Say Hello

Kneazle

Summary: Post-Hogwarts; Hermione is labeled a Bookworm and it just Won't Go Away. She decides to show she's more than a one-dimensional character. While she's out finding herself, she learns a little more about the world and love.

AN: "Say Hello" belongs to Deep Dish.

----

Tricky time never slows…
That moment walked me by without bothering to say –
Say Hello…

Lucky time never stops…
That moment knocked me down without bothering to –

Say Hello…

----

Chapter One

The bass was pounding and the lights were flashing all around the large room. A carbon fog machine spilled out white air in a loud hissing burst; scantily clad bodies were moving up and down to the beat and against each other. People were sweaty and thirsty as friends passed water bottles to each other and others danced looser than others with alcohol in their systems.

Here and there, scattered around the large club were people with Glo Stiks performing light shows for those who kneeled on the floor, staring into the lights as they proceeded to get tripped out, thanks to the drugs they were on.

Heaven nightclub, found at Charing Cross Arches was near Diagon Alley. In fact, after doing some pre-drinking at the Three Broomsticks, which kicked the loud, boisterous group of twenty-something wizards and witches at 12am, the group then traveled to Heaven nightclub to listen to some trance until the wee hours of the morning: 6 am.

Ok, so it was typically a gay nightclub, but that never stopped the witches and wizards from having fun. That is, except Hermione Granger. The twenty-one year old witch who worked at Flourish and Blotts as a book binder in their backroom was currently sitting in one of the lounge areas, her knees crossed and her head propped up in one hand. She was wearing a sweater and jeans and looked slightly out of place of her fashionably dressed friends.

They were on the dance floor, enjoying the music and the drinks and the drugs, while she played sensible and realized that at 7am, when she got back to her flat, she'd only have enough time to shower and redress before going to work. In fact, Hermione didn't even know why her friends wanted her to come out with them on Saturday when she worked a Sunday shift.

"Looking lonely there," commented a voice from Hermione's right, as she glanced up at the red-haired young man.

"George," she replied.

"Hermione," he mocked. Grinning, he settled himself next to her on the lounge chair and draped an arm across the back. "So what's up, 'Mione? You seem a bit… down. Why not joining in on the party?"

"I work at 9am, George. Why do you think I'm not joining?" asked Hermione rhetorically.

"Jesus," he whistled, frowning slightly as his sky blue eyes turned a colour that Hermione could only describe as midnight blue. "What are you doing out here then?"

"Like I know," she muttered back, unheard over the pounding music. Sighing, she stood, smoothed down her jeans and said, "I'm leaving George. I'll see you later."

Before George could say anything akin to begging her to stay, Hermione had gathered her purse, left a twenty pound note for her one Sex on the Beach and for George's Stella that he had with him, and was pushing through the crowd to get to the main entrance and exit.

Once she was outside – after bidding the bouncers and two police good evening – Hermione heaved in a large gulp of fresh city and let out a giant sigh.

Life just wasn't easy for her.

--

She had bags under her eyes, her hair was a real rat's nest, her clothes were slightly wrinkled and she had a coffee stain on her jeans from earlier that morning. Hermione Granger was not having a good day.

In fact, she was rightfully having a shitty day. She arrived home at her flat in the SoHo district at 3am, promptly fell asleep in her clothes and at 8am woke up, giving her barely half an hour to dress, eat breakfast, and apparate to work. Her hot water was all used up, she ran out to a local coffee house and waited in an impossibly long line, apparated to work only to be stuck in another long line of signing forms (security measure post-Voldemort), and arrived, for the first time she had worked at Flourish, ten minutes late.

She was promptly yelled at, and then told to get straight to work; which she did, only the books she was rebinding were old and dusty, causing her to sneeze and spill her coffee all over her jeans. Scourgify worked lovely usually, but Hermione's nerves were already frazzled so all she got out was some of the stain.

And it was only eleven in the morning.

Hermione was muttering under her breath various spells and hexes when Harry walked through the backroom door.

He took one look at her, and stopped. "Wow."

"Thanks," replied Hermione snidely, rolling her eyes at her best friend, once she had looked up. "You're looking absolutely peachy."

"Liar!" laughed Harry affectionately, as he ran a hand through his overly messy hair. "I should've done what you did and leave early."

"I doubted that anyone would notice my disappearance."

"George told us."

"Oh."

The two were silent as Hermione continued with her duties. Her wand tip ran across the old bindings of the ancient book she was fixing, turning the spine golden as it was repaired.

"Molly's having a dinner tonight," said Harry suddenly. "I crashed at the Burrow last night, so she mentioned it to me when I left this morning. Since we're both honorary Weasleys, we're invited."

"When are we not?" smiled Hermione, looking up finally. "I suppose I'll be there. I only work until four."

"Want me to pick you up?" asked Harry, a tiny smile forming on his lips. Hermione laughed.

"You only want to do that because you know my fridge is stocked with food and because you want to snooze on my couch!" Hermione sighed and nodded. "Sure. I'd appreciate it."

Harry grinned. "Not a problem, Hermione. I'd do it anyway, even if you didn't have a full fridge or that awesome leather couch." He then frowned and looked over at her. "You don't look too good, though. Are you… are you okay?"

Hermione shrugged. She didn't know what to say; despite having partied most of the morning, Harry looked fine – his shirt wasn't rumpled and he was dressed nicely, as the Black and Potter heir is wont to do. He didn't look tired, but had a weary look in his eyes that was common since the war. In fact, Harry looked perky.

"I guess I'm okay. I just feel like I'm trapped –" Hermione's voice dropped to a whisper. "—here. Like I can't go out and have fun and like I'm never going to go anywhere in life. After everything I did in Hogwarts, with you and the Horcruxes, I just end up as a bloody book binder."

Harry blinked. "We all thought you were happy. You love books."

"Sure I do!" agreed Hermione, "I love books because I love to learn. This is just…" she looked around at the piles upon piles of books stacked everywhere in the room – on the three walls of shelves, the desk that sat in the middle, piled on the floor and chair – and her face crumpled. "Boring."

Harry managed a tiny smile, walking toward Hermione and leaning against the desk she was working at. "Take a few days off, then. You can, right? You've been here long enough for vacation time, right?"

Hermione sighed. "Maybe. I'm not sure."

Harry grinned wickedly and leaned in, closer to his best female friend. "Then quit."

"I can't!"

"Of course you can!" whispered Harry back, slightly harsher than he meant. At Hermione's disbelieving look, he drew his eyebrows together and began speaking again. "Are you not the same girl that solved Snape's logic riddle in our first year? Figured out it was a Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets? The very same girl who helped Sirius escape from the Dementors and from Fudge's idiocy? Taught me the best damn accio there has ever been performed at the TriWizard Tournament? Fought next to me in the Department of Mysteries, despite knowing it was a trap? Wanted to free House Elves? Helped Ron cheat to stay on the Quidditch team – which, by the way, neither of us has told him about?"

Hermione hung her head and looked away as she backed from Harry slowly. "That girl is long gone, Harry. She was a silly schoolgirl, not a young woman knowing what the real world is like."

Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair, messing it up more. "Whatever, Hermione. It's your life and decision."

He then leaned forward, pecked her cheek, and murmured, "I'll be here at four to pick you up."

Hermione didn't say goodbye.

--

The Weasley dinners are large family events. They include a large number of redheads, all with near bottomless stomachs. The women who have married into the Weasley family are known as the 'Missus Weasleys' and command respect and attention over the single Weasleys – male or female. The talk would depend on who you were talking to, but mainly central topics were Quidditch, Muggle technology, Hogwarts, children, finding yourself a good, suitable match, Witch Weekly, Gladrags and the Ministry of Magic.

Hermione hated Weasley dinners with a passion.

She never failed to miss one, though; she went to every, bloody, single dinner and endured constant hours of needling and whining of the other Weasley females about why she was still single, how they knew a brilliant young wizard to match her up with, why she didn't try out Gladrags new dress robes, and that blue was her colour, so why didn't she wear it more often?

Hermione, plainly and simply, hated it.

But she loved the Weasleys. They were her second family. They took her in every summer, sent her Christmas cards and gifts, and treated her like a daughter or sister. They were there for advice, to be brothers and poke and tease her, to protect her when she needed it (and that wasn't often) and to make her smile.

She didn't smile that much anymore, either.

Hermione and Harry arrived promptly at six, already hearing Molly Weasley screaming at Ron for sneaking a finger into a pie early.

Sharing an exasperated look, the two walked into the Burrow without knocking and immediately found themselves in the middle of hugs and hello's. The Missus Weasleys were grouped together, with Ginny Weasley, the youngest and only still single Weasley female – but as Hermione walked over to say hello, she realized that Ginny wouldn't be single for that much longer.

"Hermione!" squealed the young girl, of barely twenty-years-old, bouncing forward to grab her best friends' hands. "Can you believe it? Neville proposed!"

The girl was glowing, and Hermione fought down an ugly, sick feeling in her stomach that she didn't want to think about to smile.

"That's wonderful, Gin," laughed Hermione, "Congratulations! Is that what the dinner is about? An engagement party?"

Ginny blushed. "Yes and no, Hermione. Neville proposed last night when we were at the club. It was so romantic, we were outside and the sun was just starting to rise when he turned to me, got down on one knee and just plainly asked, 'Marry me?'"

Hermione smiled, if not a bit wistfully. No man, not Viktor, Ron, or anyone else for that matter, had ever been that romantic to her.

"Lucky you," she said sincerely, squeezing Ginny's hands and then letting go. She was acutely aware of the Missus Weasleys in the background – Fleur Delacour, Penelope Clearwater and Angelina Johnson – staring at her and Penelope opening her mouth to start talking to Hermione… about something not-so-good, she was sure.

"Sorry Gin, Harry and Ron will want to talk to me," Hermione smiled apologetically, glancing briefly in the direction over Ginny's shoulder at the Missus, "I'll talk to you later. Congrats again!"

Ginny looked a bit put out, but waved briefly, her diamond ring flashing as it hit the light. "Oh. Okay. Um, bye, Hermione."

--

Dinner was tense; at least, to Hermione it felt that way. George sat on her left and Harry on her right. The large table was accommodated to fit the entire clan, and Molly was beside herself that everyone could make the dinner, even Bill, who had been feeling under the weather due to his semi-Lycanthropy.

Neville and Ginny were smiling and Ginny was bouncing lightly in her seat, both beaming at each other and being annoyingly couple-ish. Penelope was avoiding any alcohol, as she was four months along, while Percy looked decidedly smug and was cleaning the same lens over and over on his robes.

"So, Hermione…"

Hermione inwardly groaned. Not this again…

"… Have you met anyone in your life?"

Hermione forced a tight smile and politely replied to Penelope. "No, I haven't. I'm really immersed in my work at Flourish and Blotts right now. It's time consuming."

Fleur looked confused. "But I thought –" she looked over at Bill and frowned. "—did you not go out to ze disco last night?"

Hermione gritted her teeth as Harry stopped eating next to her to watch. He knew she hated this. Absolutely hated. And George was no help, being un-twin-ish and not helping her out of the situation.

"Yes, I did, which was a very large mistake, and I left early because of the mistake."

"Oh."

Hermione held her breath; were they going to end it there?

"Did you meet anyone? Is that why you left early, and are calling last night a mistake?" Penelope continued.

Molly gasped. "You weren't compromised, were you, Hermione dear?"

Ron's hand hit his head and he groaned under his breath, ignoring Arthur's inquiries about indigestion.

"No, I wasn't compromised, Molly." Hermione gave a steely glare at Penelope. "I had to work this morning, so it was a mistake to go out when I knew I wouldn't get enough sleep."

"Well, sleep didn't help you much if you left early, Hermione!" laughed Penelope lightly. "You still look tired. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

"Have you tried that make-up spell clipping I gave you from Witch Weekly a month ago? It has some great spells about hiding bags under your eyes and freshening spells," continued Angelina, looking concerned and ignoring Fred's tugging at her sleeve.

Hermione's knuckles were going white. She had gone through this before, damnit! Why didn't they just get the message?

Fleur clapped her hands and the table's eyes went to her next. "I know ze perfect outfit, 'Ermione! Gladrags 'as a super sale going on right now…"

"It's the hair, Hermione… it's so bushy! It's such a rat's nest. How are you ever going to find someone who'll love that tangle?"

"You're too pale, why don't you use Tammeline's No-line Tanning Oil? I've got a bottle from Katie that she never used…"

"Ze French use perfume, it is quite wonderful! All ze smells and delights one finds in picking out ze right scent… you are a flower, I think, 'Ermione!"

Nag, nag, nag, criticize, criticize, criticize. They never grew old of it, and they enjoyed it. Maybe they didn't realize how much they were hurting Hermione and her self-esteem every time they took a jab at her less-than-desirable appearance, but Hermione was at her breaking point.

"I bet you're still a virgin too, right? Ron didn't take care of that back at Hogwarts, did he?"

Ron's jaw dropped, a piece of half-chewed chicken unattractively showing.

Hermione stood up abruptly, slamming her hands on the kitchen table, making the china rattle.

"Enough!" she hissed. She glared at Fleur, Penelope and Angelina, before saying frostily, "Thank you for the invite, Molly, but I need to go now."

She then disapparated right out of the kitchen with barely a pop.

--

Shaking, pale, and angry, Hermione appeared in her apartment with tears on her cheeks.

She never did anything to the Missus Weasleys in her life and yet every time she left the Weasley dinners she felt so horrible about herself and proceeded to cry herself to sleep.

So frustrated, Hermione took to pacing the hallway of her flat, her hands clutching at her hair as she stared at the floor. Finally, she went to the bathroom, flipped the light switch and looked at herself in the mirror.

And cried some more.

Her hair was a rat's nest, a huge tangle that was knotted and messy and all over the place like Harry's. She did have bags under her eyes, dark blue ones that showed she hadn't been sleeping well. Her skin was pale and blotchy in some areas from her crying and she was wearing frumpy, librarian style clothes that made her look forty instead of twenty-one.

Hermione did not like what she saw. In fact, Penelope, Fleur and Angelina were right. She had, sometime between Hogwarts classes, work, Horcruxes, Voldemort, the war and moving on with their lives, Hermione had lost track of herself and had slipped into this woman that she didn't know.

She didn't want to know her.

In a split-second decision, Hermione was rummaging through the cupboard under the sink and pulling out her toiletries case. She dumped in her shampoo, brush, toothbrush, floss and toothpaste; her glasses case (for reading. Reading by candlelight hurt her eyes in the long run), necessities, and her basic lip-gloss.

She went to the bedroom next, pulling out a duffle bag and a roll-case, and began filling both with clothing.

She was on the floor, sorting through her panties and bras when George, Fred, Harry and Ron walked in.

Harry and Ron, she had expected. They were her best friends and she loved them like her own. They knew her inside-out, as only people who spend all their time together for four months hunting down dangerous Dark Artifacts do.

George and Fred, however, were unexpected. She had become close to George, during the war, as he had asked her to come up with some nifty spells for their products that were now going to serve as primary weapons for the Order and Aurors. It was then that she began spilling secrets to the Twins and considered them friends; but she didn't think they'd arrive at her flat to make sure she was all right!

"Hermione?" asked Ron tentatively. "Are you okay?"

Fred snorted. "I hardly think she looks okay. Look, Ron, you scared her away with your de-virginizing ways!"

Harry glared at the Weasleys.

Squatting down next to Hermione, he helped her fold her panties and place them at one corner of the roll case.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

George sat on Hermione's bed while Fred took her desk chair and Ron lounged against her closet door.

"Away," Hermione replied.

"Running doesn't solve anything, 'Mione," said George from where he was.

Hermione looked up at her friend. "I'm not running away."

"Then why are you packing?" asked Harry.

Hermione looked back down at the bra she was folding and fell lightly on her bum, before crossing her legs and hugging herself.

"They were right you know," she whispered, barely heard but understood by the men in the room.

"They weren't, they went too far in their teasing of you," snapped Ron. "And they weren't teasing lightly, either, especially that last comment about you being a virgin!"

Ron hesitated before going, "… you're not, right?"

"Ron!" George and Fred admonished.

"I am," replied Hermione evenly.

Harry gaped. "You mean… when you and Viktor got back together… you never… the two of you didn't….?"

"Fuck, I believe, is the word you are looking for, Harry," replied Hermione, flashing the stunned Boy-Who-Lived a tiny smile.

Harry turned red and squeaked, "Hermione!"

"What?" asked Hermione loudly, turning to face her friend and scrambling to her feet. "I can't say 'fuck' now? I bet I can't say 'shit,' 'wanker,' 'bitch,' 'ho,' 'cunt,' and 'penis' either, right?"

Ron and Harry were blushing red and the Twins were staring at her.

Hermione sighed. "I can curse. And they were right, despite how harsh they were. My hair is a rat's nest, my complexion is splotchy and I dress like Madam Prince."

"You… you do not," stated George finally.

"I do!"

"No, you don't," snorted Fred, "You look more like Arabella Figg."

Hermione sneered at him. "Thanks, Fred."

He shrugged helplessly.

"Look, guys… my life sucks. I had to leave the first night I went out in two months early because I had to work the next morning. I have no social life, I haven't dated anyone since Viktor and I split nearly two years ago, right after the war, and I'm lonely, okay?

"I want to have fun in life. I have a boring job that I can't stand and I was Hogwarts' Head Girl, top of every single one of my classes, and I'm rebinding books for a living." Hermione sighed.

"So what are you going to do?" asked Harry quietly, standing and facing Hermione.

Hermione looked around her flat and, for the first time since she bought it, really looked at it.

There was her bed and desk, but all her books were still packed away in boxes stacked next to her desk, unopened. She had a simple quilt and bedspread, but no pictures or knickknacks around the room saying it was hers. Even the living room and kitchen looks the same.

It looked unlived, and at that very moment, Hermione felt unlived.

"I think," The woman said slowly, "that I'm going to take a vacation."

--

Bright and early the next morning, Hermione was standing with the same men from last night, in a small circle as she held her train ticket. They were near Platform 3, waiting for her train to Spain to announce that passengers were to board as a final call.

"You're sure about this?" asked Ron, one last time. "No Owls, no magic, just going on a vacation as a simple Muggle?"

"Yes."

Hermione was sure. She deserved this. While looking for Horcruxes, the Trio had traveled all over England and Hermione was privileged to travel during her summer and winter vacations with her parents, but she had never gone anywhere by herself, or to Spain.

"You have my mobile number in case you need help, right?" asked Harry, pushing his glasses up his nose nervously.

"Yes."

"You'll take lots of pictures and get us souvenirs?" George and Fred were rubbing their hands together.

"Yes, that too," laughed Hermione.

"And you've sent in a letter to your boss at Flourish and Blotts that you've quit?" Ron asked, wringing his hands together.

"Yes," smiled Hermione.

Harry sighed. "Well… then you'd best go. But if we don't hear from you when you get there, I'm going to track you down personally!"

Hermione teased, "yes, Mother!"

"Train 15-156 to Valencia, Spain is now boarding. This is the final boarding call for Train 15-156 to Valencia, Spain."

Hermione hugged Ron, George, Fred and Harry goodbye, took a deep breath, and stepped onto the train. She found a compartment and opened the window to lean out and wave at them.

Blowing kisses, she called, "I'll call when I'm settled in! See you!"

The men waved back and Hermione lost her balance slightly as the train lunged forward and began to pick up speed. The men were soon a speck in the distance and then disappeared completely as the platform disappeared from view.

Hermione was alone for the first time in her life, without her best friends, friends and parents.

It was scary. It was exhilarating.

And she didn't speak a word of Spanish.

Deciding that was the first thing to do, she pulled out her Spanish-English dictionary, and began to memorize words.

However, it was near midnight when she felt the familiar sensation in her lower regions and bit her lip.

Looking up from her book and her backpack, Hermione gathered everything, slipped her book into the bag and left her compartment, looking up and down the hallway.

She needed to find a loo. Badly.

Picking one direction and starting off, Hermione politely asked the first person she came across to where the bathroom was. The man pointed her in general direction she was heading in and told her she couldn't miss it. Thanking him, and grateful, because her bladder was screaming at her to release it, she walked quickly to the bathroom and yanked open the door.

And froze.

A young man, near her age or just older than her, was sitting on the lowered toilet seat, his head thrown back. His black wavy locks were slightly damp and one curled over his closed eyes. He had a tanned complexion, one that was natural, and a lean but toned body. His button-up green shirt was rumpled and slightly unbuttoned, but his gray slacks were pooled at the bottom of his ankles.

One hand was gripping the sink edge tightly while the other was wrapped around his cock and moving up and down rapidly.

Murmuring under his breath – in what Hermione could only guess what Spanish or Italian – the young man then bit his lip and his body began to tense.

Hermione quickly but quietly closed the door and leaned against the wall, her heart pounding and her breath coming out in quick, erratic pants. She was sweating and her nerves were racing and she was sure her pupils were dilated.

Biting her own lip, Hermione made her way back to her compartment, her needs to pee forgotten.

When she told Harry and her friends that she wanted a vacation, one that wasn't boring like her ex-job at Flourish and Blotts, she hadn't expected it would start with her walking into the loo to see a really gorgeous man wank off.

Grinning as she sat down on her seat, Hermione laughed lightly.

Boy, would she have a story to tell when she came back!

--

AN: oct.12.05

I know I haven't updated any of my other stories – primarily S&C and BSI – but considering this is the first, 'real' chapter to anything that I've written in almost two years, I think I should be patting myself on my back for it.

None of my stories are abandoned. If they are abandoned, you'd know, or I'd take them off. I intend to finish them, whether it's done within the next school year while I'm at university, or when I'm twenty-four. They'll be done.

Hope you enjoyed this! Hopefully the next part will be out soon. Cookies go to anyone who figures out where Hermione will be vacationing. No, it is not Valencia, but it is somewhere under Spanish rule, still exists, and is currently where I would like to vacation. There was a hint in the story, near the VERY beginning. grins