The Wizarding War ended more positively than Hermione had thought it would. She was still alive, for one thing, and Harry had defeated a wizard so evil that he made Adolph Hitler seem like a good guy.
Some people had decided to grab life by the balls and throw themselves into the pure pleasure of simply living. There had been more weddings and subsequent births than there had been for many years before, sales of Butterbeer and Firewhisky had gone through the roof, and there was never a need for an excuse to have a party. The end of the war and its successful outcome was reason enough, even a year on.
But Hermione couldn't feel that joy, no matter how hard she tried or how drunk she became. Her parents had been victims, along with many other Muggles. She felt their loss in a strange, detached way because she had changed so much over the years. The easy-going relationship they had shared when she was a child had become something strained, and the differences between their lives so fundamental, that they had little in common and little to discuss. Hermione had kept so much from them that in the end, they had felt like mere acquaintances. The Weasleys became her real family, brothers and a sister she had never had but learned to rely on. She had felt Fred's loss acutely, and it had highlighted that she was not, in fact, a Weasley, and they had grieved privately for him, leaving Hermione hurting alone. She didn't even have Harry, who had reunited forcefully with Ginny and was included in the Weasley wake.
It was a parting of the ways, and Hermione moved from the Burrow into a small flat close to the Ministry and took the first position she was offered, working in the Charms research department. She spent some time with Harry, but this lessened as his relationship with Ginny grew. More often than not, she spent her evenings alone, sometimes poring over work documents for the want of something to fill her time.
Ron had taken a post as a trainer for the Holyhead Harpies and had slowly made his way around most of the team, keen as they all were to sleep with Harry Potter's best friend. It didn't bother Hermione that much. They were never going anywhere, not really. But she missed him and his ridiculous sense of humour, even though there was nothing much she wanted to laugh about.
Her day started out much like any other. A shower and a coffee in the flat, and then she walked the fifteen minutes it took her to get to the visitors' entrance at the Ministry. Another ten minutes getting her wand checked in and her daily security badge charmed to her robes, and she entered the lift, getting out at the fourth basement level.
She walked into her office and said a perfunctory good morning to Alice Smyth, her assistant. It was then that the day started to get worse.
Firstly, someone had tossed the pile of research papers that she had sorted the previous day onto the floor. Secondly, she had been called to a meeting that was due to start in almost five minutes, to be chaired by Miranda Mitchell, a witch Hermione had taken an instant dislike to because she was almost as sickly sweet as Dolores Umbrage. With a deep sigh, Hermione walked back out of the office and down the stark corridor to the boardroom.
She passed Harry's office on the way and was surprised to hear a round of applause and three cheers shouted out loud, followed by a rousing chorus of 'For He's a Jolly Good Fellow,'. Intrigued, she dipped her head around the door and observed Harry in the centre of a crowd of colleagues, sycophants, or both, being clapped on the shoulder in some sort of congratulations. She felt a touch of gratification when he caught her eye and waved her in. He hadn't forgotten her totally.
'What's going on?' She smiled at him wryly.
'I was going to come and find you,' he said, slightly breathlessly. 'Ginny and me, well… We're getting married!' His face split into a hugely happy grin.
Hermione felt slightly nauseous and forced a smile onto her face. 'That's great, Harry.'
Why she didn't feel ecstatic for them, she didn't know. She could feel the walls closing in around her, and the cacophony of noise in the room and pockets of raucous laughter were making her feel dizzy.
'Hermione, are you okay?' Harry asked, concerned.
'Sure. A bit tired. I think I might just need a holiday or something,' she said softly. 'I have to go, Harry, meeting with Mitchell.' She slipped quickly out of the room and leant against the cool wall of the narrow hallway, closing her eyes to steady herself.
She turned slowly, away from Harry and in the opposite direction of her meeting with Miranda Mitchell, walked into her office and pulled out a bit of parchment. She wrote quickly and sealed it, leaving it in a prominent position for Alice to forward, and then she lifted some personal items from the drawer.
She left without a word to anyone.