A/N: Standard disclaimers... J K Rowling owns some of the characters - the ones you recognize. The plot is mine. LiveJournal is a community project; I couldn't find actual company information other than the list of employees, but whoever they might be lay claim to the copyright for the site name and concept.
I've been an internet community person since very early days - since 1988, to be precise. I've seen many permutations - from posting with other friends via BBS, with modems on early C64s, Atari, and Macs, to the first days of Compuserve and AOL, to the earliest volunteer-driven Web communities, to large commercially-run communities (I used to actually get paid money to run one of these.) LiveJournal is yet another iteration of 'Net community - blogging and journaling aren't brand-new, of course, but probably LiveJournal is the most personal, organic version of community yet. In the "olden days" of, say, 1999, communities set topics and people commented on the topics - you didn't follow people, you followed threads. LiveJournal makes the "cult of personality" real.
Taking off my web historian hat and moving on to the story. Enjoy.
"It's late, Hermione. We can finish this later. Go home," Karen said, not unkindly. "You've been putting in more than your fair share of hours this week. The project really isn't due for another month. You're well ahead of schedule."
"Just a little while longer, Karen," was Hermione Granger's quick, and certainly expected, response. "Another hour." At her supervisor's stern look, Hermione put her hands up in a gesture of submission. "I promise. No more than an hour."
"Make sure it's so. I'll have Henry kick your arse out the door," Karen said, referring to the night janitor. "Good night, love. And I don't want to hear that you've been skulking around here until Monday. Is that understood? I'm still the boss around here, I think."
Hermione didn't say anything, but made a rude hand gesture that spoke for her. Laughing, Karen left, shutting the door to the office firmly behind her. After her boss finally departed, Hermione allowed herself a moment to get a fresh cup of tea, and then turned back to the problem with the template she was working on.
Hours later, she was completely lost in thought when Henry appeared in the doorway. "You'd best get along home, Miss Granger," the elderly man said pleasantly. "Karen said you were to be forcibly removed right about now."
Hermione chuckled. "All right, all right. I know when I'm outnumbered." She picked up her purse and her iBook, and with a wave to Henry, was off into the London night. It was only a few blocks to her flat from the office.
As she walked up the two flights to her place, she felt a sudden, obvious surge of magical energy behind her, reaching out to her, touching her as if it were corporeal. Unsure if the magic was malevolent - and unable in a split-second to think of a scenario where it would not be, alone and unprotected in the middle of the night in a largely quiet building - fear began to manifest itself in the pit of her belly as she reacted instinctively.
She wheeled around, nearly losing her balance on the stairs, but saw nothing. She ran the last few steps to her flat, fumbling with the keys and wishing feverishly that she still owned a wand. She wasn't certain why she was so terrified - there wasn't anyone in the hall - but she could feel something. She managed to get the lock open, and ran into the flat, slamming and bolting the door behind her. Breathing hard, she put her head on the door frame, shaking, and began mentally dissecting the unusual occurrence. A thought that hadn't occurred to her in a long while began to frighten her again. She was completely vulnerable, and extremely alone.
Trying to dismiss the incident as paranoid overworked tiredness, though knowing deep down it might not have been so at all, she turned towards the nearest chair to sit down weakly.
It wasn't that she wasn't exposed to magic now and then - in London, it really couldn't be helped. There were wizards and witches in the city, of course. Most Muggles were fairly unaware of their presence, but she was not. She was sensitive to them because she was a witch herself - or at least, she used to be. When she passed a witch or wizard on the street, she knew without taking in the unusual clothing they usually wore or the furtive glances around. She could feel the crackle of the energy in the air. But of course, she would have known they were magical even if she couldn't feel them. The look in their eyes spoke to the truth of the matter, every time. First the surprise at seeing her face, then the loathing, followed by the downcast gaze that avoided hers entirely. Once she had seen Fred - or possibly George - Weasley in an Underground station. He had probably held her gaze the longest. But the language his eyes spoke forced her to look away first, living the shame and grief of the last five years as if it had all happened yesterday.
So many people's deaths that she had been held responsible for. So many good people. And, frankly, some of the blame surely did rest with her. Every single grieving widow, friend, lover, child, parent could all point their fingers at her for the catastrophe. But, what the wizarding world had done to her, instead of simply pointing and whispering, was far worse. They cast her out of their world, snapped her wand, and banned her from practicing magic. They ran lurid and extremely exaggerated stories of how things had happened in the Daily Prophet, so that everyone could be informed - so that there was no chance of her not being recognized. Even after five years of being an outcast in both worlds, they saw her and they whispered about how she had been responsible for the murder of her best friends and several others. Had been secretly controlled by the Dark Lord. Had sold them all out.
At the trial, she had maintained her innocence. She explained patiently that she had been under the Imperius curse, that she had been forced to do the things she had done. But whether or not that was true was of no consequence to the court of public opinion. Someone had to pay for what had happened. She was the most convenient scapegoat, made so by the ministry and by Dumbledore himself. What burned inside, even after all these years, was that she had been partly responsible for the deaths of Ron, Seamus, Ginny, Neville, Remus Lupin, Professor Sprout, Hagrid, and several other schoolchildren. They had all died because she had opened the gates of Hogwarts to the Dark Lord for the final battle. Harry and Dumbledore had defeated Voldemort, but Hermione had exposed the innocents to the threat rather than Harry and Dumbledore facing him away from the school and away from the children therein.
The Weasleys had been so kind and loving to her before that fateful night. In the courtroom, she stared into the cold, dead eyes of Molly Weasley, as she testified for the jury how she had now lost three children thanks to Hermione Granger. Percy had been fighting on Voldemort's side, and was killed as well on the Hogwarts grounds that fateful night.
She had railed and cried. It was extremely unfair. Yes, she had done it, but she wasn't in control. She was under Bellatrix Lestrange's Imperius. Couldn't they see that? But, she had been scapegoated successfully by the Weasleys and other wizarding families who had lost children. Dumbledore didn't try and protect her; in fact, he seemed to encourage the sham behind the scenes, to "help the wizarding world heal". Harry wasn't any help. The final battle had left him comatose and in St. Mungo's, where he would live out the rest of his days.
The war had ended, and the children who had been responsible for ending it, no matter what part they had played, were no longer a part of the wizarding world. Life had gone on.
Hermione found herself an outcast at the age of eighteen - because of the evidence of the Imperius cast on her, the Ministry chose to force her to be a Muggle rather than to put her in Azkaban, apparently thinking themselves lenient. Her parents welcomed her back, not asking too many questions, for which she was grateful. However, when she began trying to get into college, she was told that Hogwarts wasn't a "real school". Now, with no secondary school on her record, university was out. She hadn't learned to type or use a computer, even, which denied her even the lowest menial office jobs. Desperate, she enrolled in a business course, and eventually became an administrator for a publishing firm. It was drudgery, but it paid the bills and allowed her to finally move out on her own. She was truly alone, for the first time in her life.
Hermione was far too restless to languish long in an administrative job. She demonstrated her skill at research and eventually became a copywriter for the publishing company, then as the Internet began to boom, she began to learn the intricacies of web publishing and design. She was now a senior consultant with one of the few design firms that had survived the Internet shakeout of the new century.
Every time she felt as if she had put the past behind her, she would have an experience like seeing one of the Weasley twins on the underground. Or, she would see an owl in broad daylight, or automatically reach for her wand when it obviously wasn't there. It wasn't easy shedding something that had been so intrinsic to her nature. She could often feel the magic in herself, yearning to be set free. She went about her mostly solitary life, working twelve-hour days and then going home to eat take-away and work some more. She didn't make close friends in the workplace, and rarely went out of an evening. She was polite and detached with her colleagues and supervisor, and spent most of her time shut up in her disorderly office. Her clients were mostly only in contact via email or phone.
All-in-all, her existence was fairly devoid of contact with real, flesh-and-blood people. It couldn't be helped. Friendship only reminded her of the pain of losing Ron and Harry, and the rest of her friends from the wizarding world.
Her one indulgence came at night, after she had eaten and worked herself into a stupor. She would shut down her design program, open up a browser, and start reading her LiveJournal friends list, and occasionally writing a comment here and there. She had gotten involved with an Internet community of literate, generally witty twenty-somethings in a fit of loneliness a year back, and had stayed involved. She kept a strictly made-up name, and found that in the anonymity of the Internet, she was able to let a little of the angst and pain out to faceless Internet acquantainces. Truth be told, her anonymous friends had probably kept her sane. She read about their lives, and shared small slices of hers. Hermione found that when she shut off the laptop in the wee hours, she felt a little bit more grounded and a little less alone.
Hermione stood with her hands on the door, attempting to sense magic on the other side. She couldn't feel anything anymore. My imagination, she mused. Even through the fear, part of her had hoped that a wizard would step from behind an invisibility cloak to tell her that Harry had awakened, or that all had been forgiven. She knew it was foolish, but she couldn't help it. She sighed, and put her laptop on the desk, flicking it on and checking her wireless connection, then signing on to her LiveJournal as BeWitched. Your dose of reality is with a bunch of people you don't even know. How pathetic, Granger.
After pouring herself a rather large glass of wine, she checked her personal email and headed to the site to see what was going on with her friends. Not much, really; JuneBug had found herself yet another one-night stand that she was trying to stretch into a relationship, and BigBen2000 had posted a highly amusing treatise on the current state of British politics. Flint had just returned from a soul-searching trip on the highways of America - she'd read his account of the road later - and her closest online pal, QuIdiot, had been looking for an old friend but with no success. She read his tale of woe, chuckling to herself how he could turn even a sad unrequited love story into something riotously funny. Good for QI. She posted a quick response to him, sending him virtual hugs and Guinness.
Reading her friends' journals and comments helped calm her nerves, and soon her brush with prickly feelings was nearly forgotten. She decided to write a quick entry.
Did you ever get the feeling you were being watched? Several times today, I've had to scan the room to reassure myself no one else is in it. I keep feeling like someone's walking up behind me.
Perhaps I'm going insane faster than I thought. A largish bottle of wine ought to cure that, right? Sigh, maybe I'll just go to bed. Night all.
Music: theme from Psycho
She shut off her computer, rubbing her eyes as she stumbled off to her bedroom.
Ten minutes into sleep, she bolted straight upright. That feeling was there again, stronger than ever and prickling at her nerves. Someone - or something - magical was nearby. She was certain of it. Flipping on the light and finding nothing, she did another survey of the flat. Nothing. Now thoroughly rattled and unable to sleep, she went back into the bedroom, opening her top bureau drawer to retrieve the only magical items she still owned. She pulled out her photo album.
Forty minutes went by as she did her semi-annual penance with the photos. Occasionally, when she started to finally feel comfortable being a Muggle, she would pull out these photos to remind herself of what she lost when she was banished. An unsmiling Ron and Harry shunned her in the first photo, turning their backs upon her. She knew she would never see them again. In another photo, she stood with nearly everyone who had been killed. They were at the final Quidditch match of her Hogwarts career. Lupin had come to watch, and had forced his old nemesis Snape to sit with him in the Gryffindor stands to her upper left in the photo, much to Snape's chagrin; Harry and Ron were seated on either side of Hermione, and Hagrid was behind them. Everyone was watching the action, but when she looked at each of the deceased, they looked back and seemed to be asking her why she had done it; with the exception of Ron and Harry, who left the photo each time she looked at it. It was the same way with the other photos; the representations of the departed looked accusingly, reproachfully upon her.
Satisfied that penance was over, she began to return the photos to the drawer. Something caught her eye, however, causing her to examine one of the pictures more closely.
Professor Snape, in the Quidditch photo, nodded to her. She leaned closer, watching in fascination. After a while, she realized that he was the first wizard that had not averted his gaze or looked upon her as if she was a murderer, ready to kill someone precious in cold blood. Five years, and her Snape-photo finally wasn't going to take points off her just for living.
That was something, anyway. She replaced the photo in the drawer, willing herself to sleep and ignore what was most certainly random magical energy.