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For Harry, Ron and Hermione, all that had happened during the last year seemed like a blurred nightmare. From fleeing the Burrow, being on the run hunting Horcruxes and fighting in the battle of Hogwarts, it all had exacted a great toll on each of them. They were physically and emotionally exhausted. With the help of Madam Pomfrey and after some much need sleep, they departed Hogwarts and went to the Burrow.

The days that followed were particularly sad and depressing owning to the funerals for Fred and the fallen members of the Order. But slowly, they began adjusting to a life that no longer included the constant threat of danger. There were still nights of restless sleep and the occasional bristled feelings over seemingly little things during the day. The sorrow and grief they were each feeling resulted in little desire for romantic closeness. Though unspoken between Ron and Hermione and Harry and Ginny, it was clear that each couple would be just good friends for a while.

Ron and Ginny resumed life at the Burrow in stride despite the very vocal discussions that occurred most days between the family members. The Weasleys were adjusting to a family that no longer included Fred. Relatives and friends frequently stopped by trying to help the family mend. Harry and Hermione, having not lived for long periods with the Weasleys, and certainly not under these conditions, were having a tougher time. They too were trying to deal with feelings of loss and remorse. But there was little opportunity for real personal reflection. Weasley kin, friends, and some friends of friends wanted to hear the story first hand. With all the commotion and the combined dominance of Molly and Auntie Muriel, the Burrow was somewhat overwhelming for Harry and Hermione. Ron sensed this in his best friends and did what he could to mediate. But those who visited the Burrow wanted to be around the ones who had put an end to the Dark Lord and ushered in a new beginning for the magical world.

One morning, Harry awoke early from a bad dream. A dim morning light shone in through the window of Ron's room. Taking care to be quiet, he pulled on some cloths and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen. Hermione, who normally was an early riser, was about to go outside. Asking Harry to join her on a morning walk, they followed a path that led up a small hill into the sparse woods behind the Burrow. During their walk, Hermione mentioned the need to travel to Australia and locate her parents. She wanted to restore their memories and somehow apologize for what she had done to them. She felt certain they would be angry with her. Harry offered to accompany her to Australia and help explain to her parents the real dangers that had forced Hermione to make such a difficult decision.

At first, Hermione was not entirely sure of his suggestion. But Harry reminded her, in no uncertain terms, that she had stood by him for many long and difficult years. A trip to Australia was nothing compared to the sacrifices she had made on his behalf. He wanted to stand by her too and help in any way that he could. In the end, Hermione accepted the offer of help from her best friend.

This plan did not initially set too well with Ron and Ginny. In particular, Ron thought that he should accompany them. But eventually, after some long talks, the two couples agreed to some time apart.

Travel to Australia via the magical travel network had been quick and easy for Harry and Hermione. After a few days of searching through the Sydney public records, Hermione found where her parents lived. They apparated to a small house located in a quiet suburb. The harder part was getting Wendell and Monica Wilkins to let these two strangers into their home. Wendell and Monica felt certain that Hermione was mistaken in spite of her earnest claim of being a family member. Hermione was persistent and told them things only a family member would know.

"... You are both dentists and enjoy camping and the theater. Monica, your favorite color is periwinkle. Wendell, your favorite author is Arthur Conan Doyle. You both like spearmint toothpaste!" With a pleading expression on her face she said, "Please, may we come inside and explain?"

Wendell and Monica's expressions softened at the mention of spearmint toothpaste. "Very well," said Wendell. "This seems very important to you. Please come in."

With great restraint to reach out and hug them, Hermione suppressed her shock of joy at these words. As they stepped into the living room, she readied herself to act quickly. Once they were no longer in public view and her parents stood before her, she quickly brought out her wand and pointed it at them. Tracing an oval in front of their faces she said, "Resuscitet Conscientia!" (resurrect the consciousness). The expressions of Wendell and Monica went blank and then their eyes slowly closed. Hermione touched her wand to each of their foreheads saying, "Memento Filia!" (remember your daughter). Then pointing her wand directly at them, she twisted her wrist slowly and said, "Excitaret!" (awake).

Hermione glanced at Harry and then watched her parents nervously while the charms did their work. After a very long moment for Hermione, the enchantment lifted and the eyes of her Mother and Father open. They rocked slightly and gazed at the room with bewildered expressions.

Looking at Hermione, her mother said, "Hermione?"

Her father said, "Hermione, what has happened?"

Hermione rushed forward and hugged each of them sobbing uncontrollably. "I'm so sorry! Please, please forgive me!"

Holding Hermione in a comforting embrace, her mother rubbed Hermione's back and said, "There there my dear one. What has made you to be so upset? It's okay, everything will be all right. Sit down and tell us about it."

It took a long while for Hermione to calm down. Taking deep calming breaths, she said, "Dad, please sit next to me too."

After another moment, with her mother and father seated on each side, and holding their hands, she glanced at each of them through teary eyes and said, "Mum, Dad, I have a lot to tell you."

Over the next several hours, Hermione and Harry explained all that had happened during the past year. Harry let Hermione do most of the talking. Her parents sat with half open mouths and frightful expressions through some of what they said. While Dan and Emma didn't particularly like what she did to them, they understood why and let her know that they still loved her very much. Her mother said they were both more proud of her than words could say. This caused another round of tears from Hermione.

Harry felt grateful to be present for the Granger family reunion. Observing from a more objective position, and hearing the comments of her parents, Harry noticed something interesting. From the perspective of Dan and Emma Granger, it was as if they had just woken from a nap. They had little sense of lost time or of being separated from Hermione. Once Harry told Hermione this, she felt a great sense of relief and was more self-forgiving of what she had done.

Harry and Hermione spent the next few weeks helping the Granger's plan a return trip to England and their former lives. The four of them also went sightseeing and enjoyed each other's company. It did not escape the notice of Dan and Emma that Harry and Hermione's friendship was based on very genuine feelings for each other. Dan spoke with Harry and Emma with Hermione suggesting they each consider the possibility of something more. But both Harry and Hermione said that it was just a brother/sister care for each other. They, and Ron, had watched out for each other since first year and saved each other's life more than once.

One day toward the end of their stay in Australia, the four of them went to the beach for the day. In the afternoon, Harry and Hermione decided to go for a walk. They leisurely strolled along the water's edge with wavelets washing up over their feet. Now, away from the crowds and the many beach balls flying about, it was easier to have a conversation.

"Hermione, we'll be going back in a few days. Have you thought about where you will live?"

"I want to be close to my parents. Going to school at Hogwarts, I missed a lot of time with them. Maybe I'll move in with them ... but I'm not sure how well that might work out given all my self-sufficiency this last year. I do want to be close enough to be a part of their lives. So, that pretty much means I won't be going back to live at the Burrow. What about you Harry?"

"More recently, I've started to feel like I'm imposing on the Weasleys. I know they will deny that. But sometimes conversations end rather abruptly when I enter the room. Despite the hardships of living in that tent last year, I feel like I want that kind of independence. Even though the tent was small, I felt comfortable."

"I love the Weasleys very much," said Hermione. "But I feel like I have to live up to their expectations. I've enjoyed just being myself these last few weeks."

"It's been a relaxing and enjoyable time for me too," said Harry. "I'm so glad I came along to help you. I'd have missed you."

"I would have missed you too Harry. And especially how we sometimes know what each other is thinking or feeling."

Harry smiled. "Yeah, we know when to leave each other alone too."

"So true," smiled Hermione. "But that doesn't happen much anymore."

After a short pause, he said, "Hermione, I've been wondering ... what do you think about finding a place together?"

Hermione stopped walking and looked at him. "Do you mean you and me? As in, we'd be living together?"

"Yeah, in separate rooms of course. We've been living together ... umm, that is ... as friends, at the Burrow or in a tent for a long time. We get along well, support each other and give each other a trusted opinion when needed. I'd ... I'd miss that and ... you not being there each day."

"I've thought about how different the days would be without you too. I like being around you, it just feels natural and comfortable. I know we say it a lot to people but ... you really do feel like family to me."

Harry said, "So ... do you want to give it a try for a while?"

After a short pause she said, "Yes Harry, I do." Then her eyebrows narrowed and she said, "What about Ron and Ginny? Would they be with us too?"

"No, I don't think so. They would always be welcome to visit anytime of course. You're best friends with Ginny and I'm best mates with Ron. We should take some time to sort out those relationships. What do you think?"

"I agree. It is after all why we took some time apart. But they aren't going to take this news very well, particularly Mrs. Weasley."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, maybe your mum and dad can suggest ways to handle that." Hermione smiled.

Feeling better about their futures, they turned and started walking back.

Upon their return to England, and with some help from the magical realtors, Harry and Hermione found a modest two bedroom flat a few blocks distance from where Dan and Emma would be living. Hermione was adamant about wanting to help with the rent for the flat. The discussion almost escalated into a row. She didn't feel right about Harry having to pay for everything and she didn't like being on the receiving end of charity. Harry told her that he had enough money to cover expenses for years and it wasn't a problem. He also didn't feel right about taking money from her parents since she didn't have a job.

An agreement was finally reached to both of their satisfaction. Once Hermione had a good job, Harry would allow her to help with the finances, but not until then. Hermione reluctantly agreed but only on the condition that she would keep a ledger and pay Harry back for her part of the expenses one day. After shaking hands on it, they each took separate rooms and settled in.

The weeks that followed turned out to be harder than either of them had expected. They spent much of their time setting up the flat. They got furniture, connected the fireplace to the floo network and got a muggle telephone so they could talk with Hermione's parents. Dan and Emma also needed their help getting settled back into a normal life in England. In spite of all these activities, there was time to reflect on the events of the past year. The enormity of it continued to haunt them. Images of the battle and of the people they had seen injured or killed occasionally troubled their dreams. There were feelings of despair and blame for not acting quickly enough. It was at these times that having each other near to talk helped in the healing of their spirits.

One particular evening proved to be a turning point. Ron stopped by for a visit to update them on the Weasley family activities and to hang out with them for a while. They were talking about Hogwarts and Ron mentioned the rebuilding effort that was underway.

Ron said, "I've been to Hogwarts a few times to see how the rebuilding is getting on. There are a lot of volunteers helping. Many of them are from the DA or those who stayed to fight that night. But most are just ordinary witches and wizards wanting to help in some way. No schedules, they just show up whenever they want. Most help once or twice a week for part of the day."

With a more apprehensive look on his face, Ron said to Harry, "Have you ever thought about ... maybe doing something like that?"

"No, I don't want all the attention and publicity. You know that Ron. I've never wanted to be a celebrity."

"Yeah, I know. But it's not really like that with the people who are there." He chuckled and said, "McGonagall has set up some really good spells to keep the press away."

Ron continued, "Yeah, folks want to hear our story. I've spoken to some, just told them general things, nothing specific. They respect and understand when I say I can't give more details. But mostly, they just want to tell me their stories. And not just to me but to each other. On the days that I've gone, I hardly worked at all. I mostly just walk around and listen to people."

With a more somber expression, Ron said to Harry, "People have told me pretty much the same story. Mostly about when they or their families were in trouble or threatened. About how they kept faith that you'd do what needed to be done to bring it to an end."

He said thoughtfully, "Now, I think people want the same thing we do, mend our world and trust again. It's like what professor Binns said in class once, about during the dark ages when people suspected of magic were persecuted by muggles. Magical people would come together in hiding to console one another and give each other encouragement. Good magical people are trusting and supportive with each other."

Hermione stared at Ron with her mouth partly open. Then she said, "Ron, you rarely seemed to be paying attention in that class. I don't remember professor Binns saying anything like that."

"Well, I've never been good with dates and numbers. But I think it was during our second year; you had just been petrified. Reckon I was worried about you and what was happening."

In a meek voice she said, "Oh Ron, after all these years, your understanding and perceptions of the magical world still amazes me. You're the one who's kept us centered in the magical world. Please forgive your two muggle raised friends for being short sighted recently."

"Thanks Hermione. People understand that we have a lot to sort out and mend too. Things like your parents Hermione. No one, outside of my family, knows what you did. But in the magical world, that kind of self-sacrifice is very moving and meaningful. It shows that in your heart, you really care for them."

Hermione got up, went over to Ron and gave him a hug. "Thank you Ron."

Harry said, "Yeah, thanks. I need to rethink some of my priorities. But I just don't know what I'd say to people."

Ron smiled and said, "Not much saying is needed. Just accept it when they say thank you and listen to their stories."

At other times, more often than not, Ron was the one who cheered them up and made them all laugh. For their parts, both Harry and Hermione reached out to Ron. They knew it was toughest for him being away from them. Ron was respecting Hermione's desire to be just good friends. But it seemed to him that they were drifting apart romantically. In its place, he realized the special bond of friendship and love that the three of them shared. They were honest with each other and deeply trusted one other. Each had performed a crucial part in keeping the trio together through thick and a lot of thin. They all felt that their success against the Dark Lord was largely because of their unity.

Hermione told Harry and Ron that it was important for them to finish their educations. She felt uneasy about being a year behind and was anxious to resume her NEWT studies. Harry and Ron were much less enthusiastic about completing their studies but knew it was important for their future careers.

However, the three of them had little desire to return to Hogwarts as regular students. The year away hunting Horcruxes had matured them in ways that made the daily life at Hogwarts seem, well, a bit juvenile. They would miss seeing friends on a daily basis but that didn't mean they would abandon regular associations with them. Hermione reminded Harry and Ron about the extra lessons she had arranged in third year. She felt confident that something could be worked out for them. They wrote a letter and sent it by owl to headmistress McGonagall at Hogwarts.

A prompt response was received from McGonagall requesting that the three of them come to her office and talk about continuing their studied. A few days later, they traveled to Hogwarts and made their way to the headmistress office. Reaching the top of the circular staircase, the door swung open and they entered. McGonagall stood and moved from behind the claw footed desk to greet them.

"It's so good to see you all again," said McGonagall. "I trust things are going well."

"Yes professor," said Harry. "Hogwarts is really starting to look proper again."

McGonagall beamed. "Yes, I'm very pleased. With so many people helping, we will be ready for start of term on September first."

"That's wonderful news professor," said Hermione. "We're looking forward to completing our studies."

"Well, that's what we're here to discuss," said McGonagall. "Please be seated."

Three chairs magically appeared in front of the claw footed desk.

After they were all seated McGonagall said, "Due to the extenuating circumstances, the professors and I are in agreement to make additional evening classes available to students who missed all or part of their seventh year studies. For a select group of these students, which includes you three, whose service to the school has been exemplary, an open campus arrangement will be available. These students would not be required to live in the school dormitories. They could choose to come and go freely as their class schedule dictates. Special travel arrangements will be set up as needed."

Harry, Ron and Hermione smiled broadly. "That's great professor," said Harry. "Thank you."

McGonagall said, "Just remember, your assignments must be completed and turned in on time to receive credit."

"Professor," said Hermione, "Are the book lists for our classes available?"

McGonagall smiled broadly at Hermione and said, "Yes, I have them here for each of you. They are based on your currently declared career plans. Confidentially, you three should know that the Ministry will be offering each of you additional career opportunities. I can't say any more about it at this time. Kingsley will meet with you when the arrangements are completed. The books on your list that are marked with a star are common to these opportunities. I suggest you obtain them first."

"Thank you," said Ron. "This is very generous of you and the professors."

McGonagall said, "Thanks to each of you. You've given so much to the school since you arrived seven years ago. Hogwarts will be forever grateful."

"Hear hear!" said the portrait of Dumbledore smiling at them. Harry, Ron and Hermione beamed happily at each other.

McGonagall said, "If you have no further questions for me, I suggest you have a look around the castle for a while."

Ron said, "Thanks professor. I'll show them around."

They said their goodbyes to McGonagall and went down the spiral staircase to the main castle. Hermione wanted to see the library. When they arrived, she saw that is was in complete disorder with books on the floor everywhere. Saying she'd catch up with them later, Hermione joined the group that was working there. On their way past the Great Hall, Ron met up with some people he'd been with on his last trip. He left with them to help Neville in the greenhouses. After briefly looking at the partially restored Great Hall, Harry walked out on the grounds toward the quidditch pitch. There, he joined some other Hogwarts quidditch players, led by Ginny, who were working on the pitch.

It was nightfall before any of them returned home.

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