Chapter 1 : Anemone
She gazed up at the old stone castle, a myriad of emotion flashing before her eyes. The cold Scottish breeze brought back memories that she hoped would never fade; a talking Hat whispering into her ear, being awoken from a stony slumber, midnight flying on a magical beast, a winter night on the arm of a dashing boy, her first battle, the death of a great man, the beginning of a war, the embrace of her first love, the end of a war, the death of an evil man, the end of an era, and now, the beginning of a new story.
"Hermione Granger, why am I not surprised?" said an amused voice from behind her. She turned to face him, a brilliant smile on her face. He was so much different than the first moment she met him. Gone was the shy, clumsy, stuttering boy, in front of her stood a charming, decorated young war hero.
"Hey, Neville." she said, throwing her arms around him, "Long time no see."
"That's your fault. You haven't shown your face since the ceremony after the battle." said Neville, "Well, aren't you going in?"
She turned to face Hogwarts castle once more. "It's my first time seeing it again. They did a good job with the restoration."
"Yeah, McGonagall didn't leave a stone out of place." he said, "How've you been, Hermione?"
"Fine, I've been fine." she said, "How's Luna?"
"She's great!" he said brightly at the mere thought of his girlfriend, "She's out of the country actually — Nicaragua this time, off hunting some seven-eyed tree toad of some sort."
Hermione smiled, fondly remembering the wide eyed girl.
"Come on, Hermione, they should be waiting for us." said Neville, taking the bag she held in her hand.
"Oh, Nev, you don't need to do that." she said, trying to wrestle it back.
"It's fine, Hermione. I want to." he said, "So Harry really isn't coming back?"
"No, he's all set at the Ministry." she said, as they passed a familiar gargoyle that she swore had been blown away at some point during the war. "He actually started Auror training a few weeks ago."
Hermione quieted. The temperature suddenly seemed to have dropped, and Neville swore inwardly at his thoughtlessness. "I'm sorry, Mione, forget I asked."
"No, it's alright." she said, giving him a pained smile, "I think he's following Harry. I haven't really heard anything about him since, er …"
"Yeah." said Neville awkwardly.
"There you two are!" The pair almost sighed in relief at the interruption. They turned to find a frazzled looking McGonagall walking towards them. The present Headmistress did not look any different from when Hermione had last seen her, although she seemed to be a tiny bit more stressed.
"The rest of the students are walking to my office as we speak." she said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders to lead the way, "Quickly now, wouldn't want them to wait."
Hermione's chest filled with a heavy feeling of dread as they followed the grey haired professor through the halls, their footsteps echoing throughout the castle.
"In you go." said the professor, allowing the two to proceed before her. Neville went first, sensing her hesitation. Hermione glanced around the room, no major changes had been made since the last time she had been there, the portraits of old headmasters still adorned the walls. She avoided looking at the last portraits, knowing that the sight of the final two would only trouble her more.
Looking around, she counted at least twenty students, some sitting others standing by the sides, but all sharing similar looks of confusion. The expression was most likely painted on her face too. For the hundredth time that day, she wondered whether this was a good idea.
"Now that you're all here, we may begin." said McGonagall, who had taken her seat behind her desk. "As you all know, not everyone has chosen to retake this year of schooling. After the war, it was decided that the education provided last year was not up to par with our usual standard." Hermione almost snorted. 'Not up to par.' was putting it lightly. With everything that happened in the previous year — especially with the Carrows running amuck, the students were too busy fighting for their safety rather than studying.
"The board has decided that all students are required to retake the previous year. But, of course not everyone was entirely on board with the idea. This year, the seventh years have decreased in number greatly. Counting all the students, your class will be composed of eighteen students entirely. This being so, we have decided that you are all to take your classes together."
McGonagall handed a pile of parchment to Seamus Finnegan, who was sitting the closest to her. "This is your schedule for the year. I sincerely hope that everyone here puts aside their differences, and act accordingly. The younger students all look up to you, so I do hope you set a good example."
The group responded with tentative nods. "That is all for now, the rest of the school will be arriving tomorrow. Use this time to get settled in. The dormitories have all been rebuilt, so you shouldn't have any trouble locating them. You're all dismissed."
As soon as they stepped into the hall, a pair of arms wrapped around Hermione tightly. She tensed instantly, before reminding herself that it was just a hug. Whoever it was didn't seem to notice.
"Hermione, it's so good to see you!" exclaimed Parvati Patil chirpily, releasing her from the embrace, "It feels like we haven't talked in forever."
"Yeah, it sure does." she said awkwardly. She and Parvati had never been quite close, despite being roommates. Parvati had always been stuck to Lavender Brown like glue, the two being the best of friends. Hermione's heart constricted at the memory of the perky blonde. Although she had irked her more than once over the years, the absence of her smiling face next to Parvati felt like something was missing.
"How have you been?" said the other girl with a friendly grin.
"Alright, I think." said Hermione. "And you?"
"I've been — coping." she said sadly, "It's been tough, but I don't think she'd be happy if I went around moping all the time, you know?"
"Yeah, I know." choked Hermione, "I'm sorry, Parvati."
"Don't be." the girl said, "Now come on, we have some catching up to do. It's just the two of us now, roomie."
The group of Gryffindors made their way through the castle exchanging pleasantries. Seamus and Dean, the other two who had chosen to come back were loudly arguing about Quidditch, with Neville interjecting at certain points of the conversation.
"It's as if nothing's happened, isn't it?" said Parvati, catching Hermione gazing around the halls.
"Yes." she said, "They did a wonderful job in the restoration."
"I hate it, in a way." the girl said solemnly. "It's as if everything's been washed away. Forgotten."
Hermione's grip tightened around the handle of her bag. "We'll never forget. We can't."
"We can't." Parvati agreed.
"Semper Fortis." said Neville, as they stood in front of the Fat Lady.
"Rightly so." she said, before swinging open.
Even the common room, Hermione noted, looked as if nothing had changed. The chess set was still perched on top of the coffee table in one corner of the room, awaiting its next game, the fire was burning warmly in the hearth, welcoming them, and the room smelled of oak, sandalwood and smoke, a smell only the Gryffindor commons seemed to have.
"It's good to be back." said Dean, dropping his bag by the sofa and stretching.
"I'll go check our room." said Hermione, suddenly feeling tired.
"I'll go with you." said Parvati, quickly following her up the stairs to the girls dormitories.
The room seemed bigger than what they were accustomed to, but that was mostly because before, where there were five beds now stood two, on opposite ends of the room.
"Do you want the one by the window?" asked Hermione.
"No, you take it." the other girl said warmly.
They both settled into silence, putting their things away. Just when Hermione thought she should say something to alleviate the awkward tension in the room, Parvati spoke.
"How are you really, Hermione?" she said.
"I— I told you — I'm fine." Hermione said, stumbling over the words in surprise.
"You can't fool me, Hermione." the girl said sternly. "I know we've never been close, but I've lived in the same room as you for six years. You've been out of it the whole day."
The realization that someone had seen right through her struck her like lightning. The curly haired girl's resolve came tumbling down in an instant. It was as if Parvati had opened the flood gates and everything came pouring out. All the anxiety, and doubt, and fear that she held deep in her chest about returning back to Hogwarts spilled out, leaving her a teary, sobbing mess.
Parvati came rushing to her side, tears also spilling down her face, and engulfed her friend into another hug.
"I'm sorry." choked Hermione, through her sobs.
"Don't be." shushed the other girl.
"It just feels so awful. I can see them. I — It hurts to be here. I don't know what I'm supposed to do. It hurts so much."
"I know." said Parvati, the pain threaded tightly in her voice, "I know."
I did it. I started on another story before finishing my first one. But I was itching for a change of pace. OCC Hermione tires me out when I'm writing in her perspective. I just wanted something else for a change. This new fic is more on the sad side, less intense, less fighting, and more focus on the characters starting a new life after the war. I always wanted to know what happened to them after everything. I mean, they're still kids in a way right? I cant imagine being sixteen and already witnessing so much. Regarding the weird chapter names, I'm playing with flower symbolism, which I've always found interesting — and Hermione is actually a type of flower! So, yeah, we'll see how this turns out. Fingers crossed!