Hermione smiled to herself as she walked down the crowded streets of Hogsmeade. The cool mountain air was a nice change from the drying desert sun. She had never before appreciated how beautiful the village was and noticing it now took her breath away. She stopped for a moment taking it all in and wondering why she had stayed away for so long. She realised just how much she had missed the village and the Wizarding world that she had been a part of for so long.
She walked past the various shop windows before finally catching a glimpse of herself in the window display of a shop. She had not really looked at her reflection for many years as her work was often solitary and far away from any civilization. What she saw, quite frankly, surprised her. Her hair, once again coming out of its bun, was sticking out every which way. Her khaki shorts and white cotton shirt were stained and dusty. There was a smudge of dirt on her cheek and her skin had the reddish hue of too many hours spent in the sun.
She cringed at her reflection and she wondered how she had let herself get into this state. Was this how she was going to meet her students in a week’s time? She could not let that happen. With a small pop she Disapparated only to reappear seconds later in a deserted corner of Muggle London.
Several hours later Hermione stood in front of a floor length mirror inside Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions. She was wearing a beautiful set of emerald green robes and a smile. After hours spent being pampered and waited upon hand and foot, she was certainly relaxed. Probably the most relaxed she had been in years. She admired the woman reflected in the mirror hardly daring to believe it was really her. Her hair was no longer bushy and frizzy but shiny and full of ringlets. It had grown in the years she had been away and was now longer than it had ever been, flowing down her back and ending just above her waist. The robes she was wearing accentuated her tiny waist and womanly curves perfectly. She had to admit to herself, this was the best she had ever looked. She knew that her hair would be bushy again next time she washed it, but for now she allowed herself the simple pleasure that feeling and looking good could bring. It was a feeling of life returning, and she felt happy and alive for the first time since the end of the War.
Hermione looked around her at the discarded dresses and robes she had scattered about the dressing room. She felt slightly guilty at the mess she had made. She was about to apologise when Madam Malkin came hurrying back into the room all the while praising Hermione's taste in clothes and informing her that her purchases were waiting for her by the counter.
“Is there any thing else I can get for you?” Madam Malkin asked.
“No, thank you,” said Hermione. “Do you mind if I wear these out?” she asked.
“Absolutely dear, would you like me to, ah, dispose of the clothes you wore in here?” Madam Malkin asked casually. Hermione laughed out right.
“That would be lovely, thank you,” she said, still chuckling.
Madam Malkin smiled as Hermione paid for her purchases. She bade Hermione a pleasant farewell. And as Hermione left the shop she felt for the first time in years that things might just turn out all right.
The bustling streets of Diagon Alley beckoned to her and she followed them not really knowing or caring which way she wandered. She stopped in a few of the shops to buy potion ingredients, quills, and parchment.
As she turned a corner she found herself just outside of Flourish and Blotts’ bookstore. Her heart began to pound just a little harder remembering the memories associated with this particular store. It was here that Hermione had first fallen in love with Ronald Weasley.
Of course she had not realised just what she was feeling at the time. After all she was only twelve years old. They had just had a run in with Lucius Malfoy, and Ron had been so upset. Listening to Lucius Malfoy insult Ron's family had infuriated her more than anything. She had been upset on Harry's behalf as well but it was Ron and his red ears that had stolen her heart. She allowed herself a regretful sigh before shaking her head to clear it. She entered the book store and began looking around its many shelves searching for a text to be used in her classes. As it was so late in the summer and her students would be unable to buy the books themselves, she decided to purchase them. She paid the clerk several Galleons and, with a promise that he would have them delivered to Hogwarts, in time for classes to start, she stepped outside and into the street.
“Hermione Granger! Is that you?” Hermione turned around to see a woman with long dark hair running down the street toward her. She squinted at the woman for a moment before she recognised her.
“Susan Bones!” she squealed. “It's been so long, how are you?”
While they had been friends at Hogwarts, Susan had become one of Hermione's closest friends after the final battle. As Hermione had waited by Ron's bedside, Susan had been apprenticing to become a Healer. They had talked about the good times and the bad, each finding an anchor in each other. Susan also helped Hermione with her research when the hospital would allow her to do so. Hermione would always be grateful to her.
“I've been good,” Susan replied. “How about you? Wow, you look wonderful!”
“Thanks,” Hermione said blushing slightly. That was a comment she had not heard since Bill and Fleur's wedding.
She was walking up the path to the wedding marquee. Her hair was sleek and shiny and she wore a dress of floaty lilac material.
As she approached she saw that Ron and Harry were laughing and talking but they stopped as Ron noticed her. His eyes went glassy for a moment before he complimented her. “Wow,” he had said, ”you look great.” Hermione was afraid that Ron’s behaviour might cause Harry discomfort and so to cover what might have been an awkward moment she smiled. “Always the tone of surprise. Your Great Aunt Muriel doesn’t agree, I just met her upstairs while she was giving Fleur the tiara. She said, ‘Oh dear, is this the Muggleborn?’ and then “Bad posture and skinny ankles.’
“Don’t take it personally,” Ron said. “She’s rude to everyone.” They turned to go inside when Fred and George came over and they began to talk and laugh about their Uncle Bilius.
All too soon they saw Fleur coming up the walk from the house. They moved inside and Hermione felt her insides burn with pleasure as Ron’s hand lightly brushed the small of her back.
The memory faded and Hermione sighed. Why did these memories always come as such inopportune times?
Sensing a change in Hermione, Susan immediately changed the subject.
“So,” said Susan, “what brings you back into town?”
“Hm?” Hermione asked blankly for she had almost forgotten that Susan was there. “Oh! I’ve been offered a teaching position at Hogwarts.”
“That's wonderful, that means we will have you around for quite a while, I hope.”
“Yes,” said Hermione with a sigh. “I think that I've seen enough of the world for my taste. I mean to be back for good this time.” Susan smiled a brief but sad smile.
“I'm sorry, Susan, I shouldn't have left, and I know that now. I just thought I could help.”
“I understand, Hermione. You were doing what you thought was right. I’m just sorry things didn’t work out the way you hoped they would. I’m not sure I would’ve done any different in your shoes.”
“Thanks, Susan. That means a lot to me.” Hermione shook off her sudden gloom as she looked at her friend. Susan was practically glowing. She smiled mischievously at Susan before commenting in what she hoped was an offhand sort of way. “So what have you been doing lately?”
“Oh, well, you know... a little of this a little of that.” Susan ran her left hand through her hair and Hermione saw a glittering diamond on the third finger.
“Susan!” Hermione exclaimed, “You’re holding out on me. Who’s the lucky man?”
“Neville,” Susan said blushing slightly.
“That's wonderful, how did it happen?”
Susan giggled. “Let's go to the Leaky Cauldron. I'll tell you all about it on the way there.”
Hermione and Susan set out, Susan filling her in on everything that had happened since she had left. As it turned out, St. Mungo’s needed a potion brewed and they needed a very rare plant. They had called in an expert who just happened to be Neville Longbottom. They had sent Susan with him to gather the plant.
Unfortunately, Neville had been gravely injured while harvesting the plant. Susan had rushed Neville back as quickly as possible and nursed him back to health.
When he was released, he went on a tour of Europe studying various plants and trying to find a cure for magical brain injuries. While he was away, he had kept in touch with Susan and when he had rushed home because his mother had finally passed away, it was Susan he had turned to for comfort. Their love had blossomed from that experience and he had asked her to marry him a year later. They had set the date for the wedding over the Christmas Holidays.
The story of Susan and Neville's romance carried them to the Leaky Cauldron. Fortunately, it had also taken Hermione's mind off of Ron. By the time they got there, Hermione was feeling if not perfectly happy at least more at peace than she had moments ago. Hermione bought them each a Butterbeer, handing one to Susan they sat down at a table in the corner.
“Thanks, Hermione,” said Susan.
“You're welcome,” said Hermione. “That was a wonderful story. I'm so happy for you! So tell me what else has been going on here, I feel so out of the loop.”
“Hmmm, let's see. Oh yes, Dean Thomas and Lisa Turpin got married several years ago and now have two children. Oh, you'll never guess who Seamus ended up with.”
“Who did he end up with?”
“Parvati Patil,” Susan said with a little giggle.
“He ended up with Parvati? I thought for sure that he and Lavender…”
Susan interrupted her before she could finish her sentence. “Oh yeah, well, I guess it just goes to show...” Susan said but Hermione noticed that she didn't quite meet her eye.
“Susan?” Hermione asked. “What aren't you telling me?”
“What? Oh nothing. Oh dear, look at the time. Hermione, it was lovely to see you again and I'm so glad you’re back. Why don't you send me an owl when you get settled in? We'll have to get together for lunch sometime.”
With that Susan rushed away, waving a frantic goodbye to a very confused Hermione. Wonder what that was all about? she thought to herself. She drained the last of the Butterbeer and, anxious to begin her new life, she Disapparated with a soft pop.
A few seconds later, Hermione stood once again in the streets of Hogsmeade. She hurried up the path she knew lead to Hogwarts and she was soon standing in front of the large gates. The winged boars looked down on her and she smiled at the familiar sight as she pushed the gates open and started the long walk to the castle. All around her were the sounds of late summer. She slowed her pace a little as she drank in the sights and sounds that were the Hogwarts grounds. She had forgotten how peaceful it all could be. Peace was something she had not felt in many years and she welcomed the calm as she would a long drink after hours spent in the desert sun. As she came to the top of a little rise in the path the whole of the grounds revealed themselves to her. There was the castle, so stately and majestic looking down on the scene. Reflecting the castle was the lake, the giant squid floating lazily at the surface, while several owls flew over her head anxious to begin the evening’s hunt. In the distance the Forbidden Forest loomed, scary but inviting all the same time.
She continued up the path to the castle doors. Not sure whether she should knock or just go in, she hesitated for a moment with her hand raised. Just then she heard a noise behind her. Someone was coming up the walk toward her with arms full of a very full and flowery bush.
“Hi,” said a male voice, “would you mind opening the doors for me? I'm going to drop this thing.”
“Of course,” said Hermione as she opened the doors for him. He went inside and she followed. Setting the plant down on a table near the door he turned around.
“Thanks for that,” he said. “The Flutterby Bush isn't exactly the easiest plant to-” he paused, a look of dawning comprehension on his face. “Hermione?” he asked, his voice full of stunned disbelief.
A giant smile plastered her face as she recognised the man in front of her. The boyish round face had barely changed since the last time she saw him.
“Neville!” she beamed at him. “It is so good to see you!” She rushed forward to hug one of her oldest and dearest friends.
“Hermione Granger,” he said returning her hug. “It's good to see you too! Hey, what did you do to yourself, you look…” he smiled mischievously at her, “passable, I suppose.” He picked up a lock of her hair and fingered it for a second. “I don't know; I kind of liked it bushy.” She glared at him while his eyes twinkled with mirth.
“I have to say, I honestly didn't think Minerva would get you out from under the ruins. I'm so glad she did.” He gave her one of his best lopsided grins. Hermione grinned back. She was so happy to see Neville.
He looked at her, considering, for a moment. “You know,” he said his face suddenly serious, “now that we've got you here, I could use your help.”
“What do you need, Neville?” Hermione asked.
“Well, I've never been the best at Potions.”
“It’s all Snape’s fault, you know,” Hermione said bitterly.
Neville grinned. “Well, Snape’s not here and I still can’t seem to get it right.”
“What does it do?” Hermione asked. Neville ran a hand through his hair; he had a slightly embarrassed look on his face. “It's to help my dad.” He looked at her with a steady gaze. “You heard about my mum?”
“Yes, Neville,” said Hermione patting his arm gently. “I'm so sorry.”
“It's all right,” he said a soft smile played on his lips. “She's better off this way. At least I know she's no longer in pain.” His eyes were cloudy, and Hermione waited for them to clear. He shook his head as if clearing it of cobwebs. He grinned at her. “Anyway, I was hoping to spare my dad of the same fate but – well, like I said, I just can't seem to get it right.” The look of embarrassment returned to his face. “So, um, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind looking at it sometime and telling me what you think.” He said this very quickly.
“Sure, Neville, I'd love to.” She grinned at him wickedly. “First though, I need your help with a rumour I've just heard. I wonder if you could tell me if there's any truth to it.” He looked panic-stricken for a moment before she continued. “So what's this I hear about you and a certain dark-haired beauty by the name of Susan Bones?” Neville's face went scarlet.
“You heard about that?”
“Yeah, I ran into Susan on my way here in Diagon Alley. I am so happy for you! You two make a very cute couple.”
“We like to think so.” Neville's face was reddening more with each second. Hermione could almost feel the heat radiating from him. “She's a wonderful woman: I'm lucky to have her.”
“Yes, she is,” said Hermione with a soft smile. “I think she's a lucky woman to have a man like you.” She paused to give Neville a moment to compose himself. They were silent for a moment while Neville stood surveying his toes. At last Hermione broke the silence. “So what are you doing here at Hogwarts?” she asked.
“Oh, I teach Herbology now. Pomona retired a couple years ago and she offered me the job when she left. It's been nice because I can still continue my research while I teach.”
“That's great Neville!” Hermione exclaimed. “Your mother would be so proud.”
Neville glowed for a moment before looking absolutely horror struck, “Oh no, Minerva wanted to talk to you when you got here. You had better head on up to the Headmistress’s office. The password is Carpe Diem.”
“Thanks, Neville, I'll see you later then? We'll work on the potion.”
“You can count on it.” He waved goodbye as he picked up his plant only to have it slip out of his hands with a loud crash. Hermione heard a lot of mumbling about what he would like to do to the Flutterby Bush if he didn't need it for research. She smiled inwardly as she made her way to the Headmistress’s office.
Two hours later Hermione stood in the entryway of her rooms inside Hogwarts. Her arms were laden with books, parchment and quills. It had been an interesting meeting with Minerva McGonagall. Hermione had been given the official Ministry of Magic Guide to Approved Teaching Methods. She had smirked as Minerva handed it to her with a slight smile saying only to take it into account as she planned her lessons.
After their meeting, McGonagall had shown her to the staff quarters and to her rooms. After a brief tour she had headed down to the library. She had a week until the students would arrive and she intended to make good use of the free time by getting started on the scrolls. Now that she was back in the privacy of her own rooms however, she decided the first thing she needed to do was relax. After all, she did have an entire week, and it had been a very busy day.
After spending the last ten years in a tent, Hermione felt as though she were living in a palace. She now had a three-room suite. The first room she entered was a parlour with a little dining room off to the side. There was a door to the right which led to the bedroom. The bedroom contained a four poster bed which was much more comfortable and luxurious than even the beds in the dorms. There was a wardrobe off to the side and a cedar chest at the foot of the bed. There was also a chaise lounge in the corner. The entire apartment was done in cream and gold colours with red accents.
If the bedroom was paradise, the bathroom was heaven itself. Inside was a bathtub the size of a small swimming pool. Like the prefects bathroom it had several spouts for the different kinds of bubble-filled water. There was also a shower off to the side for those times when she needed to hurry. Like the rest of the apartment it was also cream and gold with little statues spread throughout. She could hardly contain her excitement to try out the many taps in her tub.
She laid down all of her books on the dining room table and headed for the bathroom. A very luxurious hour later Hermione entered her parlour feeling more relaxed than she had in years. Why didn't I do this sooner? she wondered to herself as she inspected the light dinner that had been laid out for her. Suddenly feeling quite tired she quickly ate and headed for her bed. She lay down and smiled as sleep claimed her.
Ron Weasley nervously played with the little velvet box in his pocket. After two years of dating tonight was the night. He watched the clock count down the minutes until her arrival. He took out the box and examined the ring again. It was simple, a gold band with flowers and leaves engraved on the out side. The insides of the flowers were tiny diamonds that sparkled when the light hit it. It was beautiful. He had seen her admire the ring countless times and even before he decided to marry her he had bought it just because he knew she would want it. He put it back in the box and looked at the clock again. Fifty minutes, he began pacing his flat nervously. He heard a tapping at his window. He looked up to see a handsome eagle owl fluttering outside his window. He walked over to it and opened it allowing her inside.
“What have you got there?” he asked as he softly stroked the bird’s feathers. He took the letter from her leg and opened it. He recognized Neville's untidy scrawl and deciding that he was not doing himself any good by pacing up and down he decided to make himself a cup of tea while he read the letter. He poured the hot water into a cup already containing a tea bag. He carried it to the table while reading the letter.
There is no easy way to tell you this mate, so I'll come right out and say it. Hermione's back.
The cup in his hand fell to the floor with a loud crash. He suddenly felt very light headed and had to sit down. There was more to the letter but Ron had eyes only for two words, Hermione's back. He sat at the table, not knowing what to do and feeling more lost than he had ever felt in his life.
Why was Hermione doing this to him? Why now, after all the time and letters he had spent begging her to come home to him she had to wait until he was about to ask a woman he had come to care deeply for to marry him?
What was he thinking? Hermione was out of his life. After all, he loved another, didn't he? She had helped him through so much loss. She had been a constant friend in his very mixed up life. He sat up straighter. It didn't matter, he did love her and having Hermione back was not going to change the way he felt. He looked at the letter; I'll read it later, he thought. Hermione had her chance and it's over. She didn't want me.
With that he decided that he couldn't wait for his intended to come to him; he was going to go to her. With a pop, he disappeared only to reappear seconds later in front of a large building. He walked up the five flights of stairs until he reached her flat. He knocked on the door and waited.
Lavender Brown opened the door to see a handsome man with flaming red hair standing on her door step.
“Ron, what are you doing here?” she asked “We're not supposed to meet for another half hour.”
“I know,” he said with a lop-sided grin, “I just couldn't wait to see you.”
“You're so sweet,” she said as she stepped aside to allow him into her flat. “Just give me a few more minutes and I'll be ready.”
Ron watched her walk out of the room and smiled. Yes, this was what he wanted. As he moved around to sit on her couch two words popped unbidden into his head and sent the world he had so carefully rebuilt crashing down around his feet. Hermione's back.
A/N: As always thanks go to the lovely and talented guruvee. What would I do without you? Also thank you to my readers and especially my reviewers, you make me want to write more.
Direct quotes early in the chapter were taken from Deathly Hallows chapter 8 The Wedding.
Thank you everyone and if you read please review and let me know what you think.