not sending an owl or visiting already. What had he done? 'When were you going to tell me? And…' she took him by the arm and led him aside from his office, casually casting a silencing spell as the rest of the Aurors (including Ron) were now staring at this highly unusual sight. 'Snogging your colleague? Employee even! We'll have words about this, this won't fly if you're at Hogwarts!'
'If, Hermione. I haven't accepted yet.'
'Yes, well, if. It's highly unprofessional!'
'What do you care? Besides, I might not even be her colleague in a few days. I see no harm in it!' Harry started to get a bit annoyed, not least because his head was still throbbing from last night's heavy alcohol consumption. Hermione did nothing to ease the ache, though.
'And when were you planning on telling me? Have you told Ron? Are we just not friends anymore?!'
'I just found out, Hermione. McGonagall asked me yesterday, in the Great Hall.'
'Oh.' She seemed to mellow a bit, perhaps embarrassed at her outburst. 'Well, are you going to accept?'
Was he? Looking around, all the Aurors were still staring at them, though unable to hear what they were saying. Ron had a confused look on his face as he approached them, each step closer feeling like a countdown for Harry's impending decision. Ron was going to be furious…
'What's going on? Hermione, why are you harassing my boss? You alright, Harry?' he seemed cheerful though, not knowing what Harry was going to say. Hermione glared at Harry, urging him to explain the situation before she did.
'Er - Ron. I've got something I need to tell you.'
'No, no no no no, NO!' Ron was shaking his head in disbelief. 'You are NOT leaving me here with this lot. No. NO! I won't have it! Hermione, tell him! I need him here, go on, tell him!' Harry was quite impressed that his best friend had guessed what this was about so fast. Maybe he had been worrying about this for some time… It did not ease Harry's conscience.
'I believe Harry is entitled to make his own decisions, Ronald.' She reminded him, coolly.
'No he's not! He owes me, the bloody git!'
'Owes you? What exactly?! You left too, remember! In far more dangerous times as well, if you recall -'
'I came back!'
They continued like that for a while, arguing about whether Harry had a right to leave, whether he was allowed to make such decisions on his own. Ron's voice was desperate, while Hermione's more logical. Neither actually seemed to interested in what he actually wanted, though. They sounded more concerned with what they wanted. Suddenly, Harry didn't feel so bad.
'Ron,' Harry said, finally interrupting their altercation. 'I love you mate, but I have to get out of here. You know that. This place - it's turning me… Turning me into something bad, something I don't want to be.' His friend looked paler than usual, his freckles standing out clearer on top of his pearly white skin. 'Maybe you need to leave, too.'
'And go where? While we're at it, were are you going?'
'Er - now don't get mad, Ron…'
Again, he gave his friend far too little credit. As soon as he said the word "mad", Ron's eyes widened in disbelief and shock, carrying the look that he had just solved the puzzle. Why Hermione was there. Why Harry acted so… weird, with Decima last night. Everything fell into place, it seemed. His demeanor changed. No longer betrayed and angry - instead, defeated, and bereaved.
'Oh.' Ron understood. 'So, you'll both be teachers, eh? Lovely. Just… Just lovely.'
Ron stalked off as Harry and Hermione stood there, avoiding each other's eyes at any cost. Eventually, Hermione said something about having to pack, leaving Harry alone to face the stares of the Auror office. Sighing, he made his way to his colleagues, gathering them around for what would be their last meeting with Harry in charge.
The last two weeks had passed in a blur of planning, paperwork, correspondence, and short visits to the Weasley & Granger household. Ron was still quite upset, infecting Hermione's mood as well. He did lighten up more than once in the last days, especially when he heard that he had been awarded the job of Head of the Auror Office on a temporary basis, at least. Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt understood Harry's decision without question, and had even agreed to appoint Ron as Harry's successor on his recommendation. Hermione was happiest when the three of them wandered the streets of Diagon Alley to browse for books on teaching, transfiguration, and defence against the dark arts. It did remind Harry of old times, even though Ron and Hermione had always been closer before. Now, there was a visible distance between his two best friends. They didn't hold hands, they never kissed, and sometimes bickered without that loving banter that they always used to have. Sometimes they would hug, and Hermione would get a bit teary eyed, whispering choice words in Ron's ear which had a positive effect on his mood. But often, Ron made snarky comments or mean remarks - which served no purpose other than infuriate his spouse.
Decima never returned to her flirting behavior with Harry after she found out he was leaving, but they weren't unfriendly. On the contrary, they often found themselves sharing lunches when Harry visited the ministry for the last paperwork or handing over of tasks and such. She did not seem too bothered about him leaving the Aurors, more so about the fact that he was leaving right after they had spent their first night together. Yet, she did not bring it up, which Harry was eternally grateful for. Decima was not acting sentimental or "emotional", he thought. She was acting logically and almost calculative. A true Ravenclaw, indeed.
It had come to the last day before teachers were to gather in the school. An invitation to the Burrow lay on his window ledge, promising dinner, old friends, and a chance to say something - anything, to Ginny. Their last encounter had made him so happy, so relieved that he couldn't wait until they met again. She was his drug, and he had been away far too long. Maybe his depression these last years had been literal withdrawal symptoms. Maybe him drifting from place to place, day to day, was due to the fact that he was lost without her. Whatever the truth was, he knew that he needed to see her. At least to say goodbye before he went back to Hogwarts, before he would try to change his life around for good.
'Harry! Harry's here everyone!' Mrs. Weasley shouted out into the tall house that was the Burrow, before she pulled him into an angry hug. 'And where have you been?! I've been worried sick about you! Years! Years without an owl, without a visit, without word about how you are… Have you eaten today?! Oh, Harry!' she hugged him again, this time with more maternal love than anger.
'Look who fancied to show up!' Ginny mocked, still carrying an ever larger belly.
'If it isn't the chosen one himself! Honoring us with his presence once more! Praise Merlin, praise Harry Potter!' George received a smack to the back of his head from Hermione, while Ginny laughed, agreeing with his sentiment.
Mr. Weasley shook his hand, Percy as well, while Bill and Charlie were absent. Ron was supposed to be there, but according to Hermione felt "unwell". A man a head shorter than Harry appeared between the masses of Weasley's, looking oddly familiar. He was quite stocky, wore a beaming smile, and short cropped hair. It was, of course, Ginny's husband. Clinging unto him were their three children, all with flaming red hair.
'Wood?' Harry asked, a bit louder than he thought. How did he not know Ginny was married to his old Quidditch Captain Oliver Wood? Surely, Ron must have mentioned it. His mind raced through past conversations where Ron might have said the words "Ginny", "Wood" or "Married", scanning his brain like a muggle search-engine. Nothing came up.
'Hi there, Harry! Alright?'
'Er - yeah. Yeah, long time!' he shook the hand of the man who was the cause of Ginny's happiness. The happiness that Harry wanted to be the cause of. The rest of the Weasley family, including Hermione, stared quietly at the two former friends. It was enough for Harry to try to break the tension with the first thought that popped into his thick head. 'You've been busy!' he nodded at the two children at his feet, and the youngest on his shoulders. 'Who might these be, then?' he tried a smile towards them.
'This,' Ginny came in to save the awkward encounter, grabbing the child who hung onto his father's shoulders. 'Is Fred. He's the oldest. Unfortunately, he has inherited his namesake's talent for trouble.'
'And with no George of his own to reign him in, a job I was severely under-appreciated for, I might add, he runs amok!' George added, messing up the young Fred's hair. The little boy laughed at his uncle, stretching out from his mother's arms. 'Georgie, I want Georgie to hold me!'
Ginny gave in, letting her brother hold him.
'Our twins are down there, by my husband's feet. As you can see, they are quite inseparable. They're named Hermione,' Ginny explained, causing the older Hermione to blush slightly. 'And Harry.'
Harry? It couldn't be… There must be some other relative he was named for. Not him. The little Harry smiled a toothless smile towards him with his freckled face. His sister looked more scared, reaching out to her brother for a familiar touch. An eager silence had spread in the Burrow, as the current occupants seemed to await Harry's, the older Harry's, reaction. But Harry did not know what to say. Nor what to do. Should he pick him up? Thank them for naming their son after him? He could kiss Hermione for breaking the silence that seemed to last an eternity as he was staring at Ginny's youngest son. Well, youngest for now, he thought, taking a look at her pregnant belly.
'I'm sure Harry's proud to have your son named after him. I know I am. Right Harry?'
Harry stumbled with some words, before looking up, beaming with pride. He was proud. He was happy. It was… perfect. He pulled Oliver and Ginny into a hug, silently thanking them. A relieved Weasley household seemed to breath out and relax at this, though Ginny never expected anything else judging by her reaction. She did know him well, after all.
'Do you want to hold him?' she asked.
'N-no, no I wouldn't know what to…' but it was too late, the young ginger Harry was already in his arms. Hermione was holding her young counterpart as well, so Harry turned to look at her example to make his arms more comfortable for the child. She seemed good at it, as the young Hermione looked quite settled and at ease in her aunt's arms. When little Harry yawned in his arms, something cold and wet trickled down his cheeks. Ginny laughed at him, giving him a small peck on his now moist face. Mrs. Weasley was also crying, while the rest of the present Weasley family looked on with joy. Hermione gave Harry a look before quickly returning to stare at the child in her arms. She wanted this, he knew. She wanted this with Ron, and she was imagining holding their child at this moment.
Not long after, Harry found himself wandering the Burrow in anticipation for the dinner. He wanted to take a look at the rooms he had stayed in during his last visits here. The room he and Ron shared. The room where he and Ginny lost their innocence to each other… This was his old home, more so than Privet Drive 4 had ever been. Even more so than his current apartment. The Burrow, and Hogwarts. And now he had excuses to return to both. Little Harry would never be years away from him ever again, he would make sure of that.
He sat on Ron's old bed, the room still clean and decorated as if he was still living here. Quidditch posters, Gryffindor-scarves, broomsticks, match-sweaters, tickets… Loads of personal memorabilia hung from the walls. Pictures of the trio adorned the cupboards. He wished his friend was here to share this moment. This last moment before his life would change more than it had done in seven years. But he was "unwell", and Harry knew why. And, more importantly, he understood why, and did not blame him for it.
'Mind if I join you?' Harry expected it to be Ginny, but Hermione's head peaked in the small opening of the door. At least he would have one of his best friends here to share this moment.
'Not at all. I'm just… just reminiscing. Thinking about little Harry, and little Hermione.'
The older Hermione went and sat next to him on the bed. Ron was sorely missing from the scene. They shouldn't be there without him. He should have been there when Harry met little Harry for the first time. As much as he loved that man, Ron could be just as stubborn as him when he wanted to.
'How is he?' Harry asked.
'Happy, I think. Haven't seen him smile like that for some time. We've talked about you a lot, promised that you would visit and say hi. I think he's missed you, even though he doesn't know you.'
Harry was confused. Doesn't know me? He thought. Then it dawned on him.
'Oh, I meant Ron.' He laughed, as Hermione blushed. 'But I'm happy to hear that about little Harry. Hermione seems to like you, though. You're very good with her from what I've seen!'
'She's a little rascal that one, hasn't inherited a single trait from me! But I do love her so much. I wish…' she took Harry's hand and opened her mouth to speak, but her tongue could apparently not find the words her heart wanted to her to say.
'I understand, Hermione. I wish it too, you know.'
'You do?' she asked with an incredulous look.
'Yeah. I do. Especially now that I've met Harry. It's weird… I've been away from him for a couple of minutes and I already miss him.'
Hermione squeezed his hand.
'Does… Does Ron want it?' she asked, quite nervously. 'A family, I mean.' She looked at him, her teary eyes filled with hope. What could he say? Should he lie? Ron did not want kids. Ron wanted her to himself. Ron wanted what they had. Ron wanted… Wanted them to be kids again. For things to be as they were when they all were young. It finally made sense to Harry. Ron, his best friend, had not yet grown up. A process he wasn't sure he himself had gone through with either, but was sure he was undergoing it at this very moment. Would he betray this to Ron's wife? His best friend? Whose loyalty should he honor? 'Harry?'
'Er - Ron wants… Ron wants you, Hermione. I'm not sure if he wants what Ginny has yet. But it will come. I'm sure.'
Hermione's hand slipped from his, leaving him with a cold and empty sensation where their skin had touched. She sighed, burying her face in her hands.
'Ron wants things to stay the same. That's what you're telling me. They've been the same for seven years, Harry. Seven years. I'm not… How long? How long do I have to wait?'
'I don't know... But you will, won't you?'
She did not respond. Instead, they sat there, on his bed, saying nothing. Complete silence covered them like a blanket, haunting the room as much as his absence was. It wasn't until Mrs. Weasley called for dinner that they woke up from their silent trance, a long while later.
Traveling to Hogwarts was different as a teacher, but to Harry, not much had changed. Where ever he walked along platform 9&3/4 stares followed him, just as they did when he journeyed there all those years ago.
Ron had come with them to the station, acting a bit cold and unloving to his wife but friendly enough to his best friend. Finally, when Hermione and Harry were just about to board the train, the married couple shared a long awaited kiss, though it did not give way to a long awaited smile on Hermione; instead she tried to force a happy grimace to her husband, who seemed to take it at face value. He shook hands with his best friend and told him to keep an eye on his wife for him, and went on his way before the train left.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. Hermione seemed both happy and sad while they walked the length of the scarlet Hogwarts Express, greeting students and teachers alike. They didn't really have time to talk about it, though. In fact, they hadn't really talked properly since that dinner at the Weasley's, not counting pleasantries and greetings. Wanting to change this, but not finding time to, Harry instead forced the issue by getting into an empty compartment and dragging his friend with him.
'What's the matter, Harry?' she asked, quite flustered from the sudden movement.
'Mind telling me what's going on?' he said.
'Nothing? Ron's kissing you and you just… Nothing?' She looked around the empty compartment. 'Hermione, talk to me.'
'Like you talked to me, Harry?!' she snapped. 'In case you've forgotten, I was your friend, too. You left me as much as much as that boy did. I needed you.'
'That's not fair, Hermione -'
'No! Don't you stand up for him. Or yourself. As far as I'm concerned, you two were best friends and I was an outsider. At least I have little Hermione and Ginny now. Who do you have, Harry? Decima? Run off to her, then. Go on! Ginny and little Harry don't need you and they never have!'
She had gone too far. He was beyond angry. Fair enough, Harry had let her down. All of them, in fact, including little Harry, Ginny and Ron. But this? This was way off what she was allowed to say. The hair on his neck was standing straight up, and he physically felt himself swell as if he was about to jump on top of her. Before he could do or say anything, she turned around and left. He was all alone now, truly.
What a fantastic start to his new beginning.