Chapter 1 : Choices
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Harry stared at the ceiling and listened to the soft sounds of Hermione's breathing and Ron’s gentle snores. He smiled to himself. This felt right. It was nice to be back at the Burrow with the people he loved. It had taken some persuading, but Mrs. Weasley finally agreed to let the trio share a room. Not that she could have stopped them. Those first few days especially, they would have fought tooth and nail to avoid separation. Ginny had said nothing when the trio made their plans known. She understood how much they needed one another. She understood that right now, Harry needed Ron and Hermione more than he needed her. If this hurt her, she never let it show.
Sometimes Harry worried that Ron and Hermione didn’t want him there, that they would rather be alone, but they vehemently denied it and Harry needed them too much to press the issue. Despite the fact that it had been over two months since he had defeated Voldemort, Harry often woke in a cold sweat, visions of the nightmare they had endured playing through his mind. At these moments, he needed to be with the two people closest to him, needed to know that they were there and that they were safe. On occasion, when his dreams were especially realistic, Harry would wait for Ron and Hermione to doze back off before sneaking down to Ginny's room. Something about holding Ginny in his arms made him feel normal. When it was just the two of them, Harry could forget about everything that had happened, forget that he was the chosen one, and the saviour of the wizarding world. He could just be Harry, a regular man in love in with an extraordinary woman.
But it had been two months, and Harry was growing restless. As much as he would like to linger in the relative safety of the Burrow, it was time to start thinking of the future. The most important thing was to protect his loved ones, and to that end, Harry had been working on a plan for weeks. He had talked it over with Kingsley, and most of the details were sorted. Voldemort may be gone, but there were others poised to rise in his place. Harry couldn't allow that to happen. Now, all he had to do was say the word and he could begin Auror training immediately.
Ever since fourth year, when the imposter Moody had suggested it, Harry knew that he would one day become an Auror. Granted, he didn’t technically have the proper grades and schooling, and Aurors usually weren’t allowed to begin training until they had passed some rigorous tests, but Kingsley had guaranteed that they would make an exception for him…as well as Ron and Hermione.
Harry could see it in his head: entering Auror training with his two best friends by his side, the three of them spending their lives tracking down the last of the Death Eaters together. Maybe Ginny could even join them in a few years. Yes, taking action as Aurors was the right next step. Harry smiled to himself. Maybe everything was finally going to turn out all right for him.
A creak on the stairs jerked him out of his dreamy thoughts. He was instantly alert and sitting upright, wand drawn. No other sound followed and Harry allowed himself to relax. It’s an old house he thought to himself. Old houses have strange noises. He glanced quickly to Ron and Hermione's sleeping forms, assuring himself that they were safe and that he hadn't disturbed them.
It had been two months, and Harry still longed for the day when he felt comfortable enough to not sleep with his wand clenched in his fist. Voldemort may have gone, but there was still evil in the world. As Harry lay back down and settled his head into the pillow he knew that he had to protect the ones he loved by tracking down the Death Eaters. That's what was most important.
Hermione woke with a yawn. She yearned to stretch luxuriously, but hesitated, not wanting to wake the sleeping forms at her sides. What had awoken her? She listened carefully, hearing nothing but the rhythmic breathing of Harry and the gentle snores of Ron. She smirked slightly. Ron never believed them when they told him he snored.
She watched Ron for a few moments, enjoying the intimacy of being able to watch him sleep and relishing the fact that his sleeping arm was draped protectively over her. She then turned her eyes toward her other best friend. In sleep, he looked much more peaceful than she had seen him in ages. Yes, Voldemort was gone, but he still had followers out there who would love to get their hands on the three of them.
No, she wouldn’t follow that train of thought, at least not now. They had been through enough, had faced enough demons without worrying about still more. Glancing around the room, she noticed that the light seemed to be streaming through the window strangely. She looked at the watch fastened to Ron's wrist: 10:17. No wonder the light looked so strange, half the morning was already gone! How had they slept so late? With a start, Hermione realized that this was the first night she had slept through since leaving Shell Cottage before the battle at Hogwarts.
In the aftermath, the trio had become like infants, waking often throughout the night, crying out, seeking solace in each other. The nightmares had eased as time passed, but at least one of them would still wake each night, crying out, seeking comfort and reassurance. Often they would spend half the night, clutching one another in wakeful silence. But last night she had slept soundly.
Hermione harboured no fantasies that their nightmares were over, but maybe they were finally making progress. Maybe now they could finally start thinking of the future.
Hermione had already been thinking about it, of course. She had spoken with Professor McGonagall, newly named Headmistress of Hogwarts, and had received assurance that she could return to complete her seventh year. Hermione could think of nothing greater than returning to Hogwarts, the first place she had ever really fit in. It was harder than anyone knew for her to give up her seventh year to help Harry hunt for the horcruxes, but now that was over and she could go back. She had so much more to learn. If she wanted to make some real changes at the ministry, she needed to dedicate some serious time to her studies. She was determined to do everything within her power to create equality in the wizarding world and prevent another Dark Lord from ever rising, but she wanted to do it the right way. She wanted to impress everyone with her N.E.W.T. grades and enter the ministry on her own merits, not her notoriety. And now she had that opportunity. She could go back; they could all go back.
Hermione didn't think for a second that Harry and Ron really cared about schoolwork, but she had never seen them happier than at Hogwarts. They had all experienced far too much for their 18 years, but now they were offered a chance to make up for that. A second chance at a normal childhood, even if it was only for one year. They could have one normal year of just being kids, focusing on nothing more serious than their studies before they had to worry about the rest of their lives. Right now, she wanted nothing more than to return to Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Ginny. It would be perfect. Maybe today would be a good time to breach the subject.
Hermione let out a sigh of contentment. At the sound, Harry was instantly awake, wand drawn, a look of concern etched upon his face.
"What’s wrong? Are you ok?" He asked Hermione in an urgent whisper.
It broke her heart to see him like that, but she smiled anyway. "Nothing, it’s just morning, late morning actually. We slept straight through." She watched as Harry relaxed and his face broke into a grin. He pulled her into a half hug before leaning across and playfully punching Ron in the shoulder.
"Wake up, you lazy bugger. It’s morning!" Hermione joined Harry in laughing at the confused look upon Ron’s face as he awoke. This was exactly what she wanted, a little time for them to just be kids while they gain the skills to face the world anew. She had to protect the ones she loved by returning to Hogwarts. That’s what was most important.
Ron curled under the covers, postponing the moment he would have to leave the warmth and comfort of his bed. He always hated getting up in the mornings, even though he could smell the delicious odors of his mum’s cooking drifting up the stairs. Smelled like she was cooking sausage, one of his favorites. Still, he lingered under the covers and pulled Hermione’s pillow close to him, inhaling. It smelled like her, and that was better than anything his mum could whip up.
He still couldn’t believe how lucky he was to have her in his life. She was far too good for him. She had left with Harry a few minutes before, heading downstairs for a late breakfast. He was amazed that they had slept for so long. It was like the old days, when he and Harry would have a bit of a lie in on the weekends at Hogwarts. Hermione would wait for them in the common room and they’d all go down to the Great Hall together. Today, however, he had sent them downstairs without him, insisting that he'd be down shortly. Hermione had thrown her pillow at him on her way out the door. It was so good to see her laugh again, to see them both laugh. It had been too long. Too much had happened.
Sobering thoughts for so early in the morning, Weasley, Ron thought to himself as he rolled over. It was true though. Much had happened. He had lost a brother, and despite how much he had left, that loss left a hole that was only beginning to heal. It had also left him with a sense of grim determination. He had spent the last few days thinking hard about the future and his next step. He had finally figured it out and had run the suggestion by George just the day before.
"Seriously?" George's face broke into something resembling a grin, "You want to work at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes?"
"Absolutely," Ron replied, glad George seemed to be taking the suggestion so well.
"But Ronnie, I'm not sure how that would look, you being a prefect and all."
Ron's heart leapt and he grinned. George's jokes had been few and far between since Fred's death. It had almost been like that part of him had died with his twin.
"But seriously little brother, I never thought you were really that interested in the business aspect of things. Swiping things without paying, yes, but running the shop is a lot of work."
Ron took a deep breath, "Well, I guess...everything that happened just made me more aware of how important family really is, the whole family, George. Harry and Hermione will be coming too." In his mind, Ron envisioned the three of them working side by side, George bossing them around.
George arched an eyebrow. "I appreciate the offer, but you might want to check with Harry and Hermione before you volunteer them to work at the shop. Maybe they have different ideas of what comes next."
But Ron had brushed the comment off. This felt right. Ron had more experience than he cared to admit with walking out on the ones he loved. While at Shell Cottage over Christmas, after abandoning Harry and Hermione, Ron had made a vow that if he could somehow get back to them, he would never again walk out on anyone he cared about. He intended to keep that promise.
He could still see the deep look of loathing Hermione wore when he returned, the callous glare from Harry. He could imagine the tears that his mother cried when they had left on their mission, and the tears Hermione cried when they had to continue without him. Every now and then, Harry or Hermione would make a comment that he didn't understand, an allusion to something that had transpired while he wasn't there to experience it. It was like a kick to the stomach every time.
He envisioned them all working in the shop again. Merlin knows they could use some more laughter in their lives, and George could use all the help and support that they could muster.
"RONALD BILIUS WEASELY! GET DOWN HERE BEFORE YOUR FOOD GETS COLD!"
Ron rolled out of bed with a smirk. Yes, this felt right. He had to protect the ones he loved by being there, every day, to do whatever he could. That's what was most important.