It had been hours since night had fallen. The crickets could now be heard over the dying embers of the cackling fire that did little to heat the den. The East Coast summer was slowly fading into autumn, leaving in its shallow wake a collage of serenity. Russet, saffron, and amber emerged from the foliage, clashing beautifully with the mountbatten pink sky. It was no wonder, to any who had visited this place, that she decided to settle in here. There truly was no place on Earth like it. Although England had its charms, and would always be home to her, there was a sense of self that accompanied her new life.
He once told her 'You can smell the sunshine, and taste the forest'.
She had laughed at him. Called him a hopeless romantic. He gave her one of 'her' smiles, tilted his head back ever-so-slightly and looked far away for a moment.
"Perhaps, one day, when the war is over, I'll go back. I could buy that little house, get a job in the town, get a muggle degree and teach. Or I could rent out a room, and spend my days fishing and sailing."
"That sounds lovely." she beamed. "I didn't know you could fish."
They both laughed this time.
Yes, she thought, on nights like tonight, it's not difficult to understand why he held this place so dear. She tipped a glass to her lips, allowing the smell and taste of rum to soothe her.
She was quickly snapped back to reality when the shutters began to rattle against a gust of wind. Standing up from her perch on the floor by the fire, she made her way over to the window. Reaching out, she unclasped the rusted hooks that held the shutters against the outside paneling. The midnight air chilled her fire-warmed face. Pulling the shutters in, she stopped and looked out to the moon reflected on the still river waters. How beautiful it looked, swaying slightly on the surface of the river, as if talking in whispers to the forest that lined its shores. The trees sashayed in response, lapping up the gossip of romance and intrigue. She leaned on the windowsill, watching nature's private dance for a few moments, a smile ghosting its way to her lips. That man will be my undoing, she murmured.
Yes, there was a sense of self that came with the lands. The forests were so vast that you could stand at the edge and never see the other side. There were no magical creatures that haunted them. No strange beasts that roamed under the canopy. Just trees, and brooks, and forest creatures that scattered when you approached. Villages and towns were swallowed by their majesty. From her very own window, all she could see of the adjoining village was the ballpark and tennis courts on the opposite river front, and a steeple of one of the many muggle churches that towered over the tree tops farther up the hill to the right. If the three thousand inhabitants of the village didn't stand a chance against the forest, united as they were, what chance did she have? The forest humbled her, made her feel insignificant. Here she felt as if she would pass on tomorrow, the world wouldn't even notice. She liked that feeling. Here, she was not a member of the golden trio. Under this sky she was not a headstrong intellect. Surrounded by these trees, she was not Hermione Granger, survivor and hero to the wizarding world. This land knew her only as Hermione, the copper haired, guitar playing chef for a local restaurant.
With a gentle sigh, she stepped back from her window, pulling the shutters closed behind her with a 'click'. Instead of returning to her perch by the fire, she stood to the side, rubbing her arms to create some warmth as she looked upon the mantle at the pictures. The unmoving portraits were usually calming, but tonight they just mocked her. Sighing to herself, she waved her hand in front of them, and they sprang to life.
The picture on the far left showed her eleven year old, bushy haired self trotting across the grass with several books in tow. Then she tripped, spilling her books around her, causing her to shake her head and blush in frustration. The picture shivered, as if the person behind the magical lens was laughing gaily. The next one showed her beaming as Harry hugged Hagrid in the meal hall. Ron was wearing his usual smirk. Hagrid wiped a rather large tear from his eye, and the picture replayed itself again. To the right of that one, Harry was making a face at the camera, all snuggled up in his blankets laying on the floor of the meal hall in their third year while Ron made bunny-ears appear from behind his head. She couldn't help but let out a small giggle as she thought of how muggle it was for Ron to do this with his own fingers instead of magically conjuring some up. She figured he was still a little wary of the slug incident despite the fact that he had his wand replaced from the previous year's fiasco. Hermione fingered the wooden frame as she thought of how easy it was for Harry to smile, despite the fact that he thought Sirius Black was on his way into the castle to murder him in his sleep.
With a sigh, she moved onto the next picture, trying not to dwell on the fact that Sirius was gone. Picking up the next framed picture, she laughed out loud as she remembered the night this was taken. It was the night of the ball in their fourth year. At the time, she thought she looked beautiful all dressed up. Now as she gazed upon her dress, she couldn't remember what possessed her to buy that god-awful dress in the first place. But she did look quite lovely none-the-less. After the ball, all of Gryffindor tower got together for a group portrait. Everyone looked horribly tired. The boys had long since discarded their ties and outer dress robes, and most stood with untucked shirts and open collars; hair messed up from hours of dancing. Viktor snuck into the picture, for he did not belong to a house, but was Hermione's date. He had his arms wrapped around her waist, and looked as snarly as always, but was actually quite happy at the time. Hermione couldn't help but think that if Ron looked any more sour at Viktor's presence, he would have puckered into himself and disappeared completely like a tiny little black hole. Shaking that image from her head, she replaced the picture and moved onto the next one, which showed Sirius and Harry play-wrestling in Grimmauld Place. Harry and Sirius were rolling around on the floor, when Harry finally pinned Sirius. Harry jumped up, threw his arms into the air in triumph and did a small victory lap around the room. While he wasn't paying attention, Sirius threw a sly wink at the camera, changed into Snuffles and pounced on Harry, knocking him to the floor, and proceeded to lick the back of Harry's neck, causing tears to stream down Harry's face from the tickles.
The next one was taken in the Burrow. Remus and Molly were in the kitchen cleaning up after a large dinner. Remus was waltzing Molly around the kitchen with a large smile on his face, singing along to some muggle song that was playing on the muggle radio that Arthur had received as a Christmas gift from Hermione. Molly was blushing profusely, and got distracted from her cleaning charm. Suddenly, the scrubber left the plate in the background and attacked the camera, as Molly was trying to swat George – or was it Fred? – away so they wouldn't catch her on camera blushing. Hermione remembered as Molly later scolded the boys for trying to catch her on film without her knowledge, and telling them they deserved the soap in their eyes they got from the haywire charm. The boys thought it best not to keep that particular picture for fear of future scolding from their mother, and gave it to Remus. Remus later gave it to Hermione when they were reminiscing about the fun times had at the Burrow that summer. Remus told Hermione he had plenty reason to smile lately, more-so than she had, so it was only fair that she get to keep that picture.
Hermione wiped the hot tears away from her cold cheeks as she thought about Remus. Life had not been kind to him, and just when he had a little bit of happiness, he died to protect those he loved, those he had never met, and those who deserved a better life than he had been dealt. He was a brilliant wizard, she thought, and an even more spectacular man.
She stepped away from the pictures; hoping distance would ease the dull thud that had developed behind her eyes. With a wave of her hand, the pictures returned to their stationary positions. Reaching down, Hermione grabbed some kindling and a fresh log to throw on the fire, noticing now that the glow was fading. Just as she got the gate closed, the grandfather clock chimed three times.
3 am. Is it really that late? Gee time flies when you are having fun… she thought as she picked up the blanket from the floor and moved to the old leather couch. She tossed the blanket over her curled up legs and picked up the mail that was sitting on the end table next to her.
Bill. Bill. Statement. Credit Card offer. Home security offer. Bill. Letter from…Ginny!
Throwing the rest of the mail aside, Hermione opened the wax sealed letter from Ginny. Since leaving England for Canada's east coast, she and Ginny have been corresponding through muggle mail. Hermione did not want her home set up with a floo. Although it was apparition safe, the only person who knew where she lived was Ginny. Hermione had given up using magic, having seen enough curses, hexes and unforgivable's in the final battle to last her 50 lifetimes. She spent the first 11 years of her life as a muggle, so she knew it wouldn't be too hard to adapt to a muggle lifestyle once again. So she locked her wand away, to keep it away from prying eyes and curious visitors. She traced her finger down the opened parchment, revealing Ginny's letter. It was better for the contents to be hidden, in case some muggle decided to open it. Picking up her glass of rum and coke, she let the words sink in.
How is life? Things here are fantastic. Just two weeks ago I went into Diagon Alley to buy a new set of quidditch gloves for Harry, when the salesman told me that the Firebolt X50 is set to go on the market in 2 months. He told me that because Harry is his best customer (I'm sure you are as shocked as I am – ha!) he would give me a discount on it, and would throw in the sticky grip accessory for free! I was beginning to wonder how I was going to be able to get one for Harry before Christmas, as they sell like hotcakes! But he assured me that he would put one aside for me so that Harry would get his gift. Isn't that wonderful? Oh! Harry will be so excited! He has been looking forward to this broom for ages! I will claim ownership of his Firebolt when he gets his new one…hahaha.
But enough quidditch talk, no need to bore you more than usual..haha. The family is good; friends are good, blah blah blah. Harry still hasn't proposed, but I assure you if he did I wouldn't be including it in a letter, I would be popping into your bedroom in the middle of the night to shake you awake and make you celebrate with me. Come hell or high water Hermione, I swear one of these days I will drag your sorry little carcass back to England and there won't be a damn thing you can say about it! Hahaha. I know. High hopes.
Merlin, Hermione. Everybody misses you so much. And while they are still pissed off that you only correspond with them through ME, they are starting to get rather suspicious. I can't say I blame them. But sooner or later you will have to confront them you know. Telling them you needed to get away and be on your own for a while is starting to wear thin. You know how my mother gets. I don't even live at home anymore and she is STILL calling on me all the time trying to get you to come home. Even Percy is trying to figure out a way to trick you into coming back.
Don't worry; I won't try to trick you. I respect that you needed this time away, and will keep my promise. Even without keeping up your wand practice I'm sure you could kick my sorry ass any day. But I think that this quill is going to kick it so I will talk to you later.
Hermione folded up the letter and put it back into the mail holder. She figured it wouldn't be too long before the Weasleys became suspicious. They are not the type of people to let go of someone. If they thought someone needed their space, they would back away, but not for long. She couldn't believe that they waited over 2 years to start considering hunting her down. Although in the back of her mind she was slightly miffed they would go on with life without her, she was thankful for the time away, and the peace and secrecy that she had found.
The final battle had really done a number on all the survivors. Too many times she had gone through the list of casualties of this war, only to end up feeling as if she wished she were amongst them.
Harry had to grow up without his parents. Cedric and Fred never even had the chance to grow up. Severus never got the chance to love someone and be loved in return. Sirius spent years of his life locked away and tortured by Dementors for crimes he did not commit, knowing the murderer ran free, only to get a small amount of hope for a loving family, and to have it taken away by the wand of his own deranged cousin. Remus never got to see his boy grow up.
Oh Remus. I miss our chats so much. Even when I was still a child, you never treated me like one. You always knew what to do to cheer me up. Give me a photograph, make me a cup of tea, and discuss muggle news with me. I don't have anyone like that in my life anymore. I don't think I would want anyone in my life like that anymore to be honest. That place is reserved for you.
"I know you wouldn't want me to be miserable, and would tell me to let someone else be there for me, but I can't do it. I just can't." she mumbled, running her slender fingers through her long chestnut hair. Hermione bent forward resting her elbows on her knees, and dropped her face into the palms of her hands.
"Merlin help me, I just can't do it!" she growled through her sadness. Hot tears began to swim across the palms of her hands, pooling there and moving down to trail her jaw and neck. She fell forward onto the cold wooden floor, propping herself up by her hands and knees before falling to her elbows. Manic sobs overtook her, and she felt the lump in her chest move up to her throat, making it difficult to breathe. Blinded by tears and anguish, she did not see her wards flash, alerting her that someone had stepped onto her property.
"FUCK!" She slammed her fist onto the floor and let out a primal scream, filled with pain, loss and suffering. Her muscles twitched, and hiccups overtook her as she tried to inhale a breath. Finding even seeing clearly had become difficult; she rocked back onto her calves and leaned her back against the couch.
Oh for fuck sakes Hermione! How many times are you going to do this to yourself before you LET. IT. GO? She mused.
Angry at herself for letting her emotions overtake her, she picked up the glass she was drinking from earlier and threw it into the fireplace, smashing the crystal on the concrete back and littering the floor in shards and dust. The alcoholic contents of the glass caused the fire to momentarily rise and fall. At that very moment, her front door busted open, revealing a very disheveled looking Ginny. Her wild red hair and glittering brown eyes rushed to Hermione's side, grabbing her by the forearms and lifting her up onto the old leather couch.
"What in Merlin's name is going on in here?!" she squealed "I come to give you good news and I find you half in the bag, screaming and crying with glass shattered all over your den. Gracious Hermione, what have you done to yourself?"
Hermione looked up into Ginny's brown eyes. What HAVE I done to myself? "I just miss them," she sobbed. "I miss, him…" Hermione dropped her head into her hands once more and let the sobs overcome her. Ginny wrapped Hermione up in her blanket that had fallen on the floor, and then coiled her own arms around her friend's shoulders.
"Merlin Hermione. I know it's hard. Trust me, I lost a brother. But it's been over 2 years now. You've got to get yourself together. Maybe you have done as much healing as you can do on your own? Maybe it's time to come home?" Ginny asked, while rubbing Hermione's arms through the blanket, trying to soothe her best friend with all of her ability.
"I just…I can't…I…he will never know! I can't tell him. I can't explain to them what happened. They would never understand. It would ruin him…." She gasped out between sniffing and wiping furiously at her leaking eyes.
"Shush, shush. I know darling. I know…but you could always make something up. Why don't you consider coming home now. Wallowing in a memory, especially someone else's, will do nothing but cause you pain. Come home, Hermione, for Merlin's sake." Ginny quipped, running a hand through Hermione's tear-dampened hair.
"I don't know." She hiccoughed. "I'm not sure I'm ready to face everyone yet."
"You've got to come home soon, even if it's just for a visit. Mum is going to pull out all her hair if she doesn't see you soon, and you know she will blame it all on you. The baldness, that is." She joked.
Hermione let out a small laugh and wiped at her eyes. "Good lord that's a horrible visual!"
Ginny giggled and hugged Hermione. "So good to hear you laugh, 'Mione."
"Sorry for tossing a fit, Gin. Just having a pity-party I guess. Everyone needs a good cry now and again." She said, "Didn't you say you had good news?"
Ginny's eyes sparkled, "Oh! Merlin I can't believe I almost forgot! You were such a sight I completely forgot what I came here for, mum's probably roaming Mungo's ready to lay an egg!"
Hermione stiffened, " Mungo's? As in the hospital? What happened Ginny? How is anything to do with a hospital good news?" Hermione gasped.
Ginny straightened her back and gave Hermione a lopsided grin that made her nervous. "What's black, loud, smelly, and leaves a trail of broken hearts in its wake?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow at her smirking friend, "Ginerva…" she interrupted.
"Oh yes, 'Mione. He's back!"