A/N: This fic has undergone editing to correct spelling and grammar issues, and to pave over those pesky plot holes. The plot has not changed, I've simply clarified some areas that didn't make a lot of sense in its initial version. I now present to you, Tears of the Phoenix, version 2.0 (well, really, version 4.0, considering how many times I've edited this damn thing, lol).
Facing the Past
"And you wake up to realize
That your standard of living
Somehow got stuck on survive."
The rising of the sun is a magnificent thing. It is a sight of beauty, splendor, and—for me—hope. It gives me the feeling that there is a tomorrow, no matter how strongly I might believe the contrary. It's easy to lose your faith in a position like mine, but the sun's first rays sneaking over the distant hilltops and caressing my face with their soft light can help give me back some of what I've lost. Often times, this small occurrence is the only hope I have and usually that is not enough.
On this particular morning, there is no sunrise, no first rays—at least, none visible to me. Clouds are setting in as they do in winter, resembling a dense gray blanket more than anything else. I sigh as I look out the window at the gloomy dawning day. My constant, nagging feeling of hopelessness seems more prominent than ever. Not that it ever really goes away; I have not felt anything even distantly akin to joy for two years now. I stopped living then, at the end of my fifth year here at Hogwarts. Now I merely exist. Before that time, I'd never really known the difference between the two words. I'd have used them as synonyms of one another anytime. Now I know the difference. To live is to have reason to awaken, even if that reason isn't always good. To exist is to force yourself to make it through each day, doing so only because you are too meek and frightened to do anything more drastic. It is when your entire life has stopped having any meaning, when all dreams of the future are lost in a bleak void. When it takes every last bit of strength to wake up and force yourself to live through one more day and when you don't see any difference between life and death.
Maybe I've even stopped existing. What's beyond that, I don't know; but whatever there is, that's where I am. I'm no more than a shell of my former self. I've been forced to block out happy memories, been trained to feel nothing. It's the only way to make it in the world I'm in. Had I spent each waking moment reminiscing of times lost, I'd have gone insane long ago. I learned that lesson the hard way, not too long after Voldemort won the war. My memories were too powerful to stop and each passing day was spent remembering until I could take the comparison of my old life to my new one no longer. I quite nearly killed myself. When I'm in one of my blacker moods, I'll often wish I had. After all, how much worse can death be? Certainly no worse than my current position.
I struggle off my window ledge and jump the two feet down to the floor. Quickly changing into my school robes, I feel glad as I always do that it is only two more months until I leave here for good. I can't stand it any longer. I once loved this castle so much, and now everything I see in my day-to-day travels sickens me. From the green bands around the cuffs of my robes to the Slytherin banners hanging high and proud in the Great Hall, everything is different. Hogwarts castle, which had before been so jolly and inviting, is now a cold and lifeless place that may as well have housed a thousand dementors. The only "happy" thoughts ventured here are thoughts of cruelty from the Death Eaters, and those are only happy in their warped minds. I am disgusted to remember that I can no longer consider myself different from them. The Dark Mark on my arm leaves no question about the fact that I am one of them. It is a fact I try hard to forget, and yet one I can never seem to tuck away.
As I join the kids in the main halls, I duck my head and keep to myself. Still, I can hear the cruel words thrown in my direction. I have no place; not a single person in this world cares whether I live or die. Actually, that's not true, I decide grimly—most would prefer me dead. My fellow students—my fellow Death Eaters, I am sorry to say—hate me. I am a joke among them. My deed to their service is well remembered, but they don't care. Each day I'm ignored and shunned, not that I mind. These people are not ones with which I would care to associate if I wasn't forced. Still, dragging on and on into months and years, their attitude toward me quickly becomes depressing.
I am suddenly slammed into a wall and my books cascade from my arms and onto the floor. Cold laughter echoes from just about everywhere as the students stop to watch me gather my fallen books. Without looking, I can pick out one voice among them, no doubt belonging to the one who'd pushed me in the first place: Draco Malfoy. His is one of the few familiar faces left here with me. He kicks the book I am reaching for and laughs again. "Go fetch, Mudblood," he jeers, to the roars of his audience.
I stand, shaking my hair behind my neck and glaring at him. "Leave me alone, Malfoy, or I promise I will hex you into next year. These may not be my surroundings, I may hate every single one of these sorry classes, but if you care to remember, I'm still top of every one them. Which is more than I can say for you."
An angry murmur runs through the crowd, which I ignore. My eyes and thoughts are trained solely on Malfoy. I can see the hatred in his eyes as he turns away. He knows I 'm right and knows that I could—and would—do as I'd threatened.
"Then leave, Mudblood. We don't want you here. Oh, that's right—your old pals don't want you, either. Kind of a sorry existence, isn't it? Having no one who cares about you. Pathetic, really." He says nothing more as he continues on down the hall. Sensing the scene is over, the rest of the gawkers begin to disperse as well, many tossing sneers and insults as me as they go.
I watch his back through eyes narrowed into slits. I kneel back down and grab the book he'd kicked—Advanced Dark Curses—and fight back my reeling emotions. It's one of the few times he's managed to get to me. His comment struck a deep wound that will most likely never heal, and it feels as though he's deepened it by several inches.
I head back the way I'd come. I'm not hungry. It's too difficult to eat surrounded by the Death Eaters anyway, too hard not to focus on Lucius Malfoy sitting tall in the Headmaster's seat at the High Table. When I am back in my dorm, I sit down on my bed and stare out the window where the first fluffy snowflakes are beginning to drift downward from their gray captor. Malfoy's words ring through my head: "Oh, that's right—your old pals don't want you, either." For the first time in many months, I feel a few tears stinging at my eyes. I'd given up crying long ago, knowing it did me no good. My resolve seems to be breaking down.
Malfoy is so right that it hurts. Harry and Ron, the last I knew, were a part of some rebel group opposing Voldemort and his Death Eaters. I tried last year to write to them, some part of me hoping they'd be able to see that what I did had been to protect them. Of course, I had been hoping in vain. They didn't know, nor will they unless I tell them, which I cannot do. After many weeks, I'd gotten a return letter from Harry—a howler. His words were angry and harsh, shouted through the Great Hall like hundreds of sonic thunder blasts at once. When the letter had finally stopped and burned itself into ashes, I could feel my heart going with it. They would never give me a second chance. That was the last time I cried.
Of course, the Howler had been heard by the whole school. It is the favorite thing of my peers to throw at me, even now, after so much time. Lucius Malfoy, of course, had seen to it that I was punished painfully. If I look very closely, I can still see some of the scars. None of this bothered me though. The damage had come from the letter itself.
I'm an outcast to both sides, stuck toeing the line between the two. I'm rarely referred to by name here—usually everyone, including teachers, calls me "Mudblood." They use my name in the Light rebel camps sometimes, but when they do it is uttered as a curse, a filthy name to be spat rather than spoken: Hermione Granger—traitor to the Light side. But they don't understand. No one does. No one can.
Sometimes, such as now, I wonder why I even bother to go on. My life is meaningless. The hatred pouring in from all around me is suffocating, oppressing, nearly unbearable. I am an outcast in a world of pain, terror, and horror. The only reason those few remaining good souls choose to survive is for their friends, family, and dreams. I have none of those. I am a teenager loyal to the Light side, but not allowed to show it in a school of the Dark Arts. I suppose the answer to why I continue lies in my hope, or what little of it is left. Though I know it's not rational, I still cling to the small, vague hope that one day I will escape this pitiful existence to return to my friends on the side of good. Now I see the hopelessness in such a dream and the horizon goes dark. It is during times like these when I begin to contemplate suicide once more.
I have a knife in my trunk. I've had it for a long time, for the purpose of self-defense. It's not unheard of for one of the other students to attack me—I'm a favorite target. Lately, though, I've begun looking at that blade quite differently. I get up from my bed and open the lid of the trunk. It seems almost as if I'm on autopilot as I pick up the knife and turn it in my hands. It catches the light filtering in from my open window and glitters tantalizingly. Suddenly, there is no question in my mind. There's really no thought at all.
I walk over to the windowsill where I had stood just twenty minutes ago. I sit down in my same position and gaze out over Hogwarts grounds, trying to transform them in my mind to look as they had before. While the grounds look the same to the casual eye, they are not. It's impossible to delude myself otherwise. All I have to do is look over at the burned shell of Hagrid's hut to remember that.
I jerk my gaze away and look back at the knife. Two quick slits and it will be over. I raise the blade and press it against the skin of my right wrist. I pause a moment to look up and take a last deep breath of winter air. My eyes wander over to the Forbidden Forest for the last time.
For a moment all seems quiet and still, but a jolt of movement attracts my eyes. I have been trained to notice the slightest movement and zero in on its source impeccably. I had not lied to Malfoy—I still am top of every class. It takes me a moment to distinguish the figure, and I probably would not have been able to see it at all had it not stood frozen on open ground, staring back.
Finally, I recognize the face. The hand holding the knife loosens its grip and the blade clatters to the windowsill. The thin coating of ice on the sill propels it over the side, dropping it into a snow bank far below. I take no notice; I'm in shock.
The face belongs to a person I'd accepted that I would never see again, a friend I'd given my life for: