Author's Note. I always said I'd never write a Dramione, so here it is. Your comments and / or criticisms are very welcome.
I must thank my wonderful beta xCailinNollaigx (.net/u/1651980/) for her sterling efforts. She's also a fine writer, and I would strongly advise you to read her latest story "The Founder Heirs".
"Human forgiveness does not do away with human justice."
Lewis B. Smedes - The Art of Forgiving: When You Need To Forgive And Don't Know How
Hermione Granger came through the door and quickly shut it behind her to stop what little warmth there was in the room from escaping. Brushing the snow from her robe, she took it off and then blew into her cupped hands.
'That is COLD out there' she said to the other people gathered in the still shuttered kitchen.
'Well, let's get this soup on to warm then, it might heat the place up a little' said Hannah Abbot, almost unrecognisable under layers of jumpers. 'You can start cutting the bread.'
As the kitchen began to heat and the various volunteers bustled around, conversation levels rose. It was mainly superficial stuff; how work had been, what they were doing that night, and how cold it was outside.
The war had ended over eighteen months ago and Hermione was in the "drop-in" centre just off Diagon Alley, as she was every Saturday, to serve tea, soup and bread to those who had ended up on the losing side, but not done enough to warrant a lengthy sentence in Azkaban. Money was always tight, and the food had to be strictly rationed – one cup, one bowl, one slice per person. Queues formed long before the doors opened, and sometimes there wasn't enough to go round.
As she was working full-time at the Ministry, Saturday was the only day Hermione could spare to serve. She did help out with organising fundraising though, as it took a considerable amount of time and effort just to keep the place open. Various charities had sprung up to help people who had lost families, business and homes to Voldemort; so there was precious little left for those who were considered his sympathisers.
Requests for donations were often met with very blank refusals. 'Let 'em starve; it's no more than they deserve.' 'D'you think they'd be having collections for us if they'd won?' 'They were all high and mighty; they can dig in their own pockets.' These were some of the more publishable comments that came back, and even they have been edited.
Hermione had actually been spat at, once, when she was out collecting.
'Get out of here, you bloody Death Lover. What did you do in the war?'
She'd pulled her hood back and looked the man in the eye. 'A few bits and pieces. What about you?'
His jaw had dropped; Hermione was probably the most famous witch in Britain, if not the World.
'Sorry, lo…Miss Granger, I mean. No offence meant, not to you personally.' He scurried off, having dropped a few knuts in her tin.
At exactly 12 o'clock the doors were opened and the "clients" shuffled in. As always a couple of Officers from Magical Law Enforcement were on hand, but they were never needed. Every one of the people coming in knew they would be thrown out if they caused trouble, and they didn't have the energy to waste. They shuffled towards the serving hatch, forming a ragged but orderly line.
Hermione thought they must resemble those who had been kissed by a Dementor, except these people hadn't had their souls sucked out of them, though. If anything, it was worse. Their souls still existed but had been crushed slowly and remorselessly; crushed by months of starvation and lack of hope.
These were not ex-Death Eaters. The real war criminals had been rounded up or were still on the run and being hunted down.
No, these wretches were former snatchers, who had maybe spent a few months in Azkaban, or servants from the great houses who had been thrown out of their work and tied accommodation when their Masters were arrested. They were shop-keepers who had put up notices saying "No Mudbloods, Half-Bloods or Blood Traitors served on these premises" mainly to avoid midnight visits from Voldemort's enforcers; but once the war was over they had neither been forgotten nor forgiven and had seen their businesses fold. A few were even former Ministry employees who had gone slightly too far in performing their duties.
They were the forgotten casualties of war who, through action or inaction, had found themselves on the losing side. Some had had no choice in which side to follow, some had made a mistake; but most had just tried to ensure their families would not be harmed. None could find work, nobody would employ them. Revenge was sweet, but not fattening.
Now they stood, gaunt and empty eyed, arms hanging loosely. They were "dressed" in whatever cast-offs they could beg or find or steal. Tattered balaclavas covered heads, threadbare coats covered bodies and worn-out shoes failed to keep out the cold and wet. Some even had rags wrapped around their feet.
They never looked up, never made eye contact, never spoke. Trays were carried silently to tables and the food bolted down. Two hours later they would be turned out onto the streets again to find what shelter they could, and to try and survive the night before the soup kitchen opened again tomorrow.
Some didn't make it.
What was Hermione Granger, Order of Merlin (1st Class), one third of "The Golden Trio", doing in such a place? It was a question she had asked herself, normally just after the first whiff of an unwashed body reached her nostrils.
Part of it was undoubtedly her middle-class liberal upbringing. She was raised in a house, like so many others in Britain, where prejudice was considered almost as disgusting as cruelty to animals. When those in need reached out for help, it was almost a sacred duty to help them. Hermione and her parents were only a few generations away from their Victorian forebears, with their "Improving tracts" and evangelism, who had cleared the slums and preached Temperance and introduced penny schools.
Hermione had suffered as much as anyone else, and more than most, during the War. Yet, she saw that it was a war based on ignorance and prejudice. In her heart beat a message, loud and strong. NEVER AGAIN.
Hermione hadn't just listed to Professor Binns; she knew her other history as well. She knew that the seeds of the Muggle Second World War had been sown with the humiliations and reparations of the First. The bitterness and hatred left in the defeated had provided the fertilizer needed by the fanatics and extremists.
She had studied Churchill's words:
In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.
This was her contribution. NEVER AGAIN.
He was just another one in the queue. Just another slice of bread to be put on another tray.
And yet…there was something just different enough about him to make her look up. The clothes had been, once, of good quality. He wasn't quite as stooped as the others, his shuffle not so pronounced. His eyes still held the slightest suggestion of pride.
They were still a cold grey.
His eyes met hers for just the briefest moment of time before he dropped them and moved away to a table, sitting with his back to her.
Whilst serving out the rest of the bread, she kept half an eye on him. He sat on his own, neither talking nor being spoken to. Normally, once they had finished eating, people lingered for as long as possible before they had to go back into the cold, but he stood as soon as he was finished. All the food had been served by that stage, so Hermione had nothing else left to do.
'Hannah…I'll be back in a minute, OK?' Hannah waved in acknowledgement and carried a cauldron out to the washing up area.
'Draco…Draco!' She ran up the street after him, feeling the cold already strike through her as she'd left her robe behind. He didn't stop walking.
'Draco? Where are you going?' She was now walking alongside him.
'Sod off, Granger.' There was no malice in his voice, just an endless weariness. She stopped and watched as he turned the corner. He didn't look back.
Ron called for her promptly at 7:45, as arranged, and she was ready to meet him. Once she'd got back from the drop-in she'd gone through her usual routine; clothes straight in the washing machine and a long hot shower.
She gave him a kiss in the hallway before taking him through to the living room so he could say hello to her parents. They normally had a glass of wine with them before heading out for the evening.
Ron was greeted warmly, as usual. Mr and Mrs Granger both liked him, and knew he would be their son-in-law one day. He'd started on his Auror training in September, at the personal invitation of the Minister for Magic, and had a bright future ahead of him.
'So, were you down the soup kitchen again today?' he asked.
'Yeah' she sighed. 'The numbers are getting larger, you know. This cold snap's really bringing them in.'
Ron shrugged. 'They should've picked the right side. Do you want to go out tonight? You look tired; you work hard all week, and then spend the day down there. Are you sure it's not too much for you?'
She smiled at him, and pulled a curl of his hair through her fingers. 'No, I want to go out. What do you suggest?'
'Have you eaten?' She shook her head. 'How about a curry? I'm starving!'
She laughed. 'You're always starving!'
'I spent six months in a tent. I don't think I've caught up yet.'
The meal was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was nice to sit with Ron in the warm and subdued light of their favourite Indian Restaurant, eating spicy food washed down with cold beer. It was a Muggle place, as were most of their haunts. Here they were just a couple; nothing special.
Afterwards they went on to a nightclub and met up with a few friends and had a dance. At one point, she did think that what they'd spend this evening was what they budgeted for a day's meals at the drop-in, but it was soon forgotten.
They left at about two in the morning to head back to "The Burrow". Hermione would sleep overnight in Ginny's old room, and then stay for dinner with the Weasleys before going home. All in all, it was their usual weekend routine, and similar to that of thousands of youngsters up and down the country.
Not all though.
As they left to find somewhere convenient to apparate, Hermione noticed dark shapes in the doorways. Bodies huddled out of the cold under sparse blankets or cardboard boxes. Ron followed her eyes.
'They'll always be around, Hermione.'
'Unless we do something for them.'
'Or they do something for themselves.'
'You don't know that, Ron. Maybe they just got unlucky. Maybe they had a bad break.'
'Maybe they couldn't be bothered to take the breaks they were given.'
She sighed, and the memory of a tired voice and tired body came back to her. 'Maybe. Who knows? Let's go.'