After The War
Word Count: 4,027 approximately
Disclaimer: None because they're useless
Notes: AU, set 10 years after the Second War A chance encounter on the Knight Bus. Bleak.
Hermione glanced up at the intensely purple triple-decker bus that had appeared out of thin air - narrowly missing her foot. It wasn't the first time she had travelled on the Knight Bus so she had been prepared to do a speedy side-step when it materialised.
The conductor in a purple uniform leapt out of the bus and began to recite his usual spiel rapidly to the air.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Basil Hawthorne, and I will be your conductor this evening... Oh! Hullo Hermione!" he exclaimed cheerfully when he caught sight of Hermione.
"Hullo Basil ..."
"I wasn't expecting to see you back so soon," he told her. "Need a hand with those?" he asked her, indicating her various boxes of antiquarian books.
"That'd be fabulous, thank you," she said politely.
Basil didn't look anything like his predecessor Stan Shunpike. Very pale with a shock of blond hair and pale watery eyes, Hermione always thought that he looked like a rather masculine version of Luna Lovegood.
"Heading back to London tonight?" he asked her and she nodded.
She reached into her pocket for eleven Sickles and Basil grinned.
"For you, that will also give you hot chocolate, a hot-water bottle and a toothbrush in the colour of your choice."
"Now Basil you know that you should charge me an extra four Sickles for those extras,"Hermione told him reprovingly, a smile on her face.
"Don't be daft!" he told her.
Hermione put some silver into Basil's hand and ignoring his protests, she helped him to lift her things up the steps of the bus.
As it was night time, there were no seats on the bus but half-a-dozen brass bedsteads which stood beside the curtained windows. Candles were burning in brackets beside each bed and they illuminated the wood-panelled walls, giving the bus a strangely comforting atmosphere.
"There's a spare bed at the back of the bus," he whispered. "I'll put your stuff near Ernie," he said indicating Ernie Prang the elderly wizard who was wearing very thick glasses. His glasses seemed to grow thicker every year and his eyes looked positively enormous as they blinked at Hermione.
"Good to see you again," he greeted her.
"Can you imagine it? Hermione was trying to pay me 15 Sickles again," Basil told Ernie who shook his head.
"You have to stop doing that missy," he told her.
Hermione smiled and made her way to the back of the bus, wobbling slightly and holding her hands out to keep her balance.
"Take her away, Ernie," she heard Basil say as he sat down in the armchair next to Ernie's.
There was another tremendous bang, and before she could make a sound, Hermione found that she had been thrown flat over someone else's bed, flung forwards by the speed of the Knight Bus. Fortunately the owner of the bed wasn't actually tucked in bed - he had been sitting on the edge of the bed reading.
As it was he ended up on his back on the bed and Hermione landed on top of him.
"Ouch," he mumbled at the same time Hermione did.
"Ernie - you could have at least waited until I sat down!" She said turning her head and calling out at him.
"Sorry Hermione!" Ernie called out, blinking owlishly at her. "I thought you were already in place ..."
"Blind as a bat," Hermione muttered beneath her breath. Her hair was falling down around the face of the young wizard who was staring up at her with an oddly arrested expression on his face.
"Hermione Granger," he said abruptly, his grey eyes sharp with recognition.
She stared down at him.
"You still smell like flowers," he blurted out. The bus wobbled ominously and the wizard's arms went up around her to steady her.
"Cedric Diggory," she said, her dark eyes travelling over his dark hair, his grey eyes and his lightly tanned skin. He had clearly been abroad ... one didn't get that sort of tan in England.
"It's been a while ..." he said with a smile, his eyes also moving over her face wonderingly. Inevitably, his gaze lingered on her jaw for a moment and she rolled off him and tried to stand up.
The problem was, Ernie still hadn't really mastered the use of a steering wheel. The Knight Bus kept mounting the pavement, but it didn't hit anything; lines of lamp posts, letter boxes and bins jumped out of its way as it approached and back into position once it had passed. As she was trying to stand, the bus jolted again and Cedric sat up and reached out, catching her lightly by the arm.
"Please feel free to sit ... it's probably safer to sit down," he said. "I'm not planning to try to sleep. Last time I did, I ended upon the floor being stepped on by an old wizard," he said with a grin.
Hermione sat down tentatively on the edge of the bed and looked at him, trying not to stare. He looked the same but somehow very different. Taller, the lanky frame of a boy had filled out although he was still very lean. His dark hair was cropped quite short, his grey eyes very steady and rather serious.
"Ten years .." he said softly and Hermione nodded, looking down at her hands. "I was really sorry about ..."
Hermione held up her hand. "Please, no ..." she said, swallowing hard and shaking her head.
The Second War had ravaged the entire world. Not a single wizarding family had been able to remain unaffected by the war. Almost every family had lost someone in some way. Ten years had passed, the Dark Lord had finally been vanquished but the memory of that nightmarish time still haunted the world like a heavy shadow.
Cedric nodded. He understood and his grey eyes were filled with profound sorrow.
He reached up and touched her jaw lightly. She didn't flinch. She knew what he saw. A livid scar ran along her jaw, a stark blemish against her otherwise smooth skin.
"I remember when this happened..." he said.
"Aren't you going to ask me why I don't have it removed?" she asked him. "It's unsightly, after all," she said challengingly.
Cedric glanced at her. His gaze was like the touch of his hand. Cool and gentle. "You were marked by Voldemort himself ..." She noted that he said the name matter-of-factly and without flinching. "I suspect that no healing charm on earth could remove this mark, Hermione ..."
"That's true," she said. "And to be honest ... this scar is nothing compared to ..." she stopped. It was a cliché to say that it was nothing compared to the scars she still bore inside, to the nightmares that plagued her dreams and the sorrow that she lived with every day of her life. She was scarred while others had lost their lives and had died in agony. Her friends. Her dearest friends. She lived with the sound of their tortured voices every day of her life. She reached up her own hand and touched the raised flesh lightly. "Even if I could, I wouldn't have it removed ... consider it my eternal tribute to those who fell ..."
"I suspect the tribute you carry in your memory is already sufficient to honour the dead, Hermione," Cedric said. "But look at it a different way ... it's a war wound, a badge of honour ... You faced Voldemort and lived."
"We faced him and lived," Hermione said softly.
"How is your father?" Hermione asked him and Cedric's eyes clouded with grief.
"He's never been the same ... he was discharged from St Mungo's some years back but his mind wanders endlessly... sometimes he thinks I'm a child again .." Cedric closed his eyes, his dark lashes resting on his cheeks.
He's my boy ... look at how tall and strong he's become ... he's my boy ...Come and give your old dad a hug ...
The voice was filled with pride and the love was real even if Amos Diggory's mind was forever shattered by the torture that had been inflicted on him by the Death Eaters.
"Cedric, I'm so sorry ..." Hermione whispered.
Cedric's eyes were gentle. "I still have my mother ... I know you lost both your parents, Hermione ... the last I heard ... you'd almost turned your back on the Magical World ... had gone back to living as a Muggle again ..."
Hermione hesitated for a moment, surprised that he had asked about her but then said,"They died because of me, Cedric. If it wasn't because of me, the Death Eaters wouldn't have gone to our home ... they wouldn't have ..."
"You know you can't blame yourself," Cedric told her. "Voldemort even had power in the Muggle World ... they weren't safe from him ... no one was safe from him."
There was a long silence and the sound of swearing as the bus jolted again and passengers were jolted awake. One witch fell out of bed with a loud crash, rolling under her bed as the bus swerved to avoid a wayward tree that kept dancing in front of it.
"Do you mind? Some of us are trying to get some sleep!" she howled as she clawed her way out from under the bed, her night cap askew and her face very disgruntled.
"So is this why you're not Apparating instead of catching the Knight Bus?" Cedric asked her curiously.
Hermione smiled. "Actually, catching the Knight Bus counts as magic you know. I'm not Apparating because I've got too many things to carry and to be honest, sometimes it's nice to have the time out where no one knows where I am ..."
"Same ..." Cedric said with a dawning smile in his eyes. "Instantaneous transportation has its advantages but where else could I get to read, cosy up on a nice four poster bed, undisturbed except by constant and imminent threat of whiplash, death and dismemberment ... plus I get hot chocolate, a hot-water bottle and a toothbrush. All for 15 Sickles. A bargain really".
"They only charge me eleven," Hermione said with a grin and Cedric pretended to look horrified.
"Corruption on the Knight Bus ... who would have thought? And you a former prefect, I'm shocked and appalled, Hermione Granger!"
She laughed softly.
It was late but neither of them bothered to suggest going to sleep. Like Cedric, Hermione had never been able to sleep on the bus that banged loudly and jumped a hundred miles at a time. Oddly enough, judging by the snoring sounds around them, others seemed quite able to sleep despite the violent shaking of the bus.
With the exception of Basil who was sitting at the front of the bus near Ernie, Hermione and Cedric appeared to be the only two people awake on the bus, sitting mostly in darkness with a faint glow of candle light illuminating their faces and giving them a somewhat illusory sense of being alone in the shadows. The fact that they spoke in hushed voices added to the illusion of being alone.
"I heard you opened a book shop in Diagon Alley".
"You heard right," she told him. "And yes it's true that for a while I didn't want to use magic anymore. Then I realised it's not the magic that's good or bad .. it's how you use it. It doesn't create or solve problems .. it's a tool, an ability ..." she gave him a jaunty smile. "Now I run a small bookshop. A few accessories ... I even have a counter for Weasley's Wizard Wheezes Shop... I couldn't believe I let Fred and George talk me into that!"
"Those two," Cedric said shaking his head and laughing. "They're both married now, right?
"Yes and their children are as naughty as they are ... I'm not sure I'm glad or terrified. On the one hand it means that they can suffer as everyone else has suffered over the years but on the other hand I'm terrified for society!" Cedric laughed.
"And you still see Mr and Mrs Weasley?"
"Yes ... I'm like a substitute daughter," Hermione said quietly and they had encountered yet another topic which both wished to avoid.
Hermione changed the topic deliberately. "What about you?"
"Do you remember Oliver Wood?" Cedric asked her.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "How could I forget him?
"After the Final Battle, he was badly injured ... he had to give up Quidditch. He was completely and utterly gutted about it ... I was kicking around the world doing odd jobs for Gringotts ... when one day I bumped into him... somewhere in Africa I think. He was posing as a Muggle, would you believe it? He was working for an aid organisation."
"Doing what?" Hermione asked, looking very fascinated.
"Helping to find water ... arranging for water treatment, dealing with natural disasters ..."
"He was using magic?" Hermione asked her eyes widening.
Cedric nodded with a smile. "Before I knew it, I got suckered into it, too ... the Muggles are impressed that we seem to be able to find a water source no matter how arid the area is ... and some of our water filtration charms are a bloody work of art," he said with enthusiasm.
"What else do you do?" Hermione demanded, looking fascinated.
"We help with insect plagues - anti-locust hexes... we can't intervene too much of course ... but sometimes it doesn't take much to set things straight ... making sure there's pure drinking water is one of the easiest things in the world," he told her and Hermione shook her head.
"No, it's not. Do you know how many Muggle children in developing countries have died as a result of drinking contaminated water?" Hermione asked him.
"I know but it's easy for us to fix that," he said quietly. "It's nice to face problems that you can actually fix," he said. Hermione nodded slowly.
"I went to visit Neville's grandmother last week," Cedric said quietly.
Hermione didn't say a word.
"She's a broken woman ... her son, her daughter in law ... Neville was the last of their line..."
Hermione shook her head. "Like you said to me, Cedric - it wasn't your fault ..."
"Really?" Cedric asked her grimly. "That night, he cried like a child Hermione... begged me to kill him ... and I couldn't do it..."
"You couldn't because you were on the point of dying yourself ... we all were ... Neville would have understood."
"He was a good kid you know?" He said hoarsely.
"They all were, Cedric," Hermione said softly.
The bus jolted again and both were flung back onto the bed. They were thundering down a narrow country lane, trees leaping out of the way and the moonlight illuminating the way for them.
"No, don't bother sitting up again," Cedric said as they both lay on their backs on the bed, side by side.
They stared up at the ceiling.
"Ten years, Hermione Granger ... Why did we never keep in touch?" he asked her gently.
Hermione's throat hurt. "Probably because the sight of each other brought back too many memories of that night ... too painful a reminder of those who lived and ... those who died .."
"Yes and not seeing each other clearly has been so incredibly successful at making us forget what happened. " Cedric said ironically. "We're both clearly past the pain and the sorrow". He turned his head and stared at her.
Hermione didn't reply.
"Maybe it was the guilt," Cedric said softly. "Guilt that blind luck saved me yet again ..."
"No Cedric ... it was luck that saved you in the graveyard the first time you faced Voldemort but it was skill and sheer pluck that saved you ... and me that second time ...You saved us all".
"Not all of us," Cedric said softly and he closed his eyes as if the pain and the memories were something visible that he could shut out by the simple expedient of closing his eyes. His hand clenched into a taut fist, his knuckles whitening. "Oh Hermione Granger - we're a banged up pair, aren't we?" he asked wryly.
The Knight Bus rolled through the darkness, scattering bushes and shrubs, telephone boxes and trees, and the two of them continued to lie on Cedric's bed side by side, their bodies touching. Hermione's hand smoothed over the thick velvet bedspread thoughtfully.
At one point, Basil brought them their hot chocolate which they waved away fearfully. The thought of scalding themselves and possibly wearing the hot chocolate wasn't appealling.
"Last time I saw her she was fat with yet another baby," Cedric said with a smile, opening his eyes again, his gaze lightening slightly.
"Not yours?" Hermione teased and Cedric shook his head.
"She was never the girl for me," he said lightly.
His hand reached out and he ran his fingertip along her lower lip. "I see your face in my dreams, you know," he told her. "It makes a nice change from the nightmares ..."
"Some might say that seeing my face in your dreams constituted a nightmare," she said wryly, indicating the livid scar on her jaw.
"You're more beautiful to me now than you ever were," he told her and the sincerity in his voice made her eyes widen. The touch of his fingertip on her scar was like a caress.
"People always stare at it .. then their gazes flicker away ... I guess now I know how ... Harry felt ..."
The silence stretched between them for an endless moment.
"Do you think we'll ever get over it?" Cedric asked her and Hermione sighed.
"One day. I lead a quiet life .. one day at a time .. it's a simple and uncomplicated existence. I never talk about the old days anymore... most people want to forget the Second War ... pretend it never happened. People like me are a bit of a nasty reminder that it did."
"I went to put flowers on Professor Snape's grave," Cedric told her. "Who would have thought that the testy old bastard would have given his life for the likes of us ..."
"He surprised us all".
"Do you suppose he and Professor McGonagall argue all the time? I can't think who the hell it was who thought it was a good idea to bury them side by side ... I feel sorry for their neighbours! I made sure I left an equally nice bunch of flowers for Professor McGonagall," he said with a faint smile in his eyes.
"They died fighting side by side against Voldemort... at the end of all things they were united. I think ... they probably enjoy being side by side - arguing even after death..." Hermione said slowly. "You held me that night," she said. "I remember ... your voice ... 'Hang on Hermione Granger .. don't die ... please don't die ...' you said it over and over again".
"I was bloody frightened," he said in a low voice. "I thought you and I were the only ones left ... I held you in my arms and I thought you were going to die ... I could feel life slipping from your body and I was so scared that I was going to be the only one left ..."
"You were dying, too," she pointed out. "Was it my imagination or did you kiss me?"
Cedric's eyes widened. "I was dying, you were dying ... do you think I'd have the inclination for snogging at such a critical point?" he asked her.
Then he grinned.
"Of course I kissed you!"
Hermione's fingers went to her lips. "Yes ... you did ..." she said. "Why?"
"Why?" he asked her. He shrugged. "You were so pale and frightened ... you clung to me and asked me not to leave you ... and I've always thought you were a bit of a sweetheart ..."
"Oh," she said faintly.
"Yeah ... the way you stuck by ... your friends ... always so loyal and determined. I admired that. I didn't want us to kick the bucket without having snogged at least once," he said for a joke and Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Boys ...They said you refused to let go of me ... that you held onto me until we were taken the hospital ... and that you demanded that I be treated first even though you were dying ... But when I woke up, Cedric - you were gone," she said with a question in her dark eyes.
"I failed you, Hermione. I was too much of a bloody coward to look into your eyes when you found out ..."
She put her hand up and covered his mouth.
"You didn't fail me," she told him.
She felt his lips kiss her hand before he took her hand away. "Hermione - your quiet life, your quiet existence ... you don't think it's a waste of your talents? Of your passion? I still remember you were like a zealot about those bloody house-elves ..."
Hermione's eyes were bleak. "There's nothing left of the girl I used to be, Cedric," she told him.
Cedric's eyes were very warm. "That's where you're wrong, Hermione Granger," he told her. "She's still there. I can see her," he told her, staring steadily and unwaveringly into her eyes as if he could see into her soul. "You can't quench that girl's spirit anymore than you can tame this," he said tugging at her hair which was still somewhat gravity-defying in its earnest wildness.
Hermione's eyes widened. "There are so many beautiful places in the world, so many marvellous things that you've yet to see and experience ... there's still so much darkness and suffering out there - but you've got so much to offer the world. Don't waste it on a 'quiet life', Hermione Granger ..."
Hermione felt her eyes sting.
"Why do you keep calling me by my full name?" she asked him curiously.
"It's a name I've said and thought so many times in the last 10 years ... saying it to your face seems like a dream come true," he said with a sheepish smile. "You're alive. You lived ... now treasure that," he told her intensely and without knowing how it came to pass, their lips met. The kiss was sweet, so very sweet without a trace of sorrow or pain. They smiled and kissed again, the kiss wondering, slightly awkward, tantalising and very, very hungry.
"Oy!" Basil exclaimed in outrage.
The two of them sprang apart, blushing furiously. Both sat bolt upright, glancing around in wild guilt and embarrassment.
"You were supposed to have got off ages ago!" Basil exclaimed in disapproving outrage, glaring at Cedric.
Cedric rose to his feet, as did Hermione. "Here's another 11 Sickles," he said handing him the silver coins.
"What? Where do you want to go now?" Basil demanded.
"Where are you going?" Cedric asked Hermione who gaped at him.
"Where am I going? What's that got to do with anything? Where are you going Cedric?" she demanded.
Cedric's gaze rested on hers. He lifted his hand and touched her hair, her cheek, her jaw and lowered his mouth to brush his lips across hers.
"When I woke up in the hospital and you were gone ..." she started to say.
"I'll never leave you again," he promised her.
He held out his hand. The bus was wobbling and swaying crazily and everything around her seemed to be swirling and spinning.
Hermione's eyes went from Cedric's steady hand up to his equally steady gaze. There was a question in his eyes.
Without hesitation, she put her hand in his. The answer was yes.
"Where do you want to go?" she repeated blushing slightly.
"Wherever you're going, Hermione Granger ..."