You wake, the light is too harsh on your eyes. You wish you could just hide away from the world just this once but you know that you have to keep going, it doesn't bear to dwell on things, to shut down with only your thoughts for friends. You roll over but the other side of the bed is empty again. It's always empty in the morning light. Breakfast: cereal with milk that he has left out again. It curdles in your mouth but you keep shovelling it in. Over and over again, mouthful by mouthful so you won't die. (When was the last time you enjoyed food? When was the last time you ate for anything but sustenance?)
You dress in pretty clothes, clothes that everyone expects a girl like you to wear. The silk blouse is cold against your skin and you take another longing look at your bed. You shake your head and focus on brushing your hair. The sleeve moves slightly, showing your forearm but you tug it back down. Nobody wants to see that, though you wonder if it's all they really see when they look at you. (Eight letters that won't heal, eight letters to remind you of what you really are.)
You flick through the owl post, checking each letter for jinxes. Among the usual letters asking for interviews and your attendance at events there's one letter on pale purple parchment. When you read it you have to sit down. A little girl has written to you telling you that her parents tell your story to her at bedtimes. You are her favourite member of Dumbledore's Army. She wants to be just like you when she grows up, you are the bravest and cleverest person she has ever heard of. You are her hero. You wonder about writing back to her, but writing a saccharine letter to a seven year old feels too overwhelming. You file the letter in your to-do pile and try to forget it. (How will that little girl feel when she's your age? Will Hogwarts grant her every wish like you so hoped it would do all those years ago?)
Packing your bag for the day you take a long look at the battered packet of cigarettes in the zip-up compartment. They are something that nobody knows about, a vice that nobody knows you have. After a small fight with your common sense you light one and smoke it slowly next to the kitchen window. It helps to calm your nerves enough for the day ahead. After a quick freshening charm you apparate away from your home.
You land outside the all-too familiar gates of Azkaban and take a deep breath before opening them and walking inside. A pin-prick verifies your identity and you are lead to the visiting room to wait for your subject. You drum your fingers on the desk that will separate the two of you and wonder about lighting another cigarette. You know that you have to do this, but you hate it, but you hate how it makes you feel, about how it makes you wonder. (Is this penance? Is this old Catholic guilt rearing its ugly head? Flogging yourself and saying a thousand Hail Mary's would be easier, surely?)
The guard is holding his arm too tightly; when he releases him her subject will have a ring of bruises around his upper arm. It's better than hexes, you suppose, many people treat him as the paragon of all that is wrong with the world, that he escaped death when so many innocents could not. Your subject sits down and stares at you. You are the only visitor he ever gets and he is always hungry for the company, no matter how much he loathes you. You nod for the guard to leave and shake your head at his offers to take down the anti-violence wards on the room. You learnt long ago that hurting others only made the hurt bigger. That violence taints the soul like the Dark Mark, something that can never wash off, no matter how much you regret it. (But this is what you are trying to do, wash away your sins. Will you really ever be able to understand what happened? What you did? What everybody did to survive?)
The epitome of survival sits in front of you and you can't help but hate him. He's never physically hurt you, so many have done much worse, even those that you have forgiven. But he was the one who started it, who made it real. He says your second name as though it's a filthy word and you frown at him and try to keep impartial as you give him news of the outside world. His voice cracks as he enquires about his mother's (ever-failing) health. You wonder how someone so awful could still care about his mother, but you suppose that that's more social conditioning than any real emotion. (If you turn him into a monster, will it make what he's done any less awful? Could that little girl inside you be resurrected and see the world with as much wonder as she had once done?)
Of course, he doesn't know that you hate him. No one does. They all think that you are a saint, that you believe that everyone deserves forgiveness. He thinks that you are doing this as some selfless act. But you are not. You come here every week to see if he's sorry, to see if he realises what he has done. He hasn't changed in the three years he has been here, not really. He is sorry that he joined the Death Eater's but that's it. He hasn't really thought about his actions, hasn't seen just what he did as a child. It's stupid really, hating someone for what he did as a child. But you can't help it. He is the face of everything that is ugly about this world.
You try to draw your conversation to what he did all those years ago, but he doesn't understand what you're asking. He doesn't understand what he did to you. You want to shout it in his face, how he ruined the Wizarding World for you with just one word. How he started the war, stole your innocence. Showed you that the place you had prayed for and had entered was just as horrible as the one you had come from. Worse, even. But of course you don't. You speak to him cordially and take messages for his mother before giving him another muggle novel to read before your next visit, something that he takes hungrily, the pure-blood prince is so starved for stimulation that he is reading the muggle classics. (Does he see the theme running through them? Does he notice that they are dog-eared and worn, the most-loved books in your own collection?)
Before you get up and leave you reach into your pocket and hold the vial in your hand. The ornate glass is a familiar feel on your fingers; you always bring it to these visits, but never take it out. For a moment you wonder about passing it to him with a smile, your fingers touching, but you decide against it like you always do. It isn't time yet, he hasn't realised it yet. Instead you say goodbye and summon the guard. He says something funny as you leave; he asks you if you will visit his mother in person, as if she would ever want to see you. You agree and leave, mentally adding her to your to-do list. (Does he really think that his mother would see you? Does he really think that you ever wanted to visit that place again?)
You walk to the gates in silence and run your fingers over the carving on the lock before apparating away. You have lunch in Diagon Alley with Ginny; she's all smiles and proudly displays her engagement ring for all to see. You wonder what will happen to her Quidditch career after they marry, if she will just settle down and start having children, forgetting all other dreams. After you part ways you floo into the Ministry to while away the next few hours at your desk, writing reports and talking to your colleagues about mundane things. When you took this job you thought you'd be re-working the Wizarding World, that you would be making a difference but the traditionalists at the Wizengamot soon put a stop to those aspirations. They only gave you this job to endear themselves to the general public, not to let you wield any real power to make change. (If you weren't Hermione Jean Granger would you even be allowed in the Department? A mudblood?)
You return home and change for dinner, Ron is taking you out and you try to look your best. He likes you in dresses and skirts, says that trousers are too masculine for witches. And you play the part, though it makes you fume inside. After all, it's better to have someone than no one. You powder you nose and paint your lips pink, adjusting the pearl earrings he gave you for your birthday. He's good with gifts, and romantic meals. You're lucky to have him, really. At dinner he calls you beautiful and ignores the fans that come to ask for his autograph. You hear one girl insult you and you think about telling her that you are just as unhappy at being with him as she is that you are. But it wouldn't do to embarrass yourself, or him. (What would they say if Golden-Trio member and Chudley Cannons star Keeper Ronald Weasley was disrespected by his girlfriend in public?)
After you demure desert and he pays the bill the two of you apparate home. You are on the bed before you can notice and you bite your lip before pulling him closer. Your clothes are tossed onto the floor and he is on top of you. You dig your nails into his back and fake moans of pleasure. He doesn't notice that they aren't real and soon he is lying next to you, breathing heavily from the exertion. You move your body closer to his and cuddle up on his chest. This is why you allowed it, so he would hold you at night and you could forget. He's awfully good at playing the protector. He kisses your temple and holds you close, whispering that he loves you before falling asleep. (Are you an awful person for lying? For making him feel that way? For using him in that way?)
You feel secure in his arms as you fall asleep, wishing that you could stay like that forever and not have to get up in the morning and live with what has happened, live with your scars, live with yourself.
A/N Just something I wrote about Hermione's life after the war. Feedback would be nice.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, obviously.