Summary: A oneshot set after the Battle of Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall offers a tired and struggling Hermione advice and support.

Note: The relationship between McGonagall and Hermione in this story is entirely platonic.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything from the Harry Potter series, which is clearly the property of J.K. Rowling.

The Strength To Go On

Hermione coughed to clear the dust from her lungs, then immediately regretted it as she felt a sharp twinge in her chest. She gazed over to the group of red-haired people sitting together, but didn't join the Weasleys. Even after the victory, their grief was still strong, and she did not want to intrude upon it. She stared at Ron's face, contorted with emotions that revealed how much he had changed and grown up in the past year. But everybody had changed this year. She didn't feel she could be the old Hermione Granger ever again.

She yearned to join Ron. To just hold his hand, and try and let him know how much she felt for him. To look into his eyes and tell him. But it seemed improper, wrong even, to allow herself that happiness whilst so many grieved.

She was disturbed out of her reverie by the sound of footsteps towards her in her isolated corner of the ruined Great Hall, but relaxed as she recognised the familiar figure of Professor McGonagall.

"Miss Granger? Are you alright?"

"Yes, Professor. I'm fine." She replied, as McGonagall joined her on the abandoned stretcher she was sat on. But she could hear the dishonesty in her voice, and she knew Professor McGonagall could too. "I think I've broken a rib," she admitted, "But I didn't want to trouble Madam Pomfrey. She has enough to deal with as it is." She continued: "I was going to try and fix it myself, but I don't think I'm experienced enough."

"Would you like me to take a look at it?" asked Professor McGonagall, her voice etched with friendly concern. Hermione hesitated, slightly self-conscious.

"Um, please, if you wouldn't mind..."

"Not at all, Miss Granger." McGonagall replied with her familiar crisp formality. Hermione hesitated again, but then as McGonagall stood, lay back onto the stretcher uneasily. Her professor gestured for her to raise her top, and she complied, pulling the side of her t-shirt up. Hermione was surprised to see how bad her side looked; dark bruises were beginning to emerge around a deep cut. She was also conscious of the fact of how thin she looked. She must have lost a lot of weight during the past year.

"How did this happen, Miss Granger?" asked Professor McGonagall, and Hermione saw her brow furrow as she examined the injury.

"I'm... I'm not exactly sure," Hermione replied, "I didn't even notice until recently."

"Hmmm yes that's the adrenaline," McGonagall said, her fingers gently probing the injury. "Sorry," she muttered quickly as she pressed on a particularly bruised area and Hermione winced. "Well I think you were right Miss Granger: you've definitely broken a rib or two. Would you like me to heal it, or do you want to wait for Madam Pomfrey?"

"I trust you," Hermione replied through gritted teeth. The pain was increasing by the minute, and Professor McGonagall was the most skilled witch she knew.

Professor McGonagall proceeded to mutter a spell, passing her wand over Hermione's side, and the pain began to recede as the bruises faded before her eyes. Within seconds, all that was left was a small, thin cut where the skin had been broken.

"Now, Miss Granger," said Professor McGonagall as Hermione sat up and pulled her t-shirt back down. "You are fixed physically, but how are you on the inside?" Hermione was slightly stunned that her stoic professor was even asking her this question, and to her dismay and embarrassment, hot tears sprang out of her eyes and dripped down her face. "I guess that answers my question," continued McGonagall quietly as she once more sat down beside Hermione, and produced a clean, white handkerchief that she handed to her. Hermione took it gratefully and dabbed her eyes with it, trying to recover herself.

"I'm sorry," she eventually stammered out. "I'm just really tired."

"That's understandable," replied Professor McGonagall. "And you don't need to apologise."

"How do you do it?" asked Hermione, as the woman she admired so much surveyed her with a strong, steady gaze, "Stay so strong, after all that's happened?"

"Experience, Miss Granger," the older woman replied. "I've been here a few times before. But let me tell you, it never gets any easier to see friends..." She didn't need to finish the sentence. "I remember the First Wizarding War," McGonagall began again, "And the terrible losses that we suffered then."

"I'm sorry," said Hermione again, sadly.

"I don't need to tell anyone here that war is a terrible thing, Miss Granger, but what it is important for you to remember is that though the physical fighting has finished, we must remain fighting in our hearts and minds. And often this is a battle against ourselves. Though it is hard, and only natural to grieve and despair, we should try to prevent these feelings from consuming us, and instead remember to be grateful for our own lives, and those of our loved ones."

"But we've lost loved ones, Professor."

"Yes, we have, Miss Granger, but we still have a lot of our friends and family around us, and together we can support each other." She paused, and instinctively clasped Hermione's hand. "We must be careful to remember that, or effectively, we have lost ourselves in this war too. It requires more strength to go after war than to wage war, Miss Granger.
"I am very proud of you, Hermione. You have done the noble house of Godric Gryffindor, and me, proud. I know you will be able to stay strong for those around you, but if you are struggling, you can always come to me."

"Thank you, Professor," whispered Hermione, as tears started to form in her eyes again. "I won't forget that."

"You're welcome, Hermione. But you can call me Minerva." She smiled at Hermione, who smiled back through her tears. "Now," she said, looking up. "It appears Mr. Weasley would like your attention."

Hermione looked up also to see Ron standing a little while away. She knew he was waiting for her. Professor McGonagall let go of her hand as Hermione stood up and walked towards Ron. Their fingers interlocked as she looked into his eyes, and she knew that he knew. He threw his arms around her, and she stroked his hair as he sobbed into her shoulder. She knew to stay strong for him, but that he would be strong for her when she needed it too. She caught Professor McGonagall's eye as her and Ron moved slowly on the spot together, and her favourite professor nodded at her, smiling; though Hermione swore she saw the glint of a tear in that strong woman's eyes.

I hope you enjoyed it, I haven't done a lot of writing but I tried my best! Review and make my day? I'll accept any criticisms and advice you can give me...