Hermione took another swallow of hangover potion and shifted her bag on to her shoulder.
Ron came into the kitchen. "You leaving?"
She finished the last of the potion. "Yes."
"Is that working?"
"Not as fast as I'd like it to be." She put a hand to her forehead and moaned.
Ron smiled in sympathy. "Come on, I'll walk out with you."
They walked out into the narrow alley beside the house and stood behind the garbage bins.
Ron took his wand out and kissed her forehead. "Try and have a good day."
Hermione smiled weakly. "You too."
He disappeared with a pop.
Hermione pulled out her own wand and a few minutes later she appeared outside the main gate of Hogwarts. She tapped her wand on the small door beside the giant gate and it opened for her. She stepped inside to a beautiful autumn day. The air was crisp and the potion was starting to take effect. Perhaps the day wouldn't be too bad after all.
She was barely settled at her desk when there was a knock at the door. "Come in," she called as she rooted around in her desk drawer for a quill.
She looked up to see Harry closing the door behind him.
"Hullo." He moved a large stack of books from the chair in front of her desk and set them on the floor so he could sit down.
"Sorry about that," Hermione winced. "I'm working on a paper."
Harry nodded. "Look, I debated whether or not to mention this, but Art showed up at the house last night."
Hermione abandoned her search for a quill and shut her desk drawer. "Oh."
Harry cleared his throat. "Yeah, he was pretty upset. He found some magazines from when you were with Viktor."
Hermione's shoulders sagged. "I know. He confronted me about it yesterday. I'd like to say I handled it well, but I didn't. What did he want from you?"
"An explanation of why you and Ron broke up."
"What did you tell him?" Hermione pressed her fingers against her temples.
"Well, first I told him I thought he ought to be talking to you two, but he said he'd talked to Ron and Ron had said it was his fault, that he'd made you leave."
Hermione blew out a frustrated sigh. "Why would he tell him that? It's not true."
Harry looked up at her. "It's not? Ron told me he told you to leave."
She shrugged her shoulders. "He did, but anyone would have. I was beastly."
Harry cocked his head. "You were beastly?"
She nodded. "I completely withdrew from him. I spent all my time at the Ministry either studying or testing, and when I was home, I barely spoke to him. I wouldn't ever go out with him. What's the point in having a girlfriend who's never there even when she is? No wonder he hooked up with all those women when I left. I'm just lucky he didn't fall in love with one of them before I got my head on straight."
Harry's eyes were wide.
"What?" She looked at his now sheepish expression. "You didn't think I knew about all those girls? Come on, Harry. He may not have been on the cover of Witch Weekly, but he did frequently make the society column. Heavens, I was wearing one of his ex-girlfriend's jumpers the Christmas we got back together."
Harry started to chuckle.
"What?" Hermione asked.
"You two, so stubborn and so stupid."
"Hey," Hermione said, not sure where he was going with the insult.
"You both blame yourselves for the break up and you say almost the exact same things about it. Don't you get it?"
Hermione frowned. "I guess I don't."
"It was Voldemort's fault," Harry said. "All the bad stuff back then was his fault not ours." He let out an exasperated sigh. "I wish one of you had thought to talk to me, if you couldn't talk to each other. How the hell do you think Ginny and I got through it?"
Hermione shook her head. "I don't know. I was always rather impressed that you did."
"Of course we did, because we worked through the pain together without trying to do it on our own. You two were so busy trying to protect each other from your pain you bollocksed the whole thing up."
Hermione sat back in her chair. "There's probably a lot of truth to that." She stared out the window for a moment.
"What?" Harry asked.
Hermione smiled sadly. "I was just thinking about how much it hurt every time I saw Ron's name associated with some other woman."
"Well, it liked to kill him every time he saw a picture of you and Viktor."
She nodded. "I know that now, but at the time, I was convinced he didn't care."
"And yet, you still left Viktor."
"Yeah," Hermione sighed. "I had to."
"How's that?" Harry asked.
"Because his name started to be associated with other women." Hermione adjusted a stack of papers.
"He was cheating on you?" Harry asked, clearly surprised.
Hermione took a deep breath. "I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. I never confronted him."
"That doesn't sound like you."
"I know. I just didn't care enough to confront him. And when I realized I didn't care enough to find out whether or not he was cheating on me, I thought it was time to move on." She smiled. "That I got to move on to Ron was simply the best sort of luck. I'll forever be grateful to Ginny for inviting me to Christmas. I mean really, anything I can do for her ever, she need only ask."
Harry chuckled. "I'm surprised she hasn't given you a list."
Hermione laughed. "Not yet, but she's welcome to." She turned serious again. "So what else did you tell Art?"
Harry took off his glasses and wiped them on his robes. "Well, he didn't understand how if you loved Ron you could live with Viktor."
Hermione closed her eyes. "And you said?"
"That there are different kinds of relationships and different kinds of love, and that I thought you and Viktor were more about mutual support than romance.
Hermione nodded. "Well, that's certainly true." She looked up at Harry. "Anything else I should know?"
"I think that about covers it," Harry said, standing. "I've got to go, I've got a class in a few minutes."
Hermione stood as well. "Thanks, Harry, for talking to him. I'm really glad he felt he could go to you."
Harry nodded. "Anytime."
Hermione watched as the door closed behind him and then gathered her things for her own class. It warmed her heart to know Harry was still looking out for her after all these years.
She'd felt fine all morning but by noon, she'd taught three classes and the potion had worn off. She was drinking a large glass of water hoping it would help her headache. She didn't know the new potions master that well, and she was embarrassed to go to Madam Pomfrey for a hangover. She gently rested her forehead against the stack of papers on her desk and whimpered.
There was a tentative knock on her office door.
"Come in," Hermione said as she lifted her head and arranged herself in a more professional manner.
"Mum?" Art said as he stuck his head into her office.
"Can I come in?" he asked from the door.
"Of course, sit down."
Art took a seat facing her desk. He clasped his hands together and stared at the floor.
Hermione sat back in her chair and sighed.
There was a tap on her office window. She looked up to see an enormous barn owl perched on the ledge. "Excuse me," she said, as she went and opened the window. The owl held his leg out and Hermione removed the small package. She reached for a bowl of owl treats she kept by the window and gave one to the bird. "Thanks," she said.
Back at her desk, she opened the package.
"What is it?" Art asked without looking up.
Hermione looked down at the small bottle of hangover potion and smiled at the note, which read Thought you might need a bit more of this. R. "Proof that your father is a god among men," Hermione said as she pulled the cork out and drank down the contents of the vial.
"Yeah," Art said, without looking at her. "Dad's great."
Hermione set aside the vial and looked at her son. He seemed to be struggling with what to say, so she decided to let him off the hook. "I'm sorry," she said.
Art looked up. "What?"
"I'm sorry. I never imagined that you might run across those magazines. It just never occurred to me that anyone might keep trashy tabloids."
"I think Mrs. Figg pretty much kept everything," Art said. "We found hundreds of empty Bertie Botts boxes."
"Well, I'm sorry I didn't think of that possibility. I would have told you myself if I'd thought there was anyway you'd find out on your own."
"Why didn't you just tell me?" Art asked.
"Because it was such a long time ago, Art, there was no reason to ever bring it up."
Art sighed. "I looked you up in Who's Who Among Witches and Wizards."
"Oh?" Hermione felt a sudden chill run through her.
"Yeah." Art shuffled his feet.
"Really? I've never read my entry."
Art looked at her in surprise. "You haven't?"
She shrugged. "Never got around to it. Besides," she smiled, "I know how it ends. So what did it say?"
"I didn't know you worked for the Ministry of Magic."
"That was mostly before you were born. I still consult with them occasionally."
Art nodded, but kept looking at the floor. "Yeah, it said that. It also talked about the war."
Hermione watched him closely. "Oh?" she tried to sound nonchalant.
"There was a list of people you'd killed."
Hermione closed her eyes. She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Art –"
"It wasn't a long list," he said quietly, as though he hadn't heard her, "but I guess I was surprised to see it. I mean, I guess I always thought you did the research and Uncle Harry and Dad did the fighting. None of you really talk about it, so I guess I always kind of imagined that's how it was."
"Oh, Artie," Hermione whispered softly. She could feel a tear slip down her cheek.
"It talked about the wandless shield charm. I always thought that was just a really cool trick. It never occurred to me that you'd ever had to use it for real." His voice cracked. He paused for a moment. "There was also a list of all the times and the ways you were wounded."
She could see his shoulders shaking. She went around the desk and stood by him, resting her hand on his shoulder. "It's alright, Artie," she whispered.
He turned in the chair and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her chest, "Oh, Mum. I can't--" he sobbed.
Hermione leaned over and rested her head against his, stroking his hair. "It's alright, Artie. It's alright. It was a long time ago." She kissed the top of his head. "I love you so much."
He cried for a moment before pulling away from her and wiping his eyes on the sleeve of his shirt. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Hermione said, brushing the hair off his forehead with her fingers. "You've had a rough couple of days."
Art nodded. "I just never imagined."
Hermione shook her head. "I know. I'm so sorry I never told you. I hate that you found out like this."
He glanced at the mantle clock. "I need to go, I have class in a few minutes."
Hermione smiled. "Want a charm so no one sees you've been crying?"
Art looked at her. "You know one?"
Hermione's smile broadened. "I think I still remember." She slipped the wand from her pocket and pointed it at his face and said an incantation that she'd learned her first year at Hogwarts and that had served her well for many years after.
Art glanced at his reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. "Thanks, Mum."
She nodded. "Anytime, now get to class."
He paused before leaning down and giving her the briefest of kisses on the cheek before he left.
Hermione sat down hard in her desk chair. Art had brought up things she hadn't thought about in a long time. She wondered if she'd have the nightmare tonight. The moment she questioned it, she remembered as vividly as if it had just happened. Lying slumped against a wall, a deep bleeding gash in her side, one leg badly broken, she'd watched as blood dripped off the end of a jagged bone that had splintered through the side of her leg. The drips joined a trail that snaked across the stone floor toward the ever-expanding pool of blood around the Death Eater she'd just killed. She'd used Sectumsempra to slash his throat after he'd cast the spell that broke her leg. Then she lay there, unable to move and watched him as the blood that originally pumped high into the air, raining down on her in the process, went lower and lower until it was just a gurgle. She watched as he took his last breath. She was sure at the time that they would die together, her and this nameless Death Eater. Although apparently he did have a name, and apparently it was listed under hers in Who's Who Among Witches and Wizards.
Hermione opened her eyes and pulled an ungraded parchment toward her. She wanted to push these thoughts from her head, but they resumed unbidden. She could still hear Ron and Harry shouting her name, could still see them racing toward her, several Death Eaters hot on their trail. They'd reached her but couldn't help her as they turned to face the dark wizards. Ron had fallen first, knocked unconscious by a jinx. Harry had his leg broken by the same type of hex that had broken hers and crashed next to her. "Damn it," he'd cursed as he struggled to right himself, "They're coming, Lupin and the others, damn it, just a few more minutes." And so she'd done the charm, the same wandless shield she'd done a hundred times since, although never with the same sense of urgency. She'd held it over all three of them, Harry fired off hexes and jinxes from behind it, while Ron struggled toward consciousness. When the aurors finally fought their way into the room, Ron was awake and helping Harry fight. Hermione dropped the shield and passed out. She woke again screaming in the lobby of St. Mungo's. Ron had Apparated them both. Something he had never done before or since. It was the only thing that saved her. She was on blood replenishing potion for weeks afterward. Hermione looked down to see that her hands were shaking and that the parchment she was supposed to be grading was tear stained. There was a knock at the door. She wiped her face with the heel of her hand. McGonagall stuck her head in, "Hermione, I need you to – Hermione?"
Hermione stood. "I'm not well," she said weakly.
"I should say not. Why don't you have Poppy –?"
"No," Hermione said, "I just need to go home."
"Are you sure?" McGonagall asked, "You're shaking like a leaf."
Hermione stumbled to the hearth and took a fist full of Floo powder. "Yes."
"Alright, well, send an owl if you need someone to take your classes tomorrow."
Hermione shook her head. "I'm sure that won't be necessary." She dropped the powder and asked the Floo to send her home.
Ron was attempting to charm a new piece of Muggle electronics called a video projector, but he wasn't having much success. He heard someone cough and looked up to see Hermione stumble out of the fireplace.
"Hey?" he asked, standing. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she said and went directly to the bar. Her hands were shaking so that she couldn't get the cork out of the bottle of fire whiskey.
Ron took it from her and poured some in a glass.
She took it from him and downed it in one swallow.
"I talked to Artie," she said, and poured more whiskey, spilling some as she did so.
"What did he say this time?" Ron grumbled.
"Nothing, he was fine, we're fine. He just..." she covered her eyes with her hand and began to weep. "He cried, Ron. He cried and now he knows his mother is not just a slag but a murderer as well." She dropped to her knees. The glass fell from her hand spilling whiskey across the rug.
"What?" Ron said. He knelt beside her.
"He read my entry in Who's Who Among Witches and Wizards. It gave the names of all the people I killed in the war. Can you believe that? I don't even know all their names, but now Artie does," she sobbed and pressed her face against his shoulder.
"Stop," Ron said, feeling his own throat start to tighten. "You're no slag and you're sure as hell no murderer. Those Death Eaters were trying to kill us. That's war, that's self-defense, not murder."
She looked up at him with blood shot eyes. "The last one felt like murder," she choked.
"Hermione, don't," Ron said, feeling a tear slip down his cheek.
"I can still feel his blood raining down on me. I was so cold and it was so hot. I could have stopped it. I could have cast a healing spell to stop the bleeding, I could have, but I didn't."
"You were exhausted. You had a wound in your side big enough for me to stick my fist through. Your leg was broken." Ron whispered.
"I held a shield charm for over six minutes. I could have cast a healing charm. I just didn't."
"It's not your responsibility to heal the people who are trying to kill you," Ron said firmly.
Hermione looked up at him again. "No? Then whose responsibility is it?"
Ron blew out an angry breath and clenched his teeth. She would not do this to him again. She'd shut down over this after the war and he'd handled it badly. Completely botched it, and he'd lost her to Viktor for three whole years as a result. He wouldn't let her go again. He took her firmly by the shoulders and gave her a little shake until she looked up at him. "Am I a murderer? Is Harry a murderer?"
She shook her head.
"Then how can you be one? We killed just as many people as you did."
"But I sat there and watched," Hermione said hollowly.
Ron took her chin and tilted her face up. "I'm sorry you had to watch that bastard die, luv, but that doesn't change the fact that it was war and during war you do things you wouldn't do otherwise. What if you'd cast a healing charm and he'd killed Harry or me the next week? We don't know what would have happened if you'd healed him. But I know what happened when you didn't. We survived. And now we've got a good life together, a son we can be proud of. We did that. I wouldn't change it, would you?"
She shook her head. "Of course not." She shifted and sat on the rug. "But
I can still see his face. I still have nightmares sometimes," she whispered.
Ron sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "I can still see all their faces," he whispered back, "I still have nightmares sometimes too. I think that's just the price you pay for living through it." He kissed the top of her head and sat with her awhile. Finally he stood and held out a hand to her. "Come on."
"I'm going to draw us a bath and open a bottle of wine and we're going to sit in the tub until we feel better or until we want dinner, whichever comes first."
She took his hand and let him pull her to her feet and followed him upstairs. Ron drew the bath and Hermione sat next to the tub, and waited for it to fill, while he went to get a bottle of wine. She remembered the last time she'd been this upset about the war and how that had involved a bathtub too. Only that bath had been cold and full of ice cubes. She'd been rather stoned and Viktor had dunked her head in the water until she'd begged him to stop. To which he'd responded that she was a witch and could stop him herself. He'd dunked her three more times before she was clear headed enough to throw him off. She recalled that he'd grinned at her, which wasn't like him, and that they'd had sex there on the dirty bathroom floor of that filthy little house in Amsterdam. She trembled with the chill of the memory and the shame that it brought her.
Ron stepped into the bathroom with an open bottle of wine in one hand and two glasses in the other. He looked at her. "You look cold."
Hermione shook her head. "Just a sudden chill."
"Well, come on," Ron said, setting the wine and glasses on the vanity and reaching for her robes. "Let's get you into some nice hot water and I'll see if I can make that chill go away."
I'm sure you can, Hermione thought, you always do. A moment later she was chest deep in bubbles with Ron warm and wet behind her, rubbing her shoulders and kissing her neck. Hermione sighed and leaned back against him, he slipped his arms around her and held her.
She thought then that Ron was probably right. That having the past suddenly rip through the present was perhaps just the cost of surviving. That history charged a toll for continuing to live, but it was now that truly mattered. She would keep moving forward into tomorrow, and pay the price only when she had to.
I'd also like to thank everyone that has read this series and especially those that comment. I really appreciate your interest and your questions and commentary. It's great to get feedback and sometimes it gives me ideas for the next story. So thank you for being part of the process.