A/N: Hey guys, I'm back! I'm sorry for the long absence, but life has been crazy. (Although it kind of is most of the time) This chapter has been really hard to write and I owe a big thank you to my beta RelishRedShoes who has done an amazing job helping me improve this part of the story. On that note I have to add, that the entirety of the chapter is written, but it was getting quite long so this is only the first part. We are currently reworking the second part so fingers crossed it will be up very soon. It's definitely not going to take too long, promise.
Thank you to everyone who has followed or favourited the story, and a special thanks goes to those who also left a review. Your reviews make my day, even if I don't get a chance to reply to them. Just know that it's the fuel that keeps me going when I'm stuck (as well as getting my butt busted by my beta :P)
That's enough from me though, on with the story. Enjoy and let me know what you think :) xxx
Severus was on his way to lunch when he quite literally collided with Hermione. She looked up at him with surprise. His arm came around her, and she was quite possibly the first student to ever bump into Professor Snape without being scared for their life.
Yanking her into a hidden alcove and quickly casting a notice-me-not charm, the feelings of worry and upset that had been dogging him all day increased and it occurred to him the emotions may not be his own. He frowned down at the young witch with a raised eyebrow.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath, drawing strength from his presence. "I have been called in for a hearing before the Ministry," she whispered. In a rush of words, she told him what had happened when she spoke to the Headmistress earlier that day, only pausing to draw breath when she grew lightheaded.
Severus heaved a deep sigh. "I'm assuming they want to assign you a guardian?"
Hermione nodded. She was clinging to the front of his robes, trying to even out her breathing. His familiar scent calmed her down, but she still had trouble containing the panic churning inside her.
Before either of them could say more, voices could be heard travelling up the nearby stairs. The young witch looked at him for a few seconds, then rushed out into the hallway and continued walking, this time towards the library. Severus watched her leave and made his way to the dungeons, hating that all he had these days were precious, stolen, moments with the woman he had grown to care for so deeply.
Monday morning arrived too soon, and sitting down for breakfast with Ginny and Luna; Hermione was glad to have classes again. At least that gave her something to focus on other than all the things that could go wrong the next day.
Hermione had picked at breakfast and then decided to repack her bag, which she had filled in a hurry that morning. It was only after the third time she had pulled out the contents of her satchel that she noticed Ginny and Luna exchanging concerned looks. Neither of them had seen her all weekend, and she could see Ginny was on the verge of asking what was upsetting her when the owl post arrived.
There was a letter from Harry for both Ginny and Hermione, but before either of them could open them the murmur in the Great Hall increased tenfold. Hermione looked up from the letter in her hand to meet Severus' gaze looking at her with what she knew to be worry in his eyes.
However, she quickly realised that he was by far not the only one looking at her. She glanced around, a frown forming. There was a commotion on the other side of the table when Ginny grabbed that morning's Prophet off one of their fellow Gryffindors and spread it out between the three of them to see.
A large picture of Hermione graced the front page. She had dark circles under her eyes and was trying to smile for the camera. It had been taken the day before she returned to Hogwarts when Harry, Ron, Ginny and herself had encountered some reporters in Diagon Alley, the accompanying article written by Miranda Danley, the woman who had taken over for Rita Skeeter.
The headline next to the picture read: 'Famous War Heroine to attend Hearing at Ministry of Magic - Hermione Granger, a member of the Golden Trio, is to attend a hearing led by the newly established 'Committee for the Welfare of Wizarding War Veterans' this Tuesday. For the full article go to page 4. For more information on the 'Committee for the Welfare of Wizarding War Veterans' go to page 11.'
Ginny hurriedly flicked to page four, while the volume of murmurs rose even further. The article took up the entirety of the page. There were more photos in the article. One of her in her school robes, standing between Harry and Ron. Another in which she appeared battered and bruised, wand in hand, glaring at the camera and walking away, for the battle had just ended and, to her surprise, one of her on Draco Malfoy's arm, smiling and walking down the street in Hogsmeade.
She felt anger rising inside her, for she hadn't thought there were any reporters in the village that day. Another thought occurred to her, just as someone started shouting her name. If they knew about her meeting Draco, did they know about her break-up with Ron?
Someone jabbed an elbow into her side, and she jumped staring at the person next to her. The girl was grinning nastily. "Aren't you gonna answer the question?"
"Oi, Granger, over here!" She turned to see a Hufflepuff boy, Zacharias Smith, for who else would it be, standing up at the Hufflepuff table.
"Why are they calling you into the Ministry, eh? Made friends with the wrong people, did you?", he asked, waving the Prophet around and pointing at the picture of Draco.
When Hermione didn't immediately respond more people joined in the jeering; getting up from their seats and shouting across the hall at her. The Slytherins were very quiet, for Severus had silenced them quickly when some of his students had piped up at the implicit insult against Malfoy and their house.
Minerva's voice was suddenly booming through the room, calling for silence and everyone to sit. Hermione dimly registered the Heads of House coming down from the dais to deal with their students. A small first-year boy at the Ravenclaw table hadn't quite caught on that it was time to shut up now and so he shouted something across at his friend. Only a part of the sentence reached Hermione, but it was enough. "… maybe she killed people…"
There was suddenly a loud roaring in her ears, and she got up from the table, shaking all over. Luna and Ginny had gotten up as well and were running down the hall to come back up and help their friend outside. They had never hated the long house tables more.
The noise in Hermione's ears increased and she was about to turn towards the double doors when she saw Cruz striding towards her. For a fraction of a second, the young witch didn't see her Head of House, but Bellatrix Lestrange as she advanced on them during the Final Battle in this very hall. She blinked and Cruz' hand was suddenly clamped around her arm. A jolt of electricity ran through her and before she knew it she had yanked herself free and was pointing her wand at her teacher. She was still shaking, and her face was ashen, but her wand hand was steady.
McGonagall had stopped in the middle of reprimanding the entire school for their abominable behaviour and was staring at the two witches, her lips pressed into a thin line. Quickly striding around the dais, she made her way down toward Hermione and Cruz.
There was a soft but familiar crackle of magic in the air.
Cruz tilted her head.
"Lower your wand, Miss Granger. You know what happens when you raise it against a teacher.", she said in a dangerously low tone.
A shudder went through Hermione as she fought for control over her magic and her mind. She could still hear her blood roaring in her ears.
McGonagall arrived, coming to a stop by Itana's side, but standing a little closer to Hermione than the DADA teacher. The Scottish witch looked seriously worried.
"Miss Granger.", She said calmly. Hermione's eyes snapped up to look at her, and Minerva fought not to flinch at what she saw there.
Hermione, in turn, stared at the Headmistress and for the first time in a long time she saw genuine compassion and worry on the older woman's face. And was that a hint of understanding? Slowly, ever so slowly, she lowered her wand and fought to breathe deeply.
The roaring in her ears quieted a little, and she took a step backwards. When nobody stopped her, she turned and ran.
"Miss Lovegood, Miss Weasley, please go and make sure Miss Granger is all right.", McGonagall told the two girls that had stopped halfway towards Hermione earlier. They nodded and hurried out the door.
Itana Cruz followed them with her eyes, a smug smile on her face.
While McGonagall continued to reprimand the students for their behaviour, Ginny and Luna followed Hermione. At first, they couldn't see her, but then Luna noticed the front portal was ajar. They slipped outside, and sure enough, a small figure with bushy hair was hurrying down the paths towards the lake. It took them a while to catch up with Hermione and when they did she was leaning against one of the large boulders, knees drawn up to her chest, trying to stop shaking.
Ginny bent down and put a hand on the other witch's shoulder. She jumped and looked up at them, her face pale and tear stained. She sighed and looked away again.
"I can't believe I almost blasted her across the room. Again.", she said quietly. Luna sat down in the grass next to her and followed her gaze out across the lake.
"It was a very tense situation and people were accusing you of many things. It is no wonder that some of the instincts you acquired during the war would surface."
Ginny sat down on her other side. The three girls sat in silence for quite some time.
"You know that we're here for you if you need to talk? About anything?", The youngest Weasley eventually announced. Hermione shot her a quick glance and tried to smile.
"Thanks, Gin. I appreciate it, but… I guess sometimes I'm just afraid of what you both will think of me."
"Just because I sometimes say things that you will find odd, or you might not even believe in, doesn't mean you think any less of me, does it?", Luna suggested gently, smiling warmly at her. Hermione exhaled her breath in a rush and hung her head.
"I'm sorry.", she whispered, realising all of a sudden that pushing her friends away was maybe not as good a solution as she had believed it to be. "I'm sorry for shutting you out. Both of you. I just… So much has happened. And most of the time I don't even know how I feel about it myself. And then there are things that I just cannot share with anyone. Not right now. I felt like you were pressuring me into talking and…" She was crying again, trying to hide her face behind her hair and suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around her. Ginny, she realised surprised.
"You have no reason to be sorry, Hermione. You needed space and it took me a long time and a bash over the head from Luna to realise that I should give it to you. I just want you to know we are here for you in whatever form you need us, and we will be your friends no matter what, ok?"
They sat like that for quite some time until the sound of the tower clock broke the silence.
"We really should get to our first class…", Hermione sniffed.
"Will you tell us what that article in the Prophet was about?", Ginny asked carefully.
The curly-haired witch nodded. "Yes. Well. I can tell you most of what has happened. I may need your help."
Curious Ginny leapt to her feet, followed by Luna. Hermione looked up at them from her space against the boulder, wondering how she was going to explain everything that had happened to the two of them in the space of ten minutes. And wondering if they could be the source of the friendly support she so desperately needed, now that she was cut off from Severus for an indeterminate amount of time.
Luna adjusted her earrings and smiled down at her, while Ginny cast a quick charm on the older girl's face to erase the signs of tears. And as they both reached out a hand to help her up off the floor, Hermione thought that yes, these two girls back in her life might just be what she needed to keep her going.
oxoxoxoxo In the end, Hermione did not tell her friends all that much, asides from the fact that she did indeed have a Ministry hearing tomorrow. It was still a surprising relief to be able to talk to someone else, especially after being reassured to some extent that the two witches would not judge her as much as she feared.
That night at dinner, letters from the Ministry arrived for Ginny and Luna as well as Professors McGonagall and Snape. Too preoccupied with trying to see what Luna and Ginny had received, she did not notice that there had been a fifth owl and by the time she realised her friends had received an invitation to her hearing, the fifth letter had disappeared in the recipient's pocket.
Unsurprisingly, Hermione did not sleep much that night. She had wanted to go to the library after dinner, in the hopes of doing some form of research that might help her tomorrow, but Ginny and Luna had insisted they go to her room instead so that she could tell them more about what had happened. Speaking to them was difficult, but with the trial coming up and not being able to spend any time with Severus she needed their friendship. She hadn't realised how much she missed having friends she could fall back on.
The two younger witches didn't pressure her, and when it became clear that she would not say any more, they started talking about other things trying to distract her.
The next morning saw the Hogwarts student body watch their Headmistress, their Potions Master, Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood hurry across the grounds towards the gates. A group of Aurors waited to escort them to the Ministry. Hermione, who knew that this was not standard procedure, shared a look with Severus who shrugged imperceptibly and held the gate open for her.
Seconds later, the curly-haired witch was accosted by an armful of Harry Potter. She jumped violently as his arms wrapped unexpectedly around her, but when she realised who it was, she allowed herself to relax.
"I can't believe they're calling you in for a hearing.", he murmured in her ear. "But please tell me you know that no matter what happens I will have your back. You just need to let me." She smiled and stepped back.
"Thanks, Harry. But I'm sure I'll be fine.", She lied, not at all confident after how the PTSD test had gone. Harry smiled at her, hoping that she was right. Although… She was Hermione Granger. No one would best her if she got it in her head to do something.
They travelled to the Ministry by portkey, even though it would have been just as easy for them to apparate. Hermione had still not mastered the art of landing smoothly and so she stumbled a bit as they appeared next to a familiar red phone booth in a back alley of London. Someone steadied her, and she turned around to smile gratefully at Severus who merely nodded and stepped back from her.
Next to them, a giggling Ginny was helping Harry up off the floor. The dark-haired wizard glowered at the red head, and Hermione couldn't help but smile for a moment, wondering what kind of a relationship the two of them had these days.
Before she could think on it any further they were ushered inside the phone booth and with a lot of grumbling, wriggling and pushing they were finally on their way into the Ministry.
Anxiety suddenly hit Hermione as she moved through the crowds of witches and wizards who were milling around the Atrium. Everything had been feeling slightly off all morning, like an itch that you can't quite scratch. But now her feelings of unease rocketed up a notch. She didn't know where these feelings came from, asides from the obvious, but it felt so very odd to slip back suddenly into her friendship with Luna and Ginny and even Harry as if nothing had happened. As if she hadn't been pushing them away ever since she returned to Hogwarts.
Or was it merely the fact that the last time she had been here, she was polyjuiced and in the process of stealing a Horcrux from Dolores Umbridge? Nothing felt right, and there was a taste of foreboding in the air. It didn't help that when Severus, who was walking next to her, accidentally brushed his hand against hers and pulled back abruptly as if he had been stung.
She swallowed hard. It's just because it really wouldn't do to be seen holding hands right now, she told herself sternly. You're being ridiculous. She drew a deep breath and pushed her insecurities far into the back of her mind. Now was not the appropriate time. She needed complete focus for this hearing. She needed to come through this still retaining the right to make her own decisions. There was just no other option.
A ministry employee directed their group to the basement. The unease on Harry's face was apparent, and it occurred to Hermione that this must have been where they brought him before Fifth year after using magic in front of his muggle cousin.
"They are taking this seriously…", her friend murmured, and Hermione turned and raised an eyebrow at him.
He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "I know, I know. Don't say anything."
Hermione rolled her eyes, again feeling a pang at the familiarity of the situation. It felt simultaneously like no time had passed and yet like that was a lifetime ago.
As they reached the door to the hearing room, she excused herself quickly. "You guys go on ahead. I need to get changed." Before they could say another word, she had hurried away to the nearest bathroom. She needed a moment to pull herself together, and there was no way in hell she was going to wear her school uniform for this hearing.
The group from Hogwarts filed into the room. It was much smaller than any of them had expected. Unlike the room where Harry's hearing had taken place, this one was a bit lighter, and the chairs arranged in neat rows facing the front of the room. One side reserved for the Committee for the Welfare of Wizarding War Veterans and the other for the 'general public' or more like anyone who had received a letter requesting their presence.
As the group sat down in a row near the front, other people began slowly filing inside. To their surprise, they were joined by both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. After that the CWWWV (as anyone in their right mind referred to them) began walking in. They were all wearing long black robes with a golden emblem embroidered on the front left. It was made up merely of the acronym, WWWV in ornate writing, surrounded by a large C in even more ornate writing. Severus thought that it looked a bit pretentious.
There was a sudden commotion to his left, as Ms. Weasley elbowed Potter into the ribs to get his attention. Severus turned his head, scowling darkly as he recognised the figure slinking in to sit next to his parents in the row behind them. Ronald Weasley. A sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach - for the presence of Hermione's ex surely meant trouble - he turned back around as the head of the CWWWV entered and took his seat at the front of the room.
"May Miss Hermione Jean Granger enter the room now.", He intoned after calling them all to order. The door swung open and Hermione strode into the room. There was a quiet, but confident air about her. She was wearing expensive-looking, navy wizarding robes, the outermost layer so dark it appeared black. Her cloak billowed slightly behind her and her unruly hair was tamed into a tight knot. As she took her seat at the front of the room, her friends were able to see the fire in her eyes. She looked ready for anything.
Her seat was at a slight angle so that she was facing both the Head of the CWWWV and the rest of the room. She now looked up to the man at the top of the room, her chin jutting out slightly. Severus was watching her carefully, knowing that she was forcing herself to sit up straight, to appear confident, to make them see who she really should be, a confident young witch who had been through a lot and had come out on the other side stronger. And she truly was stronger for all she had been through, but there was too much trauma with which she had not yet been able to deal. He knew this was a Hermione who was willing to fight, but after what had happened in the Great Hall the day before he was worried how long she could keep it up. She was nervous and the only thing holding that back were thick mental shields.
"Hermione Jean Granger, you have been called here today to determine whether or not you should be allocated a Ministry approved guardian to ensure your safety and that of others. You will be asked a number of questions. Feel free to add as much information as you see pertinent. Once you are finished explaining your side of the situation, a specifically chosen team from the Committee for the Welfare of Wizarding War Veterans will bring forward any concerns they have based on research they have done in regards to your case. Some witnesses will also be called forward to allow the committee to consider your situation from all angles. Now, before we begin I must ask you to take a wand-oath to speak the truth and nothing but the truth."
Hermione did so solemnly, noticing that amongst the ranks of the CWWWV sat Kingsley Shaklebolt. He gave her an encouraging smile, but she did not dare acknowledge him. And while the proceedings fixated everyone's attention at the front of the room nobody noticed the two figures that quietly entered the room and took seats at the back within minutes of each other.
"Now, Miss Granger. How have you found returning to Hogwarts this year after being away from the school for a whole year?"
Hermione sat up a little straighter if that was even possible. "Returning to Hogwarts was not as difficult as I expected, after everything that has happened. So much has happened there, but it always feels like a haven for me. It was a relief to be back really, after a year of uncertainty. I like the routine the school day provides me with and as you are no doubt aware education and learning have always been a priority for me."
"And do you feel any different as a person now that the war is over? Have you noticed any changes in yourself?"
She swallowed and stopped herself from scratching her suddenly itchy scar. "Of course I feel different. The war has changed all of us, I think. It made me grow up a lot faster than I ever expected and I had to do things to survive that I would never have done under normal circumstances. While studying is still a top priority for me, the reason why it is important to me has changed. I… For a long time, I strived to be the best I could in school to prove my worth in a world where many considered me to be a lesser person because of my heritage. Now… I don't feel a need to prove my worth anymore. I study because I enjoy learning new things. I'm aspiring to be the best I can for myself, not for others."
The head of the CWWWV nodded and pulled thoughtfully on his moustache. "And is it true, Miss Granger, that you have trouble sleeping?"
"Yes.", She answered honestly. What use was there denying it?
"And have you had issues falling asleep before the war?"
"I used to be prone to bouts of insomnia whenever I was very stressed. Before exams mostly."
"And are you stressed at the moment?"
"Not because of school work, no."
"But do you think that your experiences during the war have affected your ability to sleep?"
"Yes. Some things are harder from which to recover. I saw many things during the last year of the war I would much rather forget."
Her words sounded so formal, even in her head and she struggled to focus on the questions being thrown at her, trying to answer honestly, but in a way that would not make them question her ability to make decisions.
"You are known to have quite the temper, Miss Granger, but prior to the war there were no signs of you being unduly aggressive. Yet we have several accounts that you attacked one of your teachers in a recent incident. What caused you to lose control of your temper?
Hermione almost sighed, knowing that this would be one of the things they asked her. "The professor in question made some inappropriate comments towards me that I felt were intended to taunt and insult me. I… I felt like I was being cornered. The issue was brought before Professor McGonagall and resolved. I was sanctioned for my actions and removed from that professor's class."
"To train under Professor Snape, if I am not mistaken?"
"Yes. I took the opportunity to be taught by the Professor and work on gaining my Mastery as soon as possible."
"Thank you, Miss Granger. I believe it is time to call on some of the people you are in regular contact with to help us gain a broader understanding of the situation. I will ask you more questions regarding anything they say as we go forward. Feel free to add anything that you feel has been left out or clarify any situations that you feel are incorrectly described."
The head of the CWWWV rose from his seat and moved forward to stand in the space between his seat, Hermione and the rows of people present.
"Could Miss Luna Lovegood and Miss Ginevra Weasley please come forward?"
The two young witches stood and took a seat in the opposite corner of where Hermione was sitting. They too took wand oaths to speak only the truth.
The two witches did well, all things considered. They didn't have that much to say, and it dawned on Hermione again, that pushing everyone but Severus away for the last couple of months meant that no one knew how she was faring. Luna had some very good points though that should speak strongly for Hermione's independence, at the same time, she didn't know how credible the CWWWV would believe her to be.
Up next was Professor McGonagall. As the Headmistress nattered on about what a great, mature and responsible student Hermione was (she wondered what was causing McGonagall's mood swings, she had gone from supportive to accusing and back in a very short amount of time), the young witch let her gaze glide across the crowd. Her eyes caught on Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Why had they been asked here? And next to them… Was that? Oh no. Ron was here. Her heart sank.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were up next.
"Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, how long have you known Miss Granger?", the head of the CWWWV asked.
"Oh, well, that must have been since the end of her first year at Hogwarts. We met her first when she got off the train with Harry and Ron.", Molly replied.
"And did you have frequent contact with her through the years?"
"Oh yes, very frequent. Why Hermione was pretty much a part of the family like Harry but since she broke up with Ron, well, I don't think I've seen or heard from her at all since she started back in Hogwarts, and they were still going out then."
They continued to be questioned for another while, mainly about how Hermione had changed over the years, but she barely listened. Mrs. Weasley's words still echoed in her head. She was part of the family. Did that mean they didn't consider her one of them anymore? Oh but that hurt. The Weasley's had always been so warm and welcoming; she didn't think anything could change that.
As Mr. and Mrs. Weasley returned to their seats, their only daughter started angrily hissing at her mother. However, she soon went silent as Ron was called to the stand.
"Mr. Ronald Weasley. Do you swear to speak the truth and nothing but the truth here today?"
"I do.", Ron answered. A slightly goofy grin appeared on his face. "I've got nothing to hide."
"Good. Now, Mr. Weasley. What is your relationship with Miss Granger?"
"She's my… Well, she was my girlfriend. She's my ex now."
"And when did your romantic relationship end?"
"Uh… Not so long ago. We met in Hogsmeade, hadn't seen each other since the start of term. We had decided to go on a sort of break with our relationship, but I decided I wanted to start things back up. We had a stupid fight before she went back to school, she made a much bigger deal out of it than necessary. Anyway, I wanted to apologise and ask her to go to the Ministry Ball with me at Christmas. It turns out she'd only agreed to meet with me to tell me that she wanted to end things for good. And on top of that, she said that she was already going with someone else."
"And how did you feel about that?"
"Surprised, I guess. I mean… She's never been one to go out with guys much and then suddenly there's someone new? And besides, why didn't you say anything earlier?"
He leaned forward to look at Hermione. She didn't react, hoping that her face was as blank as she wanted it to be.
"So I tried to convince her to give me another chance. I mean, we were really good together. I thought we were happy. Aside from that one fight. But that's normal, right? All couples row. Me and 'Mione especially. We've always fought, but we always made up, for as long as I can remember. Up till now anyway. It's weird. She would never really hold a grudge. Not with me."
"And what happened then?"
"Oh, that prat Malfoy showed up. Was all arrogant with me, saying to get my hands off Hermione. He was really protective, even though he used to hate her in school. All three of us actually."
"And do you think it's Mr Malfoy who she is with now?"
"No clue, but it might be. Like, she seemed surprised to see him. Went with him anyway though. She was holding on to his arm, looked pretty cosy to me.
"And did you see her again after she left with Mr. Malfoy?"
"Yeah. I was still in Hogsmeade when she was on her way back to the castle. Stopped her and tried to talk to her. That's when I asked her to the ball. I wanted another chance. She almost attacked me and then told me she didn't want to see me again. Just left me standing there."
"And I assume you haven't been in contact since?"
"Nope. No point trying to reason with an angry 'Mione. It's usually best to let her cool off."
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley."
"No worries." And he went back to his seat as if all this was nothing more than a chat between friends. It was as if the whole of the proceedings weren't about Hermione being given a guardian to make decisions for her. She was breathing deeply, trying to keep the anger at bay, hoping that they would ask for her version of the story. But they never did. Instead, they called forward Harry. Well, at least she could count on him.
"Mr. Potter. What is your relationship to Miss Granger?", the man leading the interrogation asked after giving hearing Harry's oath.
"We're best friends. Hermione is like a sister to me.", Harry answered with quiet confidence.
"There used to be rumours that the two of you were romantically involved, though."
"Yeah, but those were lies the Prophet made up. Nothing like that has ever or will ever happen between us. We're not like that."
"And what did you think of Miss Granger's and Mr. Weasley's relationship?"
"What's there to think? What's going on between two people is no one else's business. As long as my two best friends are happy, I'm happy. Whether they're a couple or not, that doesn't matter to me."
Hermione couldn't help but smile as she listened to Harry speak. She had missed him terribly she realised and vowed to try and stay in touch better than she had previously. Once this was over, she would try much harder to work on letting people near her again.
"And how frequent was your contact with Miss Granger in recent months?"
"Not very. We write letters every now and again, but we're both very busy, me with the Auror training and she with her schooling. We did manage to meet up a while back though and spent an afternoon together."
"And how did Miss Granger appear when you saw her?"
"She was a bit withdrawn and wouldn't talk much about what was going on with her. But that's ok. I know what it's like to need a bit of time to sort your head out. I admit I was somewhat concerned, but I knew she was safe at Hogwarts with so many friends looking out for her. And I know if I felt like I needed to I could always go and check on her. More importantly, though, whatever is bothering her, I just want her to know that I'm there for her whenever she needs me and whenever she is ready to talk."
"Thank you, Mr. Potter."
Silence filled the room as Harry returned to his seat. The head of the CWWWV went to consult a list at his desk and turned to the room at large.
"Could Mr. Draco Malfoy please come forward."
A sudden murmur filled the room as everyone whispered incredulously to their neighbour. Even Severus seemed slightly surprised as he watched the tall blond man in the black robes stride forward and take a seat.
Silence reigned once more, and it was Draco's turn to answer questions.
"Mr. Malfoy, what is your relationship to Miss Granger?"
"We're acquaintances, I suppose. We had very large differences at school" a chuckle went through the crowd at that understatement "but I ran into her in Hogsmeade one day, and we went for tea. We have corresponded sporadically since then."
"You do not refer to her as a friend?"
"Like I said, there was a lot of animosity between us in school. Considering we've only met once since the war ended, I think it will be some time yet before I have earned the right to refer to her as a friend."
"If you say so. Now, would you mind telling me what your impression was of Miss Granger when you met her in Hogsmeade?"
"Well, considering that she was just in the process of breaking up with Weasley and he wouldn't take no for an answer when I saw her first… I don't know. She seemed as stubbornly Gryffindor as always. More mature than I knew her to be in school and fiercer, but other than that… And when we went for tea… I was very surprised that we get on quite well once we put our differences aside. It is refreshing to have an intellectual conversation with someone my age."
"Indeed. Thank you, Mr. Malfoy."
Draco nodded graciously and went to sit down again, this time right behind Severus.
"Now to get to the heart of the business. Miss Amanda Abbot, would you please come forward."
The middle-aged witch came forward from her seat and took her wand oath. She looked older than Hermione remembered, and she wondered what could have happened to the psychologist to age her so much.
"Miss Abbot, I believe you administered the first PTSD test with Miss Granger right after the war?"
"I did indeed."
"And what was the result of that test?"
"The test results were negative. Miss Granger showed no more than the residual trauma we would expect after such events. However, she appeared to be in complete control of her faculties."
"And is this the first time you have seen Miss Granger since that test?"
"Asides from the occasional picture in the newspapers, yes."
"What is your impression of Miss Granger, compared to when you last saw her?"
"Well, she definitely hasn't gained any weight which is worrying considering that she had spent an entire year with very little food when I saw her to administer the test. She also still looks just as weary."
"Thank you, Miss Abbot. Now, Mr. Miles Ledford if you could please come forward?"
When Hermione met the gaze of the other wizarding psychologist, she thought she could see him flinch. Her heart was pounding loudly in her chest. She had, of course, read the report Miles Ledford had written about her, and she, therefore, knew that this was going to be bad. Really bad. Because of course, she had failed the test. Spectacularly at that. She shook her head. The only test she had ever failed and it would probably turn out to have been the most important one she had ever taken.
Panic filled her, and she desperately wished she had had more time to prepare her arguments. That feeling of being unbalanced was back again, stronger than before. Depending on what Ledford said on top of the report that the CWWWV had received from him, there was not a chance in hell they were going to believe anything else she said. Think, Hermione, think, she thought to herself desperately. There had to be a way out of this.
"Mr. Ledford. Did you administer a second PTSD test to Miss Granger two weeks ago?"
"And what was the result of that test?"
Ledford sighed. "As you are aware, the test has been refined since Amanda administered it to Miss Granger the first time. It now gives a very extensive picture of the patient's mental and physical health. Therefore there is not just a single result to the test."
"Would you care to enlighten us then what you discovered while administering the test?"
"I do not have a choice, do I?", Ledford answered dryly, and Hermione frowned. Why did he sound as if he didn't want to tell them?
When he realised that everyone was staring at him expectantly, Ledford sighed again.
"During the test, I was able to establish that Miss Granger does indeed have PTSD. I know that Amanda's test says otherwise, but it is commonly understood in muggle psychology that this type of mental illness takes time to develop. Considering the incredible trauma that Miss Granger has been through at such a young age, it is surprising that the effects on her have not been more drastic or obvious. Miss Granger proved to be an incredibly intelligent witch. I have yet to meet anyone as bright as her. She was able to evade my questions quite frequently and often said exactly what I wanted to hear as a psychologist during our conversation. It was extremely unsettling.
"During said conversation I was able to determine various things. Miss Granger has anxieties rooted in a fear of abandonment stemming from events during the final year of the war while she, and Messers Potter and Weasley were on the run. She struggles with her anger and loses control of her magic for reasons that have yet to be determined. She remains hyper-vigilant, and her natural fight or flight response is extremely heightened. Her reflexive response to a perceived threat is to go on the offensive. The insomnia mentioned earlier is only a further symptom of the PTSD as are the nightmares she mentioned to me. Miss Granger was reluctant to trust a stranger and managed to keep me at arms length expertly. However, it is also apparent Hermione is keeping her friends at some distance which is of greater concern as this condition is heightened if the sufferer has insufficient support networks. She went to very drastic methods to protect her parents during the war and refuses to face the repercussions of this or attempt to fix what she did to protect them. Further, during her medical examination is was evident that a prominent curse scar she bears from the war was recently cut across as though to obscure it, which suggests there may be elements of conscious self-harm emerging. Her body shows signs of exhaustion and malnourishment. All of these again are strong indicators of someone affected by PTSD, and if left without intervention, may, and probably will worsen."
"If that were to happen, Mr Ledford, what sort of symptoms or behaviours would likely begin to be seen in Miss Granger?" the motherly-looking witch to one side of Kingsley wanted to know.
The young man pursed his lips and puffed a long breath out before he answered. There was an unexpected sorrow in his eyes when he did.
"Depression. Loss of focus and a decline in achievement at school. An increase in conscious self-harm through cutting or burning. Further bouts of uncontrollable rage which may escalate into violence to herself or others. Self-medicating, alcohol or potion abuse." His eyes dropped to examine the skin of his cuticles closely, colour rising on his face as he muttered, "and the formation of inappropriate attachments, promiscuous or self-destructive sexual behaviours."
Hermione felt her own face flush in response, torn between anger and humiliation.
"Thank you for this insight, Mr Ledford. Now, before we move on, could you tell me what your opinion is of Miss Granger's ability to make decisions for herself?" the same witch asked.
Ledford sighed once more. "As much as it pains me to say this, for Miss Granger truly is an incredible witch with so much potential… The final part of the test is an examination of the patient's mind via Legilimency. Let me just say that the inside of Miss Granger's mind is… She is in a considerable amount of pain and will need both time and support to overcome her trauma. At this juncture, I am unsure as to how clear her judgement is in regards to herself and her health. As I said, her medical exam indicates a probable eating disorder and incidents of self-harm…"
"Thank you, Mr Ledford. I believe your opinion is quite clear. Please retake your seat."
Ledford nodded, grabbed the notes he had brought with him and went to sit down again.
"Now then, on to our last witness, Professor Sn- oh no, my apologies. There is someone else on the list first. Would Professor Itana Cruz please come forward?"
To be continued...