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Chapter 1: The Calm After the Storm
The light from the kitchen shone through the back door of the Burrow, pooling softly in the garden. Harry sat on a bench a little ways out from the glow, relishing a moment of quiet after all the hubbub of the previous two weeks.
After the battle, there had been precious little time for reflection. The mix of elation at the end of Lord Voldemort and the crushing sadness of losing Fred, Tonks, Remus and the others had made for an altogether confusing and exhausting fortnight. Funerals, press conferences, memorials and awards ceremonies had all swirled together into a mass of emotion that left Harry's head spinning, and heart heavy. Though he loved the Weasleys and wanted as much as he could to support them through such a trying time, he needed just a little space to breathe, to just be for awhile. And there were only two people in world with whom he could just be. But when Harry headed out after spotting Ron and Hermione slipping into the garden after dinner, he suddenly realized that maybe the other two pieces of the "Golden Trio" were craving some time to just be a pair.
Not wanting to be spotted ducking back in, for fear that he would once again be the one to break up their "moment," he settled onto the garden bench to take in the quiet, and maybe a bit of Ron and Hermione's hushed conversation.
"It don't think it's sunk in yet, Ron. After all this time, is Voldemort really gone for good?"
"Well, that's what the Prophet is saying, so that means it must be true, right?"
The two shared a low giggle. It felt good to hear them laugh. That's what Harry had fought for, for his friends to be able to laugh freely, in a world without the fear of Voldemort. He hoped this was just the start of louder, longer belly laughs that could come back once the veil of grief had lifted further.
"There's so much more work to be done, though. Hogwarts need to be rebuilt, there's still so many Death Eaters out there, and then there's my parents..." Hermione's voice trailed off, half sadly, half expectantly.
"We'll go get them. Bring them back home, explain that it's safe now."
"Ron, I'm not even sure I CAN bring them back. The memory altering charms were difficult enough, reversing them might prove impossible."
"Well, if anyone can do it, I can imagine it would be the task for the brightest witch of our age, the 'brains' of the Golden Trio, order of Merlin, first class, mind you."
"While I appreciate the false flattery, Mr. Weasley, it doesn't put me any closer to figuring out how to actually DO it. Not to mention Australia's quite large, just finding them might prove a challenge. And I have to do it all before the start of term."
"You're not really thinking that you'll go back?"
"I have to, Ron. I've never failed at school before in my life. I can't..."
"Not sure how you'd ever consider yourself a failure, love. What could you possibly hope to learn that you don't already know? Haven't already DONE, for Merlin's sake?"
"Regardless, I need to sit my NEWTs to qualify for a good job. And don't try to tell me that it won't matter because we're war heroes, I need to do this for myself."
"Well, then, we're on a bit of a tight timetable. We'll need to leave as soon as we can get clearance from Kingsley."
Harry found himself sitting a little straighter, leaning more into their conversation. That could be just the thing to have him feeling like himself again, another mission, another problem he and his best mates had to solve. It had been all they'd done for the last year, it would be their next brilliant adventure.
"I don't know, Ron. What on earth is your mother going to say, you taking off so soon after Fred's funeral? Your family needs you here."
"You're my family, Mione," Ron said simply. Harry's heart ached at the simple truth in what Ron had said. That's what they were, family.
"Besides," Ron continued, "Mum will be having Harry to look after, it will help fill the void."
Harry cocked his head to listen more closely. Mrs. Weasley would have him to look after? But surely he'd be off in Australia too!
Hermione sighed heavily. "Well, there's that to consider, too. We have to tell Harry that we're going."
"You don't think he'll understand?"
"I'm sure he will. ANd he'll be all bloody noble about it, too, I'm certain. But this is a big change for all three of us, Ron. You and me, and this... whatever we are..."
"I'd like to think we're going out together, yeah? I mean, after these last couple weeks..."
"Well, yes. I guess that, I don't know. It's not like there's exactly been time for a proper date or anything..."
"But what with the kissing and all..."
Even from a distance in the dark, Harry could just tell Hermione's ears were turning pink and cheeks were flushing at the mention of the kisses that she and Ron had been stealing whenever they thought no one was watching. When really, most people were just trying to look the other way. After seven years of bickering, it was still a right uncomfortable sight to see them making eyes at eahc other, silently plotting their next quasi-private rendevouz... not that anything at the Burrow was particularly private at the moment.
"C'mon, Hermione, it's not like this isn't what we both want, isn't it?"
"Of course it is, Ron. But these last couple weeks have just been so MUCH. It's hard to tell where one emotion starts and the other leaves off. It almost feels wrong to be happy, like once we come to our senses after all this chaos, it's just going to evaporate."
"Hermione, I've been in love with you since the blasted Yule Ball." At the word "love," Harry heard a sharp intake of breath. "I hardly think NOT having the imminent threat of death hanging over our heads is going to cause me to change my mind..."
"Ron, did you just say... you LOVE me?"
Harry felt the tension in the moment. He pictured Hermione staring, mouth agape, and Ron, staring back equally flummoxed.
"Well, yeah. I mean, I thought you..."
"Ronald Weasley, when you love a girl, you don't just... DROP it on her like that! I don't know how to process that information." Harry smiled to himself, imagining Hermione wringing her hands as she tried to assimilate this new information into her considerable stores of knowledge.
"Well, bloody hell, Hermione, isn't it obvious? I've been mad about you for years. But I figured I would just cock the whole thing up, so I figured better not to say anything til, you know, after we were done with all that Voldemort business. So now that that's done, well... yeah. I love you."
"Oh RON!" Harry screwed up his face in a bit of disgust as he heard Hermione rather enthusiastically returning Ron's affections.
After what felt like an eternity, they broke apart and settled into a comfortable silence. After a moment, Ron said quietly "I imagine a bloke usually meets his girl's parents in a more conventional fashion, but I want to be with you when you bring them back, so they can know how loved you've been in their absence."
"Why Ronald, when did you become such a romantic?"
"It's not romance, it's just the truth. Losing Fred... well, it just shows you what really matters, you know? You're what really matters, and I want to be there with you every step of the way from here on out."
"Well, then, as I was saying, we better work out how to convince your mum..."
Harry let their voices fade out of his conciousness a bit and got lost in his own thoughts. As chuffed as he was for Ron, for FINALLY bollocking up and telling Hermione how he felt. he still felt strangely empty. After the last seven years, which even Harry would say has been regrettably focused on him and, as Ron put it, that Voldemort business, his friends were moving on... and leaving him on the outside looking in. Harry knew he had Ginny, and was certainly thankful for that, but this was
THEM. They'd been a three for all these years, and now were winnowing down to two. Harry snorted a bit to himself under his breath, thinking being "The Chosen One" left him awfully lonely among his little band of three. With a sigh, he knew what he had to do.
Harry snaked back over to the back door, and opened and shut it rapidly to give the couple the illusion he was just coming out and hadn't been hanging on their every word. Taking a deep breath and trying to hide his disappointment in his friends
making plans without him, he wandered over to where Ron and Hermione were hunched and hushed.
"Hey you lot," Harry intoned, doing his best to sound cheerful. "Was wondering where you'd run off to after dinner. Listen, we need to have a bit of a chat."
Hermione looked at Harry strangely. "Sure, Harry, what's on your mind?"
"Yeah, mate, do tell," Ron chipped in helpfully, looking at Hermione for approval.
"Hermione, we need to speak to Kingsley about getting you off to Australia to find your parents and bring them back. Shall we owl him in the morning?"
"Thanks, Harry, yeah. Speaking of Australia..."
"Yeah, Hermione, I've been meaning to tell you..." Harry trailed off for a second. "I'm really sorry, but I just don't think I can make the trip. There's bound to be more press events and it wouldn't do for the 'Boy Who Lived' to abandon the British wizarding community in their hour of need, you know?"
He turned to face Ron. "Think you can handle taking her, mate?"
Hermione and Ron exchanged somewhat worried glances, before Ron carefully replied "Yeah, sure. I'll take good care of her."
"Good, good," Harry said, briskly business like. "Then We'll sort it with Kingsley in the morning. Night." And he turned away to stalk back into the house before he had a chance to betray his emotions.
"Night, mate," Ron called after him into the dark. "Well, I guess that's sorted then."
"Ron, you don't think he heard us, do you?"
"Harry? Nah, he's not the eavesdropping sort. Reckon he's just being all 'noble' like you said."
"I just hope he'll be alright..."
"He's Harry Potter... he'll be just fine," Ron assured her, wrapping his arms around her waist to guide her back into the warmth of the kitchen.