Bit of an experiment, let's see how it works out! This is set in an alternate universe where Voldemort won the war, forcing all of the Order of the Phoenix to go into hiding.
Until recently, losing hadn't an experience that I was totally familiar with. My entire life had been a story of distinctions in exams, consistently beating the Slytherins and completing daring adventures with Harry and Ron. After all of the fights and adventures that we, as a trio, had come out on top in, being part of the losing side was a strange and wholly unpleasant situation. So many had fought to restore good to our world, so many had died and in the end it had been all for nothing. Voldemort had beaten us at the final battle, Harry had given in and sacrificed himself and darkness had descended over the wizarding world like an all-concealing curtain; nobody could be trusted in the streets any more. Not a day had passed where I hadn't felt an overpowering melancholy, a crippling anguish as I remembered the deaths of Harry, Remus, Tonks, Fred, and more... so many more. The only thing that kept me going was the wish that I knew that the 'Chosen One' had needed me to fulfil so that his and all of the other sacrifices had not been in vain; he had given himself up so that there would be one fewer horcrux to bind the despicable Dark Lord to this planet, and his plea had been that I would do everything I could to ensure that his reign would be short. That was exactly what I planned to do – Harry, and all of the others who had been murdered, deserved that much at least.
Staying at Shell Cottage almost made me feel guilty: whilst our world was at war, Ron and I had the luxury of living in a cosy cottage on a beautiful and scenic seafront. It seemed more like a holiday location than a hideout. Of course, the relatively few remaining members of the defiant Order had been scattered around other safe houses like the cottage: Grimmauld Place, the Burrow, the house of Tonks' parents. The Burrow had reminded us too much of Fred and Grimmauld Place too much of Harry, and the sympathetic organisers of the rehousing operation had seen this, hence our placement at the lovely cottage. It really was a soothing and silent environment. In the morning, if you were up early enough, you could watch the blinding sun emerge, rising like a great yellow balloon on the distant horizon. The new day unfolding, gentle waves would lap, tentatively at first but growing in confidence, against the shore and a shoal of crowded fish would dart to and fro. Seagulls often swept down majestically from the sky, determined to catch their unsuspecting prey. The sand of the beach seemed never ending, the golden grains stretching out as far as the eye could see.
For such a lovely beach, it was eerily quiet whether because of the magical enchantments circling the house or just a lack of interest I did not know. It seemed, to me, like the kind of place that a psychiatrist would try to make their patients think of to cool and relieve their emotions.
Often, as the day grew old, I would sit on the calmly swinging bench installed outside the cottage. I'd found that it was the best place to admire the view, and therefore the easiest environment for me to think in. Inevitably, my thoughts always ended up concentrated on the one person who I missed most of all. Sadly, even Bill and Fleur's cottage reminded me of him somewhat as my memory flicked back to a few months ago, back when we'd taken refuge there after the horrors of Malfoy Manor. He'd always been making poor excuses to take walks on the cliff side, but watching him from the window of the room in which I'd been recuperating it was obvious that he just liked to be alone. The cold, salty wind on his face, blowing that untameable hair around like the world's most powerful hair-dryer, it had been clear to me that he'd been thinking about his impending doom. I sometimes wondered whether it had been there that he'd made the decision that he would, inevitably, have to hand himself over the Voldemort eventually. It was my greatest regret that I had let his gloom consume him.
Ron was a great help, his much-appreciated attempts to cheer everyone up only making me like him more. Maybe the crazy, spur of the moment relationship that we had going on could eventually develop into more, I occasionally wondered. Of course, part of me knew that it should have been me comforting him. He'd lost more than I had, two of his own brothers (if only one by blood) having been taken by the war. Swinging slowly on the bench, I resolved that I would try to help him more in the future.
As if on cue, I heard his gruffly friendly voice behind me. "Thought I'd find you here."
I turned, accepting a kiss that he planted on my cheek. "It's not as if I'm ever anywhere else."
"Yeah." He agreed, perhaps having nothing better to say, "You should come inside, 'Mione. This cold will have you bedridden if you're not careful."
I replied with a compassionate smile, grateful for his concern, "I'll be okay, Ron. I just need to think for a while."
"He wouldn't have wanted you to be like this, 'Mione." He told me quietly, instantly knowing the subject of my thoughts. "He gave himself up in an attempt to make a better world, and we're wasting that opportunity. You've got to look at it in that way, 'Mione, or your sadness will take over. Why do you think that I'm not still weeping about him and Fred?"
His fingers, entwined with my own, grasped a little tighter reassuringly and I continued to smile at him. "I didn't know that your brain was capable of such depth, Ronald."
"I'm smarter than I look." He puffed out his chest proudly, a trademark Weasley grin breaking out over his cheeky face.
Pretending to ponder over what he'd said, I came to a jokey conclusion. "Just about, I suppose."
Although he hadn't managed to cheer me up exactly, I was grateful for both the effort that he was expending in trying to make me feel better and the fact that he'd briefly taken my mind from the late, great Harry Potter. Pretending to be happy for his sake, I decided to follow him indoors to one of Fleur's delicious French meals; probably bouillabaisse, judging by the delicious fishy smell which wafted from the kitchen's open window through the evening air. Life, I figured, could well have been worse.
"Eat." Came the hostile bark of whichever of Voldemort's servants had been put on dinner duty, followed by the familiar scraping of the metal plate sliding over the cold, stone floor. The room/prison cell pitch black as always, I grasped around from where the sound had come from until I felt the cool plate of food (if what I was being forced to eat could be classified as this) against my hand. I picked it up and returned to my seat, the only piece of furniture in the room, preparing my taste buds for another invasion of their rights. I wondered what feast they had cooked up for me that night; a pork and apple stew to rival Molly Weasley's, perhaps, or maybe an entire roast boar glazed in a honey coating, served alongside various portions of chips and other fine side dishes? Nope. With a humorously disappointed laugh, as if I'd expected any different, as per usual I found a piece of bread and butter (at least I assumed that it was butter), served very elegantly alongside a small cup of doubtlessly dirty water. Voldemort's cook, probably a troll, obviously had very little imagination. Nevertheless, I wolfed the food and drink down, just grateful for something to even partially fill my empty, aching stomach. Crunchy bread and water were the only tastes that I could even remember any more, the fact that I was served this exact same meal for each of the three meals of the day making a lasting impression on my taste buds.
Attempts at hunger strikes, escapes and suicides had long since past. Refusing my food only made them force it into me unceremoniously; all escape attempts had resulted in an extended meeting with the cruciatus curse, and the only way that suicide would be possible would be by bashing my head repeatedly against the wall. My body just wouldn't let me do myself that much harm, I just force couldn't myself into accepting that much pain. So there I was, Voldemort's prisoner; humiliated, hungry and beaten. My brave act of sacrifice having failed as the 'Dark Lord' had discovered that whilst I lived, he would never die. The irony was not lost on me that I, his greatest enemy, was also his greatest weapon. As I greedily rammed the 'delicious' meal down my throat, I desperately hoped that somewhere my friends were fairing better than me.
Dinner at Shell Cottage was always a quiet affair, with the responsibility of finding something to talk about usually landing on either Ron or Bill. Fleur and I kept quiet most of the time, and I guessed that something was bothering her as much as things were bothering me. When I'd first met her, she'd reeked of arrogance and impatience, her swollen ego big enough to suffocate others in the room. And while every year she had become more friendly, perhaps under Bill's influence, her expression had recently been meek and her character quieter than ever. I suspected, judging by the lack of eye contact between her and her husband, that they were fighting. However, it was none of my business and I figured that it would not be good form to betray their hospitality by prying around in their personal affairs.
"Thanks very much for the bouillabaisse, Fleur." I thanked her as I did every night. "This must have taken you ages to cook up."
She seemed to shake herself out of whichever dream land she'd been in, a feeling that I understood very well, and smiled weakly at me. "Thank you, 'Ermione. It deed take a leetle longer than I had expecteed but I do not mind, it is nice to be, uh..." she tried to think of the correct word in English "occupied."
The quarter-veela's English had improved mightily since my fourth year, her accent now only causing her to struggle with the pronunciations of the letters h and I. She had become much more tolerable since then, as well, or maybe I just felt some kind of bond between us as we tried to struggle through these desperate times together. Ron would still stare lustfully at her every so often, desire clear in his eyes as he was enveloped by her allure, but had been doing it much less frequently as he tried to avoid the wrath of both myself and Bill.
We tucked into the well prepared meal, enjoying the full and soft taste of the various types of fish, complemented cleverly by the strong soup in our bowls. I loved Fleur's French cooking, I really did, but next to me I could often see Ron having to put on a fake smile of appreciation; he was more attracted to traditional British cuisine, and clearly thought that the food he was having to eat was far inferior to the kind of stuff that his mother had used to whip up every night. Still, I was grateful that he kept his mouth shut and pretended to enjoy the meals; it was definitely a sign of how he had matured, the old Ron probably would have spat it out and accused Fleur of trying to poison him.
"I think that I'm going to go and see mum on Saturday," Ron finally broke the rather awkward silence that everybody had grown used to since we'd arrived. "You know how she worries, and I think that George could still do with some company."
Bill nodded his head in agreement, "I suppose that I should go too, apparently he is still taking it pretty badly."
At that, the conversation drew to an abrupt halt as memories flocked back into everybody's minds about the Battle of Hogwarts, something that I for one still had horrible nightmares about. I'd found that this happened on most nights when we all convened to eat: someone would begin to talk, trying to make conversation, but it would inevitably lead to something that reminded us about the war, thus effectively ending any talking for the rest of the meal.
"I theenk that I weel stay here this time." Fleur surprised everyone by opening her mouth. I could see why she didn't want to go on the visit; her relationship with Mrs Weasley had always been a little bit awkward, and she really did have a pretty profound hatred of the Celestina Warback music that would doubtlessly be reverberating loudly around the Burrow.
Bill nodded, knowing of the stiffness between his wife and his mother. "That's okay, we probably won't be there for very long any way. You know, just need to show our faces every so often."
I wondered where this left me; although I had always felt a little intruding myself at the Weasley gatherings, even just a few hours alone with the French witch didn't seem particularly preferable. As far as I knew, we shared absolutely no mutual interests: she was the fashion obsessive and I was the bookworm.
"What about you, 'Mione?" Ron thrust the question on me, his eyes hopeful that I would attend.
I replied with an unsure shrug of my shoulders, "I'll think about it."
In the dark solitude of my cell, there really was nothing to suggest what time of the day it was. They hadn't seen fit to adorn my underground room with windows, meaning that it was completely pitch black no matter the hour. It didn't really matter anyway, I knew, seeing as I so rarely slept anyway. Recently, however, I'd begun to get visits after my last meal of the day; not friendly get togethers, more along the lines of having torture sessions with Voldemort. That night was no different, and the familiar sense of absolute, pure dread came over me as the sound of the key scraping against the lock came from across the room. The door squeaked open and I hid my fear, knowing that it would only make him stronger.
"Good evening, Harry." He leered in a mock friendly voice, as if speaking to a dear personal friend.
I didn't reply, no witty retort forming in my tired, flagging brain. My body prepared itself for another attack, perhaps the classic old cruciatus curse.
"How rude," he tutted, now as if speaking to a naughty child. "What shall it be tonight, Harry?"
I glared loathsomely at the monstrosity, "I don't know, double chocolate rations and a film before bed?"
He laughed humourlessly, the narrow slits that he called eyes boring into me. "Cheeky, Harry, cheeky."
Before I could react, not that there was anything that I could have done, his wand slashed rapidly through the air and I felt a sharp pain at my stomach. Blood soaked through the thin and old t-shirt that I'd been wearing since my capture, pouring from the gash that his cutting curse had created. Defiantly trying to act as if were merely a mild inconvenience to have such a deep, painful wound, I raised my eyebrows at him mockingly. "That.." I let out a quiet, effect ruining gasp, "...all you got?"
My hope was, and had been since my arrival, that I could jeer at him until his annoyance influenced his actions and he decided to kill me, thus ending my long sufferings and destroying the last horcrux which bound him to the earth. Alas, however, his temperament had always remained calm, and each of the wounds that he inflicted on me would seal up overnight, leaving me strong enough for more 'fun' the next night.
"You are brave, I have always known this." Voldemort nodded, but somehow I didn't feel that he meant it as a complement. "But you Gryffindors seem to think it an honour to have courage. I have always felt that to call someone brave is by far the kindest way of calling them stupid."
Wondering if that was his idea of a joke, I spat on the ground in front of him. "You would think that, you were a Slytherin, the most detested of all of the houses."
At the insult to his house, his eyes seemed to become even darker and it seemed that the time for 'pleasant' chatting was over. He raised his wand and my screams filled the otherwise silent night sky.
Back to Hermione's POV
Finally settling down for the night, I curled up under a swathe of duvets and sheets, anything to protect me from the bitter cold on the outside of the cottage. A comforting fire blazed quietly and calmly in the corner, reminding me of the one which I had so enjoyed in the Gryffindor common room. Its occasional crackles only soothed me as I tried to pretend that I was back at Hogwarts, back there with Harry and Ron sitting around the warmth of the hearth.
I heard the noise of raised voices through the wall to my right, Bill and Fleur's master bedroom, muffled but definitely there. Never in my time at the cottage had I known the two to argue, although thinking about it I couldn't pinpoint any time when I'd seen either of them showing genuine affection for the other. They seemed to coexist more than anything else, Bill would go out and chop firewood, tend to the garden and make trips to the shops whilst Fleur would cook and tidy the house. On the only times that I'd seen them speak, the conversations had often just been about how badly the war effort was going. Hardly the language of romance.
I was Hermione Granger and everybody knew that I could be a bit nosey, although I preferred to think of it as being inquisitive, and they were proved correct yet again as I felt myself slip from the comfort of the bed and out onto the cool floor. Slipping a dressing gown over my thin night clothes, I daintily tiptoed across the floor and squeezed myself through the door, hoping to open it as little as possible. Back in Hogwarts, of course, we'd had the invisibility cloak to help us with our sneaking around but nobody knew where it was, the presumption being that Harry had taken it with him when he'd gone off to face Voldemort. I got closer to the door to their bedroom at the end of the corridor, well aware that if either of them came out then there would not be any workable excuse for being there. Still, my legs carried me forwards and I pressed my ear to the wooden door.
"Please, Beel. I cannot do zhis." I heard the voice of the French witch, noticing that her English accent appeared to get worse when she was nervous. My curiosity only peaked further as I wondered what was going on that they were having this argument.
Bill's voice came shortly after, "We're supposed to be married, Fleur. Why do you always refuse me?"
There was an unmistakeable sob, followed by more from Fleur. "You only like me for my looks, Beel. You are like ozzer men. I know zhis because I am veela, we can tell."
The soft thumps of footprints approached and I ran down the corridor as quickly as my legs would carry me whilst staying quiet, my heart beating like a drum. The door opened with a squeak just as I ghosted through my own doorway, desperately making my way to the bed and swathing myself with blankets once more. The footsteps passed my door and soon after I heard the faint noise of a door opening at the other end of the corridor, leading me to assume that one of them had decided to occupy the last spare bedroom rather than sleep with the other. My heart taking a long time to calm down, I willed myself to sleep having seen enough action for one night.
Okay, that just about sets up the story. In other chapters, I will definitely be using other perspectives rather than just the ones of Harry and Hermione, it's just on this occasion I decided that it would be a good opportunity to show contrast effectively. You've got Hermione in relative comfort, living in a beautiful environment with lovely meals whereas Harry's in some horrible dungeon eating basically scraps. In case you didn't pick it up, you must know that:
Everyone thinks Harry to be dead
This is set only a matter of months after the Battle of Hogwarts, which in this story Voldemort won.