Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own it. JK Rowling owns all Harry Potter characters and the Potterverse.
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A/N: This is my very first home-grown fanfic ever, and so I obviously don't have a beta yet. Read and Review, but please, be gentle!
Hermione stared at the note in her hand, the familiar scrawl blurred by the tears slowly filling her dark brown eyes. She sniffed loudly, and threw the note on the mahogany desk, it's usually soothing woody scent today rendered ineffective by the hurt and outrage swirling through her. "How could they?" She cried aloud. She jumped out of the stiff backed leather chair and paced through the library. It said much for the strength of her emotions that she could find no comfort in this room, her sanctuary and unquestionably her favourite room in the house.
She whirled abruptly and seizing the offending parchment, read it once more, carefully, examining every word.
Just a quick note to let you know that we have decided to take a few weeks break on the French Riviera, so we'll have to take a rain check on dinner tomorrow night. Catch you some other time, have fun with the others.
Harry, Ginny, Ron and George
She flung the note back onto the desk and starting pacing again. A rain check. They hadn't even managed to remember what the dinner was for- it was her twenty first birthday tomorrow. Granted, she hadn't mentioned the reason behind the dinner, but surely, after ten years of knowing one another she thought it wasn't too much to ask that they remembered her birthday. Especially her twenty first.
And have fun with the others- ha! If she knew anything, Harry, Ron, Ginny and George were probably in France by now, and the only others left were Remus, Tonks, Sirius and his girlfriend, Lira. Luna Lovegood was currently in Sweden hunting for creatures hitherto unknown to man, whilst Neville had been on a Herbology scholarship in Africa for the past two years. Considering Remus and Tonks had to get home to Teddy, and so would have to leave fairly early in the evening, that meant she, Sirius and Lira would be left to 'party on', a grand total of three people. It would be less embarrassing to just cancel the dinner altogether than explain why practically no one else was there, including her so called 'best friends'.
She sank down into a leather couch on the opposite side of the room and buried her head in her hands. How had this happened? She thought. They were the best of friends at school, and stood by one another through the dark years of the War, their loyalty and friendship unquestioned. She could remember the Battle of Hogwarts as if it were yesterday, rather than three years ago. She remembered the relief they had felt that it was finally over. The shared grief over the loss of Fred, Remus and Tonks. She remembered the hope and fear she had felt when she found that Remus and Tonks were not, in fact, dead, but rather, dangerously injured due to the unknown curse they had been hit with. The fear of losing them a second time had hung over them all for weeks, until the two had fully recovered. She remembered comforting George for the loss of Fred, staying with him and soothing his nightmares for months, brewing him dreamless sleep potion. She remembered the loss she had felt on finding her parents had died in an automobile accident in Australia, and the difficulty with which she had concealed the loss from her friends so as not to add to the already heavy burden of losing Fred.
She remembered the day two years ago she had been working in the Department of Mysteries (the Unspeakables having poached her immediately after the belated completion of her seventh at Hogwarts) when the Veil had seemed to come alive, swirling and billowing in an unseen gale. Suddenly a man had stumbled out, peered at her and mumbled 'Bloody hell!' before promptly collapsing at her feet.
She could remember the joy with which Sirius had been welcomed back, the relief and sheer happiness on Harry's face when he had rushed to St Mungo's to find his Godfather demanding to be 'let out of this bloody nut farm' and the many happy gatherings they had to celebrate.
She frowned. She could also remember when it had started to change, about a year ago. It had all started when Ginny and Harry had finally started dating again after the War. Ginny didn't like the 'boring' weekly catchups at the Three Broomsticks, she wanted glamour and glitz. She liked Harry to take her to the best restaurants and clubs. The petite redheaded beauty had no problem being in the public eye- she loved the public and the public loved her. Hermione had begun to see less and less of them as time wore on, as they always had 'places to go and people to see' according to Ginny.
Ron, a mere two months later, had managed to land his dream job as keeper for the Chudley Cannons and had consequently disappeared off her radar. She now saw him most often in the Daily Prophet, photographed at many of the glitzy clubs that Harry and Ginny frequented, with a beautiful woman hanging off either arm.
Floo calls were few and far between, Harry and Ginny because of their jobs as an auror and fashion editor respectively, in addition to their very full social life, and Ron between his practices, matches and partying- and also, she admitted, because was not exactly known for his social awareness and consideration.
George she saw occasionally, but he spent most of his time with Percy at WWW. He remained very withdrawn and did not socialise often.
On the surface, it seemed very innocent. Inevitable. They had all grown up and life had taken them in different directions. However, that simply didn't hold true. Sure, they all had jobs now. And yes, a certain amount of distance was bound to creep in when members of the group started dating. But considering they lived within 15 minutes of each other, surely it wasn't that unreasonable to expect to see each other on a semi-regular basis? And considering she and Harry both worked at the Ministry, surely an occasional lunch together wasn't too much to ask?
It wasn't as if she didn't put in the effort. She didn't ask anything of her friends that she didn't ask of herself. She tried to floo call them regularly, at least once a week. She attempted to organise outings for them. They had gone from seeing one another once a week to once a month...and now this. She hadn't seen them in six months. Half of her floo calls went unanswered whilst the rest were short as they were 'on their way out'. She laughed bitterly. Funny they all had time to go out together, just...not with her. Not once had one of the three thought of asking her to go out with them. Sadly, her three closest friends had slowly phased her out of their existence.
Others made some effort, but they simply were not as close as she, Ron, Harry and Ginny had been. Luna corresponded regularly by owl, but was seldom in England, due to her travels as an investigative reporter for the Quibbler. Neville wrote from Africa on occasion, but they had never been particularly close.
She visited Remus and Tonks every fortnight to see Teddy, her (and Harry's) godson, and spend some time with her them, as having a young child made it very difficult for them to go out often.
Sirius she also saw every couple of weeks, however, since he and Lira had started dating she had not been able to see him for more than a couple of hours at a time, and understandably so. The man worked long hours as a Senior Auror, and had to balance a relationship on top of that. The fact that he always made time for her nonetheless meant a great deal to her. He refused to miss their fortnightly catchup, no matter how short said catchup might be. He always said it was worth it to trek out to the Three Broomsticks or her flat, even if only for an hour, to see 'his Mione'. Surprisingly, ever since his return from the veil, they had become quite close friends, despite their clashes before. Perhaps it was because she had matured and changed over the five years he had been trapped in the Veil, perhaps it was because he had also matured. Either way, they got along extremely well, and she greatly enjoyed his sharp wit and keen mind. However, the sad fact remained that even her so called 'best friend's' godfather had made time for her, and yet Harry himself...
She leaned back into the couch and, as she finally admitted it to herself, tears running down her face. It had not all started when Harry and Ginny began dating. It had always been there, buried beneath the surface. She had merely chosen to dismiss it as differences between friends. But it was, she had to admit so much more than that. She had been loyal to them all, but to Harry first and foremost since the very beginning of their friendship. She had stayed with him until the almost the very end, when she physically could not enter the chamber when Harry had faced Quirrell. She had stuck by him when the students had branded him 'The Heir of Slytherin'. She had been petrified after having found the answer to the riddle, enabling Harry to save Ginny and destroy the basilisk.
She had done everything in her power to protect him from Sirius Black, a man then thought to be determined to kill Harry. She had risked her friendship with him by telling Minerva about the broom. She would much rather he hate her than that he come to any harm. Harry had followed Ron's lead and ignored her for weeks, virtually until the broom was returned. Despite this, she had broken the laws of time travel and willingly risked her life to go back in time and save Sirius, for Harry. In fourth year, she was the only one who believed Harry when he said he had not entered the tournament. Even Ron had cut him off, overcome by jealousy. She had done her best by him in fifth year, trying to defend him against Umbridge, trying to help him when he attempted to withdraw into himself, cutting short her ski trip with her parents to come and comfort him at Grimmauld Place.
She had begged him to be careful rather than go dashing off to the Ministry, but had nonetheless gone willingly with him and fought at his side, and suffered for it. She tried to help him in sixth year and was worried about that wretched Potions book, only to be accused of jealousy, despite it having been owned by a former Death Eater as they later discovered. She fought to defend Hogwarts that night that Dumbledore died, along with the Order and Ron and a few other students. She had sat by Ron's side when he had been poisoned. She had left her home and willingly sent her family away after removing her existence from their memories to follow them both in a dangerous Hunt for the Horcruxes. She had stayed loyal even when Ron had given up and deserted them. She stayed and defended Harry, and planned, and worked so hard that at times she thought she would drop from sheer exhaustion. She was captured and tortured but gave nothing away, staying loyal to them both and to the cause.
She had broken into Gringotts and eventually fought at the final battle until the very end. She had lost her parents and sacrificed everything she had to aid Harry. She had been nothing but true and loyal to both Harry and Ron. She had forgiven Ron despite his abandoning her and Harry, despite the horrible, hurtful things he often said to her. She had been willing to look past the constant arguments and bickering, helping them both constantly with their school work.
And Ginny? She had listened and comforted her when struggling with her feelings for Harry, and her worry that he would never notice her. She had advised and counselled her, enabling her to finally get things started with Harry.
And where did it get her? True, they had defended her from the troll in first year, despite it being Ron's fault she was in there in the first place. Ron had defended her from being called a Mudblood. But he had also insulted and hurt her countless times, the most memorable being the Yule Ball. He had acted as if she were less than female but yet was angry she had gone with Victor. He and Harry had also sided against her on the Firebolt issue, treating her as if she didn't exist. Harry had not once defended her against Ron's slurs. And Ginny, the minute she had had her chance with Harry, had turned on Hermione. She snapped and argued and belittled her for all to hear. She always apologised afterwards, but still...Hermione had to face facts. What she put into the friendship, and the loyalty she gave her friends was not returned in proportion. She gave more than she ever recieved. That had not changed, rather, it had grown more pronounced, until this. This was the culmination, the final proof.
Harry, Ron and Ginny did not need her anymore. She had outlived her usefulness. What use was a bossy, know it all bookworm when they were not at school anymore? When they were no longer at war? Now that it was all over, they had made it very clear, in deed if not in word, that they had no further use for her. A very small part of her mind protested, saying they had been through too much together for them to forget her, however, she ruthlessly quashed it. How had she ever believed otherwise, when to this day, not one of them had asked after her parents? Not one had asked if she had found them, if they were well? Only Sirius, Remus and Tonks knew. They had seen her crying over some photo albums one day, and had pestered her until she had told them. She told them on the proviso that they were not to tell anyone else unless they were directly asked. If people didn't care enough to ask, they didn't deserve to know, in her opinion. By people, she had meant Harry, Ron and Ginny. Her two 'best friends' and her 'sister'. So called. Ha. So much for that.
And now here they were, going off on holiday without even asking her if she wished to come, forgetting the 'dinner' they were missing was her 21st birthday. She began to sob. Not once since they had battled that troll in the girl's bathrooms all those years ago had she thought it would come to this. Not merely missing a birthday dinner, but rather what it represented. Practically fighting tooth and nail to hold onto a friendship they no longer valued. Her 21st birthday, which she had thought would be filled with love and laughter and family, was now a hollow mockery. They had left. They had forgotten it all together. They had forgotten everything she had given and what she had sacrificed to be with them and to help them, Her life. Her childhood. Her parents. All forgotten.
She was once more Beaver the Brains. She sobbed even harder, remembering that name so kindly gifted to her by a number of bullies in primary school. She had had bushy hair, knobby knees and protruding buck teeth. She had always been reviled for her brains, and books were her only friends. Her mother had comforted her, telling her that she would grow to be a beautiful young woman, with lots of friends, and young Hermione had waited and hoped, wishing for it to be true.
Instead, the same pattern had looked to continue throughout Hogwarts- loneliness and bullying, until Harry and Ron. After that, she had thought she would never be alone again. And now...She sniffed, scrubbing her tears viciously away with her hands. She may no longer have buckteeth or bushy hair. Her hair may fall in ringlets to the middle of her back. She may now have a figure of sorts, albeit too...rounded for her taste. She may even have developed some skill with basic makeup, and be the youngest Unspeakable in the history of the Department of Mysteries, but she was right back where she started. Beaver the Brains. Alone, surrounded by books and wishing she were someone, ANYONE else so she wouldn't be home alone while everyone was out enjoying themselves. The cruelty was that those children, so long ago, who had probably forgotten that she had even existed, were proven to be right. She was alone and friendless. She had known she would never be a beauty, like Ginny, but so long as she had her friends, she hadn't cared. Evidently, they had. Why else would they have avoided taking her on their glamorous social outings? They were ashamed of her. She was something to hide away when people were looking, someone to be seen in private, where people couldn't see her.
It was all starting again...
NO. She sat up suddenly. It was NOT starting again. She would not allow herself to think that way. She was not that lost little girl anymore. She was a successful young woman who had achieved much in her short life. She may have lost those she considered closest, she may have lost her parents and yes, she might be, for all intents and purposes, alone without ever having had a single boyfriend, but she was not worthless. She had a job, and there were a few who cared for her. Remus and Tonks, darling Teddy, Sirius, and perhaps George. She was not willing to forgo her friendship with George until she had heard his side of the story. She knew it was very unlike him to simply leave for a holiday without at least asking if she wished to accompany him, particularly if it meant missing her birthday. Therefore, for George she would wait and see. As for the other three... screw them. It was over. They had used her for her brains and skills, and now that all was right in their world, they didn't need her anymore. Well, to hell with them. She didn't need them.
She jumped off the couch and began pacing the thick cream-coloured carpet vigorously, this time in thought. It was past time she did something for herself, something she had been thinking of for several weeks now. She had been offered a one year placement in the Italian Ministry of Magic, in their own equivalent of the Department of Mysteries. A former Unspeakable had relocated to Rome and been singing her praises. Consequently, the Italians had been trying to get her for months. This was merely the latest offer in a long series of offers. She had not previously accepted because she was had felt her life was in England, and had worried she was giving the only family she had left.
Now, she had to re-evaluate that idea. Her three closest friends were no longer an issue. Those friends she did have she could continue to visit via floo or international portkey as often as she liked. It would be no disruption in their relationship, as there was a mere two hour time difference between the UK and Italy. Her parents...she blinked rapidly, trying to dispel the tears that had formed. Her parents were no longer here. Their house, the house in which she had grown up, had sat empty and unused since her seventh year. And she had always wanted to go to Rome. More importantly, there was nothing stopping her now. It was time for a change.