For the third time that afternoon she caught herself lost in thought, staring out the window at the grey clouds, and damp grounds, but not really seeing them. With a sigh she gave the slim band on her left hand one more unconscious turn before gathering up her books and papers and packing them into her satchel, recognizing that she wasn't going to get any more work done.
At 23, she was still young enough to fit in with the university crowd and not look out of place. It was only when someone took the time to really look at her, to look at her eyes that they realized she was older than she seemed.
Hermione wrapped a soft scarf around her neck and slipped on her coat before bracing herself for the ten minute walk back to her flat. Several other students waved or called out greetings to her as she exited campus and she was only stopped twice, rather a record, to schedule tutoring sessions for the coming week.
The flat was small, but it was hers alone. As she peeled off damp outerwear she was again immensely grateful she hadn't had to take on a roommate. The radiator seemed to be out again and for a brief moment she considered just using a warming charm but decided against it, instead choosing to change into warmer clothes and bring the kettle to boil as soon as possible.
Magic. It was, as always, the elephant in the room. She may have been Hermione Granger, smartest witch of her age, member of the Trio, and instrumental in the destruction of the Dark Lord, but here she was just plain, normal Hermione Granger, graduate student.
She hadn't done magic in nearly two years. Her wand was...around. In a drawer in her bedroom if she remembered correctly. She hadn't been back to England either. Collateral damage from the war.
Immediately following the final battle things had seemed alright. They had all returned to the Burrow at Mrs. Weasley's insistence, but after a few days it was obvious that the family needed to heal, and to do that properly they needed to do it alone. She chose to head to Australia to find her parents and bring them back. Harry and Ron had both offered to go with her but she turned them down. Ron did it out of obligation and Harry had offered out of fear.
She knew she shouldn't have left him then. She knew he was on the precipice, but she was so broken herself right then she couldn't have helped him if she wanted to. She woke up every night to Bellatrix Lestrange's putrid breath and a pain in her arm.
Her trip to Australia didn't go exactly as planned. The spell reversal worked well enough and although her parents were initially upset at what she had done they did eventually understand. What she wasn't expecting was when they decided to stay on. She visited for a week and then headed back to England.
Upon her return things were worse than ever. She had no home to go to, the Burrow wasn't an option, and Hogwarts was still in need of repair. In desperation she took a room at the Leaky Cauldron.
Harry came to see her. In hindsight she should have known what was going to happen the minute he stepped through the door. He still had that desolate, disconnected look on his face.
She had been glad to see him. Now that she was back she was hoping they could fix this together. Help each other even though neither of them could help themselves.
But he didn't sit when she offered him a chair. He took her hand and leaned his forehead into hers for what seemed like forever, and as every passing second ticked by her heart got heavier. Finally he pressed a kiss to the corner of her mouth and whispered 'I'm sorry.' before apparating without a sound.
She doesn't know how long she stood there, frozen in the same position. A maid dropping a mop in the hallway broke her from her reverie and when she startled she realized she was crying.
She floo'd the Burrow immediately but Ron dismissed her concerns, assuring her he just needed a little time and he'd be back soon. But she knew. She felt it. Harry was gone.
A week went by, and then another, and then it had been a month. Finally, others were starting to notice his absence and ask questions. She gave him time and then started searching.
After eight months of hopping all over Great Britain and some of the continent following leads she had to admit he didn't want to be found.
Her search had given her something to focus on and when that was over she was at a loss.
Helping Harry, fixing Harry, supporting Harry. Loving Harry. This is all she knew, it was all she had known for almost eight years.
It took her time, to grieve really, and to accept a life without him. She didn't think she had ever gotten to the acceptance part. She didn't realize how much a part of her he had become.
Ron had started working at WWW and he seemed content enough. She had missed her opportunity to return to school for her last year and recognized the irony that the best student at Hogwarts in almost a century hadn't actually graduated. However, a fortuitous owl from the Headmistress informed her that she could take her NEWTS with the current 7th years if she would like.
A furious two weeks of studying again gave her something to focus on and before she knew it she was standing at the gates to Hogwarts, trying to tramp down the panic inside. All she could see was death and destruction and the noise of spellfire, and people dying.
Her hand shook through the first two exams, but by the time the day was done she had enough to control to see the castle for what it was and appreciate the reconstruction efforts.
She had done better than she had expected, though this was surprising to no one else. The Ministry offered her a position but she turned it down immediately, not truly understanding why herself.
Two sleepless days were spent pacing, and making lists, and even raging at Harry where ever he was before her decision was made. She was leaving.
With some assistance from the Headmistress, an acceptable application package was compiled and submitted even though it was past the due date. She received a letter later that week apologizing for their delay in notifying her of her acceptance and could she possibly arrive in two weeks when the new term began.
Ron didn't understand why she had to go to some Muggle university in another country, and she didn't have a good enough reason beyond it was something she had to do. He gave her a hug and told her to not be a stranger and that was that.
There was no one to see her off, and with one suitcase she left Heathrow, not bothering to look down once she was in the air.
She secured her flat quickly and within a week had fully immersed herself in the life of a graduate student. Her classes were interesting, and her professors soon realized the extent of her talent, asking her to do research assistance for them, or help with tutoring. This all kept her busy and her mind off of other things.
Two months after she arrived, her neighbor and fellow grad student, Sarah, invited her to go to a pub with them after class. She protested at first and then reluctantly agreed.
In the small, dark bar, she met some others from her department that she hadn't really spoken to yet. They were all swapping stories, getting to know each other, when someone asked if she had a guy.
She felt like the wind had been punched out of her. She had been so actively suppressing thoughts about Harry that to hear someone ask about him, whether they knew that's what they were doing or not, took her by complete surprise.
Sarah stepped in quickly, trying to change the subject and assure her that it was ok, she didn't have to answer if she didn't want to.
"I, um...I lost him. In the war." she said vaguely. She knew enough about current politics to know they would assume and wouldn't push for more information and she was right.
They carried on after a moment of awkward silence and she stayed until she felt she could excuse herself without being obvious. On the walk back to her flat she passed a small shop that seemed to sell just about everything. She had passed the shop almost everyday and had never gone in. She couldn't explain why she did that night, but before she knew it she was inside standing in front of a case.
An older man came up to her after a few minutes, quiet, and finally asked her in French if he could help her. She gave him a small smile and replied as best she could, although her command of the language had improved significantly since she arrived a few months ago.
Ten minutes later she was walking out of the shop, a narrow band of some sort of darker metal around the third finger on her left hand. If anyone had asked her why had bought it she couldn't have told them. If anyone had asked her why she put it on that finger she couldn't have said, other than it seemed like the right thing to do.
It got around the department almost immediately as these things often do. Between her admission at the pub and the ring, she became the 'war widow'. It suited her just fine. No one questioned her quietness or desire to be left alone and soon enough she recognized that she in fact was in a way a war widow in all the ways that mattered just not in the war they thought. She was also a veteran, but no one knew that either.
She was careful to not wear shirts that exposed her forearm, or anything that dipped too low in the front where evidence of her attack in 5th year was still apparent. The only substantial magic she had done when she arrived was cast the strongest silencing ward she knew on her flat. No need to wake her neighbors when she came out of her nightmares screaming.
She managed to carve a life for herself here, or at least a semblance of one. Sarah was a friend now, although Hermione wouldn't let her get too close. They studied together, had dinner a couple times a month and even gone to the movies once or twice. She was friendly enough with the others in the department, and the undergrads she taught and tutored, but at the end of the day she was alone and she was alright with that.
Ron had contacted her a few times, but eventually they both let too much time go between letters and now she hadn't heard from him in almost a year. He was her only connection with the magical world. She had chosen to not receive the international edition of the Daily Prophet and with her parents in Australia she had no need to go back to England.
Once a year. On Harry's birthday she would send a letter to Hagrid. It held the same two words each time 'Any word'. And he would always reply with 'No'.
This was really the only time she would allow herself to miss him. She took the days around his birthday and hid. She'd try and remember happier times, exciting times, times before they were all broken and damaged.
However, as much as she tried not to she would inevitably remember that night, the one she tried to forget because remembering was just too damn hard.
It was that night. In the tent. After Ron had left. When she was so sad and he was so full of doubt and despair. The wireless was on but she hadn't been paying it any attention, her sadness amplified by the horcrux around her neck. Then suddenly he was there, right in front of her, holding out his hand.
She took it without thought and didn't try and stop him when he slipped the chain over her head. And then they were dancing. At first it was halting and awkward and then she recognized it for what it was, this attempt of his to make her feel better. She smiled and laughed, the first time she had done so in a week. He twirled her around and over balanced them as they stumbled and turned and then just as suddenly his arm was wrapped around her waist and her head was on his shoulder.
They stayed like that until the song was long over and when she pulled back their eyes locked. She knew what he was asking and she answered him with a kiss. They needed this. They needed this affirmation of something that was good and whole and not sullied by war.
Yes, it was...strange, but it was also very right. When she woke up the next morning with his arm wrapped around her she wasn't embarrassed, she was just thankful that in the midst of all the hopelessness they had this between them. Forever.
He had pulled her to him tightly one more time before they got up and got dressed. They never spoke of it again, there wasn't a need to, or a chance really. But that connection was always there. It was there when she offered to go with him into the Forbidden Forest, and it was there when she saw what she thought was his dead body in Hagrid's arms, and it was there in a rented room at the Leaky Cauldron when he told her goodbye without saying the words.
Like she had done every year since she had arrived she gave herself those few days and then picked herself back up and carried on. And now here she was. Four years on, away from the war, away from England, away from magic. She was also only a few short weeks away from ending her time here.
That more than anything was weighing on her heavily. She had become so adept at ignoring and burying and distracting herself from anything to do with him and the rest of the world that now that the reality of her future was in front of her she had no idea what to do.
She was putting the finishing touches on her defense, the dissertation having been completed a month ago. A few last formalities and the graduation ceremony and she'd have to face what was to come.
Her flat was still cold even though it was April and with a sigh she poured the remnants of her tepid tea down the drain. Sarah had mentioned the group was getting together at the pub to blow off some steam before the next two hectic weeks took over. She recognized that warm food and a warm pub were preferable over this and she was out the door before she could second guess her decision.
The pub wasn't far, but with the dark and the damp it seemed further than it was. She cut down an alley between two buildings to shorten her time in the rain.
A sharp pain in the center of her chest and a flare of heat over her forearm took her breath away and caused her to stumble. In an instant her hand was reaching for the wand that wasn't there and she was looking for cover.
Panting heavily she pushed wet ringlets out of her face and scanned the dark. She hadn't had pain in those scars for years. She had no idea what could have caused both of them to hurt at the same time.
She was scared.