Harry snapped awake and shuffled into the bathroom warily checking his surroundings. He still wasn’t used to being in the Gryffindor Tower and the war had given him a heightened sense of paranoia. He stared at his reflection for several minutes and was startled to see the signs of age upon his face. It was May 23rd; three weeks to the day he had defeated Lord Voldemort in the very castle he was now working so hard to repair. This castle had once felt like home, but those months spent searching for Horcruxes had changed him, made him more bitter and cynical. He no longer felt at ease in the tower, and although the exact reason for this change eluded him, he knew that it was partly due to everything he had seen happen there. He couldn’t walk down a hallway without reliving Fred’s death, he couldn’t walk onto the grounds without seeing Colin’s body, and he had yet to enter the Great Hall, the knowledge that it was the last place he had seen the remaining member of his family was painful enough without going through reliving it. Harry quickly walked out of the dormitory and down to the common room, hoping to avoid Ginny, Ron, and Hermione; although he wasn't quite sure of the reason he was avoiding the latter two.
"Sneaking out again?" A soft, feminine voice asked from in front of the fireplace. Harry turned slowly, his eyes meeting the hazel ones of his best friend. "You can't avoid me forever Harry."
He stared at her in silence, eyes drinking her in before he responded. "I'm sorry 'Mione, I'm not even sure why I have been."
"Come and sit with me." Harry hesitated, glancing towards the stairs which led to the female dormitories. Hermione sighed, and made her way to Harry, wrapping an arm around his waist. "She had no reason to act the way she did. You didn’t promise her anything or even contact her during those months."
He nodded slightly in agreement, putting an arm around her shoulders to draw her closer. "I never told her that we would be together after the war, but it's not as if I don't understand why she thinks that. I just don't want to hurt her again, not so soon after Fred."
Hermione smiled and shook her head against his shoulder. "You have always been so noble Harry. But now it's time for me to return the favor, and explain something to you, because I think you have the wrong impression." Hermione led Harry out of the common room and through the repaired hallways to the kitchens. They sat in silence as Kreacher prepared hot chocolate and a full breakfast for them. When the elf was finished Hermione began. "When I kissed Ron during the battle, I made a, well a rash decision. I was running on an emotional high, and I believe I would've kissed Grawp if he had been the one to make the suggestion to lead the elves to safety. I know that Ron has always had feelings for me, and I thought I felt the same way about him. But the kiss was awful; it was rather like he was trying to eat my face." Harry choked a bit on his sausage, and at a reproachful look from Hermione he broke out into laughter. "Harry it isn't funny," she scolded, a slight smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.
"Of course it is Hermione. You have watched Ron eat for the past seven years, how could you think that he would be a good kisser?"
"Well he was the only boy I had ever kissed, and it was miserable. Not the way that I pictured my first and only kiss happening." The last part was whispered, as she stared down into her lap.
Harry placed a finger under her chin and raised it, so they were looking into each other's eyes. "Hermione, you are beautiful." She blushed, and tried to avert her eyes, but Harry wouldn't let her. "But not only are you beautiful on the outside, you are beautiful on the inside. You care so much for other people, your efforts with S.P.E.W. demonstrate that, and you are the brightest witch I know. If it weren't for you, I would be dead by now. Not only did you save my sorry arse with your brain, but with your love. Did you know you were the first person I can remember hugging me?" Astonishment filled Hermione's eyes, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Harry wasn't done yet. "Because of you, I was able to recognize love, to see that Sirius and Remus loved me as a son, even though we never spoke of such things. Before you, I thought that I was simply too horrid for anyone to care about, but you showed me how untrue that was. You saved me from harming myself almost every summer when I returned to the Dursley's because I thought about your beautiful face, and the fact that you loved me." A tear slowly made its way down her cheek, as she nodded. "I love you Hermione." Leaning in gently Harry kissed her, his lips gliding over hers, not exerting too much pressure. Hermione's eyes fluttered shut, and she gave herself over to the kiss.
After a few seconds both of them pulled back and smiled at each other. "Thank you Harry. For making me feel beautiful, and loved, and giving me the first kiss that I always dreamt about."
"You are loved Hermione, and you need to realize that you deserve so much more than Ron could ever give you."
"I know." Hermione hesitated for a few seconds before looking back up. "Harry that kiss was really nice but…"
"You felt like you were kissing your brother?" Harry asked with a big smile. Hermione nodded apprehensively. "I felt the same way." Harry explained with a laugh. "I have always loved you and I thought that it was romantically but that kiss made me realize that I love you because you are the best big sister anyone could ask for." Tears began spilling out of Hermione's eyes and she threw herself into Harry's arms.
The two sat like that for a long while before Hermione spoke again. "Were you avoiding me because you thought Ron and I were together and would leave you out?" Harry nodded almost imperceptibly. "Oh Harry, I have always valued your friendship above his, and love you more. It's why I never doubted you when he did, and why I stayed with you. I will always be your left hand."
"You'll have to tell Ron you don't want to be with him. Be sure to use lots of small words though, or he won't understand"
"Oh Harry!" Hermione laughed and smacked him on the arm. "You are terrible. Besides you still have to face Ginny and explain that you don't want to be with her."
"I know. Let's both do it this week, and we can meet back up here for dinner and we can talk about it." Hermione agreed, and relaxed into Harry's arms again, laying her head on his shoulder.
"How have you been coping with being in the castle?"
"It's strange. This place used to be home, but now, I feel so disconnected with it. I don't really understand why."
"It's time for you to move on Harry." Hermione explained with a sad smile. "You had to defeat Voldemort with so little training from this place that you feel angry at Hogwarts for not preparing you. Professor McGonagall told me that they are going to be holding an N.E.W.T session in July and anyone who should have completed their seventh year will be able to take the test. If you don't pass you can return to either re-do or start your seventh year. I think you should take the test, and then move on. You will be able to get a job, even without excellent scores, and you could be away from all of the painful memories."
"But I'd be away from you." Harry said frowning. He hugged Hermione tight and was silent for several minutes. "Professor McGonagall spoke to me as well, and told me it would be detrimental to the school if I didn't come back. How would that look to parents and students alike if their savior was afraid to spend another year here? Besides she offered me the badge for Head Boy, and told me you are coming back next year to be Head Girl. I don't want to be away from you. I've been having terrible nightmares, and the only reason I didn't come to you was because I was afraid that Ron would be mad."
Hermione buried her face in Harry's shoulder. "Never let Ron come between us Harry. You mean so much to me, and I love you so." Harry tensed at her words, and Hermione pulled away to look him in the eye. "I know that because of your terrible relations you aren't used to hearing that but I am going to make it so that you are!" Harry kissed her forehead gently, and whispered his thanks. The pair was silent for a while longer before Hermione asked, "What are you going to do with the rest of the summer?"
"Well, the castle is almost done, and I need a break from everything, so I'm going to leave soon. I figure I'll live in Grimmauld Place, and fix it up, the way that Sirius and I always wanted to. But as soon as I leave I'm going to Gringotts. I never got to listen to Sirius's or my parent's wills and I want to know what they say. It would give me some closure. And I need to listen to Remus and Tonks's will as well, I'm not sure if they left me custody of Teddy, and I'll have to figure that out for the school year."
"I'll come with you of course." Hermione stated, and Harry smiled at his bossy friend. "I'll explain things to Ron this afternoon, and we can leave when we are ready. But don't worry about Teddy, I'm sure that Andromeda will want to help, with her daughter and husband both gone, she'll need something happy to live for, and a baby is perfect for that." With their plans settled the two friends stood from the table, and made their way from the kitchen to their places of work.
A week later, June 1st, Harry and Hermione held hands as they walked towards the Hogwarts gate. They were silent during the trip, thinking of their earlier discussions with the Weasley siblings. Ron had reacted with anger at first, but had calmed himself down, surprising Hermione. He had assured her that he wished for her happiness, and had alluded to being happy that his best friends would be happy. Hermione had been confused by that statement, realizing that he meant her and Harry, but not being able to see why Ron would think that.
Harry had faced an extremely angry Ginny when he explained to her that they weren't going to be together. She had hexed him several times, before calming down and apologizing. When Harry told her that he understood, and that he was sorry for making her upset, she retaliated with anger once again. Harry stood there and let her hex him, stopping anything serious, but not reacting in anyway. When she had eventually tired herself out, and realized what she had done, she ran out, tears streaming down her face. Harry had simply watched her go, and then healed the minor scrapes she had inflicted. He hoped that she had gotten the anger out of her system, and could move on, but he was apprehensive about both. Hermione squeezed Harry's hand lightly, drawing his attention to the fact that they had now passed the edge of the ward line, and could apparate to Gringotts.
As soon as they arrived they were grabbed by two goblins, and were led into the back room. They were left there, with no explanation of what was happening. Hermione started to get nervous as time passed, but Harry assured her that he knew why they were there, and that he would take care of it. Finally, after half an hour of waiting the goblin security entered the room again, and held the door open for their superior. Harry leapt to his feet, and urged Hermione to do the same. The elder goblin took a seat and stared at the two humans for a few minutes before gesturing for them to sit. The silence lasted, a staring match between Harry and the goblin ensued. After five minutes of the two males staring at each other, Hermione became uncomfortable. Finally the goblin broke the silence. "Mr. Potter, you are not on the top of Gringotts favorite customer list at the moment. That stunt with breaking in, and destroying half the bank on your way out. You set our dragon free, leaving the oldest vaults without that added protection. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Mr. Director, I am sorry for the damage caused to your bank, but I cannot be sorry for what I did, as my actions in your bank led to the destruction of one of Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes hidden within a vault. Without the Horcrux being destroyed Lord Voldemort would still be alive, and wreaking havoc on the world we inhabit. Although the goblins stayed neutral during the war, you took many losses. Surely the defeat of Lord Voldemort is worth it."
The director continued staring at Harry. "The destruction of Lord Voldemort is beneficial to all magical creatures. However, the destruction of my bank is the most important thing to me."
"I would like to remain a friend of the goblins." Harry stated. "When the Lestrange family died out all of their assets reverted to the Black family. I would like to donate all of the Lestrange family gold and liquid assets to Gringotts in order to rebuild. The harm that family caused should be put to good use."
The director was silent; Harry and Hermione were barely able to pick up the shock on his ugly face. "Are those yours to give Mr. Potter?"
"My godfather was Sirius Black, and even though his mother petitioned to disown him his father never went through with it after the younger son, Regulus, died. That meant that Sirius was the only heir and when he named me heir I inherited all the Black family assets. As explained, when the Lestrange family died with the death of Voldemort their assets reverted to Bellatrix Lestrange's maiden family, the Black family."
"Mr. Potter, you understand that the assets held in the Lestrange vault equal 5 million galleons, which is approximately 25 million pounds." Hermione gasped, and covered her mouth, thankful that neither of the men had turned to her. Harry nodded to the director. "Mr. Potter, I believe that we are going to have a beneficial relationship. Now what did you come here for? I doubt it was to be taken into custody by my security."
"You are correct in that assessment Mr. Director. I am here to listen to three different wills. I would like to listen to my parents' will, the late James and Lily Potter, the will of Sirius Black, and the will of the late Remus and Tonks Lupin."
The director snapped his finger and an assistant hurried into the room with three documents in hand. "The will of the Lupin's requires your presence, and the presence of Andromeda Tonks to be read. A letter will be sent to her posthaste. The will of Sirius Black requires your presence, the presence of Andromeda Tonks, Lady Malfoy, and Lord Draco Malfoy. A letter will be sent posthaste. The will of James and Lilly Potter requires your presence, and the presence of the House of Greengrass."
Harry was confused to the people required be present for the reading of the wills as well as the titles of nobility the director addressed the Malfoys with. But knowing that the people he loved had written them in for a reason he accepted it. "Will Hermione be able to join me?"
"No, she is not written into the wills and as such must wait outside. However, she can stand on the other side of glass so that you may both observe each other, and aid each other if need be."
"Thank you director. When do you think you will have a response to the letters?"
"Our first visitor has already arrived." The director snapped again, and the assistant opened the door to allow Andromeda Tonks into the room.
She rushed to Harry's side, and hugged him tight. The two had bonded after the funeral for Remus and Tonks. They had talked for hours about their shared memories of the werewolf and his wife. Andromeda and Harry had realized that they were closely related, Harry's grandmother, Dorea Black-Potter, was Andromeda's aunt. Since then Andromeda had been acting as a motherly figure for Harry, often showing up to Hogwarts with baby Teddy to check on the teen. Together she and Hermione were helping Harry replace his terrible memories of the Dursleys. "Oh Harry, I'm not sure if I'm ready to hear Remus and Nymphadora’s will."
"I know Aunt Andy, but we need to. We have to know the status of Teddy and make a plan."
Andromeda smiled through her tears at the young man who had come so far in the short time she had known him. "You are so grown up Harry. I'm proud of you."
Hermione stepped out of the room, and watched as Harry and Andromeda sat at a table, grasping hands underneath. A goblin quickly entered the room, and began reading the will. Hermione wished she could hear what was being said, but it was obviously hard for the two humans in the room to hear. The goblin finished speaking, and Harry began gesturing wildly. Hermione had no idea what was going on, but gathered it was about Teddy. She could only hope that everything was alright as Harry and the goblin argued about something. After several moments, it seemed the issue was resolved.
The goblin snapped, and the door swung open, allowing Narcissa and Draco Malfoy entrance to the room. Hermione wished she could be inside to lend support to Harry, who was looking extremely tense. The goblin tapped a parchment, and a figure of Sirius came out of it, obviously declaring his will. About halfway through Narcissa covered her face with her hands, and began to shake. The goblin tapped the parchment, pausing Sirius, and everyone stared at the blonde woman her son in obvious shock and discomfort. Andromeda laid a tentative hand on her younger sister's shoulder, and Narcissa smiled through her tears. The goblin continued the reading, and after several minutes, Draco was noticeably arguing with the goblin while Harry sat still shock evident on his face. When the goblin had finished, everyone in the room sat in silence before Narcissa, Draco, and Andromeda took their leave.
The goblin snapped his fingers once again, and this time a couple Hermione didn't know, but reasoned to be the Greengrass adults walked in, with a girl that Hermione recognized from Hogwarts. She was wearing a Slytherin green dress which complimented her tiny shape and blonde hair perfectly. Hermione watched Harry regard the people with obvious confusion, but he didn't say anything, instead gesturing to the goblin. He read through what appeared to be most of the will with no interruptions from the people in the room. When the goblin read a particular section Harry leapt to his feet, shock and horror evident on his face. He clenched his fists, and his face began turning bright red. Hermione tried to open the door, but found it was sealed. She pounded on the window, and Harry caught her eye, seeming to calm down slightly, until the blonde girl made a comment. Harry turned on her, and dragging her from her seat, threw her against the wall, pinning her there with his body.