A/N: this is written as a Gift-Fic for Being A Wallflower in the Year of Gift-Giving Extravaganza. I used the prompts: "We all have ghosts." and "You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future." - Richard Bach.
I also wrote it for the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes Competition, category Deflagration Deluxe (write a story of at least 2000 words) and the Hunger Games: Fanfic Style Competition, round 2. I had to use a minimum of five prompts out of ten provided. I picked:
- word: oak
- emotion: blissful
- dialogue: "There's something I've always wanted to ask…"
- setting: The Forbidden Forest
- class: Potions
- weapon: fists
Disclaimer: nope, not mine, unfortunately!
"Come. Let them mourn in peace."
Hermione looked at the Weasley gathered on the floor of the Great Hall. All of them were crying by Fred's body. Arthur was rocking Molly and the brothers and Ginny were all clutching to each other. Her own sight was blurry. She wanted to put her arms around Ron, be the shoulder he could cry on, comfort him, even though she knew that little comforting would be possible. For what did you say to someone who was grieving over a dead brother? How would you ever be able to take even a part of their pain away?
"Come, Hermione. Let's go elsewhere."
Harry took her hand and she looked up. She noticed that he, too, had tears in his eyes. She nodded softly, attempting to blink away the water in her eyes. They walked through the Great Hall together, but everywhere the scenery was the same: the wounded and injured were being tended by those with lesser injuries, the dead were grieved over by their loved ones. They walked on until they were outside. There, they looked at the castle – or what was left of it.
"It looks terrible," Hermione commented quietly.
"It looks like all of us, battered and broken," Harry replied.
They both stared in silence, their minds occupied elsewhere. Hermione felt like she didn't actually belong anywhere. People they knew, friends, had died or were injured, but they all had people looking after them. In a way, she and Harry were alike. Both didn't have a family to turn to, and for both, their best friends had survived. She couldn't believe that days ago they had been out in the forest, hunting Horcruxes; that all day, they had been battling; that just hours ago, she had kissed Ron.
"I just want to hold him and comfort him, you know?"
Harry needn't ask whom she meant.
"I know. I want to hold Ginny too. But they need each other more now than they might need us."
Hermione nodded. She knew it was true, but still… Harry put an arm around her shoulder.
"If we can't hold the ones we love, we'll just have to comfort ourselves."
He pulled her in for a hug and she felt hot tears falling on the top of her head and realised that Harry was crying too. They were perhaps the closest each of them had to a family and they found solace in each other's company.
"Everything will be alright," Harry murmured at a certain point.
"You think so?"
"You want an honest answer? I can't imagine things ever going to be okay again at this moment. But it'll have to be, no? This can't all have been in vain. We didn't fight for nothing. We didn't fight to let the darkness in our hearts take over from the darkness around us, now did we? Fred, Remus, Tonks, all the others that gave their lives… they'll never come back to us. But I just have to believe that somehow, from now on, there will be better times. Or else, what would have been the point in all of this?"
She heard the bitterness in his voice and thought she also distinguished another emotion: guilt.
"Harry, you are not responsible for their deaths."
"It feels like it is my fault. If I had just surrendered sooner, if I hadn't gone up to Professor Dumbledore's office to watch Snape's memories, than maybe they would have lived…"
"Don't talk like that. They are adults, they knew the possibility of dying was likely. Who knows what would have happened to them if you had surrendered? Who knows if they would have survived if you had done that? Don't go there, Harry." She shook her head. "Don't blame yourself for the things that have happened."
They stood in silence, once more. Hermione sensed that despite what Harry might admit to, he'd never fully speak about what had happened this day, here and in the Forbidden Forest.
Everything will be alright, she thought to herself and kept repeating that mantra, because if you said it long enough and often enough, surely someone had to listen and make sure it eventually happened, right?
Fred's funeral was beautiful but, naturally, very sad. George and Molly took it the hardest. Molly's face was pale from not sleeping in a while and her hair now had grey streaks in it. Hermione felt like an intruder, even though the Weasleys assured her she wasn't. From talking to Harry, she knew he felt the same. She comforted Ron and Harry comforted Ginny. Hermione had wanted to cry as well, but she didn't, for she needed to be strong for Ron.
That summer was the first summer she didn't look forward to spending time at The Burrow. The atmosphere was laced with grief and she was treading on eggshells: any comment could be taken wrongly or could make someone burst out in tears. But still she went, for it was now the only place she could go to. She had no idea where her parents were or if she would ever see them again. It was difficult though. Every moment spent in the Weasleys' company reminded her of this fact and she distanced herself a bit from them to prevent herself from breaking. She often had nightmares and panicked when she was requested to pick up a knife and chop vegetables. Eventually, Molly had stopped asking.
Hermione and Ron had snogged a couple of times, but it just didn't feel right. Ron was trying to be a supportive brother to George, but the loss of Fred took a toll on him as well. He was curt and snappy and not at all pleasant company to be with. Harry wasn't in the bests of moods either, but he was less agitated then Ron was. She had once tried to console the redhead, but that had been a big mistake.
The three friends had been sitting around the oak table in the Weasley kitchen. Ron was feeling down and commented to no one in particular that the end of war didn't feel quite as joyful as it was supposed to be.
She had sympathised with him. Even though the war was now over, it would take some time for the world to heal. "Everything will be alright eventually," she had said and had placed a hand on his.
Ron had exploded. "Alright? Alright? How can you say everything will be alright when you know that it never will? That Fred is never coming back? That Remus, Tonks, Moody and all the others are never coming back?" Ron slapped away her hand and clenched his fists in anger and frustration. "Don't you understand? Don't you understand that it is never going to be the same again and that we can't change a freaking thing about it? I want to do something, get Fred back, but I can't. Nothing I do can ever bring him back." He slammed his fist on the table and didn't even register the pain.
Harry tried to calm him down, but Ron yelled at him. "You have no idea what it's like!" he roared. "Both of you, you act all sympathetic, but you just don't get it! You have never known your parents, so not having them around anymore isn't the same as losing someone you grew up with. And you," he turned to Hermione, "what do you understand about loss? Your parents are still alive, so why don't you go be with them if you can't stand it here?!"
Tears appeared in her eyes. "I don't know where my parents are. I don't even know if they're still alive! You're not the only one who suffered in the war, Ronald Weasley, and you're just a self-centred, egoistic bastard!" She ran out of the room and let the tears fall freely from her eyes. She rushed up the stairs into the bedroom she shared with Ginny and started throwing her belongings haphazardly in her purple beaded bag. She didn't want to stay any longer than possible. For a moment, she contemplated writing Ginny a note to explain herself, but she figured that Harry could just tell her. She was enraged with Ron. How dare he yell at her like that? She vigorously wiped away the tears that were streaming down her cheeks. She would not cry over Ron.
She didn't have a clue where she was going, and an hour after she had stormed off, she already regretted her decision. But she wouldn't go back, not so quickly that was. Her pride kept her from returning like a lost puppy.
Ron's comment kept buzzing around in her head. "Your parents are still alive, so why don't you go be with them if you can't stand it here?!"
That same evening, Hermione was on a plane to the other side of the world. She hadn't the faintest idea where in Australia her parents would be, but going over there would at least make the search a whole lot easier.
Twenty-four hours later, she landed in Sydney with a groggy head and an enormous jetlag. She went to a hotel and slept for twelve hours. The next day she bought herself a map and located the British embassy. The embassy must have some record of her parents settling in Australia, so she thought it her best way to start. She straightened her back and went inside.
"Goodday Miss, how may I help you?"
"I am looking for my biological parents," Hermione said. "You see, I was adopted."
She hadn't really prepared something, so she just said the first thing that came into her mind.
"I see. And your biological parents are from Australia?"
"No I've been told that they are British but moved to Australia about a year ago."
"What's your name?"
"Hermione Granger." Keeping things as close to the truth as possible was most likely the best part. She knew Australia had very severe legislation concerning foreigners. She anticipated the next question. "Here's my identification." She handed him her passport. The man nodded as he examined her passport. "That seems to be in order." He handed it back to her. "Do you have the adoption papers that prove they are your biological parents? And do they know you're coming?"
Adoption papers…Of course they would be asking for adoption papers! Hermionecould just hit herself. See, that's what happens when you storm off without thinking, she scolded herself.
"They don't know I'm coming. And I should have the adoption papers here somewhere…" She rummaged in her backpack, while she carefully cast a glance around. It wasn't very busy and the only other embassy worker currently had his back turned towards her. She might not get a better change. She carefully aimed her wand and whispered: "Imperio."
The man's eyes glazed over and Hermione felt the magic. She hated to do this.
"Ah yes, that's quite all right," he said. "What did you say their names were?"
"Wendell and Monica Wilkins."
"What are their dates of birth?"
"August 7, 1951 and March 23, 1952."
He tapped something on the computer. "Hmm," he muttered.
"What is it?"
"No that can't be right, that would be cruel," he muttered.
"What is it?" she repeated, her voice a little shriller than before. She started to panic again. Was the spell already waving off?
"It says here they were in a car crash."
"What? That can't be right! Let me see!"
She pushed the man aside and looked at the screen, her heart pounding in her chest. They couldn't be dead! Not after the trouble she had gone through to keep them safe!
But the system showed two small crosses and Hermione felt all colour drain from her face. She didn't know how she had gotten out of the embassy, but the next she knew, she found herself sitting on some park bench. She put her face in her hands and started crying, long, desperate sobs. She'd never see her parents again. It was a stupid thing to tell Ron everything would be alright again for everything will never be alright again, she thought. Only now did she truly understand how Ron had felt; losing someone so close left a hole in one's heart that would never heal. She would never be the same again. She felt guilty. Only two weeks ago. If she had arrived in Australia sooner, she might have been able to get them back to England in time. But now, there was no time. There never would be any more time.
Hermione stayed in Australia for a couple more days, to clear her head of the fog that clouded her mind. She still couldn't fathom her parents' death.
When a letter arrived with an all too familiar seal, Hermione was torn. She didn't particularly want to go back. Didn't she owe it to her parents to find out as much as she could about how they had lived in Australia? But she spent her days in her hotel room, staring into nothingness. She didn't know what made up her mind, perhaps it was self-preservation, but she went back.
The castle was slightly less in rubbles than it had been when she left, but it was still in a horrible state. The Opening Feast wasn't much of a feast really, but the teachers tried to show some positivity and welcomed the students as well as they could. She could see the grey in their hairs and the lines in their faces and knew that they must have worked all summer to prepare the building for the new school year.
As it soon turned out, going back to Hogwarts didn't change her anything. The nightmares became more frequent and more vivid. She would wake up screaming every time she felt the tip of the blade rip open her skin again, carve those letters that formed the scar she hated so much. Hermione had never been a loud person, but she was starting to become more quiet and withdrawn, trapped in her own world of guilt and despair. She could walk through the school corridors and suddenly be overcome with a heart rate like that of a speeding horse; her heart galloping in her chest, skipping beats, making her legs feel shaky and her arms a thousand kilos. At times, she needed to stabilise herself against the wall to prevent herself from falling.
The teachers sent her worried looks, but it wasn't until she freaked out in Potion's class one day, that they decided she needed help.
"Follow the procedures as they are written on the board," Professor Slughorn said. The board was scribbled with his distinctive handwriting. She started crushing the first ingredient in a grinder and added some bat wings. A purple-ish steam was rising from her cauldron and she nodded. Brewing potions calmed her mind, because it was so logical and organised and didn't allow time for her mind to wander. She needed to cut the next ingredient and she stared at the knife they had been given. It wasn't a knife. It was a dagger. And it resembled that particular dagger that haunted her sleep.
"Take it away!" she screamed.
"Miss Granger?" Professor Slughorn asked.
"Take it away, take it away!" She backed away from the table.
"Miss Granger, are you alright?" He sounded worried now and everybody in the classroom was looking at her.
Hermione started shaking and tears began to form in her eyes. "Take it away please," she whispered in a hoarse voice.
"Miss Weasley, Miss Lovegood, will you escort Miss Granger to the hospital wing?"
"I'm not ill!" Hermione protested.
"Come on, Hermione, it'll do you good to get some fresh air," Ginny urged. She was looking really worried too.
Eventually, Hermione let herself be taken away from the classroom by the two younger witches. They didn't let her to the hospital wing, but took her to a quiet spot.
"What's wrong Hermione? Ever since you fled The Burrow you've been acting differently. Is it…was it…you know…Malfoy Manor?" Ginny asked cautiously.
Hermione started shaking again and Luna put an arm around her shoulders. "We're here for you if you need us. We know how hard it gets."
Wordlessly, Ginny put an arm around her other shoulder. The three witches sat in silence for a while. Each had had their fair share of horrors during the war and each was dealing with them in their own way.
"I'm not going to say: Everything will be alright," Luna said, "Because I know that it is not true. Not on its own accord at least. It will never be the same as it was, but with some help, it might heal enough for you to live a normal life."
Later that day, when Hermione and Ginny were in the seventh year's girls' dormitory, Hermione said a little hesitant: "Ginny? There's something I've always wanted to ask…"
"How did you cope? After the Chamber I mean."
Ginny stared out of the window. "I had help," she started carefully.
Hermione waited, but Ginny didn't elaborate. Instead, the redhead said: "With what I've seen today, I think you might need some help too."
Hermione protested weakly, but Ginny shook her head. "Let's go see McGonagall."
"Just trust me." Ginny walked away, confident that Hermione would follow. They stopped in front of the teacher's lounge.
"We'd like to speak to Professor McGonagall."
"Now, it's Headmistress McGonagall now," the one remaining gargoyle retorted.
"Will you please ask her if she could see us?"
With a sigh, the gargoyle left its place, muttering "Those kids think they're everything."
It didn't take long before the enigmatic figure of Professor McGonagall appeared in the doorway.
"Miss Weasley, Miss Granger. What is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
"Professor, I think Hermione would benefit from talking to Tom," Ginny replied and Hermione looked at her in surprise. Who was Tom?
"Yes, Professor Slughorn already told me that that might be a good idea. Miss Granger, will you follow me to my office? I feel these things are best talked about in private. Thank you Miss Weasley."
Hermione followed Professor McGonagall, understanding less and less about the situation.
"As I understand, you've been having some troubles after the war. Professor Slughorn told me about the incident in Potions class today…"
"It's nothing really, I'll manage. Everything will be alright." It was a lie and it sounded like one too. Hermione's cheeks were a bright red from shame.
"Hermione, there's nothing wrong with admitting everything is not alright," Professor McGonagall spoke softly. "Miss Weasley confirmed my concerns. It would not be a bad idea if you talked to Tom."
"Tom is working for Hogwarts, he helps people deal with the aftermath of war."
"He sounds like a psychotherapist," Hermione said suspiciously.
"That's because he is."
"I'm not crazy!"
"I never said you were. We've all seen and experienced nightmares during the war, Hermione, and some have been through a fair bit more than others. Everybody deals with it in their own way, and some need a little help getting there."
"Did Ginny talk to him all those years ago?"
"That, I'm afraid, is a question I can't answer. You'll have to ask Miss Weasley herself."
Hermione thought about for a while.
"How am I to meet this Tom? I've never seen him around," she reluctantly gave in.
"You can use my fireplace."
The next day, Hermione reported at McGonagall's office at exactly 10am. She was nervous. She hadn't slept, but then again, she wasn't new to that. McGonagall's fireplace brought her to a cosy room, not the clinical environment she had expected.
"Miss Granger, isn't it?" an old man emerged from the door opening.
She immediately felt a little more at ease. She could take on an old man if necessary.
The first meeting was spent mostly on talking about who she was, what her favourite things were etc. It turned out that Tom (or Thomas) was a war veteran. He had served in World War II and Vietnam and Hermione instantly knew he deserved her respect. That was the way she was raised. Tom was also a Squib and an old friend of Professor McGonagall, who had approached him to help students and staff deal with their monsters.
"I think we could start with EMDR," Tom proposed at the end of the session. "It's fairly new compared to conventional methods, but I've seen amazing results. Hermione, not having any clue what is was he was talking about – which really annoyed her – reluctantly agreed.
"If you think that that'll work."
"A fair warning," Tom said before she left. "Don't forget to come announced and always, always use Minerva's fireplace when you're coming over. It's the only connection that can't be seen nor used by Muggles."
Hermione nodded. She had understood. It would take an enormous amount of trouble just to attend these weekly meetings.
Hermione was rather nervous for her first session, because she hated not knowing things, but Tom had reassured her.
"I know you've been trough a lot, but I'd like to ask you to think back on one image, not a scene, but really only one image."
The look of insanity and delight on Bellatrix' face as she put the tip of her blade on her arm. Hermione immediately started shaking and felt her heart pound loudly in her ears.
"Describe what the image consists of."
She told him and he nodded.
"How does it make you feel?"
"We'll work on that. I want you to follow my fingers as I slowly move them."
She did as she was told. One time, two, three times…
"What do you she now?"
"Thick, black curls falling down…"
One movement, two movements, three movements… She tried to count them, but images of Bellatrix kept blocking her from doing so.
Tom tried several more times, but with little result.
"Well, perhaps you will respond better to sound," Tom said at the end of the session. "But we've done enough for today. I suggest you take a rest for the rest of the day, because it may not look like it, but this is a rather heavy form of therapy. It is quite possible that in the beginning, your complaints will worsen instead get better. However, that is necessary in order to heal properly eventually. I will see you again next week."
When Hermione was back in her dormitory, she lay down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. As Tom had predicted, she didn't feel any better. If anything, she felt worse. Tears trickled down her face and she just felt so exhausted, like all life had been drawn from her.
In the weeks to come, Tom tried a variety of techniques on her and eventually found that she responded the best to gentle little taps on her knees.
"What do you see now?"
"A giant chandelier about to fall down."
"Okay, hold that image." Three taps left, three taps right.
"And now what is the image you see?"
"Dobby. But he has about twenty knitted hats on his head."
"Very good." Three taps left, three taps right.
"Now, if you go back to the original image of your first look on the scar on your left arm. How do you feel now? Is the pain still as sharp, the wound still as raw?"
She thought about it for a moment. "No, I think it feels slightly less bad."
"That's a very good sign," Tom complimented her. "That's the right way. Now tell yourself that everything will be okay. You'll be okay with that image, because you'll have learnt how to deal with it.
It took Hermione quite some sessions before the thought of Bellatrix didn't terrify her as much anymore as it had once done. It no longer haunted her dreams or usurped all good memories. On a whole, she slowly started to notice some improvement. She had lesser nightmares and the panic attacks became less and less frequent. Ginny and Luna noticed the change as well, though her ultimate goal – not being disturbed by it anymore at all - was still far from being reached.
She continued her weekly sessions until Christmas, after which they became bi-weekly. No session was ever the same, but bit by bit, she learned how to regain control over her own emotions and thoughts, which was a liberating feeling. By the end of February, the pain and anxiety were at an acceptable level and she could even start to enjoy the blissfulness of the first rays of spring sun again. By the end of March, Tom declared that she had learnt to deal with her demons well enough now, and that it would no longer be necessary for her to continue with the therapy.
Funny how things go, she thought. I'd never have imagined myself as someone who would ever be in need of mental care, yet here I am, glad with the way things worked out. She was well aware that if she hadn't gone to therapy, her life could have ended up quite differently.
On the second of May, the all too familiar taste of bile rose up in her throat every so often. But it was much more manageable than it had been before. Hermione was still nervous though. There would be speeches and people would be talking about and staring and pointing at them. But Tom had told her she could manage, so she owed it to him to at least try to give it her best shot.
But the thing that startled her the most was the reunion with Ron. Their conversation was awkward.
"Hi," Ron had said.
"Hi," she had replied.
"How've you been?"
She shrugged. "Not too well, I suppose. You?"
"Pretty much the same. I felt terrible when you left. You can ask Harry or Ginny, I must've been a living nightmare."
"I wasn't in the best of shapes either," she commented and let it at that. She had finally managed to give everything that had happened a place. She didn't' want to redo the entire therapy sessions all over again.
"You know, I wanted to contact you, I do. But Ginny said that you needed peace and quiet and that you needed some time to sort things out for yourself."
Hermione was silent for a while. "I did," she whispered eventually.
He hesitated. "Did you-did you find your parents?"
"They died in a car crash."
It took her a lot of effort that say the words. Apart from in therapy, she had not spoken them out loud before.
"Jee, I'm sorry Hermione. I never knew…I never intended…"
"I know," she stated. "And it's not your fault they died."
Ron didn't really know how to respond so there was a rather long, uncomfortable silence between them. "They redid the castle quite well, don't you think?" He shuffled nervously with his feet.
"Well, I'll just sit over there then, with my parents and siblings."
She nodded. "I understand."
She hated how she gave such brief answers, but she really didn't want to talk about it, not now.
She sat herself down on one of the chairs on the other side of the aisle, but couldn't help but casting quick glances in his direction. She couldn't help but secretly wondering what the past year would have looked like is she had not left The Burrow. Would it have been better? Would the Weasleys have been able to provide her with the calmth and quietness she had so needed this year?
"The past year has been tumultuous to say the least, for all of us," McGonagall started, with a steady and even voice that showed only the slightest tremble. "However, we must also look forward, not only back. We all have ghosts," she continued. "Ghosts from our past of things we did and didn't do. Ghosts of friends and family we watched die, ghosts of things we would have liked to give to get them back."
She paused a moment and Hermione glanced once again at Ron. "I know some of you feel guilty that you survived where others died. Some of you might regret choices that were made. But keep this in mind: You're always free to change your mind and choose a different future if the one you're headed for doesn't feel right. Don't be afraid to show your weaknesses. That is, if you show your strong points as well. As of now, we all need to be looking forward and build a better future, because we owe it those that died to not tainting their memories by forgetting to live ourselves."
From the other side of the Hall, Ron awkwardly smiled at her. Perhaps we ought to try again, she thought. A warm feeling rushed through her at that thought and she paid no more attention to the speech. People were clapping and crying, and she didn't notice the tears streaming down her own face. Professor McGonagall was right: they all needed to look forward. They would need to build a future from the ashes of war, reshape the world after it had fallen to pieces. And maybe, just maybe, things would turn out to be alright after all.
A/N: Sorry if this wasn't the cheerfullest of oneshots I've written in a while, but I never found it believable that no one would suffer any psychological damage from the horrors of the war and I wanted to write something about PTSD. Hermione had endured torture and I imagine she would also have some form of survivors' guilt, so it was interesting to explore that side of her. EMDR is a therapy that is often used on traumatised patients and I hope I have described it right, because it was rather difficult to get it the way I wanted it.
I know that JKR said in an interview that Hermione found her parents again in the end and lifted the memory lock, but it worked better for the story if she didn't. So I apologise for disregarding this fact. Also, the fact that Hermione needs therapy does in no way mean that she's 'weak'. Everybody handles things differently. Some might be able to overcome their demons on their own, others need a little help.