"Aren't you coming, 'Mione? Kreacher's sure to have some wonderful sandwiches!"
"Yes, Ron, I'll just be a few moments." Harry gave her a strange look and then turned to go. Hermione waited until the boys had left and slumped into one of the chairs next to the desk with a groan. Mcgonagall peered down at her worriedly.
"Miss-Hermione. Are you alright, dear?"
Well, I guess none of them knew, then. Only Harry, Ron, Fleur and Bill. And she was sure they had all been too busy to tell anyone. Not as if it was very important, really. There had been a war going on, and the focus had been on conquering Voldemort, rightly so. But now...
"Of course, Prof-Headmistress. I just need a moment to collect my thoughts. We've had quite a bit going on these past few months." Mcgonagall laughed dryly then replied more seriously,
"Take all the time you need, my dear. We will all have all the time we need now. It's all over, thanks to you three, most of all. Yes, thank Merlin it's all over. Now the healing can begin..." she trailed off, walking down the winding staircase.
'All over,' thought Hermione bitterly. 'Perhaps for everyone else.'
After she was certain McGonagall was gone she glanced toward Dumbledore's portrait. She'd felt as if he'd been watching her...
Spotting the familiar dish of lemon drops on the desk, she hastily grabbed the lot of them. Then, popping one in her mouth, she put the remainder in her bag.
"Ah, so you figured out they were Calming drops, I see?"
Hermione froze. Slowly she turned to look at the portrait.
"Headmaster, I-" He cut her off with a knowing smile.
"It's perfectly alright, my dear. I suspect many will need all the succor and comfort they can get in the days to come. But you more than most, perhaps?"
Hermione stared at the painted eyes, somehow seeming full of warmth and light even though they were only an illusion.
Sighing, she broke the silence, "How much do you know? Only what you've heard, correct?" Dumbledore's smile straightened to a grimace.
"Indeed, I can only get further knowledge from conversations around or directly to me, and the things I knew while alive. Unfortunately...I have heard...quite a bit of what occurred."
Hermione bit her inner lip, daring him to continue but her former Headmaster said nothing more. Taking hold of the candy dish she threw it to the floor.
"So, everyone knows, hmm? Poor Hermione, so weak and worried about her own problems when there's a whole world out there that needs mending! BLOODY RIDICULOUS!" She collapsed upon the chair beneath her.
Dumbledore's eyes held a pitying gaze that Hermione did not see, and something else: regret.
"I wish I could have been there to spare you from what you endured."
"Tell me the truth or, I swear, I shall run you through with this knife!"
Hermione's eyes which had been squeezed tightly shut, snapped open. "Endured?! I almost let her-I had NO CHOICE! Let that-bitch torture me half to death or give up everything I knew."
Dumbledore's eyes slid shut, and a tear fell.
"I nearly did, you know," she continued, "I nearly told her all of it. The sword, Harry-anything to make the pain stop-" she choked on her words, breathless. She saw it before her eyes now as she saw it every night while she slept: the Manor, Bellatrix and her cold sneer as she threw her roughly to the tiles.
Again. And again. And again-
"I feel like I'm being ripped apart-I've been trying to hold it together for Harry, for Ron, everyone! I just don't think I can...anymore." From her place on the floor (when had she fallen to her knees?) Hermione looked once more at the portrait of Dumbledore.
He was crying.
For her? If anything, Harry was the one he and the rest should be feeling bad for. He had DIED! He had suffered so much more than her-
Hermione felt something drip onto her arm only to realize she had been crying. She hastily wiped her face with a robe sleeve and picked herself up off the carpet. A quick glance at Dumbledore proved his weary gaze still lingered on her.
"There are those you can go to, Hermione. Minerva, for instance, or myself. I believe we have some healers who are set up to talk to the bereaved and-"
"Yes, the BEREAVED! Not some stupid girl who should be able to deal with her own problems! There are those who need more help than I do, take Harry, for instance-" For the first time in her knowledge, her former headmaster's eyes widened with rage and he spoke loud and clear:
"Who are you to belittle your own trials and tragedies, Miss Granger!?," he saw her surprised expression and his features softened. "Yes, there are those that have been through much, things unspeakably terrible and horrifying. Harry is one of them. But so are you."
At this, Hermione averted her eyes from the portrait's penetrating gaze. Damn that man's powers of perception-
"You were mercilessly tortured by the beast that was Bellatrix Lestrange. You have a right to be more than a little affected by that, no?"
Hermione gave a subtle peek into her bag. Perhaps one more lemon drop wouldn't hurt. It seemed the affects of the first one were wearing off already-
"The drops were made by me to help comfort those in need temporarily in my office. I offered them to Harry many times, but, clever boy, he surmised their purpose."
Hermione chuckled. "That's just like him."
Dumbledore smiled a bit. "He near destroyed my office once, you know. I thought your throwing of my little candy dish was going to become, well...something more." Hermione's mouth quirked up.
"I was tempted..."
"Ah, but I would have quite deserved it. And did the first time..." Dumbledore's now sobered expression reminded her of the topic at hand.
"I'm just...afraid. Ron and Harry heard what was going on, and I'm sure maybe some of the teachers know the basics, but..." She trailed off, not wanting to continue. It HURT to continue.
"Hermione." She met the Headmaster's blue eyes. They steadied her.
"You are stronger then you realize. Much stronger. I knew when I first saw you-"
"Yes, with Harry, right? The part I was to play in helping him-"
"No, Miss Granger!" She noticed whenever he was stern with her he reverted back to her using her surname. She pursed her lips, holding in a small smile.
"When I first laid eyes on you in the Great Hall, even before your name was called and you stepped up to put on the Sorting hat, I saw a courage in you. Conviction, a yearning to become more than a simple witch. You wanted to change the world."
Hermione gasped. It was exactly what she had believed she could do, when she first got her letter and a big wide world opened up to her, possibilities and hopes and dreams-
"I did. And I still do."
Dumbledore gave her a somber smile.
"But you have, my dear."
A tear trickled down her cheek and her face crumpled.
"I made my world worse."
Dumbledore sighed sadly. "You have done more good than I could have hoped to do in my lifetime."
Hermione, stunned, replied, "What are you talking about? You defeated Grindelwald, you created the Order, helped Harry, saved countless lives-"
"Yes. But for all the wrong reasons." Dumbledore raised a hand to cover his face and Hermione thought she could hear a low sob. She began to gather her things, thinking he needed some time alone, but Dumbledore called out,
"Hermione." Her hand on the doorknob, she turned slowly.
The corner of his mouth turned up, "I do believe we can dispense with that title now. Minerva is doing a wonderful job and I have faith she will continue to do so for many years to come. You may call me Albus, if you like."
Hermione said nothing but blushed a bit. Dumbledore laughed lightly.
"Or not. I'm sure Minerva will not mind if you call me by my old status."
Hermione nodded and made to leave when he called her once more.
"Hermione, when you feel you are able, remember, you are not alone. Talk to someone. It is not good to keep these things inside yourself for too long. You may find they poison your thoughts of the future."
Was he always this cryptic? She nodded again, and feeling Dumbledore's eyes on her back stepped out of the office and shut the door behind her.