The rest of the summer passed in a buzz of excitement. Harry started his training at the auror office, Ron continued work at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, and Hermione started preparing for her return to Hogwarts. Ginny had the uncomfortable task of going to the burrow to tell her mother that she wouldn’t be returning to school because of her new place in the Under 20s squad of the Hollyhead Harpies. Molly was absolutely furious, however before she could work herself up into a proper lecture, a silver lion with scars over its face arrived in the kitchen. It spoke in Bill’s deep voice, and said, “Mum, Dad, you’re going to be grandparents.” It then promptly vanished, leaving Molly to cry and talk at and hug everyone who she could reach. Arthur was a little more composed, however Ginny caught him wiping his eye a little. She left then, excited to tell Harry, Ron and Hermione the good news, and eager to get out of her mother’s way before she remembered that she was angry at her.
September 1st came quickly, and Hermione found herself eager to return to school. Ron came with her to King’s Cross Station by side-along apparition, having asked for the day off work from George. When they got on to Platform Nine and Three Quarters, they were both hit with a wave of nostalgia. This had been their gateway for everything that had happened to them. This train platform was the reason that they met Harry. The reason that Voldemort was dead. The reason why they were together. The memories that they had on this platform happened only a short while previously, however for them, a lifetime had elapsed since they had last been there.
Ron felt Hermione’s hand scramble, trying to find his, and he held it firmly. They looked around at the excited new students gathered around them, and felt rather out of place. Hermione tried to ignore these strange emotions, and hurried off to put her trunk in the luggage compartment of the train.
They waited until the final whistle blew, pushed against the back wall of the platform, not wanting to get in the way of the surge of students hurrying this way and that. When they heard the shrill cry of the whistle, Hermione seemed to freeze, and Ron gave her a gentle nudge, snapping her out of her daze. He kissed her quickly, and she wandered off into the clouds of smoke and people that thronged the platform.
He stayed there, even though he had lost sight of her, and she hadn’t made her way to a window to wave to him. He watched the train roll out of the station, and he stayed while the crowd gradually dispersed and the smoke cleared. He could feel a deep, gnawing ache inside of him, and he knew that this was going to be a hard year. He could hardly stand under the weight of work that George was giving him, for although he kept up a brave face, he was having trouble coping with Fred’s death, and hardly ever came into the shop any more. And he would have to do it without Hermione. She was the one who curled up next to him by the fire when he was too tired to go upstairs to sleep. She was the one who told him off, all the while with a bemused smile on her face. She was the on who made it all bearable, even when it hurt like hell, even when he woke up at night screaming. Because as much as they pretended that the previous year hadn’t happened, he couldn’t shut it out forever.
Eventually, he was the last person on the platform. He ran a hand through his hair, thinking that he needed to wash it soon, and turned to go. But something caught his eye at the other end of the platform. The smoke hadn’t yet fully cleared, so he could just make out a bundle, huddled against the wall. As he drew closer, he saw that it was trembling, and as he bent down to it, he recognised it. It was Hermione.
He quickly crouched down and grasped her hand, pulling her face up to be level with his. She offered no resistance, and he saw that her face was drenched with tears. He silently bundled her up in his arms, sitting down with her, and rocked her gently. She was heaving with silent sobs, which gradually subsided until she was just left with ragged breaths. He didn’t ask her anything. He waited until she spoke.
“Ron,” she said at last, her voice uneven and quaky. He made a soft murmur, as if to say, ‘go on’. “Ron,” she started again, “I… I can’t go back there. I…” Ron stopped her there with a gentle ‘shh’. He knew why she couldn’t go back. He didn’t want her to have to explain it. He kissed the top of her head, and took in the smell of lilacs that lingered in her hair.
“I love you.”
He said it quietly, into her hair. She waited so long before answering that he wasn’t sure if she’s heard him, and he started worrying because it had taken weeks of building his courage to say it that once, even though he’d loved her for years, and what if she had heard, but pretended not to, or what if he’d never get the right moment again…
She snapped him out of his train of thought by turning around and kissing him. He could taste the salt of her tears and he could feel the wetness that lingered on her face. He combed his fingers through her hair and screwed his eyes tight shut when he heard her repeat his words back to him, adding tears of his own to their faces.
He almost carried her home. She couldn't apparate. He gave her a Chudleigh Cannons jumper to wear, because all of her clothes were in her trunk on the Hogwarts Express, and she couldn’t stand being in her school robes. While she was changing slowly in their bedroom, he sent two letters: one to Professor McGonagall, explaining Hermione’s absence and requesting her trunk, and the other to Kingsley Shacklebolt, requesting permission for long-distance apparition to Australia. She had missed her parents for long enough.
They ate some beef stew made by Kreacher, and then played chess in bed.