Title from T. S. Eliot's 'Preludes'.


Everyone had always said she read too much for her own good. Sometimes she couldn't help but agree, for it felt like there were other people inside her head, who talked to her in sophisticated words and unrealistic diction, and did things Hermione would never dare.

Some days she couldn't be quite sure where the real Hermione ended and the characters began.

She had thought that maybe if she had been sorted into Ravenclaw it might have been different, for the Ravenclaws had books and friends, friends who appreciated books, but she had been too serious and focused for them too.

She loved Gryffindor, with its warm décor and vibrant laughter, but it got too much sometimes. Hermione had felt such an outsider even with those she was meant to belong with, but the Sorting Hat had seen inside her mind and placed her there, and despite herself she had started to like it after a while.

It had been the same with the Burrow, for all that the Weasleys could be too loud and tactile and overbearing in their friendliness.

At the other side of the room, the boys were playing Exploding Snap. Hermione gritted her teeth, and turned the page. These days she read as much for the others as for herself, for the spells she learned might save someone's life, and the sight was familiar enough to be reassuring, to the extent that anything could be nowadays.

She sipped her coffee almost absentmindedly. It was a bit too sweet for her, but she felt so awkward around Mrs Weasley now that any objection was out of the question. She put the cup down, and heard it thud against the table.

Apparently she was angrier than she had thought. But that the woman she had stayed with for two summers had believed Rita Skeeter, without even writing to Ron or Harry or even Hermione herself, and then behaved so pettily, had hurt.

But then Hermione was used to being believed. Her own parents had never doubted her words or her judgement.

The cup was chipped. Hermione squinted at it, for she had not thought herself so careless.

"Reparo," she said, pointing her wand. It healed, though the cup was still scratched and old. It had probably been in the Black family for years, but there was no one to replace it anymore.

"Oh, hello," said Remus from the doorway. He looked tired, and there were new scratches across his cheek, too close together to have been caused by spells. "Is the Prophet around here somewhere?"

"They've gone back to praising Harry." She held it up, to avoid asking about Order business. There was no point: they still refused to tell them any specifics.

He came over, somewhat awkwardly, and took it from her. Their hands brushed, and he pulled away as if burnt.

Hermione could feel herself go red.

Last night he'd pressed her down against Sirius' old bed, not ungently, as tacky pornographic posters stared down at them from the walls. His hands had felt like worn sandpaper against her clammy thighs, and his teeth were sharp when he bit down over her collarbone.

There was no reason to think that it had been anything other than a one-time thing, caused by bitter grief, but he had been kind to her.

Hermione had thought it would hurt, like Lavender had claimed, but she hadn't felt much. It hadn't been very different from masturbation at all.

But it had been pleasant enough; though Remus' lips had been chapped, and the healing cut on his lower lip had felt strange against hers, the memory of curses flying and Lestrange's mad shouts strangely arousing in a way that Ron would never have understood. Hermione had bitten down, hard, and Remus' fingernails had dug into her skin in surprise.

In the morning she had looked at herself in the mirror, and felt almost disappointed to see the same girl as before, though she knew there was no reason to expect otherwise.

When he awoke, he had kissed her gently on the cheek with eyes full of regret. He still had them.

"I found a book you might like," Remus said by way of reply, pulling it out of his pocket. It looked worn, and well-read, and Hermione traced her fingers over the gilt of the title.

"Thank you," she said, and reached out to hug him on an impulse. Remus hesitated, then put an arm around her tentatively.

"Also, I shouldn't, but you're old enough to make your own decisions." He held out a small white box towards her. "They were Sirius'. He'll hardly –" He looked away, clearing his throat.

The packet was dusty, and she didn't recognise the label, but still half-full. It would be enough: she didn't smoke much.

"Thank you," she said again.

He gave a slight nod, and looked down at the Prophet he was holding. "I should go."

Hermione followed him out of the house, and waved at his retreating back as he walked off to find a secluded spot to disapparate. Then she pulled out a cigarette from the packet, and lit it with a muggle lighter.

She breathed in, and held the smoke inside her mouth for as long as she could, tasting it, and thought she could almost feel herself relax.

She did not let herself think about what her parents would have said, because their house might have been just in another part of London, but it felt like a world away. There was a war going on, surely there could be allowances made for that.

But Hermione Granger had never been able to shut her brain off and relax. In her mind she could still see smudged ink on thin paper; endless facts and figures; sugar approximates to roughly 20% of a cigarette, the average cigarette contains –

Of course she knew it could kill her. But she also knew, all too well, how unlikely it was that she would survive long enough for it to even have a chance.

She dropped the cigarette, and snuffed it out with a couple twists of her shoe, before casting the appropriate spells to purify the air and freshen her breath.

Then she went back inside, to her book.