Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns all of this but I'm having fun playing with it!
On arrival at The Burrow, it seemed that Harry's moment of hesitation had afforded Molly the opportunity to whisk Ginny in to the kitchen; he could just see her long hair disappearing through the door as he stepped across the grate into the living room.
"I was beginning to wonder when you'd get here, mate," a familiar voice sounded from the corner. Harry turned to face his enormous ginger-haired friend, sprawled across the lounge to his right. It seemed as if Ron might not have moved from his spot on the couch since Harry had last seen there him there two weeks previously.
"Alright, Ron?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, alright. You know…" Ron's voice trailed off for an uneasy moment until his blue eyes sought Harry's and narrowed inquisitively. "You and Ginny have had a long day together. Anything I should know?"
Harry sank into a squashy armchair across from Ron and sighed.
"Not yet, mate,. but I don't want to rush her. There aren't any deadlines now. I'm ok to wait until she's ready."
A mix of emotions ran across Ron's face. "You're a funny one, you are, mate," he said, smiling wryly.
"Anyway, enough about me", Harry said firmly. "How's Hermione? Have you heard from her?"
Ron's face softened. "Yeah, typical Hermione — utilising Muggle post to keep in contact. She set up a little box for me in the village and every few days there's a letter in there for me! She's given me all these blue papery things to write on and then I'm meant to lick parts of it and fold it into an envelope." Ron laughed briefly. "I don't think I've managed to fold one into anything that even remotely resembles an envelope, but she still seems to get them. Dad is fascinated; I keep having to fetch them back from his shed."
"What's the news with her? Is she with her parents?" Harry asked.
"Yeah," Ron hesitated. "It isn't great news, actually, but I'm guessing she'll tell you about it herself. A letter came for you in my little post box thing this morning."
As Ron heaved himself off the couch and scuffed his way up the stairs to his bedroom, Harry got up and walked into the kitchen to greet Mrs Weasley. As soon as he stepped through the door, he recognised his mistake, though he wasn't surprised by what he saw. Molly was standing over the sink in the kitchen weeping and hiccoughing as she desperately tried to cast the charm to start the washing up. Occasional sparks would sputter from the older witch's wand, but no progress seemed to be being made. Beside her, with an arm comfortingly around her waist stood Ginny, who had obviously adjusted to this state of affairs in the weeks since the battle and was directing the activity of pots and pans on the stove with her own wand. Ginny looked around to see Harry standing in the doorway and smiled without humour.
"Mum?" she said quietly. "Harry's here."
Molly's tear-streaked face took Harry back to those painful moments at 12 Grimmauld Place when he had watched on helplessly as she attempted to fight off the Boggart. Without speaking, he crossed the room and stood on her other side, gently placing his arm around her shoulders. He was struck by how small and crumpled she seemed in her faded floral apron. She turned her face towards him and sobbed into his t-shirt while Ginny took the opportunity to free herself and gave Harry a grateful look over Molly's head while she turned back to the stove.
Harry enfolded the only mother he had ever really known into a more complete embrace as she continued to shake with the force of her sobbing. Harry was relieved as his eyes were drawn by the sudden movement of Mrs Weasley's clock, indicating that her husband must now be travelling home. Her sobs had gradually subsided so he gently loosened his embrace and stepped back slightly, not wanting Arthur Weasley to think that he had been patronising Molly in her distress.
Within a moment Arthur had arrived in the kitchen, given Harry an understanding look as he warmly shook his hand, and led Molly out to the lounge room. Before Harry could turn to offer Ginny his assistance, Ron had reappeared holding out one of the blue airmail letters. He recognised it from the days he'd had to fetch the Dursleys' mail from their front door; Vernon had always been too fat and lazy to waddle the distance from the couch.
"Are you ok in here, Gin? Or do you need a hand?" Harry asked.
"I'm ok, Harry; you read your letter. Ron, could you just set the table?"
Ron obediently sloped out of the room and Harry sat down on a kitchen chair trying to remember how to get the letter out of the complex fortress of an envelope. With the help of a butter knife he eventually broke in and settled back to read Hermione's incredibly neatly written news.
Firstly, let me apologise for not having written to you sooner. I can't believe that almost two months have passed since that horrible week of funerals and memorial services. It all still feels so fresh to me, and being so far away from all of you seems to have intensified the pain. All of those funerals were so awful weren't they? But I think that you would probably agree with me that Fred's was the hardest to bear. If I feel like the Weasleys have been my surrogate family, I can only guess at how much more intensely you must feel that. I could barely look in George's direction that whole day. Have you seen him at all? Ron doesn't seem to say much about him but I think of George every day and wish things didn't have to be the way that they are.
Ron says that his mum is really struggling, and I can't imagine that it could be any different. Has there been any improvement in her magic? She must be so frustrated on top of her grief and who really knows how deeply she'll be affected by using that Unforgiveable? Did you hear that they're also awarding her a war honour along with all the rest of us? I hope that it will go some way to helping her understand just how much of a hero she was in that battle.
Anyway, I guess that you probably want to know what's happening with me and my parents. That Australian Auror, Jon, the one that Kingsley organised for me to meet up with, was a fantastic help and together we finally located my parents in Sydney.
I just watched them for a couple of hours on the first morning that we found them because when I first saw them in their garden at their new home, they seemed really happy. I was so curious to find out what their life was like without me that I followed them to a local café where they went to eat lunch and I sat down at the table right next to them. I know that eaves-dropping on conversations is a terrible thing to do but I found myself struck with a morbid fascination that I can't really explain — I wanted to know what their lives were like without me. Maybe I was so consumed by the loss of so many people that we love, Harry, that I wanted to know whether my parents would have been able to go on blissfully if I had never returned to them.
I was shocked, but I have to admit that I was also a bit mollified, when mid-way through her fancy lunch, my mum just broke down in tears. From the way that Dad reacted it was clear that this had been happening a lot. It was almost impossible for me to hold back my own tears as I heard my mum and dad have a conversation they'd clearly been through numerous times since they'd arrived in Sydney. Mum just kept saying how much she missed England and how she felt like she'd left half of herself behind. Dad was agreeing with her, and looking quite misty-eyed himself. I even heard him say that even though he'd known that some people found immigrating hard, he'd never heard it accurately described as feeling like you'd been cut in half.
Eventually Dad explained to Mum, for what sounded like the twentieth time, that they just couldn't afford to move home yet, they'd sold up everything to come to Sydney and they were only just settling down in their new jobs. He said that they'd just have to accept that it would be another six months to a year before they could return to England. It was like watching my mum dissolve before my eyes. Oh, Harry, thankfully they were so caught up in their sorrow that they didn't notice me staring at them with tears running down my own face. I have to say that the whole experience of watching my parents but not being able to reach out and touch them or communicate with them gave me just a small taste of what you must have been going through all your life. I don't know what has borne you up through it all but it increased the awe that I hold you in ten fold. You do know that I hold you in awe don't you, Harry? I mean, of course you drive me absolutely bananas sometimes, but I still have room for awe!
Anyway, in hindsight I'm amazed that I didn't just get out my wand in the middle of the restaurant and restore their memories straight away but somehow I managed to wait until they were just about home before I pretended to be a neighbour and fairly forcefully invited myself in for a cup of tea. Dad had barely closed the door before I had started the incantations and within a few minutes the three of us were crying and hugging one another — all restored! We sat around for a few hours while I just poured out the story of everything that had happened since I had initially cast their spells. They were amused, but not at all surprised to hear about Ron and me!
Oh, Harry, I just re-read that last sentence and realised how completely out of whack my priorities must be! I mean, of course they were horrified and amazed and devastated as I told them all about the battle and your courage and how you defeated Voldemort, but yes, they definitely liked the Ron part of the story!
So there I was, all ready to organise us a Portkey home, when Dad explained to me the full extent of our financial woes. It seems that in their enchanted determination to get to Australia, they had sold our old house for a lot less than it was worth and house prices are much more expensive in England than out here. On top of that, when I contacted Jon about organising the Portkey, I learnt that a lot of the damage done in the Ministry while Voldemort was at large is still yet to be undone. The Statute of Secrecy in its current state forbids Muggles to travel by Portkey at all, especially internationally, so it seems that we are going to have to wait here and work to earn money until we can afford to sell up and travel home by plane. As devastated as I am about this, it looks like Mum and Dad and I will be out here for another six months to a year, just as Dad had predicted. I'm actually writing this on my tea break at work — I'm working as a waitress in that café down the road from my parents' place where everything unfolded. The work is not too bad, it's great to have magic to help but sometimes it's hard to keep it subtle!
Anyway, my tea-break is nearly over so I'd better sign off. If you and Ron and Ginny felt like it, maybe you could ask Kingsley if he would let you get a Portkey over here for a visit, even just for a day? I'd love to see you. I know that I'm asking a lot though, so I understand if it's not possible. I just miss you all so much! At least write back to me won't you? Ron has my parents' address and a stack of airmail envelopes (that is, if Mr Weasley hasn't pinched them all!). Give Ginny a hug from me — if a hug is appropriate in the current status of your relationship — yes, I want to hear all about where that's up to in your letter too, Ron is terrible at the details!
Ok, I really have to get back to work now. The place is packed and I'm getting some nasty looks from my boss. I can't wait for your news, Harry!
Lots of Love, Hermione xox
Harry was extremely quiet over dinner. Lost in his thoughts, he consumed Ginny's cooking mechanically and made no attempt to initiate or enter into conversation. Consequently, the whole meal was quite subdued as Molly kept dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief, Ron slumped listlessly in his chair with his contraband elbows unacknowledged on the table, Arthur kept a pensive eye on his wife, and Ginny's courage failed against the all encompassing sadness that pervaded The Burrow.
After the meal was over, Harry seemed to come quietly to life. He jumped up to stop Ginny from carrying any plates into the kitchen and had the washing up clinking away in the sink before she had even been able to get out of her chair. She watched in bemusement as Harry gripped Ron's shoulder to get his attention and inclined his head toward the back door, eyebrows raised. Verbal communication seemed unnecessary between them. Ron dutifully got up and slouched into the garden after Harry.
Understanding that the silent invitation had not been extended to her, Ginny wandered into the kitchen to supervise the washing up but was amazed to see that Harry had already managed to deal with everything. The place was somehow spotless.
"Mr Domestic," she muttered to herself, the corners of her mouth turning slightly upwards.
After kicking a couple of gnomes out of their path, Harry and Ron walked in companionable silence towards the orchard, frightening the crickets from their song in the warm darkness of the mid-summer evening. After a while they wordlessly plonked themselves on the ground beneath a large apple tree and Ron began to slowly rip a fallen leaf to shreds.
Ron finally broke the silence. "So what's your idea, Harry?"
"How'd you know I had an idea?" Harry asked.
"Known you for a while now, haven't I? I've learnt the signs." Ron smirked in the darkness.
"Ok, there is an idea and it's an obvious solution to a stupid problem. I'm just worried that you're not going to let me talk you into it because you're such an enormous git."
"Well, that's a fine way to get me to warm up to your suggestion," Ron laughed. "Give the git a chance though, you never know your luck."
"Alright, here goes," Harry sighed. "Ron, you know that I have a ridiculous amount of money. You know that I didn't earn it and I don't want it. I know that you hate taking money from people, I know that you struggle to let me buy you a bloody pumpkin pasty on the Hogwarts Express."
Harry took a breath, wondering briefly why Ron hadn't already gotten up and stalked away. He kept talking fast, hoping that Ron would at least let him finish. "But anyway, here's the idea that I know you'll reject. Let me take you with me to the bank tomorrow and draw out a heap of Muggle money, enough to get Hermione and her parents back home as soon as possible and help them sort out the whole house thing. We can get Kingsley to organise you a Muggle passport and you can get a Portkey to Sydney so that you and Hermione can buy plane tickets for the four of you and bring Hermione's parents home legally. That way she and her parents can be happy, you can stop moping around on the couch and I can have all my best friends in the one country."
Harry couldn't make out his friend's expression in the darkness. "Ron? Did you listen to anything I just said?"
The silence stretched on.
"Ron, come on! I told you that you were an enormous git! I'd go myself only I can't leave Teddy right now. Besides, it's you Hermione really wants to see."
Ron still did not respond. Harry angrily scrambled to his feet. He wanted to belt his idiot of a friend. He thought he'd better make his exit before he had a total sense-of-humour failure. As a last ditch effort he stood over the silent red-head and shouted "What's the point of having all of this stupid money if I can't use it to help the people I love? Do you want me to sit in a tower counting my treasure for the rest of my life, Ron? I don't bloody well want it! I want to give it to you! I want you to be happy, you undeserving prat!"
With that Harry turned on his heel and began to march furiously back towards the house.
He was halted by a strangled sounding sob. "Harry, mate! Hang on," Ron managed to choke out as he clambered to his feet. Harry spun round, surprised by the emotion crackling in Ron's voice. As Ron stepped out of the shadow of the trees and into the moonlight, Harry could see the glistening tracks of tears that must have been flowing silently throughout their whole exchange. Harry was stunned. Ron had managed to stay relatively dry-eyed at all of the funerals. He had only really wept for his lost older brother and even then he had regained his composure fairly quickly afterwards.
"Since you arrived this afternoon I've been trying to swallow my pride and ask if I could borrow some money to fetch her. You're right; I am a git." Harry could just make out a small lopsided smile on Ron's down turned face. "But I need her here, mate. And you know that she needs to be here so if you're for real about that offer, I'd love to take you up on it."
After recovering from his momentary shock at this unexpected turn around, Harry laughed out loud and grasped his best mate into a bear hug. Ron wiped at his eyes as they pulled away, grinning through the fresh tears that were spilling down his face.
"Emotional range of a teaspoon," Ron muttered, "I'll show her!" The pair stumbled on in the darkness, Harry laughing and Ron laughing through his tears.
"Mate, you realise that Gringott's isn't exactly going to welcome you back with open arms, right?"
"Ahh yeah, the small matter of a few dragon dings here and there…" mused Harry. "Actually, I've got a bit of an idea. I'll get hold of Neville; we're going to need him. Let's meet at George's shop tomorrow. Bring Ginny, but perhaps don't fill her in on too many details just yet. We'll probably need the help of someone who can manage to look innocent. It'll be a rare case for Ginny— a crime where she's not actually a guilty party!"
Ron grinned at his mate. "No other motivation for my sister to tag along?"
"Of course there is," Harry grinned back "but I still think we'll need all the help we can get with this."
"Listen to the two of us tonight, mate. Have we ever been this wrapped up in girls before?"
Harry coughed violently in an explosion that sounded suspiciously like "Lavender!" Ron looked at his friend askance and then crash tackled him to the ground.
"So are you going to tell your parents about this scheme to rescue Hermione?" Harry asked, after they eventually staggered to their feet.
"Why don't I worry about that once we get past the goblins, eh?"
Harry and Ron quietly let themselves into the house and after agreeing to meet at eleven o'clock the next morning in Diagon Alley, Ron cheekily saluted his mate and turned to tip toe up the Burrow's creaky stairs. Harry walked quietly through the kitchen into the lounge room heading towards the fireplace to Floo home.
As he entered the room, he was confronted by an unexpected tableau, as beautiful as it was tragic. Leaning upright in the corner of the Weasley's enormous sofa, her head resting on her left arm across the padded armrest, was a sleeping Ginny in her blue flannel pyjamas, her long hair framing her beautiful face. Stretched across the couch on his left side lay George Weasley, still fully dressed from his day at the shop. Ginny's right arm was draped over her older brother's shoulder and his head was resting on a cushion on Ginny's lap. Harry wasn't sure how long he stood and stared at this picture, a number of swirling emotions competing for primacy.
He thought he'd better write a quick note to Ginny seeing as he had run off with Ron straight after dinner. He scrounged around the messy room, eventually finding a scrap of paper and a quill that had seen better days.
Dear George and Gin,
Just wanted to say goodnight. Might see you tomorrow at the shop, George. We hope to maybe borrow the back room for a while for a business meeting of sorts. Hope that's ok!
Gin, let's have another day like today sometime soon. Ron will explain what you need to know about tomorrow, but please don't press him for too many details!
Ginny and George woke while it was still dark and read Harry's note together by the dying light of the fire. The siblings had almost made a habit of spending the evenings together, long after the rest of the family had gone to bed. Ginny often found herself unable to sleep so she would tiptoe downstairs and doze on the couch in front of the fire in the lounge room. One particularly lonely night, George had unexpectedly arrived in the lounge room grate and nearly terrified Ginny out of her wits. Since then she had begun to linger late on the sofa just in case he needed some company. They would talk about Fred and laugh and cry until they fell asleep.
He always left before the sun rose so that he didn't have to face their devastated mother and she would stumble up to her room and try to sleep as late into the morning as possible. With her mum struggling so much and needing so much of her dad's care, and with Ron perpetually in his foul mood, it only really left Ginny to spend time with George, but she loved that she was able to help him, that she was the one that he turned to now that they no longer had Fred.
"Thanks, Gin," George said quietly as he rose from the couch and gathered her into a goodbye hug. "I hate being alone in that flat at night. Hopefully it'll be easier now that I've asked Lee to move in."
"Will he sleep in… in umm," Ginny faltered.
George smiled sadly, "Yeah, he'll move into Fred's room. I've taken all of his stuff into mine." His voice broke. "The other day I pulled one of Mum's jumpers out of a drawer, looking for something to keep me warm while I went down to the basement of the shop 'cause it's so draughty down there. It wasn't until I got all the way down the stairs and turned on the light that I realised my jumper had an F on it instead of a G. I was a wreck. I think I sat there for about an hour getting nothing done." He smiled sadly, "Then I remembered how Fred used to set a Niffler on me if he thought I was wasting time down there. Ever since I had to get that filling in my back molar, he knew I was terrified of them."
George smiled a rare smile, squeezed Ginny's arm and turned towards the fireplace to leave.
Ginny padded up the stairs to her room with a small smile on her lips. She was glad that Lee Jordan would be moving in with George, it would be good for him to have some company.