Out of the Box

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Story Notes:
Hermione Big Bang 9/19/09. Warnings: Domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse referenced

April 22, 2000


How are you? Is training keeping you busy? I hope that you’re taking care of yourself and eating properly.

I’ve arrived in Australia safely. It’s odd, using Muggle transport, and it took ages to fly here, but everything went well. Mum and Dad were waiting for me, and now I’m at their house, settling into the guest room. Dad seems to be holding up. I’m not sure how he’ll be after the treatments start, but I hope that they’ll be able to help him. They’re both happy I’m here, so I’m glad I went ahead and chose to come here to support them through this. I can’t believe that my father has cancer. It’s not even something I can help fix magically, which is frustrating.

It’s strange not to use my wand all the time. They have friends and neighbors who come around at odd times, so it’s risky to even have it out, so I’m trying to get used to doing things the Muggle way. I forgot how much I hate washing dishes until I was elbow-deep in suds. Oh, should I mention that? Since this is being sent via Muggle post, I realized that maybe we shouldn’t mention magic. Well, I’m not changing it now, but I’ll try to remember in the future.

I wish that you were here. It’s lonely, not knowing anyone and not being part of something. I know that I’m part of my family, obviously, but it isn’t the same. It’s reminding me of the first month of school, during first year, when I didn’t really talk to hardly anyone and no one was friendly to me. Maybe I’ll adjust well enough while I’m here, but I look forward to coming home soon.



July 10, 2001


How are you? Congratulations on completing your training program, even if you're both slackers for accepting the offer for a shorter training program instead of doing the full three years. Yes, I'm teasing, but I do hope that you're both fully trained now. I’ve sent you and Ron a celebratory gift each, and I made sure to label them both so there wouldn’t be any confusion. I swear, one time I don’t put a name on a package, and I have to hear about it from both of you for months. I can’t complain that you’re both using the same Muggle postal box, of course, since it means we can keep in touch while I’m gone, but I do hope that you eventually stop reminding me of my mistake.

I’m sorry that I won’t be home for your birthday. I don’t like that this will make two I’ve missed, even if it can’t be helped. The chemotherapy isn’t doing much to help Dad, and his condition seems to be getting worse in recent weeks. Mum needs me, so I just can’t leave to come home yet. They’ve brought in a couple more doctors to act as consultants, though, so we’re hoping they have new ideas or treatment options.

My job is going well. I really enjoy it, even if it is just running a till in a bookshop. Yes, I know, a job is a job, but I never really saw myself as working as a shop clerk after school. It’s only temporary, of course, but I’m glad I found it. Not many places were willing to even give me an interview when they saw my CV; it really was that blank.

Give my love to everyone. I miss you all, but I should be home soon, once my father is better.


March 20, 2002


How are you? It sounds like the department is keeping you busy; hopefully not too busy, since we don’t want you working yourself to an ulcer. Tell Ron that it doesn’t take much time to send me a brief letter saying he’s alive and well. It’s been ages since he wrote last. Is he seeing someone? You can tell me, Harry. I won’t be upset. You know that he and I agreed to just be friends after I finished school. Besides, I’m dating someone anyway.

Doctor Dave is doing well, thanks for asking. If you do make it here for holiday, please remember that his name is David, all right? He doesn’t really like being called Dave at all. I’m eager for you to meet him, though. He’s very handsome and charming (stop making those faces I’m sure you’re making), but he’s also clever and kind. I think you’ll get along well. We’ve only been dating for a few months, but I enjoy spending time with him. He’s helped me a lot when it comes to dealing with my father’s illness. It’s nice to have someone other than my parents to talk to, even if I have to keep secrets from him.

The classes that I’m taking at uni are going well. Like I mentioned before, it’s not really a proper program. It’s adult oriented classes in various subjects, which means that I’m actually younger than many of my fellow students. I’m enjoying the business class more than I expected. Maybe I’ll decide to open a bookshop when I come home instead of getting into research. Wouldn’t that be interesting?


September 25, 2002


How are you? Did you make it home safely? It was wonderful to have the chance to see you again. I didn’t realize just how much I missed you until you were here and I was able to hug you and talk to you in person. I wish that I could have returned with you. Not that I don’t enjoy my life, but England will always be home.

I wanted to apologize again for dinner on my birthday. David was stressed with work and had lost a patient, so he was just tense and easily agitated. I had so hoped that you would get along well. He was appalled at his behavior when he realized, and he regrets having had too much to drink that night. Regardless of what you think, he does treat me well, and he’s a nice man. He’s also not that old, so please refrain from making those jokes anymore. He’s only thirty-three.

Mum and Dad have dinner finished, so I’d better go eat before it gets cold. I’ll probably write again tomorrow and put both letters in the same envelope.


February 11, 2003


How are you? How is work? Happy Valentine’s Day, as it should be past then by the time this letter arrives in the post. Your last letter surprised me, in a way, but you have to know that I love you, regardless of whether you’re attracted to men or women or both. I wish that I could be there to give you a hug because you sound like you need it.

My classes aren’t happening anymore, actually. I had to stop them this term. I kept missing them because of treatments for my father, and it was becoming too difficult to get the coursework done while also helping him and Mum. David thinks that it’s better if I just focus on that right now, since I can always go back to school later. At least it frees up my time for me to take on extra shifts at work, right? I can schedule that around Dad’s treatments easier.

I’m going out with David tonight, so I need to get ready. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I’ll write more later.

June 30, 2003


You’re being ridiculous. I hope that you realize that. It isn’t David’s fault that I lost my job. I had received counseling about being late after the third time, and it’s my fault that I couldn’t get there on time. I hate not knowing how to drive a bloody car. Relying on someone else is frustrating, especially when David can’t help being stuck at work dealing with a patient. My boss was very nice about it all, but she couldn’t keep me on when I was breaking rules.

Now that I’ve answered that part of your last letter, I’ll ask how you’re doing. Are you excited about Ron’s wedding? I can’t believe he’s getting married. We’re not old enough for that yet, are we? I certainly have no intention of getting married anytime soon. Still, I’m happy for him and Parvati. I think I’ll be able to fly home for the wedding. I have a little bit of money saved since I stopped my classes, and I should be able to afford a ticket. Dad’s in one of his better periods, too, which means I won’t feel too guilty leaving them for a week.

Mum’s calling me to the phone, so I’d better take the call. More soon.

January 9, 2004


How are you? I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to reply to your last letter. Moving was more trouble than I expected. The house is lovely, though. David even arranged for a library for me. It has so many books. All Muggle, obviously, but I don’t mind too much. It’s been so long since I’ve used magic routinely that I’m almost used to living as a Muggle now. You don’t need to worry about me, by the way. I don’t plan to tell him the truth about that, since I don’t think he’d understand.

It’s strange to be living with someone like this, but I’m adjusting. The house is lovely, as I mentioned, but the town is very small. It’s extremely rural, to be polite, and there isn’t even a daily train. People seem to know David, but they’re not particularly welcoming or kind to me, so I just avoid going there. David will be driving to work for a rather long commute, but he doesn’t seem to mind. This was the house he wanted, so it’s the one he bought. I’m able to ring Mum and Dad, at least, even if I can’t drop in to see them easily. Fortunately, I can drive in with David to the hospital and meet up with Mum and Dad there, so I do my shopping on those days. Maybe this will give me the incentive I need to finally learn how to drive?

I’m sorry that I missed Ron and Parvati’s wedding. It sounds like it was really beautiful. Dad is doing better now, but it doesn’t look good. David can’t tell me anything, of course, since Dad is his patient, but I can tell something’s wrong. Hopefully, we’ll get some answers soon, so that we can prepare for more treatments or figure out what needs done next. Whenever he’s having a particularly bad time of it, I wonder if he wouldn’t rather have it all over. Is that wrong of me to think that way? I don’t want to lose him, but I also don’t want him to suffer.

Postal service out here isn’t very dependable or routine. I’ll put this in the post when I visit Mum and Dad, but I just wanted you to understand why there might be some delay in delivery now that I’ve moved. My new address is at the bottom of the letter.




No, my moving in with David doesn’t mean that I plan to marry him. I really wish that you’d be more tolerant, Harry. I know that you disliked him during that dinner, but he normally isn’t like that.

August 15, 2004


We buried my father today. I’m numb, and I can’t seem to cry. The last few weeks have been so difficult, and now, he’s gone. Mum needs me to be strong, so I’m trying. She said that she and Dad were prepared, but it has hit her hard. Fortunately, David’s helping her with the cost for the funeral and everything. She has so much debt after Dad’s hospital visits and treatments for the past few years that I don’t know how she’s going to get by now..

I miss you. It’s been months since you wrote last, and I’m worried that something’s happened. I know that you were angry in your last letter, but I hope that you haven’t forgotten our friendship just because you don’t approve of my boyfriend. We’ve been through too much to let that happen. David’s a good man, and he’s been here when I really needed someone. I wish that you liked him, but I’m the one dating him, so it doesn’t really matter if you do or not. We can still be friends anyway, can’t we?

Please write to me.


July 31, 2005


Happy birthday. It’s been over a year now since you’ve written to me, so I should probably just let go and move on, but I can’t. I keep writing in the hopes that you’ll eventually write back. I need to hear from you. I wish I could see you. I need to know that everything’s going to be okay because, right now, it feels like my life is falling apart around me, and I’m not even sure who I am anymore.

This isn’t the life that I wanted for myself, but I chose it, so what does that mean?


July 31, 2006


I can’t believe it’s already been two years since we last corresponded. Today’s your birthday, and I can’t help but wonder where you are and what you’re doing. Do you ever think of me or the past and miss our friendship? I do. Not often, because it hurts and it makes me sad. David doesn’t really like it when I’m upset, so I try not to think about England and you and Ron and everything unless he’s at work. It’s better that way.

It’s funny. I still write you every week, even though you stopped replying years ago. I no longer post the letters, though. I keep them in a box with my wand and other items that I keep hidden from David. You’d probably make a face if you knew that the letters you sent me were in a magical box underneath my knickers. You boys always were so weird about that sort of thing.

You’re still my best friend, even if we don’t talk anymore. When things get particularly bad, I think about you and war and it helps me get through. I’m not sure that I know who I am anymore, but I can remember who I used to be. That’s something, isn’t it?


December 25, 2007


Happy Christmas. Well, I hope it’s happy for you. It wasn’t very happy for me, to be honest. David proposed to me this morning. The ring is very nice, but I couldn’t accept it. I don’t want to marry anyone right now, much less him. I didn’t know if I’d be able to be say no. It’s got harder to say that word over recent years, yet I found the courage.

David is displeased. I’m not sure if he’ll forgive me for this. He won’t end things, though, no matter how angry he gets. He says he loves me, but I hope that this isn’t love.

July 31, 2008


Happy birthday.

I wish I was there.


March 10, 2009

There’s too much salt. The fish is fresh and cooked perfectly, but the salt is evident from the first bite. Hermione takes another bite, hoping that she just had a particularly salty one at first, but there’s still too much salt. She doesn’t understand what happened. She followed the recipe exactly, and she barely used the salt. There’s a knot in her belly as she glances at David. He isn’t fond of salt, so she knows to keep it at a minimum and use it only when a recipe requires. She can show him the ingredients for the fish recipe, to prove that it was necessary, but she knows that she must have used too much because she can taste it.

“You’re not eating your dinner,” David points out, watching her in that way of his. He takes a drink of his wine, his third glass since getting home, but keeps staring at her.

“I’m sorry. I’ll eat faster,” she tells him quietly, taking another bite as he watches. She doesn’t mind the salt; it adds a nice flavor to the fish.

“Mark Robinson asked after you today. He said that he hasn’t seen you in months.” David carefully slices his fish and stabs the piece with his fork. “I told him that you’ve been busy, but that we might have a dinner party soon.”

The idea of a dinner party makes the knot in her belly expand. She hates when David invites guests over, not that it happens often; usually only when he’s trying to impress colleagues. It’ll be an evening of walking a thin line for fear of making a misstep and upsetting him. It’ll be hours of educated people treating her like she doesn’t have a brain just because she’s never finished uni and doesn’t have a job. She tries to smile as she reaches for her glass of water. He’s allowed her to use a slice of lemon this evening, and the water is tart as it splashes onto her tongue.

His lip twitches slightly as he eats. She looks at her plate and notices that the lettuce in the salad looks limp. Why didn’t she see that when she was in the kitchen? She could have fixed it then. David’s fork makes a noise as it clangs against his plate, causing her look up at him.

“You didn’t tell me that you and your mother had run into Robinson in February,” he says slowly. “He mentioned having lunch with you.”

“I--he’s developed an affection for my mum, David. We saw him while out shopping, and he had lunch with her. I just happened to be there. I didn’t think it was important,” she stammers, not wanting to admit that she hadn’t said anything intentionally. She knows that David doesn’t like her to speak with other men unless he’s there, even if the idea that a man in his sixties like Mark Robinson would ever be chatting her up is ridiculous.

“Wasn’t important?” She sees him grip his fork tightly enough that his knuckles have turned white. “Who are you to determine whether something is or is not important?”

She looks down at her plate and watches her hand shake. “I’m no one,” she recites softly, feeling her hair brush against her cheek as she shifts in the chair. It’s a terrible night to have messed up dinner. He’s obviously angry about Robinson, and she isn’t sure what he’s going to do. The feeling of dread and fear that fills her is familiar. Too familiar. It’s become a way of life the last few years.

“Correct,” he says in a loud voice as he slams his glass back onto the table.

The action makes her jump, and she can hear him pouring another glass. Not wine this time. The scent coming across the table is stronger. Scotch. He brought the bottle to the table with him, which was the first indication that he was in a mood. Something hits the top of her head, and she raises it enough to see his slice of fish lying on the table. She blinks and tries to think of what to say, but it’s better to be silent when he’s like this. If she talks, she’ll just make him angrier.

He snorts. “That’s dreadful. I should have known that you wouldn’t be able to cook it properly. Yet another thing that you’re incapable of doing.”

“I’m sorry. I followed the recipe, so it should have been fine. I can go make you something else, though. What would you like?”

“What I’d like is for my girlfriend to do as I ask without making mistakes. Is that too much to ask for? I give you this big house and that library you seem to love, and this is how you repay me? By ruining my dinner and keeping secrets from me?”

She licks her lips and reaches for her water. Her throat is parched, and she’s scared. He’s been drinking since he got home, Scotch and wine and Scotch again, and he’s louder than usual. Loud isn’t good. She’s learned that over the years, since everything changed and became what it is now. Before she can pick up her glass, he slaps it out of her hand. Water spills on the table and the glass rolls off, shattering as it hits the floor. She looks up and sees that he’s leaning across the table to reach her, and the look on his face is terrifying.

“I asked you a question, Hermione. Do you have the audacity to ignore me after everything you’ve done?”

“It’s not too much to ask,” she whispers, knowing in the back corner of her mind that it won’t matter what she says. It never does.

“Then why must you constantly misbehave and force me to remind you of my expectations?”

“I’m sorry, David. I must have been distracted and added too much salt. It won’t happen again,” she tells him quickly. The voice in her head that she no longer listens to is screaming at her for accepting this, but it’s easier to ignore after so many years. This is her fault, for messing up the fish and upsetting him.

“You’re right. It won’t. However, you need to learn your lesson so that we can be certain that you won’t continue to make such mistakes.” David stands up, and she watches him walk away from the table. Instead of coming towards her, though, he walks down the hallway.

“What are you doing?” she asks, getting up from the table to follow him.

“Go sit down, Hermione. I’ll finish with you after. Just remember that this is your fault. If you’d done the few things that I ask of you, I wouldn’t be forced to do this.”

She wants to keep following him, but she recognizes the tone in his voice. If she doesn’t obey him, she’ll regret it. Reluctantly, she takes a step back then turns to walk to the table. There’s a loud noise coming from the corridor, but she can’t see anything from where she’s sitting. He’s hit something, she suspects, and she hopes that he’s taking out his frustrations on a wall. When he comes back, he’s flushed and his blond hair is ruffled. He shows her a key that is familiar before he puts it in his pocket with deliberate slowness.

“You’ll no longer have access to the library. When you can follow my simple directions, then I’ll allow you admittance again.” The way he’s looking at her is frightening. It’s like she means nothing, like she’s not human, and it worries her. Looking at him, she has flashbacks to the war, to facing evil that would make him piss himself, yet she’s more scared now than she ever has been. “I’ve locked it, and you won’t get the key until I say.”

The library? No, not again. He can’t lock it again. “But, David. The library is mine. The books are all I have.” She realizes it’s the wrong thing to say moments before he comes around the table and grabs her.

“All you have?” he repeats as he grips her shoulders tightly. She can feel his fingernails digging into her skin as he starts to shake her. “Is that why you refuse to marry me? To have a child? Because of your silly books? Or is it because of Robinson? You’ve been meeting him when you visit your mum, haven’t you? You’ve been fucking him, you little whore.”

“I haven’t. I promise. There’s been no one but you.” Her shoulders already hurt from where he’s holding her, and she knows that he’ll leave bruises. He always does when he’s like this. The slap is unexpected, and the force of it causes her head to snap to the side. He’s calling her names as he slaps her again and again, but she tries not to listen. She tries to find a place in her mind to hide until this is over. He isn’t violent often, but, when he is, it’s horrible.

“I’ve made a decision today, after my talk with Robinson,” he tells her as he pulls her hair hard and forces her to look at him. “You’ll give me a child, Hermione. God knows you’re not good for anything else. You’re getting so old; no longer the fresh, pretty girl that I initially wanted. A good fuck doesn’t make up for the lines on your face or this horrible hair or this fat figure. No other man would want you, so don’t even think about leaving me.”

He slaps her body and pulls her hair as he talks, each word like a kick to the gut. She doesn’t want to listen to him, but it’s impossible to ignore when every word cuts her so deep. She thought about leaving years ago, after he began to change, but there’s nowhere to go. She has no one but him and her mum, who is also dependent on David since her dad died. He knows it, too, which makes it even worse when he taunts her.

“You’re not listening,” he snarls before he twists her arm. She looks at him in shock as he twists it further behind her. In that second, he becomes the monster that haunts her nightmares, and she cries out in pain as he slams her against the table. Her arm is throbbing, but he won’t let go.

“Please. No, David. Please,” she says, blinking away tears as he ignores her. She hears something snap before an intense pain spreads throughout her body. Her arm is twisted into an odd angle, and she screams as he pushes her head into the table.

“We’re going to have a baby. I’m going to be forty this year, and I want a son. Everyone else has one, and it’s my fucking turn. You won’t marry me, but you’ll give me a child, damn it. If I have to fuck your fat arse a dozen times a day until it happens, I will,” he vows.

His threat snaps something inside her. No, she can’t do this. She can’t let him do this. She gathers her strength and pushes back from the table, managing to catch him off-balance. When he lets go, she starts to run. It’s been months, years, since she fought back, but she has to tonight because she doesn’t want a baby. She can’t let him do that to her, to a child. If she can make it to the bedroom, she can get her wand. She can be safe. The lamp on the end table suddenly flies through the air behind her, towards him, and she can practically feel the magic for the first time in so long. She needs her wand. She needs to protect herself before he tries to kill her.

That thought makes her stumble, and she trips, falling on the wooden floor by the sofa. In all the years since he became what he is now, she’s never feared for her life. Tonight, she does. Her arm is aching, and she can’t use it to push herself off the ground, so she forces her weight onto her good arm so she can stand. Her wand is so close. If she can reach it, she’ll be safe. There isn’t time, though, before he’s on her, his weight grinding her into the hard floor.

“You little bitch. You’ll pay for that,” he warns as he shoves her dress up. She feels fabric sting her skin as he rips her knickers off. “You never resist me, Hermione. I thought you learned that lesson before, but it seems that you need a refresher.”

“No. Stop it. No!” She screams but there’s no one to hear. The house is so isolated, and, even if someone heard, they wouldn’t come. There’s no one to save her now. She has to try to save herself. She has to.

She tries to get up, but he’s too heavy. He hits her side with his fist before he shoves his fingers up into her. She keeps screaming no but he isn’t listening. He doesn’t care. Then, it’s too late. She closes her eyes as he pushes forward, biting her lip until she tastes blood as he moves. He calls her names, talking about Robinson and what a whore she is, and twists her arm back until she can’t tolerate the pain any longer.

She passes out as everything goes black.

**************************************************** *******************************

March 11 2009
The world is spinning.

Hermione closes her eyes quickly and rolls her head into her pillow. She’s groggy and her body hurts. She whimpers when she feels a rush of pain along her side when she moves. It isn’t from another nightmare. She gets upset over those, but it doesn’t translate into actual body aches unless she’s twisted herself up as she sleeps. That doesn’t feel like this.

As she becomes more conscious and less sleepy, she starts to remember dinner. Salty fish. The library. Robinson. No, it can’t be real. It has to be another nightmare. David is rarely ever that violent. She’s just imagining things. That has to be it. She’s still not fully awake. She rolls onto her side and cringes suddenly. The ache between her legs becomes more obvious, and she feels bile rising in her throat as she realizes that it really happened.

She tries to stand up to make a run for the toilet, but everything spins when she opens her eyes. Her arm and side are throbbing, and she can’t get to her feet. It feels like there’s cotton in her mouth, and she gags before she leans forward and vomits over the side of the bed. When she finishes, she uses the top of the sheet to wipe her mouth even though it means that she’ll have to wash them later.

Things become more focused as she blinks at the bed, and she notices the blood stains on her half of the sheet. Her pillowcase is stained, and there’s blood lower on the sheets, near where she’s sitting. She isn’t menstruating, so she knows what that must mean. David really did force her. It isn’t a horrible nightmare. She remembers him mentioning a son, ignoring her cries of no, the hard wooden floor beneath her cheek.

“No,” she whispers, forcing herself off the bed. She stumbles to the bathroom, but she manages to make it to the toilet before she vomits again. The pain in her side is worse as she heaves, and her left arm feels strange, but she can’t think about that right now.

Instead, she straightens up and reaches for a flannel. She wets it and then rubs it between her legs, scrubbing herself even though it’s too late. She takes pills to keep herself from getting pregnant, one of the only secrets she’s managed to keep from David, but there’s always a chance, and she can’t stop wiping herself until she’s raw and clean.

“What did he do?” She tosses the flannel into lavatory and touches her arm where it hurts. It's hanging at an odd angle, and she hesitantly pushes her fingers harder, which makes her whimper in pain. “Brilliant, Hermione. Make it feel worse.” Her left hand is okay, but something has happened to the rest of her arm. It feels like it’s broken, but wouldn’t it be more painful if it was?

She takes a deep breath, grimacing as the action causes her side to hurt. She looks down and notices the bruises covering her bare breasts and stomach. Did he hit her? He must have, but she doesn’t remember all of it. She remembers the floor and screaming no and then nothing. How did she get to the bed? Why does she feel so groggy? She rinses her mouth and spits into the sink before she slowly walks back into the bedroom.

Things are still spinning, but she’s managed to get her balance. When she sees the mess she made on the floor, she rubs her hand over her face. “What am I going to do?” she asks the quiet room. A glance at the clock shows her that it is late morning. David’s already gone, fortunately. She needs to figure out what to do. She can’t really comprehend how bad last night really was yet. It feels like something she dreamed, even as her body reminds her that it was real.

The confliction emotions are making her head hurt. She’s hurting, she’s angry, she’s worried, she’s scared, and she’s lost. Lost. She doesn’t know anything right now. He beat her, which has happened a few times before, more than she cares to think about right now, but he’s never forced her. He raped her. Is it rape if she lives with him? She said no, but maybe that doesn’t matter when it’s like this. No, it matters. It matters to her, even if it doesn’t to anyone else.

The anger flashes and dominates her mind as she walks to her dresser. “That bastard. I said no. He didn’t listen. He didn’t care.” She opens the drawer with her knickers and reaches into the back, where her biggest secret is kept. When she touches the hidden box, she feels her anger dispel. It’s replaced by fear. What if he isn’t really gone? What if he’s hiding somewhere watching her?

“David?” she calls out quietly, tightening her grip on the box as she feels a throbbing pain in her side. There’s no answer, so she removes the box. After she murmurs the charm, it becomes visible again, and she opens it. She touches the letters to Harry that she’s written over the years, since he stopped writing her, and she closes her eyes for a moment to collect herself.

Underneath the letters, she finds her wand. When she curls her fingers around the wood, she feels a sense of calm spread throughout her body. It’s been so long since she held her wand. She can’t even remember the last time she did magic. Since before her father died? David changed after that. Or maybe she changed? She knows she has, can’t really remember what she was like before moving into this isolated prison that David has provided for her, but she’s changed because of him.

The wand is so familiar to her that she feels a sense of loss at not having used it for so long. When she aims it at the mess on the floor, she stammers out the spell, the words practically foreign as she verbalizes them. Her movements aren’t right, and she feels frustrated as she bites her lip, blinking back tears as she stares at the floor. “Stop crying. He hates shows of weakness,” she murmurs aloud before she tries again. This time, it works, and the mess is gone.

The sheets are next. She can’t launder them, can’t touch them when there’s blood reminding her of what he’s done, of what she didn’t do. After a moment, she banishes them. She walks over and sits on the bare mattress, prodding her arm with her wand. It’s hurting more now, so she needs to do something. Healing charms aren’t something that she’s overly familiar with, though. She knows basic ones that she used during the war, but nothing that might help fix her arm. Still, she can try.

All she can manage to do is numb the pain, which helps but not enough. She puts her wand down on the mattress before she stands and walks to the wardrobe. She’s still naked, and she wants to cover the bruises. She’ll try to figure out what to do after that. It’s too hard to think right now. At least the world has stopped spinning, which is something to be thankful for, she supposes. It isn’t easy to get dressed when she’s hurting, but the need outweighs the pain. It takes a while to get her knickers on, and she has trouble trying to clasp her bra with just one hand. Since she can’t really raise her left arm, she gets a shirt with buttons and manages to finally get that put on.

“I should leave.” The words sound weak, scared, and she tries to say them again with more firmness. “I should leave.” She wants to feel the anger again, because it was nice, to finally feel alive instead of this haze that she seems to have been living in for years. But the anger is gone right now. She’s scared about David coming home and worried about her arm and her side. She’s ashamed of herself. Ashamed that she couldn’t fight him off, that she just gave up and let him rape her because she wasn’t strong enough to get away.

She grabs a simple black skirt and puts it on the floor so that she can step into it. She pulls the skirt up and gets it fastened in the front, which is easier, and then moves it around until it’s in the right place. She wishes that she had track pants to put on or even jeans, but David dislikes it when she covers her legs. He got rid of all of trousers after her father left, so she hasn’t worn any in years. Why did she let him do that?

“I need to leave.” She puts her hand over her face and leans forward, resting her forehead against the wall. She doesn’t want to see David again. He scared her last night, more than ever before, and she doesn’t care that he was drinking and doesn’t want to hear his excuses or his false words of love. That isn’t love. If he loved her, he wouldn’t do what he does, especially what he did last night.

After leaning there for a few minutes, she straightens and gets her wand. She needs to get new sheets for the bed. If David comes home and finds the bed unmade, he’ll be angry. She also needs to decide what to do about her injuries because her arm and ribs hurt even after the numbing charm was applied. There isn’t a clinic in town, not that she’d be able to use it even if there was one.

People in this town like David. They’d never believe the truth about what he’s really like. When he first started to change, or when she noticed the changes, at least, she tried to talk to her mum, but her father had just passed, and it took her mum months before she was able to handle anything difficult. There isn’t anyone to tell, to talk to, so she just deals with it. Without David, her mum wouldn’t have anywhere to live, and Hermione would be alone again. She hates the loneliness, but isn’t it preferable to this existence that isn’t really a life anymore?

She shakes her head slightly and rubs her arm. Sheets. They keep the linens in the laundry room off the kitchen, so she leaves the bedroom. On the way, she passes the library, pausing as she stares at the lock hanging above the knob. She reaches out to touch it with her wand, tempted to banish the lock. Before she does, she keeps walking. She deliberately focuses straight ahead when she walks past the sofa, but her stomach rolls anyway as she thinks about last night and what David did to her right there.

When she reaches the kitchen, she notices a piece of paper on the counter next to a prescription bottle. She walks over and puts her wand down so she can pick up the paper. She recognizes David’s handwriting, and her hand starts to shake. “Stop it,” she whispers, closing her eyes as she recites the alphabet. By the time she makes it to M, she feels more under control and opens her eyes so she can read the note.


If you wouldn’t forget your lessons, I wouldn’t be forced to remind you of them. You know that I hate having to punish you because you won’t listen. I trust that you’ll remember after last night. I gave you a shot to help with the pain when I moved you to the bed, and I’m leaving some painkillers for you. Drink three glasses of water today and avoid using your left arm. It’s broken, so I’ll set it tonight when I get home. You can think about everything you’ve done wrong if it hurts you today and remember that next time you decide to resist me.

Make chicken for dinner tonight. I’ll be home on time.


Broken. She reads the letter again, blinking away tears as she starts to breathe hard. Her lessons. A shot. He drugged her. She looks at her arm and finally spots the small bruise that he must have made. What had he given her? No wonder everything was spinning earlier and her head felt so terrible. Everything she’s done wrong. Wrong. Broken. Lessons. No. She crumbles the piece of paper and picks up her wand.

She turns and leaves the kitchen, trying not to think and ignoring the doubts that start to nag at her with every step. It feels like she’s walking in quicksand, struggling to lift her feet even as she feels more determined than she has in longer than she can remember. Finally, she reaches the bedroom. She looks around and catches a glimpse of her face in the mirror.

Shocked, she steps closer to it and stares. Her lips are split, and there’re bruises on her cheeks, but what scares her are the marks on her throat, like someone gripped it from behind. She swallows when she feels bile rising in her throat, turning and quickly moving to her dresser. The box has everything that’s truly important to her, so she needs it. She doesn’t want any of the clothes that he bought her. She wants to take off what she’s wearing now, but it’s not like she can go anywhere naked. What else? Her photographs. She uses her wand to bring her album to her.

That’s it. After so many years, all she has is her box of memorabilia and photographs. She doesn’t dwell on how that makes her feel right now. Instead, she grips her wand tightly and focuses on her mum’s sitting room. “I will leave,” she whispers to the empty room before she Apparates for the first time in years.

The flat is quiet when Hermione arrives. It takes her a moment to regain her equilibrium after Apparating. When she does, she puts the few things that she brought with her on the kitchen table and looks at the calendar. She scans it until she finds the correct date and sees that her mum is working today. Her mum’s schedule changes week to week, so she came here hoping it might be a day off for her.

Instead of going back to work as a dentist when the memory charm was removed, her mother worked in a medical office until her father got sick. After his death, though, she had ended up changing jobs and now worked with terminally ill people, trying to help their families adjust and deal with the death of a loved one. Hermione isn’t sure how she can do it, after everything they went through with her father, but she admires her for it.

She doesn’t want to interrupt her mum at work, since she’s often busy and helping people, but she needs her. Right now, she’s still reeling from actually leaving and trying to fight the impulse to return and never let David know that she tried. His voice is in her head, telling her how he’ll punish her for daring to leave, and she can’t ignore it even though she wants to. If she goes back now, no one will ever know she left. She can just put new sheets on the bed and cook a chicken recipe that he really likes. Then maybe he won’t hurt her tonight.

“Stop. You’re not going back,” she tells herself, trying to be firm but not managing it. She sounds scared, which makes her feel even more ashamed. If she goes back, she’ll know, and that’s more important than anyone else. Last night, she feared for her life, truly thought he might snap and just kill her, and she doesn’t want to die. She used to be so strong, facing Death Eaters and dragons, and now she feels so weak that she’s disgusted with herself.

She's going to have to ring the office anyway. Like it or not, she can't do this alone, and she doesn’t have anyone else. Even Harry gave up on her. She tries not to think about Harry because it just makes her cry, but she really wishes he were here now because she’d feel safe.

Her arm is starting to hurt again, so she casts another charm to numb the pain before she walks to her mum’s small desk. After she finds the telephone number, she picks up the phone. The front desk answers on the fourth ring, and she asks to speak with her mother. Finally, her mum gets on the phone.

“Hello, this is Catherine Granger. May I help you?”

Suddenly, she doesn’t know what to say. She feels tears welling up in her eyes and can’t find the words. After a moment of silence, she clears her throat and says, “Mum, I need you.”

“Hermione? What’s wrong? Where are you? What’s happened?” Her mum starts asking questions, speaking so quickly that Hermione feels guilty for worrying her. This is her fault, after all, and it’s not right to make her mum anxious over her mistakes.

“I’m at your flat. I--I’ve left David.”

Her mum lets out a breath and speaks to someone, her voice muffled as if she’s holding her hand over the telephone receiver. When she gets back on, she says, “I’ll be home in fifteen minutes.”

Before Hermione can say anything, the line goes dead. She replaces the receiver and picks her wand back up, holding it tightly as she walks into the sitting room and sits down. She holds her left arm against her chest, stretching her fingers because they don’t hurt. There's a worn spot in the carpet, and she stares at it, wonders if her mum’s noticed it, and tries not to think about anything else.

Her attempt is a failure, since all she can think about is David and last night and her life since coming to this country. When she hears a key in the lock, she tenses and looks up suddenly, only relaxing when her mum steps into the flat. She didn’t realize so much time had passed, but she’s so glad to see her.

“Oh, Hermione,” her mum whispers when she notices her. She drops her handbag and keys on the floor as she rushes to the sofa. “What’s happened? Did he do this?”

“Mummy.” She can’t talk because she starts crying and hugs her mum, not even caring that it makes her side hurt when her mum hugs her back. Her mum brushes her fingers through Hermione’s hair and whispers to her until she stops crying.

“Did David do this? Did he hurt you?” her mum asks softly, stroking her back as she speaks.

“He did,” she confirms quietly. “Last night. There was too much salt in the fish, and he was jealous over our lunch with Mark back in February. He--he wouldn’t stop, even when I said no.”

Her mum curses, which startles her. Her mum doesn’t get angry and swear. “Has he done this before?” her mum asks.

“No. I mean, yes, but not like last night. He was crazy. I thought he was going to kill me,” she admits, holding her mum tighter as she blinks away tears. “He’s been doing it since Daddy died. I tried to tell you, but you didn’t understand.”

“Oh, baby. You should have made me understand,” her mum whispers. “For all those years? Is that why you’ve stopped visiting so often?”

“I’m sorry. I know it’s my fault. I’m so ashamed.” She closes her eyes and bites her lip, which hurts because they’re still sore from being busted.

Her mum moves, and forces her to look up. Her mum’s glaring and looks angry, which makes her flinch. “Stop that. This isn’t your fault. This is his fault. That bloody bastard better be glad that your father isn’t here or he’d be dead. He still might be, if I ever see him again.”

“He doesn’t like for me to visit unless he’s with me. He doesn’t even like for me to leave the house alone. He’ll be so angry when he finds out I’ve left today. I didn’t even remake the bed.” She wipes her face with her right hand and looks at the spot in the carpet. “How will you pay for the flat if I’ve left him?”

“Hermione, I’ve been paying my own rent since I went back to work. David hasn’t been helping me since then. I just needed the help after your father--it was so difficult, and I couldn’t even get out of bed for weeks, so I couldn’t work.” Her mum frowns when she looks up quickly and starts to speak. “Has he told you otherwise?”

She nods. “He told me that he’d make you move if I didn’t do what he said. He told me that he’s been paying for your expenses, but you were too proud to admit it to me. I never asked because…he knew I wouldn’t ask. He was lying the whole time?” She moves her hand on the sofa until she finds her wand and grips it tightly. “I didn’t even doubt him. I’m so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid, Hermione. I haven’t been suspicious of him, yet I find out that he’s been doing who knows what to my daughter for years.” Her mum sounds angry, and she finds that comforting because she didn’t know how her mum would react.

“I need to go to hospital,” she says softly. “He says that my arm is broken, and I think maybe he did something to my ribs. My side really hurts.” She looks at her mum. “There’s one on the other side of town, isn’t there? I don’t want to go to his. People know me there. I don’t want them to see.”

“I’ll take you. Let me look in the directory to get the address. We’ll find it. Do you need anything? You must be in pain. Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I’d have taken you immediately.”

She shakes her head. “I’ve numbed it, so it isn’t too bad right now. I’ve been doing magic again. My wand…it feels like I’ve come home. That sounds silly, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t.” Her mum kisses the top of her head and squeezes her hand before she stands up to get the address of the hospital.

“I’m going to use the toilet.” She stands up and goes into the bathroom, deliberately avoiding a glance in the mirror. She doesn’t want to look at herself right now.

When she goes back, her mum is on the telephone. She hides her wand so that she can take it with her. Now that she’s got it back, she doesn’t want to be without it. When her mum puts down the phone, Hermione gets her bag from the table so they can leave.

“I’ve rung up the telephone company and arranged for David’s numbers to be blocked. He might call from another line, but you don’t have to worry about him calling from his office or from home,” her mum tells her. “I don’t want him bothering you any more.”

It’s late by the time they leave the hospital. Hermione’s arm is broken, as are a couple of ribs. She’s been given prescriptions and treatment instructions for the ribs, and her arm is in a soft cast. She’s thankful that there isn’t any nerve damage and that she didn’t need surgery, but it’s still going to be several weeks of wearing the brace before her arm is healed and potentially months for the rib fractures to heal. Her wrist and fingers aren’t damaged, at least, so she can technically use her left hand to hold things.

“I’m hungry,” she tells her mum. She notices the clock in the car and tenses slightly. David has to be home by now, which means he’ll know that she’s left him. The fear she feels is frustrating, but she can’t help it. He’s going to be so angry with her.

“We’ll get something.” Her mum starts the car but lets it stand idle instead of driving. “Why didn’t you report him?”

She looks over at her mum then down at her lap. “It wouldn’t change anything. I can’t go through a trial, telling people how long I stayed and admit that I wasn’t strong enough to stop him. I just couldn’t do it.”

“Hermione, the doctor knew that you’d been assaulted. They were going to ring the police. All you had to do was give a statement so they could get that monster off the streets.”

“That’s not all I’d have to do, and you know it, Mum. He’s a well-respected physician who has a lot of support in our town as well as here in Perth. He’d convince everyone that it was my fault, and I just want him out of my life.” She feels angry at her mum for pushing this when she feels so miserable and scared. It isn’t a decision that she made lightly, since she believes in justice and wants him to pay for what he’s done, but she knows it wouldn’t have changed anything.

“I’m sorry, baby. It’s just maddening that he’s out there when he’s hurt my daughter. I feel helpless right now, and I really want him to suffer for everything he’s done,” her mum admits.

“I just don’t want to see him ever again,” she whispers, shifting in the seat as she glances at the clock and feels a knot in her belly. “He’ll know I’m gone by now.”

“I won’t let him hurt you any more, Hermione.” Her mum reaches over to squeeze her right shoulder, and Hermione glances at her. She knows that her mum can’t make promises like that, but it means a lot to hear it, anyway. Her mum lets go and backs the car up. “We’ll stop to get some food, then let a room for the night.”

“We’re not going home?” Hermione’s hungry and sleepy from the medication that she’s received, but she doesn’t want her mum to think that she can’t make it back to the flat.

“Not tonight. You need your rest, and I don’t think that you’ll feel safe at the flat until I can have the locks changed,” her mum tells her. “You don’t know what he might do once he sees that you’ve left, and I just want to make sure that you’re protected. Now, how about a takeaway burger and chips that are totally bad for us?”

“Greasy chips sound good.” She looks out the window and runs her fingers over her wand as she thinks about what her mum said. Finally, she says, “Thank you, Mum.”

Her mum gives her a funny look and sighs. “Hermione, there’s no reason to thank me for this. I’m your mother.” She doesn’t say anything else, as if that is explanation enough, and Hermione thinks maybe it is, even if she disagrees about not needing to be thankful right now.

March 12, 2009
Hermione can barely remember arriving in the hotel room last night because she fell into a deep sleep soon after. It’s a relief to feel rested, even if it was drug-induced, and things seem a little better today than they did yesterday. She and her mum had breakfast after they checked out of the hotel, which was good, even if people were staring at her. The whispers remind her of fourth year at Hogwarts, and she feels a slight yearning for the familiarity of the Wizarding world.

On the way back to her mum’s flat, they stop at a shop for her to buy some new clothes since she didn’t bring anything with her. She buys things that are on sale, since she has no money of her own right now and doesn’t want her mum to spend too much, and it’s nice to buy track pants and a new pair of jeans. Liberating, in a way, and she has a moment of happiness in the changing room as she realizes that she never would have dared buy them just two days ago.

When they get home, her mum helps her get settled in and makes them toasted sandwiches for lunch. She’s scheduled to work an evening shift, but wants to take the night off so she can stay home. Hermione encourages her to go in to work, since she knows the medication for her arm will likely put her to sleep early again tonight. She doesn’t plan to continue taking it for as long as prescribed, because it makes her too sleepy, but she figures it’s best to take it as ordered for a few days. She knows she needs to heal.

When she finally convinces her mother that she has no intention of ringing David or going back and that she feels safe here, it’s almost a relief. The locks will be changed tomorrow, the soonest the locksmith could come, but she doesn’t really feel scared being here. She doesn’t want her mum to feel guilty or to worry about her not being strong enough to stay away, which is how it feels right now. Her mum is almost smothering, not giving her any space at all and trying to do everything for her. In a way, it’s nice, but, in another way, she’s spent the past few years having someone control her life, and she needs to break out of that habit.

After her mum goes to work, she gets comfortable on the sofa and turns on the telly. David didn’t allow a telly at the house, so she hasn’t had a chance to watch one in ages. It isn’t something she particularly missed, since she has never been a huge fan of telly when there are books around, but she has missed keeping up with the news. David rarely even let her read a newspaper.

She spends a couple of hours watching every news program that she can locate. There’s been a fundraiser for victims of the bush fires that happened months ago, a conviction for a child murderer, a lot of economic news about businesses being sold and terminations of employees, and political news that she doesn’t really understand. Despite living in Australia for a decade, she hasn’t really acclimated to the country, and she thinks of England as home.

The news programs basically repeat themselves, so she quickly gets bored hearing the same information and tries to find something else to watch. There’s a program about an excavation in Egypt, so she leaves that on while she lies down on the sofa. She feels exhausted despite not doing very much today. It’s more tiring doing nothing than being busy, she decides, which is one of those illogical truths of life that never make any sense to her.

Maybe she should write to Harry. She has continued to write to him once a week despite the lack of response. He stopped answering her letters before her father died, when they argued over David and how Harry felt that she was changing. In retrospect, he had been able to see the truth in England while she hadn’t when it was right in front of her. She misses him a lot, even more than she misses Ron, whom she almost had a romantic relationship with following the end of the war.

With that decision made, she gets off the sofa and goes to get something to drink before she borrows paper and a pen from her mum. She’s about to sit down when the telephone rings. Her mum is calling every hour to check on her, which is fine for now but will hopefully stop before she tries to sleep later. She also hopes that her mum doesn’t come home early, like she mentioned, because she doesn’t want to be responsible for her mum getting into trouble at work. She picks up the phone. “Hello, Mum. I’m still fine. You can go back to work now.”

A click is the only response. She frowns and glances at the clock, noticing that it’s almost seven. She relaxes slightly because that means David’s home by now. He’s rarely late, and is usually there by half-six expecting dinner to be ready. Instead of feeling fear, which has generally been accompanying thoughts of David since yesterday morning, she feels anger. He can cook his own food now, and worry about salt without it being her problem anymore.

She puts the phone back down and walks over to the sofa. Before she can write, she has to figure out where to start. Since she never mails the letters any more, she's been telling Harry everything in them. Right now, though, she isn’t sure what to say. Words seem insufficient to explain what she’s done in the last two days. She’s found the courage to leave after years of being made to feel weak and insignificant. Despite showing that strength, it’s impossible to become who she used to be, as she’s starting to realize. She isn’t that strong, determined girl anymore, but she also isn’t the weak victim that she’d become.

Trying to put that into words is difficult. It doesn’t matter that she uses the letters to Harry like a journal instead of real correspondence; she’s just staring at the blank page trying to find the words to describe it all. When she starts to write, it becomes easier, and the words begin to flow. It’s cathartic, really, to look at what she’s writing and realize that maybe she’s a little stronger than she believes. She couldn’t report David, like her mum wanted, but leaving took strength, didn’t it? Resisting the ingrained impulse to go and please him and beg forgiveness requires nerve, doesn’t it?

She asks those questions as she writes, but she doesn’t know the answers. It feels like there’s so much more she should do, like she isn’t doing enough. It’s not a good feeling, to have so much doubt and insecurity. She still doesn’t even recognize herself anymore when she looks in the mirror, which is ridiculous because she looks the same. Same hair, same eyes, same nose, same mouth. How can something that looks the same be so different?

The sound of a key in the lock pulls her from her thoughts. She glances at the clock and notices that her mum definitely left work early. If this continues, she’s going to have to talk to her because it’s going to get unbearable to be looked after so much before too long. She folds up the paper that she’s writing on. “I told you that you didn’t have to come home early, Mum,” she says, twisting around to greet her mother. Her faint smile fades as she feels fear sweep over her.

“Hello, Hermione,” David says as he closes the door behind him and locks it. “Have you enjoyed your visit with your mother?”

She’s so shocked to see him that it takes her a moment to realize what he’s said. Her visit with her mother? “You shouldn’t be here,” she tells him, watching him carefully as he looks at her with concern. No, it’s not concern. He’s just acting. He has to be because he doesn’t really care.

“You’re not happy to see me?” He gives her the boyish smile that shows his dimples and steps further into the flat. “I thought I’d surprise you by coming over and bringing you home. I’d worry about you taking the train back home, especially at night.”

“I--it’s not that I’m not happy…” She hears herself stammering and panics. He’s confusing her. He doesn’t seem angry at all.

“Perhaps we can stop for dinner along the way, if you’d like. That little Chinese place that you love?” he suggests as he walks closer. “Gather your things, Hermione. It’s time to go.”

She finds herself nodding when he mentions Chinese, and her instinct is to get up and do as he says. His smile slips a notch when she doesn’t get up, and that one little quirk of his lips snaps her out of it. This isn’t him. This is the act that charmed her, that convinced her he loved her and wanted to be with her, but it’s not real.

“Get out, David,” she tells him, scrambling off the sofa to stand. It isn’t easy when she only has the use of one arm, but she manages to get to her feet.

“You don’t tell me what to do,” he tells her in that tone that scares her. His smile is gone in an instant, and he looks at her like she’s worthless. “You obviously haven’t learned anything.”

“I’ll scream if you don’t leave. There are neighbors here. They’ll ring the police.” She takes a step back as he walks towards her, and she nearly trips on the table.

“If you do, I’ll kill your mother,” he says simply, as if he’s just told her that it’s raining outside. He starts to laugh, as if he’s just told a funny joke instead of threatening her mother, which scares her even more. “Get your things together, Hermione. I’m taking you home.”

She shakes her head. “I’m not going anywhere, and you won’t touch my mother.”

His smile fades and he stares at her. “I said to get your things together. Now.”

She hesitates, fighting the impulse to do as he says. Before she can reply, he lunges for her. She backs up and hits her arm against the wall, cringing at the pain as the cast hits her broken ribs. The sling holding the cast slips, and she feels a burst of strength as she grabs at her wand. “No!” she screams at him, aiming her wand and petrifying him before he can reach her.

She’s breathing hard and shaking as she stares at him. She stopped him. He can’t hurt her. Not anymore. Not when she’s got her wand. She holds it tightly as she tries to calm down. “I should kill you,” she murmurs, leaning against the wall as she looks at him. “Or torture you. Let you know what it’s like to scream and be ignored.”

It’s tempting to use Crucio. She managed to make it through the war without doing so, but the word is right there on the tip of her tongue. She has the hate and anger to make it hurt, too. As she looks at David, she feels like a fool. How did she ever let herself end up like she has? She’s smarter than that, a better judge of character. Yet he charmed her, charmed her parents, and it was too late by the time she realized it was mostly an act. Now, he’s here, planning to hurt her again, to force her back, but she’s got the power.

“I’m not like you,” she tells him, rubbing her ribs gently as she keeps her focus on him. “I can’t hurt someone like that, even someone I hate.” She does hate him. She has to because the thought that she could still have feelings for him after everything is disgusting. It’s hard, though, to hate someone. She doesn’t know if she feels enough emotion towards him for it to even be hate.

She steps away from the wall and walks closer to him. “You’re never going to let me live in peace, are you?” she whispers. “I don’t want to see you again, but you’ll always be there.” She turns and starts to pace, stopping once to reinforce the charm in case it’s too weak to last. She hasn’t used magic in so long that she’s not sure of anything, save for the fact that she’s stumbled a few times on basic charms since taking up her wand again.

The thought of trying to have a life and trying to move past this time with him constantly there makes her nauseous. She can’t go through every day fearing for her life or worried that he’ll kill her or hurt her mum. She doesn’t think he’d actually go after her mum, despite his threat, but she can’t really not worry about the possibility. She doesn’t know David, not this side of him, and it’s too great a risk to trust her instincts because they’ve already failed her once.

“I want you to suffer,” she admits, turning to face him. “You raped me, broke my arm, made me fear every day for the last I don’t know how many years, and I want you to be punished for that. You should have just let me go, David. I wasn’t going to go to the police. I just wanted to escape, to not die, and now I have to figure out what to do with you.”

She sits down and looks at the worn carpet. He can’t come after her if he doesn’t remember her. She could make that happened. She studied memory charms during the war, after all. It’s too complicated for that, though. His co-workers have met her. They know her and her mum. They’ll be suspicious if he suddenly forgets who she is, and they’ll ask questions. No, she can’t do that. Besides, that isn’t a punishment.

After thinking about it, she has an idea. It’s not simple, but this really isn’t an easy situation. She looks up and wonders if it’ll work. She’s going to try it, regardless. If she focuses and takes her time, she’ll make it work. Before she can stand up, the telephone rings. She sighs and reaches for it, trying not to lose her determination and resolve as she tells her mum that she’s fine and considering lying down soon. She doesn’t mention that David is currently petrified in the sitting room since she doubts her mum would really understand.

When she hangs the telephone up, she stands and walks over to David. “I loved you once,” she tells him quietly. She doesn’t want to touch him, but she uses her wand to push blond fringe back from his face. “I’m going to make sure that you never forget what you’ve done to me and that you don’t do what you’ve done to me to anyone else.”

His eyes widen, but the charm prevents him from moving. She takes a few deep breaths to calm herself before she steps away from him. She puts enough space between them to keep him from attacking her, if he tries before she can get him under control. “You won’t remember this, but you shouldn’t have come after me. I’m a witch, David, and now you’ll find out just how powerful I can be.” She aims her wand and sets to work.

It takes her nearly an hour to finish. She deliberately takes her time, because it’s too dangerous to hurry and risk making a mistake. When she finishes, she confirms that the spellwork is accurate. It’s a relief when David speaks, apologizing for his actions and sounding so sincere that she almost forgets that he only feels guilty because of the charms. It’s a guilt that will be with him all of his life; she’s made sure of that.

He tells her that he’s ashamed of his actions before he confides his plans to her. He has no idea that his plans aren’t his own. It’s an appropriate punishment, she thinks, and a fitting penance for his behavior. The Red Cross needs money for the victims of the bush fires, so they’ll appreciate David’s generosity when he sells the majority of his belongings and donates the proceeds to them.

David is a brilliant doctor, too, regardless of his violence and personal behavior. He’ll be very useful in Africa as a missionary, and she thinks he might be able to help a lot of people there. Work is his life now, after all, since she’s made sure that he’ll never attempt to date another woman or man ever again. She can’t send him off without knowing that people will never have to live through what she has.

Before he goes, he promises to send her all of her clothes and all of her books, though she’s not entirely sure what she’ll do with them in this small flat. It’s a spontaneous offer, though, so she can’t bring herself to refuse. The clothes can go to the charity shops, and she’ll find somewhere to store the books. When he’s gone, she starts to shake and feels her strength fade almost immediately.

Instead of sitting down, she goes into her mum’s bedroom and lies down. She feels dampness on her cheeks as she closes her eyes, not entirely sure why she’s crying. She’s exhausted, drained, and just wants to rest.

March 13, 2009
The medication helps with sleeping. Hermione knows that it’s the reason she was able to sleep peacefully last night because as soon as she wakes up, her thoughts are on David and what she's done. She knows that it’s probably wrong of her to have used magic in such a way, but she actually doesn’t feel that guilty about it. She could have made him suffer terribly, used magic to torture him and get revenge from the last few years, but that isn’t really comfortable for her. It’s her fault for becoming involved with him and staying, after all, and she has no intention of getting revenge on herself.

However, she also couldn’t just let him go. He would never have stopped. She could see that truth when she looked in his eyes. Really, that’s the push that she needed into taking action of some sort. Now that she has left and admitted what’s been going on, she can’t go back. She can’t live her life in fear that he’ll come for her or attack her if she doesn’t return. As she shifts on the mattress, she finds herself wondering how Muggle women manage in those situations. She’s able to use magic, able to twist his mind to her plans, but they don’t have wands or the ability to fix a situation like this.

They’re braver than she is, without a doubt.

When she realizes that she’s lying about feeling sorry for herself, she decides it’s time to get out of bed. She can hear her mum in the kitchen and knows there’ll probably be breakfast soon. Her tummy rumbles, reminding her that she went to bed last night without eating dinner, so her decision is made. She gets out of bed carefully so she doesn’t somehow damage her ribs or arm, and reaches into her bag to find fresh knickers and a bra.

She needs to bathe. It’s not going to be that simple to do, so she didn’t bother trying yesterday. This morning, though, she has to try. She isn’t sure how she’s going to wash her hair while only using one hand, but she’ll figure it out. It’d be easier if she used magic, but it’s been a long time since she relied on it that, and besides, people with broken arms bathe every day without using a wand, so surely she can manage.

If it doesn’t work out, then she’ll use magic.

After careful deliberation when she enters the bathroom, she gets a bin liner from her mum and wraps her arm before she turns on the shower. It’s probably easier to bathe than shower, but she needs to wash her hair, so the shower is best for that when she only has one hand to use. It doesn’t feel like she gets all the shampoo out, which makes her hair feel heavier than normal. It’s heavy enough as it is, so she can foresee this becoming an annoyance over the following weeks.

At least she already feels cleaner, which is more important than her hair. Her body is still bruised, but there are a few places where the bruises are starting to fade. She hopes they all fade soon. Her arm and ribs are enough of a reminder of that night; she doesn’t want to think about it every time she glances down during a shower. It’s impossible to clean her back well, so she does what she can and rinses the soap. She closes her eyes and lets the water spray down on her.

When she opens her eyes, she wipes her face and tries not to feel frustrated at crying again. Tears are a sign of weakness, and David always hated seeing them. It’s difficult not to hear his voice chastising her now as she cries in the shower. It’s pathetic, but she can’t seem to stop. It’s already a better day today than yesterday because she’s faced David, she’s dealt with him and stayed strong, yet everything feels so uncertain right now. It’s almost like she’s been sleepwalking through the past five years and has suddenly woken up without any idea where she is, how she got here, and what to do.

The water turns cold, which pulls her out of her thoughts. She turns off the tap and steps out of the tub. After she finally gets dried off, she pulls on her knickers, making a face as the cotton sticks to her damp skin. She needs to get better at using the towel to dry off, obviously. It’s extremely difficult to get her bra on, with the straps and her cast in the way. She should have bought something strapless, which means there’ll be a trip to the shops today because she’s not going to go weeks or, more likely, months having such a battle with it every morning. It’s a struggle to get a shirt on, but she finally manages. Of course, she’s ruined the left sleeve by ripping it enough for her to pull the material on over her cast.

By the time she’s finished getting dressed, she’s worn out. She’s also proud that she managed to do it on her own, though, and that makes up for how exhausting the task has been. She’s also very hungry, as her stomach keeps reminding her, so she does her best to tidy the bathroom then goes to the kitchen.

“Something smells good,” she says, reaching up to push her hair out of her face as she looks to see what her mum’s making. It’s a cake. Her mum usually bakes whenever she’s upset or stressed, which is a habit that Hermione inherited.

“I’m making a chocolate cake. Did you sleep well? I didn’t get a chance to ask you before your shower.” Her mum glances up and offers a forced smile. “If the guest bed isn’t comfortable, I can sleep in there and let you use my bed.”

“It’s fine. I went to sleep early, and the medication seems to be keeping me from dreaming, so that’s good.” She walked over to the cabinet and got a glass down so she could pour herself some orange juice.

“I knew that you must have been in bed early since you didn’t answer when I rung you later last night,” her mum says. “I remembered that you mentioned sleeping, though, so I didn’t worry.” Too much is left unspoken. Her mum gets a plate out of the stove and puts it on the small dining table between the kitchen and sitting room. “I made you bacon and eggs. I’ll put on some toast now. I didn’t want that to get cold while you showered.”

She walks over to the table and sits down. “This looks great, Mum. Thank you.”

“Would you like me to plait your hair?” her mum asks after putting two slices of bread into the toaster. “It might make it more manageable for you.”

“Oh, that’d be lovely.” She hasn’t had the freedom to wear her hair up or back in ages. David always liked it to be down and loose. If she didn’t love her hair so much, she’d go get it all cut off just to rid her mind of the memories of him touching it and complimenting it. However, she’s used to her hair and is fond of it, so she’s not going to let bad memories lead her into making a mistake.

Her mum disappears down the hall for a moment before she returns with a brush, a towel and elastic band. The toast pops up, so she brings that and a jar of jam to the table before she gets settled in behind Hermione’s chair. “I had an interesting conversation this morning,” she says as she starts to separate Hermione’s hair for the braid.

“Did you?” The bacon is good, but it makes her miss Hogwarts and how perfect breakfast was there in the mornings. She takes a bite of her eggs before she puts butter and jam on a slice of toast. She isn’t sure what her mum is talking about, so she listens as she eats.

“Hmm.” Her mum dries off part of her hair with the towel before she begins to twist it. “Mark rang me up to tell me about a conversation that he had this morning at work.”

“So you had a conversation about a conversation?” She takes a bite of her bacon and thinks as she chews. Mark Robinson works in the same department at the hospital as David, so she assumes it must have something to do with him. She isn’t sure what would make her mum act so strange, considering everything that’s happened during the last few days.

“He said that he ran into David,” her mum says, practically spitting out David’s name. “It seems that David is resigning his position and preparing to move to Africa. Mark said that David’s discussing plans to devote his life to volunteer work and charitable acts. Well, this seems odd to me, considering the fact that he didn’t approve of you wanting to volunteer with the homeless program.”

She licks her lips and drinks her juice as she tries to figure out how to reply. “Maybe he’s had a change of heart,” she suggests quietly. She doesn’t like talking about David, even if she’s relieved to hear that her charms obviously worked.

“Perhaps. The strangest thing is that Mark told me that David also admitted to being abusive and hurting you,” her mum continues, ignoring her suggestion. She gently pulls Hermione’s hair as she braids it. “Imagine that: him going around and admitting to the years of abuse to his professional colleagues. I don’t suppose you’d know anything about it, would you?”

“It’s hard to imagine,” she agrees, avoiding the question because she doesn’t want to lie to her mum.

Her mum stills her hands and sighs. “I’m not going to ask what you did, Hermione. You know that I haven’t been very comfortable about your magic since you did what you did to me and your father. However, for you to have done it, he obviously must have come here last night, which means you were in danger, so I don’t blame you for anything. I only hope that you castrated the bastard before sending him off into a life of charitable servitude.”

“Mum!” Hermione’s so surprised by her mum’s statement that she can’t even feel guilty about using magic on her parents during the war. She isn’t completely sure that she heard correctly because her mum isn’t the type to discuss castration so casually.

“What?” Her mum finishes with the braid and secures it with the elastic. “I guess that means that you didn’t. You’re too much like your father sometimes. Honorable and decent, even when there are times when it’s all right to just be vengeful.”

“Revenge doesn’t really last. It’s this momentary feeling of satisfaction that goes away too fast,” she says honestly. “What did Mark think about everything?”

Her mum sits down at the table with a cup of coffee and looks at her. “He’s shocked and worried about you. He said if there’s anything he can do, all we have to do is ask.” She sips the coffee before she says, “He mentioned bringing over takeaway this evening because he’d like to see for himself that you’re okay.”

“I would wager that seeing you and making sure that you’re okay rates higher on his priority list,” she points out with a faint smile. “I’m almost thirty, Mum. I know that you and Mark are involved, and I approve. Dad’s been gone for several years now, and he’d want you to move on and be happy.”

“Yes, well, it seems that you’re feeling better today because you’re being cheeky,” her mum says. “It isn’t anything serious yet. We’re just spending time together. He’s a good man.”

“He is,” she agrees. Mark had been a consultant on her father’s case during the initial diagnosis stage, and he had provided a lot of support to them throughout the illness. He also hadn’t been particularly fond of David, she realizes in retrospect. “He’s never liked David, has he?”

Her mum shakes her head. “He’s never been a fan, but it’s not something we’ve really discussed. You always seemed happy, and David always doted on you. I was surprised at some of your choices, in all honesty, but I was never suspicious.”

“Harry was,” she admits. She pokes her eggs with her fork and frowns. “Harry hated David before he ever met him. It’s why I didn’t really listen when Harry was warning me that David wasn’t what he seemed. Stupid of me, I know.”

“I found a letter to Harry when I got home last night,” her mum says slowly, as if she’s trying to think of what to say. “I didn’t read it, but I did look to see what it was and saw his name.”

“Oh, I must have left it out.” She thinks back and remembers writing it when David came over. “I write to him every week. I just don’t post them anymore. He stopped writing to me, so I finally let it go.”

“David told me that you and Harry had had an argument,” her mum tells her. “This was when your father was getting worse, so I was a bit scattered, but I remember the conversation because David was very passionate about protecting you from the negative correspondence and not letting Harry hurt you anymore. I was surprised that Harry would treat you that way, but I wasn’t really in my right mind.”

Hermione looks at her mum and tries to think back to what would have made David so concerned. “Harry and I were quarrelling about David and the move because Harry felt like David had taken me away from you and Dad when I should have been here for you both. He was also worried that I wasn’t going to go back home, since it had already been so many years and I had moved in with David. Harry just stopped writing and didn’t answer my letters, so I guess he was tired of arguing.”

“I’m not sure about that,” her mum admits. “I was thinking about it last night, after I found the letter. Harry wrote to you at our address, and I gave the letter to David to give to you. It’s why he told me about the fight and told me that he didn’t want to have you upset. Right after your father died, before I moved, I got a letter from Harry. I--I never read it, though. I tossed it in the rubbish because of David’s warning, and I didn’t want to deal with it at that time.”

“David never gave me the letter.” She leans back in her chair and stares at the table. “He controlled the post, since we didn’t have a carrier come by the house. He took it into town with him and posted it from work, and we used a box at a place near the hospital when we realized that local place wasn’t very dependable.”

“I think that David was threatened by your friendship with Harry, and he made sure that you never got the letters,” her mum says bluntly. “There’s a possibility that I’m wrong, of course, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it last night once I remembered.”

“I don’t know.” She’s thought for years that Harry had given up on her and ended their friendship. The possibility that it isn’t true gives her hope, but she can’t help but wonder if they’re blaming David for something that’s actually not his fault. Since she has no desire to see him, she knows that she’ll never really know one way or another. Still, it’s surprising how it makes her feel to think that maybe she’s been wrong.

“What are you thinking?” her mum asks quietly.

She looks up at her mum and says, “I’m thinking that it’s time for me to go home.”

March 17, 2009
One benefit to not having very much property is that it makes traveling easier. Of course, having a broken arm and injured ribs doesn’t make it easy at all, so Hermione guesses that it’s a trade-off. Her carry-on bag isn’t that big, but she can barely deal with it due to her left side and arm. Still, she manages to get through the flights to London without incident. Her mind has been all over the place since she made the decision to return to England last week, and she finds it surprising when she realizes that it’s only been a week since she left David.

It’s been more difficult than she expected to get through every day since. Despite her confrontation with him and the resulting charms to remove the threat, she still feels like she’s breaking his rules by not being at home. It doesn’t really make any sense to her, because she knows what he did was wrong, she knows that she’s better off now, but there’s still this strange instinct to do as she’s told and an anxiety that she’s not going to be able to be on her own. He had her convinced of so many things by the time that she left that she’s no longer sure what’s true and what’s not about her own personality. It’s like he’s trained her somehow.

The fact that she’s wearing a skirt as she waits for her suitcase is proof of that. One of the first things that she bought was blue jeans, yet she felt so uncomfortable and worried while wearing them that she had to change into a skirt shortly after the flight took off. The tiny toilets on airplanes are certainly not made for changing, especially with a broken arm bumping into the lavatory with nearly every move. Now, she’s confused about why she had the need to put on a skirt when she knows that she’s always liked to wear jeans. It’s David who isn’t fond of her covering her legs, after all.

Really, though, it’s not about the skirt or blue jeans. Now that she’s at Heathrow, she’s starting to feel nervous about everything. There’s no going back, but she’s scared about the future. She’s also not sure that she’s strong enough to do this, especially so soon. It took her years to get the courage to make that decision, and here she is back in England within a week. She hasn't had time to analyze it, to make sure this is the right choice, to know that she’s done the best thing for herself. She knows that planning doesn’t necessarily mean a decision is correct; moving in with David is evidence of that, since she even made lists before agreeing to his offer. Planning might have helped her feel calmer, though.

Her mum is back in Perth and has no intention of returning to England, yet she was ready to quit her job and pack up her life to come back when Hermione said she wanted to come home. The fact that her mum is entirely willing to do something like that for her, especially after everything that had happened during the war, is overwhelming. She has to admit that it’d been tempting to agree, to let her mum come with her and take care of her, but she knows deep inside that she needs to do this on her own, even if her mum thinks it’s too soon.

Despite her misgivings, her mum finally gave her approval, though Hermione knows she isn’t thrilled about her choice. While she loves her mum, she knows that this is her journey, and her mum has her own path to follow. Her life is in Australia now, and Hermione expects her to commit to Mark in the future. He’s proven himself to be a decent man over the past few years, especially in the last couple of days. He’s the reason that she’s been able to book a flight to come back so soon. If he hadn’t offered to buy her plane ticket, she knows that she probably would have talked herself out of the decision by the time she could afford the airfare. She intends to repay him, whether he likes it or not, once she gets back onto her feet, but his generosity is appreciated, and she doesn’t think that she’ll mind when her mum gets serious about him.

Finally, the baggage from her flight begins to make its way around the carousel. She isn’t in a hurry, since she isn’t sure what she’s going to do now that she’s here, but she wants to make sure that her bag has made it safely. She has her carry-on, which has the most important things to her, but her clothes and a few books are in her checked luggage, so she needs that or she’ll be wearing the same three things repeatedly. What little cash she has is going to have to pay for her transportation and for a room at a hostel, since that’s the most practical choice for lodging right now.

It’s weird to think that Harry’s in this city after so many years without contact. Since her talk with her mum last week, she’s convinced herself that her separation from Harry was David’s handiwork, but what if she’s wrong? What if Harry really did stop writing to her because he didn’t approve of David and now doesn’t want to have anything to do with her? What if she goes to see him and he closes the door in her face? She’ll be stuck here, with little money and nowhere to go. She’s trying not to depend on his friendship in regards to where she’ll stay until she can find a job, mostly because she’s spent years depending on someone until she’s no longer sure that she can actually stand on her own.

The thought of getting a job is terrifying, as is the prospect of facing people from her past. While some of her bruises have faded, there are still some visible, and it’s somewhat evident that she’s been beat up even without the cast. She’s going to disappoint so many people, not the least of which is herself. The thought of seeing disgust and disapproval in Harry’s eyes nauseates her all over again. Maybe she should have just stayed in Perth. She could have stayed with her mum for a while then tried to find a job in a shop. It wouldn’t be perfect, but she’d have got by and made it work out. Anything, really, would have been an improvement over recent years, after all.

It’s too late now. She’s here, and she needs to resign herself to the fact that she’s going to stay if she can manage it. This is home, whatever happens. If she sticks to a strict budget, she can stay in a very cheap hostel for several weeks, and she can buy inexpensive food at the supermarket to get through the days. It’s not going to be easy, if she’s completely on her own, but she’s survived worse. She’s only had one Muggle job, and she lost it because she was tardy too often, but at least it’s something to have on her CV.

She frowns as she awkwardly shifts her carry-on bag, wishing that she had her second arm free. Thinking about her arm isn’t the best decision when she’s trying find a positive and optimistic outlook on life. She knows that it won’t be easy to find a job when she’s wearing a cast, since that’ll limit the positions she can even apply for, much less getan interview for. She’s still going to try, of course, even if she feels like hiding somewhere and not thinking about it. If worse comes to worst, she can always borrow money from her mum or Mark to return to Australia, but that’s a last resort.

England is home, even if she’s alone and scared at the moment.

Her bag is one of the last ones out, which she tries not to take as a sign. She’s just nervous, and she’s spending too much time in her head. She's always tended to think too much and act too late, a habit that her years with David only intensified. It’s something that Harry and Ron teased her about. It doesn't feel very funny right now.

Thinking about the boys probably isn’t the best idea right now. While it may be that David is responsible for her losing touch with them, Ron had stopped writing before she ever moved. He had never been a letter writer, really, so she hadn’t been too surprised. Harry hadn’t been a writer, either, but he had always made the effort after she went to Australia. She can’t just assume that the loss of communication is David’s fault, because Harry would have tried to find a way to get in touch with her if he really wanted. The fact that he sent something to her mother gives her hope, though.

When her bag finally reaches the area where she’s standing, she starts forward to get it. Before she can reach, she notices a blond man in her peripheral vision. She tenses automatically as he reaches out towards her, and she takes a step back, nearly tripping over the luggage of a talkative older woman behind her. David’s here. How did he get here? She’s going to be sick.

“Miss, are you all right?”

She blinks and stares at the blond man, whose features are coming into focus and look nothing like David’s. Bloody hell. She nods slowly, forcing a weak smile. “Fine, thank you. I just missed my bag.”

He seems satisfied with her answer and walks away. She looks at the baggage carousel and sighs when she sees that her bag is already too far away for her to reach. By the time it comes around to her again, she’s feeling flustered and upset with herself. David isn’t here, and she needs to stop seeing him whenever she sees a tall blond man. It takes some effort to get her bag with just one arm, but someone helps her. After thanking the woman for her help, Hermione gets the handle and pulls her bag behind her as she goes to figure out the best way to get into London.

She rules out a taxi easily, as she can’t afford that, and the cost for the train is more than she wants to spend. The tube is the cheapest, and she can take it to King’s Cross. From there, she can walk to Grimmauld Place. She knows that she could just Apparate, but she’s still feeling emotional and her mind is all over the place, so she doesn’t want to take that risk. The last thing she needs is to accidentally splinch herself. Besides, she needs to calm down and get more in control of her emotions before she sees Harry. The ride on the tube should take long enough for her to relax. Or at least to figure out how to handle everything, which would be an improvement from her current state of mind.

Since she isn’t sure how many times she might be using the tube today, she goes ahead and invests in a day pass. It costs more than it had when she’d last taken the underground, but she guesses that shouldn’t be surprising since that was nearly nine years ago. Of course, it wasn’t as if she had used the tube very often back then. After she had finished school and taken her NEWTs, she had worked at the Ministry and lived at Grimmauld Pace, so she usually just Apparated or used the Floo.

Once she’s on the tube, she finds a seat and awkwardly deals with her luggage. Fortunately, there are some polite people who give her room. She feels like she’s been through a marathon, complete with soreness and an inability to catch her breath. She leans back against her seat and tilts her head so she’s able to look out the window. The map says that she will have to change connections at Green Park to catch the train that will take her to King’s Cross. She hopes there aren’t a lot of stairs, because she doesn’t look forward to carrying her luggage and climbing.

At least she remembered to put a charm on the bags, so they’re not as heavy as they should be. The fact that she didn’t actually do that until she picked up the luggage bothers her a little. It’s strange to her how dependent she’s become on Muggle ways. Magic was her life for ten years, a vital part of her, and now she has to remind herself that she’s got a wand because it’s been so long without it. She feels more complete now, like a part of her has been missing that she’s only recently rediscovered, yet she knows that there’s still a long road ahead of her.

Grimmauld Place hasn’t changed. It still looks the same as it did when Hermione left nearly a decade ago. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that not everything is different. There have been too many times in the past week that she’s felt like nothing’s the same. Of course, the house might look the same, but she knows that things have changed with Harry. It’s been five years since she last got a letter from him. He could be married now, could be a father, could be so many different things that it makes her head hurt to think about it.

Now that she’s here, she’s not sure that she can actually go up to the door. Maybe she should have just stayed in Australia, where . she wouldn’t have to deal with the shame and embarrassment of facing friends she doesn't have. It’s been bad enough having strangers look at her knowingly, as if they can tell what she’s let David do to her for so long, but the thought of those looks in her friends’ eyes makes her feel sick (this is the third nausea one). Harry will be so disappointed in her, though not as much as she is with herself.

When she finds herself wishing that David were here, she digs her fingernails into her palm. She can’t think that way. What he’s done to her is wrong, and she doesn’t want to be with him anymore. Still, for years, he made her depend on him, and he made her feel safe. No, not safe. Not after things changed. She remembers the fear, and she remembers that night, the way he ignored her cries of no and kept hitting her. That isn’t safe. The fact that she has even wished for his presence now disgusts her.

It’s so difficult because her mind knows these things, but she can’t help how she feels after so many years of dependency. She forces herself to stop thinking about David, because it just confuses her and makes her misplace some of the strength that she’s managed to find again recently. It’s pathetic that she can consider this strength when she feels so weak and scared and uncertain. Harry’s right inside that house, but she’s standing around outside like a coward.

After taking a deep breath to calm herself, she lets it out slowly then walks to the front door. Her heart is beating rapidly, and she feels like she’s forgotten how to breathe. The fear is unexpected, but she raises her shaking hand and pushes the buzzer. She can do this. She has to see Harry, to find out if he hates her, to know if she can actually face the world she’s left behind or if she’s not ready yet. It’s terrifying, maybe even more so than finally leaving David, and she feels like she might be sick if her stomach keeps rolling like it has been.

The door opens and a child stands there looking up at her. “Who’re you?”

She blinks and takes a step back as she looks at the boy. He looks familiar, but she can’t place him. She’s too confused to focus, because he’s too old to be Harry’s son. “Is Harry here?” she asks after collecting herself.

“Harry doesn’t live here any more,” the boy says before he shuts the door.

He doesn’t even give her a chance to reply, not that she can think of anything to say. Harry doesn’t live here? While she knows that Harry wasn’t overly fond of the house, he had had it redecorated while she was attending her final year at Hogwarts, so it had become his home. If Harry isn’t here, then where is he? And who is the boy? She recognized him, didn’t she? It’s right there, but she can’t think.

She takes a step back and stares at the door for a moment before she turns to face the street. Harry isn’t here. There’s always Diagon Alley, where she could send him an owl, but she doesn’t think she can face it. She might be recognized there, even if it’s been a decade since the war ended, and she doesn’t want them to know what she’s become. She’s not a hero anymore, not the clever girl with fantastic NEWT scores, not clever at all. She’s no one. David’s right.

That realization leaves her reeling. She reaches up to wipe her face with the back of her hand and tries not to feel defeated as she takes a step away from the house. She doesn’t know what to do now. She looks around the street, noticing a dog running and a car driving further down. It seems so quiet, so open, and she doesn’t understand why it’s so hard to breathe when there’s nothing but space around her. She licks her lips and tightens her grip on her luggage. She has to do something, go somewhere, think of a plan. A plan is good. David isn’t right. He can’t be. If he is, there’s no hope.

She startles when she hears a noise from behind her, but she doesn’t have time to turn before she feels magic surround her. She can’t move. She feels panic rising as she finds herself trapped, and there’s nothing she can do to get away.

The door opens behind her, and she hears a familiar voice cursing. “Bloody hell. Kreacher, what did you do?”

“Master’s Granger was trying to leave. Kreacher knows that Master would not want that.”

“Let her go,” Harry says sharply, his tone reminding her of David’s when she’s forgotten a lesson. The magic is released, and she stumbles forward, gasping for breath as she tries to keep her balance. Harry’s voice is quieter when he speaks again. “Hermione, is it really you?”

“Master is unhappy with Kreacher?”

“Master wants Kreacher to go inside and look after Teddy,” Harry mutters. “Hermione?”

Hermione tenses when she hears the name. Teddy. The boy. That’s why he’s familiar. But Teddy’s a little boy, not even walking yet. No, he was, years ago, but it’s been so long. She’s missed it. Missed so much. She feels her stomach roll and leans over as she gets sick, too overwhelmed by everything.

“Fuck.” There are footsteps behind her, and she feels a hand tentatively touch her back.

She moves away, not wanting to be touched, not after David--not after that night. She wipes her mouth with the sleeve of her cardigan and slowly looks up. It’s Harry. Only, he’s older. His eyes are older. They widen behind the glass of his spectacles as she looks at him. “I…jet lag,” she murmurs, trying to think of an excuse for being sick that doesn’t involve fear of being trapped and being overwhelmed.

“It is you,” he whispers, staring at her for a moment before his gaze drops down. “What’s happened?” When he looks back up, his expression is different, cooler and less concerned. “Why are you here?”

She turns towards him and finds herself at a loss of words. She feels wretched, and it’s difficult to stand here when she just wants to disappear.

“Have you been in an accident?” he asks as he glances at her arm. He frowns and studies her face. “Bruises. Luggage. You’ve come back then.” He looks angry, and she takes a step back. “He did it, didn’t he? You wouldn’t look so bloody terrified if it had just been an accident.”

“I should go,” she whispers, trying not to listen to David’s voice in her telling her how stupid she is, how this is a mistake, how she’s nothing without him. Harry doesn’t want her here, but that doesn’t mean this is wrong. Does it?

“Buggering fucking bollocks,” Harry curses before he reaches out his hand towards her. “Don’t go. I’m--I’m sorry. It’s just been years, and I didn’t see your arm--I didn’t know. So I was right? It was that arsehole who’s done this?”

“David didn’t mean to…” She stops and frowns when she hears herself trying to defend David. She nods slowly. “I’ve finally left him.”

Harry sighs and looks lost for a minute before he tries to hug her. She tenses and fights the urge to step back immediately. This is Harry. He’s safe. Even if he’s angry and disappointed, he’s not going to hurt her. He’s not going to force her. She closes her eyes and lets him hug her. “I’ve missed you so much,” he whispers against her ear before he tightens his grip. She bites her lip to keep from gasping when he squeezes too hard.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she says softly, hearing her voice waver slightly as she feels dampness on her cheeks. She turns her head into him, wiping her tears on his shirt.

“All right?”

Hermione tenses automatically when she hears a deep voice speak nearby. Harry shifts and straightens up. He looks over his shoulder and nods. “All right,” he says to whoever is standing behind him. When she can see around him, no one is there. She looks at Harry but doesn’t ask because he’s staring at her. It’s not uncomfortable, yet, but she feels weird anyway.

“I’m sorry,” she says softly, not entirely sure what all she’s apologizing for.

“Don’t. Not now,” he says, shaking his head slightly. He glances down at her luggage then back up at her. “Do you have somewhere to stay?”

“A hostel. I’m not sure which one, but I bought a book. At the secondhand bookshop near my mum’s flat. It’s a few years old, but it helped me plan. I needed--I had to have something to help me relax, before I came, so I planned.”

He frowns before he rolls his eyes. “You’re not going to stay at a hostel, Hermione. You still have a room here.” He hesitates. “If you want it?”

“Are you certain?” she asks quietly. Is it better to stay somewhere on her own, even if she can’t really afford it for long? She wants to stay here, even if things are awkward and strained, because this is home. When she lived here before, she was strong and independent and so very clever. She wants that back, needs to find it again even if it sometimes feels like she’s lost it forever.

Harry clears his throat and looks slightly worried. “I said that I was sure. I know there’s a lot for us to talk about, but we can do that better if you’re here, yeah?”

Talk. She’ll have to tell him what’s happened, tell him about David. She feels anxious at the thought, wondering if he’ll think less of her when he knows the truth. He’s still looking concerned, and she realizes that it’s because of her. She’s thinking too much. “Okay. I’ll stay.”

“All right. Good.” Harry reaches out and brushes her hair back from her face, moving his thumb over the skin near her eye that’s still bruised. “Come inside. We’ll get you some water and maybe something to settle your stomach?”

“Water would be good.” She can’t explain to him that she was sick because of everything happening and not from illness. It’s unlikely that he’d ever understand since she doesn’t really, either. He picks up her carry on before she can, then grabs the handle of her rolling luggage. She follows him into the house, trying not to jump when the door falls shut behind her.

“Master’s Teddy is upstairs with Master’s Weasley. Kreacher has told them to be quiet,” Kreacher announces as he steps out of the shadows.

Weasley. Ron? Ron’s here? No, that wasn’t his voice earlier. He wouldn’t have just disappeared, either. Would he? She looks at Kreacher then at Harry. “Teddy’s so big,” she whispers, feeling lost again as she remembers the nearly grown boy that answered the door and tries to reconcile that with the toddler who had barely started talking when she left.

“He starts Hogwarts in September,” Harry says proudly. He gives Kreacher her bags. “Please prepare Hermione’s room for her.”

“Master’s Granger is ill. She needs to lie down and take a potion,” Kreacher informs them. “Master is not to keep her awake talking.”

“Master is going to feed her then put her to bed,” Harry says, making a face at Kreacher that makes him look like the teenager she left here instead of a man who’ll be thirty in another year.

“Kreacher will bring soup to the drawing room,” Kreacher announces before he disappears with a pop.

“You don’t have to eat if you don’t feel up to it,” Harry tells her after Kreacher’s gone. “I figured it was better to agree with him than to try to argue. You mentioned jet lag, so I thought you might want to sleep. Is your arm okay?”

She nods slowly. “It’s fine. Broken, but it’s going to get better. It’ll just take time.”

He looks like he wants to say something else but he closes his mouth. He looks towards the staircase, and she sees a nerve in his cheek twitch, which means he’s angry. What did she say? Has she done something to upset him? She moves her arm around herself as she glances at the floor, letting her hair fall around her face. He says, “If you feel up to it, we can go to the drawing room. I’ll get you some water and you can try the soup that Kreacher brings. If you’re tired, though, you can sleep. We’ll talk later.”

“Okay.” She looks up briefly before she watches the stairs as she follows him to the first floor. She can hear laughter and a squeal from Teddy.

“I hope they’re not breaking anything,” Harry mutters, but his voice sounds affectionate instead of upset.

When they enter the room, she keeps her focus on the floor. She feels awkward, and she’s worried that she made Harry angry. When a hand suddenly tugs on hers, she tenses and looks up quickly. Teddy’s standing there, his hair a bright shade of orange, and he’s grinning.

“I’m sorry for lying about Harry,” he says dutifully, obviously having learned that lying is bad at some point in his life. “He does live here.”

“He beats Kreacher to the door enough times that we’ve told him to never let strangers in,” Harry tells her before he ruffles Teddy’s hair. He glances to his right then back at her, looking almost like he’s blushing, which doesn’t make sense. “You, uh, remember Charlie, yeah?”

Charlie? She blinks and looks over to see Charlie Weasley leaning against the bookcase. “I remember him,” she says quietly. Why is Charlie there? He lived in Romania, last she heard. He walks towards her, and she takes a step back when he raises his arm. He drops it suddenly and looks at Harry before focusing on her.

“Evening, Hermione,” he says in a deep voice that matches the one she heard outside.

“Teddy, why don’t you go downstairs and Floo call your grandmother,” Harry suggests as he moves closer to Charlie. “She’ll be expecting to hear from you.”

“Okay. I’ll tell Gram about Hermione, too,” he says excitedly as he races out of the room.

“Maybe I should go down with him.” Charlie looks at Harry and arches a brow. When he turns his head, she can see scars on his neck and jaw. The skin is distorted, but she can’t tell why.

“No, you should stay.” Harry reaches out a hand and squeezes Charlie’s shoulder, smiling in a way that makes her realize why Charlie’s there. He looks at Hermione and motions to the sofa. “You look pale. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you that water?”

She nods once and sits down, rubbing her side where her ribs hurt. “Thank you,” she tells him, glancing up from the floor briefly before she looks back down. David doesn’t like when she looks at other men. It’s easier to just keep her gaze down unless he speaks to her. But David isn’t here. It doesn’t matter anymore. Still, she stares at the floor and wishes that she knew what to do or what to say.

“Are you back for a visit then?” Charlie asks.

“She’s left Doctor Dave,” Harry says before he hands her a glass. He sits in a chair next to where Charlie’s sitting now. She looks at their legs as she takes a drink, wishing she could rinse her mouth and brush her teeth.

“I’ve come home,” she tells them. “My mother didn’t think I should, but I needed to come back.”

“When did you leave him?” Charlie’s voice is surprisingly gentle, and she wonders idly if that’s how he talks to his dragons. Does he have dragons any more if he’s here with Harry?

“It’s been a week,” she whispers. “Since he--I had to leave. I thought he might kill me, after he was done.”

She notices Charlie’s hand on Harry’s leg, and she wonders how they happened. She didn’t even know that Charlie fancied men, but she remembers Harry’s letter telling her about his sexuality.

“He hurt you, so you left,” Charlie continues in that soothing voice. “Was it the first time he’s hurt you?”

“No.” She feels like laughing but can’t. “I lost count. Too many times.”

Harry starts to speak, she can hear him, but he stops almost immediately. She hears Charlie whispering to him, but she can’t understand what’s being said. She looks at their legs and takes another drink of her water.

“He can’t hurt you any more,” Charlie says, and she finds herself believing him. She’s tired suddenly, more drained than she expects, and she doesn’t want to talk anymore, even if she hasn’t said very much.

“He’ll never hurt you again,” Harry promises.”I don’t underst—“ He stops talking, and she looks up instinctively, seeing that Charlie’s shaking his head, like he’s warning him.

“I’m tired,” she admits. She lowers her gaze and pulls at a thread from her cardigan. “May I go lie down?”

“May you…” Harry clears his throat and shifts in his chair. “Yeah. You can go sleep, Hermione. You don’t have to ask permission for that, though.”

“Thank you,” she says as she puts the glass on the table. She notices the condensation dripping onto the wood and panics. She grabs the glass and wipes the table quickly with her sleeve. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. I didn’t mean. The wood’s okay. It’s okay.”

She hears Harry cursing before she feels a hand on her shoulder. She looks up and sees him. He takes the glass from her and hands it to Charlie, who looks tense. “I’ll show you to your room, all right? We’ll talk more tomorrow, after you rest.”

“Tomorrow,” she repeats as she slowly stands up. Tomorrow, after she gets a chance to rest.

March 18, 2009
It’s strange to wake up in the front bedroom at Grimmauld Place after so many years. Hermione has to stop and remind herself that she’s twenty-nine now and not the foolish little girl she was the last time she stayed here. It’s too easy to remember the past now that she’s here, though, and she can’t stop remembering how optimistic and clever she always thought she was. If she could talk to the girl she’d been back then, she knows her past-self would never believe this is how her future turns out.

How could she? The idea of letting anyone, much less a boyfriend, control her is something she still has trouble accepting as possible. She feels better today, mostly because she took some of her medication and slept through the night. The feeling doesn’t last very long after she wakes and thinks about last night: the questions and Harry’s attitude and all of the feelings that just overwhelmed her. It isn’t like the reunions she’s imagined over the years, which range from complete acceptance to total hatred. Thinking back, she’s not really sure how to describe Harry. He’s still Harry, yet there are changes. The foremost being his obvious relationship with Charlie Weasley, but there are others.

There are just too many thoughts in her mind for her to make sense of everything right now. Harry asked her to stay, and she knows that he was sincere in the offer. That’s good, isn’t it? Of course, he doesn’t know what’s happened. She’s embarrassed at how she acted last night. Instead of being friendly and grateful for his offer, she became quiet and scared. It isn’t anything they did, which makes it even worse.

It’s just that she’s used to being around David, and he has expectations regarding her behavior, which he’s conditioned into her over the years. When she fails to meet those expectations, she gets punished. While she now feels somewhat confident that she can defend herself from David, it isn’t the same with Harry and Charlie because they have wands, too. They also aren’t trying to use magic again after years without touching their wands, like she is, so she knows that she’d have trouble protecting herself. The fact that she immediately began to feel fearful just because Charlie’s muscular and Harry’s unpredictable makes her feel ashamed of herself.

She sighs and looks away from the ceiling. She can’t just lie in bed all day or hide in her room. When she glances at the clock, she feels a knot in her belly. It’s almost noon. How did she sleep so long? Panic spreads over her as she quickly gets out of bed. She should have looked at the clock first instead of lying around. She’s supposed to be out of bed by six in the morning, and she’s kept that schedule even at her mum’s flat. She’s lazy and not good for anything.

After she uses the toilet, she brushes her teeth and gets dressed. She can’t do anything with her hair right now, not with her arm in a cast, so she doesn’t bother trying. There are chores to do, and she can’t waste time trying to fix her hair. It’s only when she nearly trips on the stairs that she remembers where she is. David isn’t here. He won’t be ringing her to find out how she’s spent the morning, and he won’t phone with his request for dinner. She’s in London. She knows this. She’s just spent time thinking about her arrival, after all.

It’s scary to realize that she’s become so anxious over something as simple as the time. Will it ever get better? It’s hard to believe that it will, when she has moments like this every day. David’s voice in her head, belittling her and making her feel worthless, while she tries to get through every day without missing him. How can she miss him? How can she even think about wanting to see him when she knows how he’s treated her? She never told her mum that one reason she stubbornly refused to let go of her plan to return to England is because she’s been scared that she might go back to David, even after everything that’s happened. It disgusts her, so she knows her mum wouldn’t understand.

Since she’s already up and feels hungry, she decides to go to the kitchen to see if there’s anything to have for lunch. She isn’t really sure what to do now that she’s here, so she can think about it while she eats. When she heads down the staircase to the kitchen, she can hear voices. It’s a weekday, so she’s assumed that Harry and Charlie would be working. It’s obvious that she’s wrong when she hears Harry say her name. The knot comes back, and she curls her fingers into her palm as she tries to remain calm and strong. She hears another voice and feels torn between excitement and fear. It’s Ron. She hasn’t seen him since she left for Australia, which was nine years ago.

After taking a moment to collect herself, she continues down the stairs and enters the kitchen. The conversation stops suddenly as Harry and Ron turn to stare at her. She immediately feels self-conscious and can’t keep her gaze from not going straight to the floor. “Hello,” she says quietly, not really sure what to do now that she’s here.

“Blimey, you look like shite.” Ron sounds surprised.

“Ignore him. You look, uh, well-rested,” Harry says. Ron lets out an ‘oof’, which makes her think that maybe Harry’s hit him. It’s familiar, their antics, and it makes her feel nostalgic even as she’s desperately trying to cling to what control she’s managed to get recently.

“Were you in an accident or something?” Ron asks. He snorts suddenly. “Merlin, Parvati’d have my bollocks if she knew how rude I’d been. Meant to say, it’s bloody brilliant to see you again, Hermione. Can I get a hug?”

He starts towards her, and she backs up instinctively as she looks up. When she sees the concerned expression on Harry’s face and the confusion on Ron’s face, she tries to remain still so that he can hug her. “Of course,” she tells him, offering a smile that she knows must be weak even if she can’t see it.

“Uh, well.” Ron stops and shifts awkwardly before looking at Harry. He looks even more confused, which makes her feel uncertain. She’s agreed to the hug and even smiled. What more does he want? Why can’t she do anything right?

“I’ve taken the afternoon off work,” Harry offers up in the ensuing silence. “I thought it would give us a chance to talk. About things.” His gaze drops to her arm before he looks at her. “Do you need any help or anything? Have you thought about going to St. Mungos to see if they can fix that? It looks like Muggles have got hold of it.”

“Muggle healers?” Ron frowns at her. “Why’d you go to Muggles? No wonder it’s wrapped up so weird. We can take you to St. Mungos, and they’ll fix it. Terry Boot’s a Healer now, did’ya know?”

“I--“ She can’t think of what to say because they’re talking so fast. “I didn’t know of a magical hospital in Perth,” she finally manages to say, interrupting Ron as he’s telling her about everyone from the DA and what they’re doing now. She hasn’t heard anything he’s said since he mentioned Terry Boot, though.

“No magical hospital?” Ron gapes, and he suddenly looks like a teenager again with his mouth hanging open. It’s comforting, in a way, because he’s changed even more than Harry. Taller, it seems, with shorter hair and a confidence that she doesn’t remember. “You mean, not at all?”

“Ron, she didn’t really use magic over there,” Harry says, as if reminding him.

“Not at all?” Ron repeats as he runs his fingers through his hair. “The whole time?”

She looks at the floor and nods. “Not for years. Until recently. I couldn’t, where I was living. It was too risky, and Mum and Dad didn’t like it, after everything.”

“But--“ Ron stops and clears his throat. “You love magic. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t use it.”

“Merlin, I’m hungry. Anyone else hungry? I think we have sandwiches somewhere. Kreacher muttered something about it when we first got here.” Harry talks quickly, as if his talking will make things better somehow.

“Starving.” Ron steps closer, and she looks at his feet as he gives her a hesitant sort of hug. He lets her go almost as soon as he touches her, and she feels like crying because she remembers a time when he used to want to hug her all the time. Now, he can’t get away fast enough.

“Hermione, you hungry?” Harry asks. “We can talk over food.”

Talk. Talk. Talk. All he wants to do is talk. She wants to do anything but talk right now. It’s better to get it over with, though, isn’t it? Once he knows the truth, he’ll know that she’s weak and worthless. He won’t want to have anything to do with her after that.

“I can get the food,” she offers, needing to do something to keep her from focusing on the negative thoughts in her head.

“You’re injured and probably still jet lagged. Just sit down, and let me do it.” Harry’s voice reminds her of how he was speaking to Kreacher last night, about the soup, and she feels a flash of anger. Is that how he sees her now? Instead of arguing, though, she merely nods and sits down.

“Are you feeling okay?” Ron asks as soon as she’s seated. “You’re not going to hex him for bossing you about?”

“I wasn’t bossing,” Harry says. “I’m just trying to help. Stop taking out your frustration at my being your superior at work on my trying to take care of her.”

“’m not frustrated about that nonsense. I don’t want to spend my time buried in paperwork, like some people.” Ron snorts, but she can feel his gaze on her. If she looks up, she knows that she’ll see him staring at her. Probably looking confused or disappointed. “Did Harry tell you about my kids? ‘ve got two of ‘em. A boy and a girl. Bloody brilliant, they are, and beautiful like their mum.”

“With their daddy’s freckles,” Harry interjects in a fond voice. “Don’t know how you had two smart kids, though. Must take after their godfather.”

Ron has children. Two children. The news is unexpected, and she isn’t sure how she feels about it. Harry’s their godfather, and she’s a stranger. She puts her hand on her stomach and thinks about that night, about David demanding children before he ripped her clothes, and she feels bile rise in her throat. When a hand touches her shoulder, she jumps and pushes the chair back. It slides on the floor, and she starts to fall.

Something catches her, and she looks up to see Ron holding his wand. Harry looks worried and has his hands up in front of him, like he’s expecting her to attack. She blinks back tears and clenches her hand into a fist, letting her fingernails dig deep into her palm to hurt. “Sorry. I’m sorry,” she whispers, looking from one to the other before she looks at the table.

“All right. This is enough. I told Charlie that I’d try to be patient, but I think it’s been long enough,” Harry says suddenly. “What’s happened? You said that Doctor Dave hurt you, but this is more than that, isn’t it? What’s wrong, Hermione?”

“Was the arm an accident?” Ron asks. “I can see bruises, and, well, in our line of work, we come across this sometimes. Only, it’s not an accident then, but you’re not like those women, so it can’t be that.” She looks up from the table and can’t think of what to say because she is one of those women. They won’t understand, not when she can’t explain it.

“That’s what doesn’t make sense!” Harry shakes his head and sits down. “Hermione’s not going to let some bloke do that to her, not even that controlling arsehole.”

“If he’s hurt her enough to break her arm, then something happened,” Ron points out. “If this was a case, you know what we’d think, Harry. Just because it’s Hermione doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Besides, how many years has it been since she started ignoring you?”

“This isn’t a case, and it is Hermione, so stop trying to act like it’s some stranger,” Harry says irritably. It’s obvious that he’s close to losing his temper, and she doesn’t want that to happen. They start arguing as if they’ve forgotten she’s sitting right there.

“He beat me.” She blinks when she realizes that she’s spoken. They stop their conversation and look at her. She immediately lowers her gaze and starts picking at the hem of her shirt. “That’s why I left. He’s never…the other times, it’s never been that brutal. He was so jealous, over nothing, and I thought he might kill me. I thought he was going to kill me. I was screaming, but he wouldn’t listen.” She trails off before she murmurs, “He wants a child, and he’s so angry with me because I won’t. It’s one of the only times that I defy him, you see, so he hates it.”

“Other times?” Harry repeats slowly.

“A child. And here I am going on about mine. Fuck it all,” Ron curses.

“How long, Hermione? What’s he been doing?” Harry doesn’t sound like himself. She wonders if this is how the victims feel when he questions them, because it’s not really a good feeling. Even if he’s sounding concerned and patient, she knows that he’s not.

“Since my father died,” she admits quietly. It’s better to answer now so she can be done with it all. “Nearly five years.”

“But--why?” Ron asks. His tone is disbelieving, which is actually easier to hear than Harry’s voice. “I mean, why would you stay? What’s happened to you? You’re not the type to put up with that. When did your father die? He’s beat you for a long time then? Did he force you to stay? Did the bastard chain you up to keep you from your wand?” Ron sounds angry now.

“Has he tried to kill you before? Why didn’t you leave? You had a wand, so it’s not like you couldn’t just Apparate out of there. Why did you stop writing me? I’d have come and got you myself if I had any idea…I didn’t like him, at all, but I never thought he’d do…” Harry trails off, and she jumps when a fist hits the table. “Why did you stay for so long? Bugger. I’m sorry about your father. I didn’t know.”

It’s too much. They won’t stop talking, and she can’t think any more. Not when they’re so loud and angry with her. They don’t understand. How can they? She doesn’t even understand. What always seemed to make sense during that time now seems so stupid and wrong, but she can’t explain that, not when Harry’s talking about her not writing like it’s her fault and Ron’s talking about being chained up. She needs to get away, but she can’t force her feet to move. She wraps her arm around her belly and stares at the table as they keep talking over her head.

“What’s going on here?” It’s a new voice added to the chorus above her head. Fortunately, it stops the talking, and she’s grateful for that.

“Charlie,” Harry says, sounding almost guilty. “You’re late. I thought you must not be coming home for lunch.”

“I had a meeting,” Charlie explains. “It sounds like I’ve missed something. Kreacher seems pretty concerned about the loud voices down here.”

“Loud? We haven’t been loud.” Harry sounds hesitant, as if he’s not entirely sure whether they have been or not. She’s just relieved that they’ve stopped.

“We might have got loud,” Ron says. “It’s just--Hermione’s told us, about that bastard doctor and what’s he done to her. For years!”

“I thought we agreed that we should wait before we asked questions,” Charlie says. “I told you my suspicions about it, Harry. Why did you push?”

“Because I didn’t think you were right! I mean, I thought maybe, but Hermione’s not the type. She’s not weak.” Harry trails off, and she bites her lip because he’s just said it clearly that he thinks she’s weak for staying.

“No, she’s not weak. She’s here now instead of over there,” Charlie points out in that soothing tone from last night. She appreciates it, even as she wonders if he’s even aware that he’s doing it. Does he think she’s one of his dragons, scared to a point of attack?

“But--“ Ron stops and sighs. “Hermione, why didn’t you leave sooner? You have a wand.”

She doesn’t answer at first. It’s a simple question, but she can’t give him the reply that he wants because she doesn’t know what he wants. What either of them want. Except maybe for her to still be the brave, happy girl she used to be, but that isn’t who she is anymore. “I don’t know,” she finally whispers. “I thought about it, sometimes, but there was nowhere to go. He lied to me, told me that he paid my mum’s rent, and I believed him. I was so stupid. I just…he’s all I have. I’m no one without him, you see.”

“What?” She glances up and sees the surprised expression on Harry’s face. He’s sitting next to Charlie, who doesn’t look that confused.

“I don’t see,” Ron admits. “I don’t understand this at all. It’s like you’re someone who looks like Hermione but isn’t her at all.”

She flinches and looks back down, unable to keep back the tears as his words cut through her. He doesn’t mean to hurt her, but he does. Tears are a sign of weakness, and she can’t cry, but she can’t stop it, either. She should never have come here. Why did she come back? This is just making everything worse.

“I think that’s enough talking for now,” Charlie says in a tone that doesn’t sound threatening yet manages to sound firm.

“What?” Ron sounds confused. “I didn’t mean to make her cry. I just don’t understand it. At all.”

“Fuck.” Harry moves his chair closer to hers, and she tenses. He sighs and curses under his breath. “We’ve buggered it all up, haven’t we? You’re trying to tell us something that I know can’t be easy--I’ve had dozens of cases by now about abuse, so it’s not like this is new to me--but we’ve forgot to listen.”

“You’ve never been good at listening,” she whispers as she scrapes her thumbnail against her palm.

Harry laughs, but there’s no humor to it. “I’m sorry. I wanted to be here to help, not make it worse. Are you still hungry? We can have a sandwich, then maybe Ron and I can practice listening. We’ll get better at it. Eventually.”

“Uh, and if we don’t, Charlie’s here now to keep us in line,” Ron adds as he scoots his chair closer, too. “’m sorry, too.”

“Why don’t we just think about food for now,” Charlie suggests. “You can try your listening skills later, when she’s ready.”

“Right. What he said,” Harry says, reaching over to squeeze her hand. “He’s obviously the smart one in our relationship.”

Ron makes a face. “He’s my brother. Keep it clean, please.”

She looks at them and slowly nods. “I’m still hungry,” she tells them before she hesitantly squeezes Harry’s hand. That seems to make them happy, and she gradually relaxes as they get lunch ready.

March 20, 2009
It’s Friday morning, and the house is quiet. Too quiet. Hermione finds the silence unsettling. It gives her too much time to listen to her thoughts, which isn’t good right now. Her thoughts are all over the place, going in so many different directions at too rapid a speed for her to even keep up anymore. In the four days that she’s been back in London, it seems that things are more complicated and confusing than before. Yet, at the same time, things are starting to become clearer.

Harry and Ron have given her space since their awkward lunch on Wednesday. Ron came over for lunch yesterday, and it wasn’t uncomfortable. Of course, he had deliberately not said anything about her time in Australia or his family or any number of other topics that he seems to think are now out of bounds. Considering her reaction during their initial reunion, she can’t really fault him. She’s embarrassed at how she’s behaved with both him and Harry. Especially Harry, since she’s living here with him and still can’t find it in herself to really talk with him.

It’s a relief that he hasn’t pushed for a serious conversation. In a way, though, she wishes she could get to the point where she could discuss things without becoming so emotional. It just gets so overwhelming that she retreats inside herself, which has become routine since she became involved with David. Looking back, she has to acknowledge that she began to change even before she moved in with him. Before she can start blaming herself for everything, which is becoming a familiar habit in recent days, she stands up and walks over to the window. This isn’t all her fault. It’s easier to think that and to know it than to actually do it, however.

The street outside is busy. People are walking and cars are driving past. It’s such a difference from her home in Australia, where the nearest neighbor was nearly a five minute walk away. Australia has become isolation, loneliness, and fear in her mind. Even before everything with David happened, she was lonely and out of place there. Her father was ill, and she tried being a good daughter, tried to make up for what she’d done to her parents, but it was so difficult. She got a job and attended classes for a while, and she still never made friends or had anyone other than her parents around.

Until David.

She remembers how she felt when he started to talk to her after her father’s appointments. It was flattering to have a handsome, professional man interested in her, and she hadn’t hesitated much at all when he’d asked her to go for a coffee. It hadn’t even been his looks or charm that had initially attracted her. It had been the conversation and the attention that had drawn her to him. When ‘going for a coffee’ had gradually become ‘going on dates’, she was grateful, in a way, that someone like him would be interested in her.

Grateful. It makes her so angry now to think about how pathetic she was. So desperate for contact that she went along without ever doubting anything. Why hadn’t she noticed when he started to order her food for her? Why hadn’t she been angry when he started giving her advice on how she should dress? How had she willingly given him control of her life like that? Her father had been dying and she was lonely, but that’s no excuse.

When their relationship became physical, she had been a virgin, and she’d been excited to learn new things. It never occurred to her that he might be shaping her into doing what he wanted sexually without thinking of her own enjoyment. She had been foolish enough to think that pleasing him mattered more than her own comfort. Besides, he had usually been gentle and made sure that she enjoyed it. In the beginning, at least. He hadn’t become so demanding and rough until he really changed.

Thinking about sex makes her nauseous. She closes her eyes and grits her teeth as she pushes memories of that night from her mind. With everything else happening, she’s managed to avoid thinking about that. It’s bad enough to think about the abuse that she allowed to happen, but she’s so ashamed that she couldn’t stop him from forcing her that it makes her sick.

“Master’s Granger has a guest waiting in the sitting room.”

Kreacher’s voice breaks the silence in the room, startling her enough that she hits the window with her cast as she turns. The interruption is welcome, since she wants to stop thinking, but she’s nervous about who might be visiting. Kreacher doesn’t give her any idea about the identity of her guest before he pops out of the room. No one has contacted her since her return about dropping by for a visit, so she has no idea who is here.

As far as she knows, her return hasn’t been publicized, and she doubts that Harry or Ron have been very talkative about it with anyone, considering the circumstances. Teddy had mentioned telling his grandmother, but she highly doubts that Andromeda Tonks would drop by for an unannounced visit, so she’s at a loss. While the quiet of the house has been bothering her, she isn’t sure that she’s up to entertaining company. She isn’t even dressed yet.

Since arriving on Tuesday, she hasn’t left Grimmauld Place. It’s probably odd that she’s isolated herself since returning to London after years of being isolated by force, but she’s still trying to adjust to having freedom again. London is so busy and crowded that she could easily disappear, yet she can’t help but think everyone will know the truth when they look at her. They’ll all know and judge her. Besides, it’s almost too much to happen at once: being so free in a city like London after what she’s been through.

It’s happening again, she realizes. She gets caught up in her thoughts and forgets what she’s doing. It’s getting better, but she still finds it frustrating. Of course, there are a lot of things in her life right now that she finds frustrating, so that’s just one of many. Instead of dwelling on her current lack of social skills, she needs to get dressed and find out who is waiting for her. Harry wouldn’t have given permission for just anyone to have random visitation to Grimmauld Place, so she isn’t concerned that her guest is a threat, but she’s worried anyway.

She opens the doors of her wardrobe and stares at the contents. She doesn’t have a large selection of clothing. David dropped off boxes of clothes and books before she left, but she gave most of the clothes to charity. There were few of them that she had chosen herself, and most made her think of him, which she hadn’t wanted at all. Now, she finds herself wishing that she’d kept a few items to add the things that her mum had bought her. She needs to do laundry, definitely.

“Hermione? Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you weren’t dressed yet. The door’s open.”

It’s a female voice, and she looks up to see a woman standing by the door. She must not have shut it completely after the ordeal that is a shower now, with this cast. It takes her a few moments to recognize the woman, and then she feels foolish for taking so long when it seems rather obvious in hindsight.

“I had a shower and must not have shut it when I came back,” she explains. “I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. I got distracted.”

“It’s fine. I didn’t owl before dropping by, so it’s my fault. I was just out getting some shopping done while the kids are with Ron’s mum and thought I’d drop by to see if you fancied getting lunch.” Parvati smiles and looks more like herself than this mature woman who isn’t nearly as familiar to Hermione.

“Lunch,” she repeats slowly. “I thought that I’d probably just have soup. You’re, uh, welcome to join me.” She needs to be polite because this is Ron’s wife. She and Parvati were never particularly close back at school, but there wasn’t any animosity between them, so she can be friendly. She hopes. It’s been longer than she can remember, though, since she’s had more than a polite conversation with a female other than her mother. With nearly anyone other than her mother, since David didn't allow her to talk to men. Just Mark, and that wasn't social.

“Here, you mean?” Parvati looks as if she’s about to say something before she closes her mouth. She nods finally. “All right. That would be nice.” She glances at the wardrobe then back at Hermione. “Did you need any help?”

“No, thank you. I can do it.” Hermione speaks without even considering the offer. She hates the idea of needing help, in general, but especially when it’s someone she barely knows. She watches Parvati shift from one foot to another.

“Oh. Well, okay. I’ll just go downstairs then.” Parvati hesitates before saying, “I can leave, if you want. I should have asked before coming over. It’s just that Ron’s worried, even if he hasn’t really said anything, so I thought I’d come over to see if I could help.”

“Ron’s worried?” She frowns and nervously moves her fingers over the belt of her robe. Is that why he came over for lunch yesterday? Do he and Harry think that she can’t be left alone? It explains why Kreacher seems to lurk around so often, though he’s always lurked, so that might not be why.

Parvati sighs. “He’s been anxious since you got back. I thought that it meant--well, I was worried that maybe he still had feelings for you, but I know that’s just my insecurities. He said that you hadn’t really left the house since you got here, so that’s why I suggested going out for lunch. It’s a stupid suggestion, though. You’ve just come back after so many years away, and you’re injured, so it’s not like shopping or dining out is something you want to do right now.“

Ron hasn’t told her about David. Hermione’s surprised when she realizes that, but it also means a lot that he guards her privacy so closely even after they lost touch for so long. Their friendship isn’t what it used to be, but maybe it has the potential to become strong again, just different. Like with Harry. Ron stopped writing to her even before she moved, so she hasn’t been sure how he felt about their friendship. Now, she knows that he still values it, still values her.

“Thank you,” she whispers. She sees Parvati’s confused expression and tries to smile. “You--what you’ve said--it’s important to me. That Ron still wants to be friends.”

Parvati frowns. “Why would you think that he didn’t? I wasn’t even sure that our wedding was going to happen when you cancelled your trip because he was so intent on you and Harry standing up for him, even over his siblings. You’re the one who stopped writing to them. He and Harry were really hurt about that, and I think they would have gone to demand answers from you if they’d been able.”

“I didn’t stop writing,” she says softly. She wraps the fabric of her belt around her finger as she looks at the floor. “Ron stopped writing years ago, then Harry stopped. He thinks that I stopped, but I didn’t. I’ve written him every week.” She blinks and looks back at Parvati. “I think that my boyfriend might have stopped giving me the post.”

“Really? Doctor Dave?” Parvati looks sheepish. “Sorry. I mean, David. But why would he do that?”

Hermione doesn’t say anything for a moment. The silence becomes uncomfortable, and she shakes her head slightly. “I should get dressed. I’m still wearing my robe. I’m so lazy. I haven’t done anything since I got here, and I’m sleeping late, too. I’m supposed to be awake and dressed by six, but I’m trying to stop feeling scared. It’s hard, though.”

“Hermione, are you okay?” Parvati steps further into the room. “Why do you think that David stopped giving you the post?”

“He hates Harry. They hate each other. David didn’t want to lose me, so I think he ruined my friendship so I’d be alone. Just my parents and him. No one to come home to here, when Ron stopped writing and then Harry. I was trapped, you see? There was nowhere to go, even if I’d been able to leave.” She trails off when she realizes that she’s rambling and sliding back instead of taking steps forward. She hates this, how she does things without having any sort of control over herself.

Parvati is closer now, but she isn’t saying anything. Hermione can see her feet, though, and notices that she’s wearing black pumps with tall heels. They’re not practical, but they’re pretty, for black shoes. She looks up and steps back quickly when Parvati suddenly touches her arm.

“You weren’t listening,” Parvati says softly, looking at her with concern. “I, uh, would you like me to fix your hair? It can’t be easy to do it on your own with that cast.”

Her hair. That’s safe. Her mum braided her hair before she left Perth. She slowly nods. “Yes, please. A braid?”

“I can do that.” Parvati smiles and motions to the desk chair. “Would you like to sit there? Or do you want to get dressed first?”

“Dressed. I shouldn’t be wearing a robe this late. It’s almost noon.” She walks over to the wardrobe and touches a pair of track pants. The fabric is very soft, so she knows they’ll feel nice, but David doesn’t like when she covers her legs. “I tried to wear blue jeans on the flight, but I had to change. David only lets me wear skirts, but I miss trousers.”

“They look comfortable,” Parvati says quietly. She clears her throat. “I think you should wear them. I can fix your hair then we can have lunch.”

She looks at Parvati and sighs. “I’m sorry. I get lost in here lately,” she murmurs as she touches her head. “It’s too much sometimes, I think. I’m trying to be brave, but it’s so hard. I don’t even remember who I am anymore. Isn’t that silly? I’m me but I’m not.”

“It’s not silly.” Parvati opens her mouth but closes it before opening it again. “David, he hurt you, didn’t you? That’s why Ron’s so anxious about things. Your arm, that wasn’t just an accident. You’ve come back because you’ve left him, haven’t you?”

Parvati speaks in a rush of words, as if she’s gathered the courage to ask her questions and wants them all out before she gets too scared to speak. Hermione can understand that, as she’s felt that way before. That doesn’t mean that she’s going to be able to answer the questions. It feels like London is becoming confusion and questions and shame, which she’s not sure is a vast improvement over loneliness and fear.

“I left David,” she says finally. “He isn’t a good man.”

“Did he—“ Parvati stops again, and Hermione wonders if she often halts her conversations or if she’s just awkward having this one. Somehow, she thinks it must be the latter. Awkward seems to be constant with her lately. Parvati sits on the edge of the bed and runs her fingers through her hair. “You didn’t like it when I touched your arm. I remember when I felt that way years ago. I was dating a rather good-looking wizard, but I wanted to wait before we, uh, became intimate, only he wasn’t patient. He got me pissed one night and, um, just took what he wanted.”

Hermione blinks and wraps her arm around herself. She doesn’t want to think about that, about sex and David and what happened that night when he ripped her clothes and forced her. Parvati looks shaken, and she knows that this isn’t something Parvati wants to talk about. But she keeps talking, even though Hermione doesn’t want to hear.

“I didn’t want to be touched after that. I was too pissed to stop him, but I remember saying no. He said I wanted it, though, and I was wearing Muggle clothes that were too tight and too short, so I knew what I was doing.” Parvati smiles wryly as she looks up at Hermione. “It took me time, but I got through it. If I’m wrong, this is somewhat embarrassing. It’s not something I really talk about, since I let him get away with it. I never even hexed him, when I realized that it wasn’t my fault.”

“I made David impotent after,” she whispers, looking at the floor at her admission. She didn’t even tell her mum that, because she feels like it was petty revenge instead of simply defense. The other was for protection, for her and other women, but the impotency curse is something she did maliciously, something she hasn’t wanted to accept she could do so easily.

“Good. He deserves that or worse,” Parvati says firmly before she lowers her voice. “You’ll get through it, even if it might not feel that way right now.”

Hermione looks up at her, surprised yet relieved to not hear any questions about why she let it happen, why she didn’t stop him, why she didn’t use her wand to defend herself. Instead, she sees a look of understanding that is oddly comforting. The world hasn’t stopped spinning since she admitted it, so maybe it isn’t so bad to talk about it, after all.

Parvati wipes her eyes with the heels of her hand before she stands up. “I’ll just run to the toilet to wash my face before my eyes get puffy, and you can get dressed. When I get back, I’ll fix your hair and tell you all the latest gossip. If you’d like?”

The question hangs in the air for a moment before she slowly nods. She attempts another smile, and she feels like this one isn’t as forced as before. “I’d like that,” she says, watching Parvati smile in return before she leaves the room. Hermione looks at her wardrobe and, after a moment of hesitation, she reaches for the track pants.

March 22, 2009
The books are a surprise. Hermione isn’t sure what she expected to find when she went into the library at Grimmauld Place, but it certainly wasn’t a stack of brand new books about domestic violence and trauma. The books are on Harry’s desk, and the receipt with them indicates that he bought them yesterday, probably when he and Charlie went out during the afternoon. They had asked her to go along with them to run errands, but she had declined. Not only do they deserve some time without her, but she had panicked, just a little, at the thought of going into Diagon Alley.

The days are getting better, it seems, but she hasn’t felt ready yet to just go on about her life like nothing’s changed. Talking with Parvati on Friday actually helped, and she’s been in a better mood, overall, all weekend. She spent yesterday relaxing and reading, though she had to force herself not to clean and do random chores. After Kreacher’s defensive behavior earlier in the week when she cleaned the kitchen, she knows that she has to stop doing things that he considers his responsibility, even if it’s difficult to ignore David’s voice calling her lazy and useless.

Two of the books have been read. Perhaps not in their entirety, unless Harry’s become a speed reader in recent years, but she can see that the bindings are looser than the others, from someone reading or flipping through them. She looks around before she picks up one of the books and sits down in Harry’s office chair. It’s a comfortable chair, and it’s oddly comforting that she can smell him along with the scent of leather.

This is making her more anxious than she imagined. Since she hasn’t really been able to talk to Harry about everything, not without getting awkward and quiet, she figured out a way to let him know what she can’t really verbalize right now. The box of unsent letters contains many private thoughts, as she began to use them almost like a journal as time passed, but she doesn’t feel as vulnerable about sharing them with him as she expects. She gave Harry the box of letters after breakfast, and she hasn’t seen him since. As far as she knows, he’s in his room reading them.

When she realizes that she’s staring at the book instead of reading it, she shakes her head slightly and tries to get comfortable. The book is about supporting women after domestic violence, which makes her start thinking about her life with David. There were some good times, the years before her father died were actually relatively happy and affectionate. Looking back now, she can see some things that she was blind to at the time, but, overall, she has some positive memories. He helped support her during her father’s illness, when she was so lonely and had no one to give her the hugs she desperately needed, and she can’t simply ignore that because he changed. It can’t have all been an act before then, can it? She thinks that she’d have been able to tell if he were insincere at the time, would have recognized it, and she never felt that with David.

Maybe this book will have some answers. She’s been thinking so much about it since she left yet still hasn’t been able to understand her own actions. Perhaps she needs to approach it with some distance, consider it a research problem to solve instead of her life, so then she can figure out how she became the woman that she is now. In theory, it makes sense, but she isn’t sure how it’ll work in practical application. Still, it’s worth taking the chance, because she feels like understanding it might help her.

There’s a thin bookmark marking a chapter, she notices. Instead of opening to the first page, she tracks the bookmark with her fingernail and opens the book there. The chapter involves enabling women who have experienced domestic violence on a path to recovery. She can see Harry’s handwriting in the margin, nonsensical shorthand that only he probably understands. She stares at the ink and wonders if she should scold him for ruining the book by writing it or thank him for trying to help.

It’s not his usual way, is it? Harry’s never been one to get books and read about a problem while researching ways to fix it. That’s always been her comfort zone. Yet, she’s the one who’s retreated into her head for weeks--years--and Harry’s the one who’s got books all over his desk. It’s one of many changes in him, and she wonders if this is caused by his job or if she possibly had an influence on him after all. She prefers to think that it’s the latter, though it’s more likely the former.

Since she isn’t quite ready to read about enabling herself, she puts the bookmark back into place. She turns to the first page and begins reading. It’s an informative book, even if it’s almost surreal to be reading about a generic ‘woman’ who is all too familiar. She is relieved that the book refers to the women as survivors instead of victims, which is something that she should try to use, too. She’s been a victim, certainly, but she’s more than that. Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, she found the courage to leave David, so she isn’t as weak and useless as he claimed. When she starts to hear his voice in her head, she needs to remember that she’s a survivor and just ignore it, no matter how difficult that is sometimes.

When she hears the door to the library open, she’s halfway through the book. She looks up and sees Harry enter the room. She got busy reading and hasn’t noticed the time, but it’s really dark outside. Harry glances at the books in front of her and pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose.

“I didn’t mean to leave those out,” he admits quietly. He clears his throat and shifts from one foot to the other.

“I’m glad that you did,” she says honestly. “I’m trying to understand, so these might help.”

Harry looks at her and nods finally. “Maybe they will.” He shrugs a shoulder before he walks closer. “I, uh, finished the letters. There were a lot of them. I mean, I’m not complaining about that. Some were really short. It’s just. I don’t know.” He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs.

“I can’t seem to talk about it easily. I thought maybe those would talk for me,” she explains, almost whispering because she can’t judge his reaction. He’s not disgusted with her, but she can’t really tell how he feels.

“They talked. Boy, did they talk.” He shifts again. “It’s overwhelming, you know? I didn’t expect--I knew that he’d done something, obviously, but I didn’t really comprehend what all he’d done. I’ve honestly dealt with worse in my job, but it’s never been personal, like this. The things he’s done. How he’s treated you. I want to kill him. I hate that my first impulse is to hunt him down and torture him, but it is.”

“I stayed,” she whispers, looking down at the floor. “I don’t know why, but I did. I stopped even thinking about leaving eventually.”

“He broke you, Hermione. The letters…you stopped being the Hermione that I know. No, that’s not right. You’re still her, but you changed. He did that to you. I could tell how scared you were from the letters. How unhappy. It made me sick, to know that I just gave up and left you to it. If I’d done more, maybe you wouldn’t have ended up with him.”

She flinches at his blunt statement. He broke you. While she’s felt broken for years, it’s different to hear it from the man who’s been her best friend since she was eleven. When she hears him being typical Harry, she almost smiles. “This isn’t your fault, Harry. Not every problem in the world is, you know?”

He sighs and steps closer. “I know, but I can’t really deal with all this emotion, so feeling guilty is something I’m pretty good at. It’s a lot to take in, to know the truth and to feel it through your words. I hate it. I hate that I wasn’t there, that you had to do this on your own, that I didn’t even know your father had died until you got here. I hate that I can’t just fix this the way you’ve always been able to fix my problems.”

“I never fixed your problems,” she reminds him as she looks up to meet his gaze. “I was just there when you needed me.”

“Yeah, and I wasn’t when you needed me.” He crouches down beside her chair and hesitantly reaches for her hand. “I’m here now, though. I know it doesn’t make up for the past, but there’s nothing I can do about that.” He bites his lip, which makes him look a lot younger than his twenty-eight years. “I didn’t stop writing. In your letters, you say I do, but I even wrote your mum when you stopped sending me post.”

She squeezes his hand. “I didn’t stop writing, either. I think that it was David. I’m trying not to just assume and blame him for everything, but he dropped off the post and picked it up, so it makes sense. I shouldn’t have just accepted the lack of letters from you. I went into Perth fairly often until my father passed away, so I could have mailed letters myself. It was just easier to let David do it, since I was worried about Dad and Mum and everything seemed to be going badly.”

“It’s better, isn’t it?” he asks softly. “You’re talking more, and you don’t seem to be forcing yourself, like before. Sorry. I just realized, and it makes me happy, to hear you and not see you looking pained at conversation.” He looks at their hands. “He took advantage of you. Of your father’s illness and your mum’s distractions. I wouldn’t doubt that he tossed my letters in the rubbish, the bastard. That’s also around the time when Charlie and I became public, and there was a lot happening here, so I finally just gave up because I thought I’d made you angry.”

When he finishes, she takes time to consider her reply. “It is better, I think. You’re not asking questions that I can’t really answer, which helps. You also know more than even my mum does about those years. I wrote to you about so much, all the bad things that I couldn’t talk about and couldn’t let myself think about anymore.”

“I think I understand why you didn’t use your wand against him. I’m having trouble accepting it, accepting that you changed like that, but I can understand now, in a way. That helps, which is really stupid, isn’t it?” He looks back up, and she can see that his eyes are glassy. “This isn’t your fault, Hermione. Your recent letters, since you left, it sounds like you’re blaming yourself and that you’re ashamed of what happened. You shouldn’t. He’s the guilty one, not you. He beat you, r-raped you, and you still managed to leave. You’re brave, even if you don’t feel like you are.”

“I’m not. I stayed for years, even when I knew that it was wrong. Then, I stopped believing that it was, and I started to feel like it was normal, like he had the right to say those things and control every aspect of my life like that. That’s not brave, Harry. I’m not sure what it was, but it’s who I am now, even if I’m trying to get better.”

“You’re wrong.” He reaches up to wipe his eyes, knocking his glasses halfway off before he fixes them. “You’re more courageous than you want to believe. If you weren’t, you’d still be there. You’d have married him and had children who would have been--“ He trails off and clears his throat. “You didn’t, though. You left him, faced him, sent him away, and you came here, on your own with a broken arm and ribs, which is amazing. I’m so proud of you. That sounds silly, but I can’t help it.”

He’s proud of her. She blinks away tears as she bites her lip hard. He isn’t disappointed in her. He doesn’t blame her. He might not really understand it all, but he doesn’t think it’s her fault. She starts to cry, unable to stop herself anymore, and she leans her head down to rest on his shoulder as he moves up to hug her. She cries until her head hurts and her face feels puffy, but she feels better than she has in ages, oddly enough.

“It’s not silly,” she finally whispers, her voice hoarse from sobbing. Harry tightens his arms around her, and she relaxes into the hug, not feeling the urge to pull back or to not to be touched. Maybe the book’s right, after all. Right now, she feels like a survivor.

March 25, 2009
Now that it’s almost time to leave, Hermione is feeling less confident. The past few days have been good. Really good compared to recent years, but, in a general comparison on the scale of horrible to fantastic, she knows that she’s somewhere in the middle. Still, it’s better than before, so that’s an improvement. Of course, she’s currently feeling as if she’s sliding back on that scale somehow because she’s getting anxious again. She tries to calm her nerves, but it seems impossible.

It’s less than an hour until her appointment at St. Mungos. What was she thinking when she asked Harry to schedule it for her? She isn’t ready to go back into the magical world. Not yet. It’s too soon. People will see her and whisper and know what’s happened and they’ll be disappointed or disgusted with her. Since her very close friends had trouble accepting everything, she knows that strangers will judge her and find her to be weak and pathetic.

She isn’t, though. If she’s realized anything since returning to England, it’s that she’s stronger than she thought she was when she left Australia. She’s still disgusted with herself for not seeing the truth about David until it was too late, which is something she doubts she will move past easily, but she’s trying to stop berating herself for not fighting back more or leaving him sooner . It’s easier said than done..

“You ready to go to St. Mungos yet?”

The voice startles her and pulls her out of her thoughts. She looks up to see Charlie standing by her door. “What?” She cringes slightly when she hears her tone of voice. She isn’t sure why he’s there, but she doesn’t want to be rude. “I mean, why aren’t you at work?”

“Oh, sorry.” Charlie flashes a sheepish smile. “We thought that you might not want to go to St. Mungos alone, so here I am. Harry’d be here if he could, but he has meetings today and a case review, so he couldn’t get away.” He shifts from one foot to another. “If you’d, uh, rather go alone, I’ll leave you to it.”

Charlie isn’t comfortable to her yet. He’s imposing, in a way, even if he isn’t a tall man. His shoulders are broad, like David’s, but he’s more muscular, so there’s little physical resemblance at all. She isn’t used to him, so he still feels almost like a stranger even after all these days. He’s likeable, though, and he’s been good at giving her space and helping Harry deal with everything. She wants to be friendly with him because it’s obvious that he loves Harry.

“It’s fine. I wouldn’t mind the company,” she admits quietly. She looks at the floor and wonders if Harry has told Charlie everything. She assumes that he has, but she doesn’t really mind because she trusts them both. When he doesn’t say anything, she glances up to find him studying her.

“All right.” He leans his shoulder against the doorframe. “Are you sure that you’re ready?”

“Well, the appointment is soon, so I suppose we should leave in a little bit so I’m not late,” she says. “I don’t like being late, even to the healer.”

He shakes his head slightly. “That’s not what I meant, which I think you know.” She looks down at his feet but doesn’t deny or confirm his suspicions. “There’s a Muggle hospital nearby, if that’d make you feel more comfortable. Pushing yourself is good, it means that you’re trying to move forward, but it’s no good if you go too far, too fast.”

She frowns and looks back up at him. “I don’t know if I’m really ready or not to deal with it, but I want to do something. I feel stronger now than I did when I first got here, so it feels like the right time to try this.”

“I was browsing through some of Harry’s books,” he explains with a shrug. “I just wanted to be sure that you weren’t doing this because you felt like it you should but because you wanted to.”

“The book warns about going too fast?” she asks, feeling slightly nervous at the idea that she’s trying too hard and might end up causing more damage instead of helping.

“Nah. That’s from personal experience.” He laughs dryly. “I know about being frustrated and pushing too hard before you’re really ready. I didn’t want you taking a huge step back or anything.”

She wants to ask more, but she isn’t sure that it’s her place. It feels awkward to question when she hasn’t wanted to answer any. Instead, she looks at the mirror on the inside of her wardrobe and makes a face. “I think I’m ready,” she tells him, feeling a little more confident than she had before he had doubted her. “I just worry about people recognizing me. That sounds silly, doesn’t it? It’s been, what, eight years since I lived here? It’s not the same as when I left, so I’m probably overreacting.”

“It’s not silly. I’m involved with Harry, remember? I know all about the public and their obsessive attention to heroes. I’ve heard the worst of it since our relationship became known, but I’ve also heard the best of it.”

“Is it very difficult to be in a relationship with him?” She looks over at him and has to ask something that she’s wanted to since she found out about them. “How has Ginny taken it?”

He seems surprised by her question, and she realizes belatedly that he probably hasn’t had to explain their relationship in years since it isn’t new. But it’s new to her, which makes her feel awkward. He smiles slightly. “It’s not easy, but relationships rarely are. As for Ginny, it was weird at first. Now, she’s very supportive and accepts us. It was a strange time all-around, though. Not just Ginny, but with everything.”

“I should have been here,” she whispers, looking back into the mirror. “Harry needed me, but I wasn’t here for him.”

“There’s no use worrying about should have and could have, Hermione. Do you think that he isn’t feeling the same way right now about you? If he’d just gone back to Australia, if he’d just kept writing, if this or if that. It’s pointless because it doesn’t change anything. It just makes you feel worse, so don’t go there.”

“Does he?” She wonders if it makes her selfish that she never really thought about Harry or even Ron feeling guilty because she’s been so caught up in how she feels. “I don’t think it would have changed anything. I wouldn’t have believed anything negative about David then.”

“Maybe not, but it doesn’t change the doubts, does it?” Charlie looks at her pointedly, which makes her realize he’s somehow turned things around to her own similar concerns about Harry. He’s cleverer than she expects, even if it’s a common sense sort instead of a book sort.

“Do you think that the healers will be able to do anything to help my arm and ribs?” she asks, deliberately changing the subject because she doesn’t want to start thinking too much before leaving. She frowns as she moves her fingers over her cast. “It’s been so long since the break.”

“Yeah, I do. We had a healer at the reserve who worked with the dragons, and he was able to heal bones weeks after the initial injury. I’d think people are similar, in that respect.” Charlie tilts his head slightly. “About what you said earlier? I hate to be the one to tell you, but it’s unlikely that you’ve been forgotten. I know it’s probably not what you want to hear right now, but it doesn’t matter that it’s been ten years since the war ended, people still remember.”

“People are like dragons. I can see that, I suppose.” She hopes that they can fix the breaks because she’s tired of the cast already. It’s a visual symbol of what David did, a reminder that brings her thoughts back to that night even when she tries to look forward, and she wants it gone. Now that she’s made up her mind to try, she’s determined. It’s nice to feel that way again after so long. She appreciates Charlie’s warning, even if it’s just confirming her suspicions. “Maybe no one will recognize me if I wear a hat.”

“Do you have a hat?” Charlie’s lips twist into a crooked smile. “I can braid your hair for you, if you want. We don’t have time to get Parvati over to do it, but it might help you stay under the general awareness of people without needing a hat.”

His offer surprises her. “You can braid hair?”

He snorts. “You don’t have to look so shocked. I did have a little sister, you know? One who loved it when I braided her hair and told her stories about Qudditch and school.”

“You won’t tell me stories about Quidditch, will you?” she asks curiously.

“I’ll tell you stories about dragons, but quickly, since we don’t have a lot of time if we want to get you to your appointment without being late.” He’s still standing at the door, and she realizes that he must be waiting for her to invite him in. She’s oddly pleased at his gesture, and her opinion of him gets another positive mark.

“I don’t want to be late,” she agrees. “Please, come in. I can’t manage to do much at all with my hair when I’ve got this cast on, so I appreciate the help.”

She tenses slightly when he gets closer to her, but she’s proud of herself for not stepping away. Charlie’s safe. He won’t hurt her. Besides, she has her wand now, and she knows that she’ll use it if she ever gets into another situation like before. It’s a part of her that she won’t give up again.

“Don’t worry about St. Mungos,” Charlie tells her as he begins to separate her hair into three sections. She looks at the mirror and has to smile slightly at the odd picture they make. He catches her gaze in the mirror and grins. “We won’t tell Harry about this, yeah? Last thing I need to hear is about my talents at hairstyling from the brat.”

“We won’t tell him,” she promises. She studies his reflection in the mirror as he braids her hair, staring at his scars more openly than usual. “How did it happen?”

He glances up to see her staring and stops moving his hands for a moment before he goes back to braiding. “A disgruntled employee, oddly enough. He was fired for drinking on the job and decided to get back at the boss by burning down the barn. We had a dozen babies in there under care, and we couldn’t just let them die, so we went in.”

She looks down and gives him a moment where she’s not staring because she can see the emotions in his face when he talks about it. It’s a private moment, not one for her to be gawking at. “I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault. I chose to go in, so I knew the risks. I got struck by a falling beam. It burned me and fucked--sorry--up my nerves in my right arm. Still lost two of them, even after everything,” he says as he keeps braiding.

“But you saved the rest,” she points out. She now understands some of the things she’s noticed with how he holds things or favors his left arm.

“Yeah, which makes it worth it. Had to go through therapy to start using my arm again, and had to learn how to use my left hand more. Reflexes are dulled enough that I had to change jobs, but that didn’t hurt as much as I expected since things with Harry happened at the same time. But that’s a story for another time, after the healer maybe.” He steps back and puts his hands lightly on her shoulders. “All done with your hair.”

After the healer. It gives her something to focus on during this appointment, which is welcome. “It looks good,” she says as she glances at the mirror. She isn’t immediately recognizable when her hair is pulled back, which is good. While she now knows that she’s ready for this, even if she doesn’t feel like it at times, she has to admit that she’d rather not be noticed.

“Of course it does. I’m an expert braider.” He winks before he steps away.

She can’t help it, she laughs. Catching herself, she bites her lip. David doesn’t like her laugh. He thinks it’s too loud and always get annoyed when he hears it. He’s not here, though. She doesn’t have to worry about laughing anymore. She looks at Charlie and sees his look of concern before he hides it beneath an easy smile. Straightening her shoulders, she smiles, only having to force it a little.

“I won’t tell Harry that you’re an expert,” she promises. She picks up her handbag and walks to the door. “I haven’t taken the floo in years, but I think today’s a good day to start again.”

He follows her out of the room, and they start downstairs to the kitchen. “Yeah, it is a good day,” he agrees. “We’ve got ten minutes until your appointment, so we’ll be there on time. No worrying about being late, got it?”

“I got it. I’ll just worry about other things instead.” When they reach the kitchen, she looks at him. “Thank you for being here. I’m glad that I don’t have to do this on my own.”

“I’d tell you no worrying at all, but I doubt you’d listen to me, so I won’t bother.” He seems surprised by her words of gratitude but recovers quickly. “You’re not on your own, Hermione. You’ve got us now.” He shrugs a shoulder and grins before he tosses in a handful of floo powder. “I’ll see you there.”

She watches him disappear and takes a moment to gather her courage. She can do this. It’s another step forward, and she’s not alone, which really helps more than she expects. Besides, this is just an appointment with a healer, one who can hopefully heal her arm so she can get rid of the cast. Just an appointment. Right. One at a magical hospital in a world that she left behind years ago.

It isn’t as if she never intended to return, though, so she needs to focus on that instead of being concerned about people and what they might say. She used to not care so much about that, so why should she now? With that thought in mind, she gets a handful of floo powder and tosses it into the fireplace. Despite her nerves, she knows that she’s ready for this. Her voice is surprisingly strong when she says, “St. Mungos.”

March 30, 2009
Diagon Alley hasn’t changed much. Everything looks familiar, even if it’s new. Hermione is relieved that it feels so comfortable here. She has put off coming here since arriving in London, mostly because she’s felt that everyone she encounters will somehow know about David and look at her differently. As it is, no one has given her disappointed or disgusted looks at all. Of course, she’s barely left the Leaky Cauldron, so there’s still time.

That isn’t the right way to think, though, so she tries to focus on a positive outlook. Since the healer at St. Mungos was able to fix her broken bones, there are no outward signs of abuse. It’s funny how that, alone, can give her a little more confidence. There are still parts of her that are broken, she knows, but they’re internal, and she’s working on them. That counts for something, so she’s trying not to have expectations of herself that are too high to ever meet. One of the books that she borrowed from Harry warned against that, which means it’s probably something that she needs to keep remembering.

As she walks through Diagon Alley, she can hear her name whispered occasionally, but no one approaches her. They probably aren’t sure that it’s her, which is all right with her because she doesn’t really want to deal with people she knew before, much less strangers. It’s inevitable that she’ll run into an old friend at some point now that she’s back in London, but she’d prefer that it be in the future, when she’s got a better understanding of who she is now and can handle nosy questions that she can’t answer yet. She doesn’t want to lie about what’s happened to her, but she certainly isn’t feeling a need to broadcast it to everyone, either. She hopes balance will come in time.

There’s a new shop where Fortescue’s used to be. She stops walking and looks at the colorful windows that advertise fudge and sweets. When she left for Australia, the building was still empty. It’s strange, in a way, to see something occupying the property now. While it’s been almost nine years, most of Diagon Alley feels as if she never left. This shop is a reminder that she’s missed a lot, and she’s not sure that she wants to think about that right now. Instead of continuing on her walk, she crosses over to the new sweet shop and decides to go inside. There’s time, and she thinks it might be good for her to confront whatever it is in her mind that’s nagging at her since seeing the new shop.

It smells like chocolate. It’s also crowded, especially for this time of day during the week. She hears her name whispered as she walks over to the display counter, but she tries to ignore it. They don’t know about David, don’t know what her life has become, and she needs to keep reminding herself of that as the pessimistic voice in her head tells her that she should go back to Grimmauld Place and hide away in her bedroom. This is her first real outing on her own since returning, first real outing on her own since she moved in with David years ago, really, and she doesn’t want to let her fear and anxiety send her back into hiding.

The fudge looks very good. It makes her remember visits to Honeydukes and sharing sweets with Harry and Ron when she was a child. After checking the cost, she hesitates at buying any. It’s more expensive than it should be, and David isn’t happy when she spends frivolously. But David isn’t a concern anymore, so she has no reason not to indulge this one time. Well, other than the fact that she’s unemployed and living off Harry’s generosity right now. That’ll change, though, because she can try to find a job now that her arm is no longer in a cast. Before she can talk herself out of it, she requests three squares of fudge.

“Hey, I was next.”

The voice is masculine and angry. She tenses at the tone and glances up to see a large blond man approaching the counter. David. She feels her stomach roll but doesn’t step away. It’s not David. She knows this even as she has a moment of fear. The man reaches her and scowls, obviously unhappy about her order.

“Excuse me?” She’s proud to hear that her voice is steady and calm. She curls her fingers into her palm, but doesn’t run away.

“I was here first.” The man glares at her. “You need to wait your turn.”

Her first instinct is to apologize and leave before he can become belligerent. The ‘I’m sorry, it’s my fault’ is on the tip of her tongue, but she doesn’t say it. Instead, she straightens her shoulders and glances at the clerk behind the counter, who is in the process of cutting her squares of fudge. She looks at the man and says, “I’m sorry, but there was no one at the counter when I arrived. I’ll be finished soon, then you can have your turn.”

Before he can argue, another clerk arrives from out on the floor and interrupts with a discussion on advertised sales in the Daily Prophet. It’s finished before it really begins, as the man is distracted, and she pays for her fudge. When she leaves the shop, her heart is racing, and her hands are shaking. However, she doesn’t feel anxious so much as proud of herself. It’s probably silly, but she can’t help it. She hurries away from the shop and tries her best to keep that feeling of confidence as she walks to the café where she’s meeting Harry and Ron for lunch.

When she arrives, she smiles as she approaches the table where they’re waiting. “I bought fudge,” she announces as she sits down. She’s pleased and wants them to be proud of her.

“Oh? That’s nice,” Harry says slowly. He exchanges a glance with Ron and shrugs a shoulder.

“Did you buy us some or are you keeping it all to yourself?” Ron asks after he swallows whatever he’s chewing. “You have to share.”

“Stop whinging. She doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to.” Harry rolls his eyes and looks at her. “You’re doing all right, yeah? I mean, with being here and all.”

“Here, have a breadstick. These are bloody brilliant.” Ron interrupts and hands her a piece of greasy bread with something dripping off it. “Lots of garlic sauce and butter.”

“I’m doing fine,” she says honestly as she takes the breadstick and looks at it. It’s messy, and she isn’t sure if she should eat it before telling them what happened at the sweet shop or after.

“Good.” Harry grins and picks up a breadstick from the basket in the middle of the table. “I knew you would be.”

Ron snorts. “He’s been worried, but I told him that you’d be okay. It’s just Diagon, after all.”

Just Diagon. If only things were that easy. Unfortunately, nothing in life seemed to be that simple these days. Her joy at facing the angry man in the shop starts to fade as she realizes how minor that is in the scheme of things. It feels very small compared to everything in her head when she thinks about who she used to be and who she is now, at least.

“So, fudge is good, right?” Harry asks slowly as he stares at her.

She takes a bite of the breadstick to keep from having to answer him. She no longer really feels like bragging that she stood up to some cranky stranger when it’ll likely just remind them how weak she’s become. When she finishes eating, she wipes her fingers on a napkin and realizes that they’re both waiting for an answer. “Right,” she says, feeling awkward as she shifts in the chair and looks for a menu.

“We, uh, like fudge, too,” Ron says. “You don’t have to share it with us, though. I was just teasing.”

“He’s right. You don’t have to give us any.” Harry smiles and hands her a menu. “It’s good that you got something as a treat for yourself.”

She looks from one to the other before she finally admits, “It’s not the fudge.”

“What’s not the fudge?” Ron frowns and looks at her curiously. “You didn’t get any?”

“No. I mean, yes, I got fudge. But, no, that’s not why I was happy.” She shifts again and tugs on the end of her braid, wishing that her hair was loose so she could run her fingers through it.

“I’m confused.” Harry shakes his head. “Why don’t we start over? It seems that we missed something somewhere.”

“You didn’t miss anything. It’s just in my head, so you didn’t know.” She realizes that makes her sound crazy, which isn’t an improvement. She looks down at the table and considers making up some easy excuse to get them off this topic, since she’s apparently made it into something that they’ve noticed. She’s trying to do better, though, and made up excuses are nearly as bad as ignoring the problems with David until she couldn’t avoid them any longer. She looks up and says, “It’s silly, but I was proud of myself because I stood up to a wizard who tried to pressure me in the queue.”

“Pressure you?” Harry frowns after asking the question, and Ron leans forward.

“How did some bloke pressure you?” Ron asks in a quiet tone that she’s not heard from him before.

“He didn’t. He tried, but I stuck up for myself,” she explains softly. It does sound silly when she verbalizes it, but she can’t helping a little proud anyway.

“Oh.” Harry starts to smile. “Did you hex him?”

“Something really vile, yeah?” Ron looks hopeful.

She smiles wryly. A moment ago, they looked ready to go attack the man for pressuring her. Now, they’re eager for details of a supposed hexing they expect her to describe. Men. It didn’t matter what age, they were still childish in many ways. She picks up another breadstick and tries to give them a scolding look that she hasn’t practiced in years. “I didn’t hex anyone. I merely pointed out that I was the first one at the counter and that he could wait his turn.”

“Did you normally not?” Ron asks slowly, as if he doesn’t really understand. He probably doesn’t, she realizes, since she didn’t write him unsent letters.

“I do as I’m told,” she whispers, looking at the breadstick she’s holding as she thinks back over the last few years. “David doesn’t--didn’t like it when I argued, so I finally stopped.”

“Didn’t,” Harry repeats quietly. “You haven’t used that tense before when talking about him, you know? It’s always like you expect him to show up at any time.”

“I haven’t?” She looks up, surprised because she hasn’t ever realized that and also because Harry has.

“Do you think he will show?” Ron frowns as he rips a breadstick in half. “He’d better not. We’ll--well, we’ll do some things that we probably shouldn’t, since we’re Aurors and all.”

“The bastard’s lucky that I don’t have any holiday time or I’d have got a Portkey to Australia already,” Harry confesses with a sheepish smile.

“He won’t show,” she tells him. “I, uh, took care of that.” She sees their looks of interest and sighs. She isn’t particularly proud of what she did to David, but she’s also not ashamed, which means it’s one of those confusing things that she just tries not to think about too often. “He’s selling most everything he owns and donating the money to charity. He’s also moving to Africa to volunteer there so he can help people.”

“Did you…nah, you’d not use an unforgiveable,” Ron says confidently. “How did you do it?”

“It wasn’t Imperio.” Ron says that he knows she’d not use one, but she still feels a need to defend herself. “I altered his memories and used a few charms to convince him that he wanted to make amends for everything he’s done to me, so he’s going to spend the rest of his life doing volunteer work. He, uh, also is impotent, and that won’t ever change.”

“Good. He deserves worse, but I’m glad something happened to him.” Harry looks angry for a moment before he opens a menu. “That took a lot of courage, you know? To face him and do that.”

“Course it did,” Ron agrees. “Our Hermione wasn’t in Gryffindor for no reason, after all. Dunno, though. I’d have castrated the fucker.”

“Language,” she mutters, not wanting to admit that she had been tempted to do far worse to him but hadn’t given in to that urge.

Harry looks up from his menu and starts to grin. “Did you hear that, Ron? Watch your language.”

“Sure did.” Ron returns Harry’s smile, and she thinks they both look ridiculous. “Hermione scolding me. Feels like old times, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Harry nods before he looks back at his menu. She notices him smile in a way that can’t be described as anything other than mischievous before he speaks. “So, are you planning on sharing that fudge after lunch?”

“We love fudge, as you might remember,” Ron adds sweetly as he reads his menu.

She looks from one to the other and rolls her eyes even as she smiles. “We'll see.”

April 1, 2009
The newspaper doesn’t have many job openings listed. The economy is doing poorly right now, in the Muggle world, so Hermione isn’t completely surprised to find that her search for employment is difficult. Her background consists of working as a clerk in a bookshop years ago, a position that was terminated due to tardiness, so she doesn’t have very much to list on her CV. She can’t list her primary educational background, so that’s not even impressive. The Muggle world doesn’t care that she got Os on all seven of her NEWT exams or that she was employed briefly with the Ministry of Magic. It isn’t as if she did very much during that time at the Ministry, even if she learned quickly and would have likely had an opportunity to be promoted after a couple of years.

While she has been making an effort to get out of the house and explore London, she hasn’t seen many places that are advertising open positions. She got an application for a bookshop on Charing Cross, but she has no telephone or address to list, so she’s not entirely sure how she’s going to complete it. It’s the first, and only, application that she’s picked up, though, so she sees it as a successful effort regardless of whether she’s hired. It feels like an important step, to be looking for a job, and she knows that she needs to focus on that instead of the negative aspects of job seeking.

She looks up from the newspaper when Harry enters the room. He’s just now coming in from work, and it looks like he must not be enjoying his newest case. He looks tired, which also likely means that he’s cranky. It hasn’t taken very long for her to remember his moods at all even after so many years. Charlie’s gone to drop off a birthday gift to George, so he’s not around to defuse the Harry Situation, if it becomes something requiring attention. She shifts her feet off the table and offers a smile. “Hello, Harry.”

“Hello, Hermione.” He falls onto the sofa beside her and groans as he leans his head back so that he can stare at the ceiling. “Why did I become an Auror again?”

“Because you wanted to help people?” She isn’t entirely sure of the correct answer because it’s not anything that Harry’s ever discussed with her. He and Ron both decided to be Aurors when they were still in school and fighting a war.

“Must have been because I’m a masochist,” he mutters, frowning as he pushes his glasses up so he can rub the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t think that you enjoy pain,” she points out. “If you did, then you’d have probably decided to become something other than an Auror.”

His lips twist slightly into a smile. “I’ve missed this. You arguing with me and being all logical and taking everything I say as literal.”

“I’m not arguing.” She shifts and looks at the newspaper. “You also have a tendency to say exactly what you mean, which is why I might interpret your muttering literally.”

“I wasn’t offended,” he says in an exasperated tone that makes her scowl. She realizes that she’d have already been apologizing if they’d had this conversation two weeks ago or maybe even last week. She feels a sense of satisfaction for being irritated instead of apologetic. “I said that I miss this. If I’d meant that I was upset, then I’d have said that.”

“I’m not Kreacher, so you don’t need to speak to me that way.” She looks up from the newspaper and blinks. “David used to talk to me like that. Like I’m a silly child that can’t understand his remarks or who needs guidance so that I can understand properly.”

He straightens up and shifts so that he’s turned sideways. “I’m not David, and I certainly don’t intend to make you feel like that.”

“No, I know. I just…I never really thought about it, about how he treated me.” She bites her lip and considers it. “Even after everything that’s happened, I find myself trying to make excuses, blaming me instead of him, and it’s not something that I’m proud of. I know the difference, so why do I keep trying to justify his behavior?”

He looks uncomfortable for a moment, like he’d rather be back at work on that difficult case instead of having a serious conversation with her, but he recovers quickly. “I dunno,” he says as he reaches out to tug on the end of her braid. “Maybe it’s easier to think that he had some reasons for it instead of having to accept that you stayed when he was really wrong and a horrible bastard.”

She swats his hand away from her hair and thinks about David. Maybe Harry’s right, but she isn’t sure why she’d rather blame herself, even unconsciously. Well, it’s not unconscious now, since she’s realized it, but that’s retreating into being particular over facts instead of dealing with them. Harry tugs on her hair again, and she smacks him lightly on the side. “Stop that. I’m trying to think.”

“You’re always thinking. It doesn’t change what happened or make it any easier for you to get through this, you know? If anything, it just lets you keep avoiding the things that you’re still not ready to deal with.” Harry shrugs a shoulder when she looks at him. “I didn’t become Assistant Head before I’m thirty because of my pretty face. I actually do have a brain and even occasionally use it.”

“We can debate whether your face would qualify as pretty or not some other time, though I think that’s too subjective for discussion. My idea of pretty might not be the same as Auror Robards.” She rubs her thumb over the newspaper that she’s holding as she tries to figure out how to reply to Harry’s suggestion that she’s using thinking as an avoidance.

“You’re doing it again.” Harry scoots closer and leans his cheek against her shoulder. “Stop thinking, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I’ve had a very long day and need distractions, so entertain me. What are we looking at?” He opens the newspaper wider.

“The employment section of the newspaper.” She shrugs her shoulder slightly so that he’ll adjust his position and stop poking her with his glasses.

“This isn’t the Daily Prophet,” he says slowly. “It’s some Muggle paper, isn’t it?”

She considers teasing him about stating the obvious, but the words don’t come out. Instead, she says, “I’m looking for a job.”

“Right. That’s what employment means. However, why are you looking for a Muggle job? You’re not in Australia anymore, so there’s no reason to not do magic.” He lifts his head and leans closer to the paper. “You can’t tell me that you’d seriously be interested in a position as a cashier for a supermarket.”

“Why not? I’m good with money, and I enjoyed my job at the bookshop,” she says defensively. “It’s not the best time to be looking for work, but I don’t consider working a till to be beneath me or anything.”

“All you have to do is go back to the Ministry, and you know that Kingsley will find something for you somewhere.” Harry shakes his head. “I don’t get it.”

“I don’t want to be given a job just because I knew the Minister of Magic personally.” She sighs and pulls the paper away from him. “I don’t think I’m ready to go back to the magical world. Not completely. I just…I don’t know.”

“You don’t have to work at the Ministry. That was just a suggestion, not an order. I’m not David, remember?” He stands up and starts to pace. “Not ready to go back. You’re already back, Hermione. You’ve got your wand, and you’re living here. Magic is part of you, so it’s not something you can just hide from or ignore.”

“I know it’s part of me. I don’t plan on giving it up ever again. But that doesn’t mean that I’m prepared to return to a world where I’m seen as some sort of heroine just because I was your best friend as a teenager, especially not when I’m not brave and courageous at all. I’m weak, and I allowed myself to become someone who is almost a stranger to me because of a man, because I was lonely and scared and he was there when I needed someone.”

Harry stops pacing and his shoulders slump. “I thought that we’d already discussed this. How can you still sit there and say you’re weak when you left him? Okay, so you aren’t perfect, and you’ve been through hell the past few years. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be proud of yourself for who you are, for what you’re doing now. God, Hermione. I really want you to just realize that no one expects you to be above making mistakes, even really bad ones about charming men who abuse you and break you. If anything, you’re an example to other women out there with a David in their lives who don’t feel strong enough to leave.”

“I don’t really want to interrupt, but I have to agree with Harry.” Charlie smiles wryly as he steps into the room. “I know it’s not any of my business, so I’ve tried to stay out of it. He’s right, though. You left, and you’re figuring out who you are now. That takes a lot of strength and determination, even if there are moments when you might feel like it’s impossible to ever get through this rough part.”

“I don’t feel strong. I feel like things are improving until I hear David’s voice in my head or I catch myself doing something differently than I normally would because of how he trained me, for lack of a better word.” She doesn’t mind that Charlie is here, not since he helped her get through the visit to St. Mungos last week. It’s uncomfortable to discuss herself so much, and it makes her feel somewhat selfish, since she seems to think and talk about herself more than anything else lately, but she trusts Harry and Charlie more than most anyone.

Harry walks back to the sofa and sits beside her. “It hasn’t even been a month since you left, Hermione. You’re doing amazingly, considering everything. Better than I’d have ever done if I’d been in your shoes.”

Charlie sits on the other side of her and pats her leg awkwardly, as if he’s unsure whether she’ll accept the friendly gesture or not. “It probably sounds stupid, but it really is taking every day at a time. Eventually, you’ll stop thinking of your progress in terms of days and then you’ll stop thinking about it as progress at all. You’ll just be living.”

She leans against Harry when he puts his arm around her shoulders. It’s comforting being here, and she’s glad that she came back because she honestly isn’t sure if she’d be doing this well back in Perth. “Promise?” she asks quietly.

“Yeah, I promise.” Charlie pats her again.

“And he doesn’t make promises lightly, so he really means it,” Harry adds before he kisses the top of her head. “It’ll get better. You just need to stop blaming yourself and worrying every time it gets bad.”

“I don’t like when it gets bad,” she admits. “It makes everything good seem unimportant.”

“There’s gonna be bad, Hermione. That’s just part of it. I still sometimes have bad moments about my injuries, and that was five years ago. You just can’t let those defeat you or you’ll never get anywhere,” Charlie says.

Before she can say anything, Harry’s stomach growls. Charlie snorts, and Harry snickers, which lightens what has become a rather emotional moment. She welcomes the distraction because she has a lot to think about. “Did you skip lunch again?” she asks Harry.

“No, I had a sandwich at my desk. Well, part of one. It was a busy day.” Harry squeezes her shoulder. “But I think that’s a sign that we should lay off you and stop practicing our amateur psychology. A few books don’t really make us experts, but I just hate not being able to do more.”

“You do more than you realize,” she tells him honestly. “Amateur psychology and all.” Instead of getting up to go downstairs to fix dinner, they just sit there for a while. She listens to Harry answer Charlie’s questions about his day and does her best not to think, for at least a few minutes.

April 4, 2009
The party is slightly overwhelming, but not nearly as much as Hermione expects. It’s for George’s birthday, so she anticipated large crowds and loud noise. As it is, there are maybe two dozen people, most familiar faces despite eight years of aging, and it doesn’t feel like being surrounded by strangers at all. She’s glad that she decided to attend, since she didn’t know if she would or not until shortly before Charlie and Harry left the house. It isn’t particularly easy to be here, old friends or not, but she’s managing pretty well.

Of course, that could be partially due to the fact that she hasn’t been left alone since they arrived. If Harry isn’t with her, Charlie is. If Charlie and Harry are busy, Ron’s around. If not, then Parvati is there for her. She isn’t sure if they all discussed it or not, since it might just be natural for them to be underfoot, but she can’t help but think they’re trying to protect her. It’s a comforting gesture, and it’s probably part of the reason that she feels more confident than she figured she would earlier. When someone tries to hug her in greeting, she can take a step back without it seeming as weird as it would if she were on her own, though she knows that it’s probably still strange that she’s avoiding a hug.

She hasn’t been able to be very social. Instead of being in the center of the group, she lurks around the edge away from most people. This actually isn’t much different than before, though, because she has never been fond of crowds or attention. She doesn’t feel like she’s not part of the group, which means a lot. It feels important to be here, to know that she had the nerve to come despite everything, and she’s enjoying the opportunity to see old friends.

That surprises her, because she’s deliberately avoided Diagon Alley until recently because she didn’t want to risk running into anyone she knew. Now, she feels a bit silly for that fear. She’s amongst friends, even if she hasn’t seen many of them since their school days, and she doesn’t feel vulnerable being here. It’s somewhat awkward when someone asks how Australia was or mentions hearing about ‘her new man’, as if she’d ever had an old one for comparison. Her relationship with Ron had been too brief to really count, but she’d rather discuss that than think about David. Fortunately, most people seem to make polite chit chat before moving on to other groups.

“You look like you could use this.”

She looks over at George as he holds out a glass. Harry and Charlie are on guard duty, and neither of them seem too thrilled to see George trying to give her something to drink. Before they can interrupt, she nods at the bottle of water that she’s holding. “I already have something, but thank you.”

“It’s a party, Hermione. No water allowed. I can’t believe this one actually let you in here with that,” George mutters as he motions towards Charlie.

“This one thinks that people should drink whatever they want,” Charlie says as he rolls his eyes. “Besides, do you really think she’s stupid enough to accept anything from you that requires her to eat or drink it?”

“Yeah, she hasn’t been gone that long,” Harry adds. “I wouldn’t even accept that glass, and she’s smarter than me.”

It’s probably not the right time to correct Harry and tell him it should be ‘I’, so she remains quiet. George thrusts out his lower lip in an exaggerated pout, which makes her smile slightly. “Sorry, but he’s right. I know better than to drink that.”

“It’s just butterbeer,” George says. “Promise. I just figured you might have missed it when you were off in Australia. They don’t have it there, do they?”

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I’m still drinking this, but I’ll let you know if I get a craving later. Then I’ll watch you open a new bottle and pour it before I’ll drink it.”

“While she’s holding the glass, so you can’t slip anything into it,” Charlie continues, winking at her before he takes a drink of his beer.

“Ouch. The lack of trust hurts,” George tells them, holding his hand over his heart as he makes a face that she assumes is supposed to be dramatic but looks more like he’s got gas. He waits a moment before he sighs. “Not gonna work, is it?”

“No, sorry,” she tells him. It’s really good to see him again, especially since he was still grieving for Fred when she left for Australia. However, she still doesn’t plan to drink or eat anything that he gives her, especially not when Harry’s mentioned George experimenting with new products.

“Fine.” George looks around and grins. “Boot. Didn’t see you arrive. Here, have a butterbeer.”

Terry Boot looks confused but slowly walks over. “Oh, uh, thanks.” He accepts the glass and looks at it. “Did you do anything to it?”

“Nah. You’re practically family. Would I do anything bad to family?” George looks over and waves at Parvati and Padma.

“Yes,” Terry says simply before he smells the liquid in the glass. He glances over at her and smiles. “Hello, Hermione. Padma told me that you were back. For good or just visiting?”

“For good,” Harry answers for her. “Now that we’ve got her back, we don’t plan to let her go away again.”

“You and Padma are together?” she asks curiously. She’s a little surprised, though she doesn’t really know why. Maybe it’s because she never noticed an attraction between the two of them when they had all revised for NEWTs together. There hadn’t been a large group who had returned to Hogwarts after the war, so they had spent a lot of their time together during that ‘eighth’ year.

“For a couple of years now.” Terry smiles. “We’re not planning on getting married anytime soon, but we do live together, much to her mother’s horror.” He lowers his voice. “Are you doing all right? I heard that you were at St. Mungos because of an accident, but I wasn’t sure what happened.”

“An accident?” George looks up from the glass that he’s been staring at. “Is everything okay? Ron didn’t mention that you’d been hurt.”

It takes her a moment to remember that Terry works at St. Mungos. Did he read her chart? It’s supposed to be private, not that she told the healer the truth about her injuries anyway. He and George look concerned, and she can see Harry giving Charlie a look that she can’t quite read, which is oddly disconcerting because she used to know all of Harry’s looks and didn’t need to speak to him for them to have a conversation.

“It looks like Padma wants you, Boot,” Harry says, obviously lying because a glance over at Padma shows her talking animatedly to Parvati.

She takes a sip of her water and shifts uncomfortably. She lowers her gaze and stares at their feet as she tries to figure out what to say. It’d be easy to lie, to make some vague accident up and dismiss it as nothing. If they had asked her last week, she would have done exactly that. Now, though, she finds it difficult to do that, which is confusing. Her stomach rolls as she thinks quickly, trying to analyze everything despite knowing that she needs to speak or things will become strained and weird.

“I’m fine,” she says finally. It’s the truth, because she does feel better now than before. It’s irritating that they think it’s an accident, she realizes. All night, she’s been lurking on the edge of the crowd, not even able to hug anyone because she can’t help but think about David and his jealousy and that awful night when he forced her. No one here is safe, not like Harry and Ron and Charlie have become, and she’s hesitant about touching them, even casually. Why is she letting David take that from her? Why is she protecting him by not being honest?

“She broke her arm, but it’s all healed now,” Charlie elaborated. “So, nice crowd here, old man.” He makes a poor attempt at changing the subject, but she appreciates the effort because she’s trying to figure out her conflicting emotions.

“I’m your younger brother, I’ll remind you, older man.” George clears his throat and looks at her. “Glad it’s all healed, at least.”

She nods slowly. “Me too.” She looks at Harry then back at George and Terry. “It wasn’t an accident. My boyfriend…he did it.” She blinks when she realizes what she’s said and feels nauseous.

“Hermione?” Harry touches her shoulder and looks concerned.

“It’s…okay.” She puts her hand on her belly and counts to ten as George and Terry stand there looking at her in shock. “I said it and the world didn’t stop spinning,” she murmurs, giving Harry a grateful smile before she straightens her shoulders. Harry had told her that she was brave, that she was a good role model for other women in the same situation, and she suddenly realizes that maybe he’s right. It feels almost like a load is off her shoulders just from telling George and Terry the truth. She looks at them and hopes that they don’t feel uncomfortable.

“Your boyfriend did it?” George frowns. “A broken arm? He broke your arm?”

“I, uh, maybe I should go find Padma,” Terry says hesitantly.

“You can go,” she tells Terry quietly. “I don’t know why I said it. This isn’t the right place or time.”

“Yes, it is,” Charlie says. “There is no wrong time, Hermione. This is when it came out, so this is right.”

Terry shakes his head. “I didn’t mean…this is just private, for you, and I didn’t want to stay if you’d rather me go.”

“He hurt you?” George is still staring at her. “That’s why you’re back?”

She looks at him and nods. “Yes. For years, and I…I let him,” she whispers. Her act of bravery now feels foolish because she isn’t sure what to do now that she’s blurted it out to them. Before she can figure it out, George is hugging her tightly.

“If you’re planning to track him down and hurt him, I’m in,” he says to Harry, tightening his embrace momentarily before letting her go. He looks down at her and sighs. “I’m glad you didn’t drink the butterbeer. It had a new laughing potion that I’m trying out.”

“Wait. You said it was clean,” Terry says. He puts the glass down on the nearest surface and wipes his hands on his jeans. “I’m sorry for bring up St. Mungos, Hermione. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you.”

“Bloody prat should be sorry,” Harry mutters just loud enough for her to hear it. It doesn’t seem that Terry has, but he leaves soon after, so she isn’t sure. He looks at her. “You all right?”

“Yes, I am.” She is, oddly enough, and she doesn’t even care that Terry ran away or that George is now plotting a trip to Australia to hunt down David. When Charlie starts adding various curses they can use when finding him, however, she gives them a worried look. “David’s not in Perth anymore.”

“Eh, we’ll find him,” George says confidently. “Harry’s brilliant at tracking, you know? Bet Ron will go with us, and Bill will if Fleur lets him. Might even get Percy, in case we need an uptight arse to deal with the local Ministry.”

“I promised Hermione that I wouldn’t go after him,” Harry admits. He brightens. “But I never said anything about not helping someone else.”

“That’s the past,” she tells them. “I was able to take care of him myself, and I won’t speak to any of you again if you go to Africa.”

“Africa? And his name is David?” George looks at Harry. “You’ve met him, yeah?”

“Yeah, I did, the fucking wanker.” Harry scowls. “Are you sure we can’t go, Hermione? We just want to do something, since we weren’t able to keep you safe from him.”

“I’m a grown woman, Harry. I couldn’t keep myself safe from him, so this isn’t your fault.” She touches his arm. “You’re keeping me safe now, and that’s what’s important. I just told two people the truth. That’s because of you, all of you. I still can’t really believe that I admitted it, but it felt…good.”

The hunt for David seems forgotten as Charlie leans closer. “That took a lot of courage, you know? Even now, to be standing there and not trying to hide or take it back? You’re brilliant.”

“I won’t mention it to anyone,” George promises. “It’s your personal business, like Boot says.”

“Thank you.” She shifts from one foot to another. “I don’t have any intention of mentioning it in casual conversation, but I think maybe it’s better to stop hiding it. It’s just protecting him, in a way, and keeping me in a fearful place where I feel ashamed of myself. Talking about it doesn’t really change anything, but I shouldn’t let him keep having power over me, even if it’s by omission.”

“Yeah. Whatever it is you just said, I agree, except the feeling ashamed part,” Harry says. “Admitting it is part of that whole healing process the one book was talking about, too, so it means you’re doing really good.”

She has to smile. “Do I sound like that whenever I start quoting from books?”

“Like what? Intelligent and observant, like me?” Harry grins and squeezes her shoulder. “You always sound smarter, I’m sure.”

“All right. Enough of all this serious stuff. This is my birthday party, so we should be out there making people do stupid shite and be silly instead of standing in the corner,” George announces. “Hermione, you’re in charge of finding an appropriate test subject for that laughing potion. You look trustworthy, so no one will ever suspect you.”

“I--“ She trails off before she can tell him that she doesn’t want to leave the quiet corner where she can just watch without having to be social. She looks at the ground and bites her lip as she thinks for a moment before she looks back up. “I see Neville over there, and he might forgive me for tricking him.”

“That a girl.” George beams as he hands her the glass that Terry set down. “Potter, you and my elderly brother are in charge of passing out the Belching Bon-Bons.”

“I can help Hermione.” Harry looks at her then back at George.

“Hermione’s a big girl. She can go talk to Neville without a bodyguard. Besides, we’ll all be here if she needs us.” George motions them away before he smiles at her. “It’s good to have you back, even if I wish the circumstances were better.”

She returns his smile, grateful that she’s got a chance to deal with this party on her own. As much as she appreciates Harry and the others for protecting her, she knows that she needs to stand on her own two feet, even if she stumbles or falls sometimes. She leans up and brushes a quick kiss against George’s cheek. “It’s good to be back.”

April 8, 2009
The interview has gone really well. Despite that, Hermione’s surprised when she receives an offer before it concludes. The elderly wizard who runs the secondhand shop isn’t impressed by her name and doesn’t care about the war, which are both positives in her opinion, and the salary is more than she expects for clerking in a bookshop. Instead of analyzing it, she accepts. It’s only temporary, after all, because she does plan to eventually get a job that isn’t running a till, and she likes the quiet little shop. It’s located in what appears to be a rundown storefront on Charing Cross, near the Muggle shop that she got an application for, so she likes the area, too.

After she leaves the shop with instructions to begin working on Monday, she can’t help but smile. It feels like such a huge step, to have a job now, and she’s relieved that she’s excited about it instead of scared. The fear will probably come on Sunday night when she starts to worry about everything under the sun, but, for now, she’s happy. It’s nearly lunch time, so she makes her way to Diagon Alley, where she’s meeting the boys for lunch. She wonders if she should still call them boys when they’re in their late twenties or, in Charlie’s case, in his mid-thirties. It doesn’t really matter, she decides, because there’s a part of her that will likely consider them her boys even when they’re old and wrinkled.

London is crowded today. She’s been reading about the various political demonstrations in the Muggle newspaper along with accounts of a visit by the American president. She doesn’t really understand the logic behind American politics, not that politics in any country really make that much sense. She’s been trying to catch up with events from the wizarding world since she left for Australia, and it doesn’t seem to matter that Kingsley is a good Minister because there are still problems that need fixed. Nine years later, and she’s still reading about similar cases and issues that haven’t changed. Maybe she should talk to Harry about inviting Kingsley over for dinner one day. While she has no interest in returning to work at the Ministry at this time, she would like to see him and hear about his work.

When she enters the Leaky Cauldron, she finds a table for them and sits down. She’s early, so she’ll have to wait. Her mum will be excited to hear about her new job. She’ll write to her as soon as she gets home, since she owes her a letter anyway, and let her know about the bookshop and how well she’s doing. Because she is doing well, even if it sometimes feels like small steps on a long road.

She sees Harry step out of the floo and reminds herself not to smile in any way that might indicate she has just managed to get a job. Ron is next followed by Charlie. They see her and come over to join her, taking chairs at the table and reaching for menus before they’re even seated. “Good afternoon,” she says in her most ‘I don’t have good news’ voice.

Ron grins. “Been waiting long?”

“Everything okay?” Harry asks. “You look weird.”

“You’re not supposed to tell a woman that she looks weird,” Charlie mutters as he gives Harry a look.

“Even if she does?” Harry rolls his eyes. “Hermione’s not into all that lying to protect her vanity shite. She looks pained, so I want to know if she’s all right. It’s a best friend’s duty.”

“I don’t look pained,” she says, frowning at Harry before she looks at Ron. “Not long. I got here early.” She smiles expectantly before she realizes that they don’t know about David’s habit of being prompt.

“Have you had a good morning, Hermione?” Charlie asks before he browses the menu.

“Yes, thank you. It’s been very good.” She glances down at the table and hopes that she didn’t actually bounce in her seat because that’s just silly. It’s a job, which is good, but it isn’t as if she’s been hired for something more than working a till and stocking books. She likes working in a bookshop, though, so maybe it isn’t as silly as she thinks.

“Very good?” Harry asks. “Did Kreacher finally let you do your own laundry?”

“No. He continues to refuse, even after I’ve explained my preference to do it myself,” she says, wondering if her life has become so boring that Harry considers doing laundry acceptable for a description of very good.

“Well, he’s always had a fondness for frilly knickers,” Ron says, snorting with laughter before he can even finish his sentence.

She makes a face at the thought of Kreacher and knickers. “That isn’t funny, Ronald.”

“I don’t know. I thought it was pretty funny,” Harry says. “Just be careful and let me know if you start missing any of them.”

“Can we please not discuss my knickers at lunch?” She shifts in her chair and wonders why she’s friends with such juvenile boys. And here she’d just been wondering if she should call them men. Obviously not.

“Okay. We’ll wait for dinner.” Harry snickers when she glares at him. It’s tempting to hex him, something small but potentially painful, but she doesn’t. He seems to realize that he’s causing her to run through a list of hexes in her mind because he pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and stops laughing. “I mean, right. No discussion of frilly anything. Ever.”

She can’t help but smile at having managed to be threatening. It’s been so long since she’s felt like someone might be scared of her, and, oddly enough, she’s missed that feeling. Does that make her a horrible person? She might have to ask Harry sometime. Not now, because she’s enjoying the moment, but later.

“I think I’m getting the roast,” Charlie says thoughtfully.

“For lunch?” Harry shakes his head. “I think that’s too heavy for me on a work day. I can’t go back to my office and nap after overeating.”

“Wimp.” Charlie winks at Harry as he closes the menu.

“Roast sounds good. Think I’ll get it, too.” Ron nods. “Harry, there’s a dainty little side salad that might be good for you.”

“Bugger off,” Harry mutters as he throws a packet of sugar at Ron. “We’ll see who has the most productive afternoon: me when you’re lazing around your office snoring.”

“I got a job,” she tells them, knowing that she’d better interrupt now before Ron and Harry start bickering about productivity in the office. It works because they stop talking and gawk at her.

“A job? Did you accept George’s offer?” Ron asks excitedly. “I know he could use the help with his potions.”

“She can do better than that,” Harry says. “She’s working at the Ministry, aren’t you? Did you contact Kingsley then?”

“If you both shut your gobs, she might tell us,” Charlie points out.

She doesn’t want to tell Ron that George’s offer, while appreciated, was definitely out of pity instead of need. If George does need assistance, she can always brew without calling it a job. As for the Ministry, Harry will just have to deal. She gives Charlie a grateful smile before she says, “I’ll be a clerk at Tattered Pages, a secondhand wizarding bookshop on Charing Cross Road.”

“A clerk?” Harry blinks. “Like, running a till and helping people find books?”

“That’s what a clerk usually does.” Ron looks at her and smiles. “It sounds smashing. You worked in a bookshop before, yeah?”

“I did, and I really enjoyed it.” She’s relieved that Ron doesn’t seem to mind, but she’s slightly worried at Harry’s reaction. Does he not approve? “The wizard who runs it seems very nice, so I think I’ll like working there for now.”

“Congratulations,” Charlie tells her. “I didn’t even know you’d applied anywhere yet. Good on you.”

“But…Hermione, it’s taking money from customers. You’re too smart for something like that.” Harry looks confused. “Why aren’t you aiming any higher than that? I’m not going to make you pay me rent or anything, so you don’t have to take the first thing that comes along.”

“You sound obnoxious,” she says quietly. “Too smart for that? It’s a perfectly respectable job, and I like books a lot. Besides, I enjoyed my business class that I took, so this is interesting to me. I see no reason to feel too good to work in a shop. It’s not academic, but it’s what I’m ready for at this time.”

“Our brother runs a till in a shop, and he’s not inferior,” Ron reminds Harry as he motions to Charlie. “Sure, she could probably do anything that she wants, but what she wants right now is to work in a bookshop, so you shouldn’t be such an arse about it.”

“I didn’t mean--“ Harry sighs in frustration. “I’m just surprised, okay? I’m happy for you, Hermione. Really, I am. I think it’s great that you’ve got a job. That’s a huge thing, isn’t it? Regardless of where you’re working. I just…I was worried that maybe you didn’t feel like you could do something better.” He runs his fingers through his hair. “He didn’t like you working at all, you know? I just thought maybe…” He shrugs.

“Oh.” She glances at the table and frowns as she considers what he’s just stammered before she looks back at Harry. “It’s not because of David. I want to work there. It’s not going to be permanent, though. I know that it’ll be temporary, until I know what I want to do with myself and feel ready to do it.”

“Okay. Good. That it’s not because of that bastard.” Harry reaches across the table to squeeze her hand. “I can’t believe you had an interview and didn’t even tell us. This’ll mean a celebration tonight, of course. Dinner out somewhere posh.”

“You buying?” Ron asks. “If so, I’ll owl Parvati after lunch and tell her to get rid of the kids for a couple of hours.”

“Oi! Get rid of them? Those are my godchildren you’re discussing,” Harry mutters. “Just for that, forget posh. We’ll do some family place so they can come along. They need to meet their aunt Hermione anyway. If you’re ready for that?” He looks at her. “If you’re not, that’s fine.”

She feels slightly uncomfortable with how he phrases the question. She hasn’t met Ron’s children yet, but it isn’t because the thought of children takes her back to that night and David’s attack. She’s been able to deal with that over time, so it’s the only reason. Mostly, Ron usually drops by on his lunch break, so his children aren’t with him. It hasn’t really been due to her personal issues for weeks.

“Harry,” Charlie starts before he shakes his head. “Nevermind. Hermione, forgive him. He’s young and doesn’t realize he can be a prat sometimes.”

“What? What did I do?” Harry looks worried. “I didn’t mean anything.”

“It’s all right. I know you didn’t. I just…you made it sound like I haven’t met them because of everything that’s happened with David.” She smiles wryly before she looks at Ron. “I’d love to meet them.”

“They’d love to meet you, too.” Ron smiles before he looks thoughtful. “You know, I think we should make a declaration to call him That Bastard so that we don’t tarnish the good name of Davids all over the world,” he muses. “TB for short? Isn’t that a Muggle disease?”

“Yeah, it is. I think that’s a good suggestion, little brother. Should we take a vote?” Charlie grins when she gives him a scolding look as Harry and Ron both raise their hands. “Sorry, Hermione. Three against one. Majority rules.”

“So, this new job, will you get discounts?” Harry asks curiously. “What hours are you working? Will someone be working with you all the time? Does it have Floo access?”

“Yes, various, maybe, yes,” she says. “But I’ll probably walk and take the tube most of the time. I want to get out more, to push myself a bit, and that’s an easy way.”

“If you work late, Charlie or I can meet you to escort you home,” Harry says firmly. “Not trying to annoy you, but London at night isn’t necessarily the safest place for anyone, much less pretty women. Blame it on the Auror in me, if you want.”

“That’s always his excuses for being an overprotective, overbearing arse,” Ron confides in a loud whisper. “It’s taken him years to stop whinging at me if I didn’t owl him after I got back from every assignment.”

“That’s because you’re conditioned to do it now without him having to whinge.” Charlie snorts. “Don’t look at me like that,” he tells Harry. “I happen to like your overbearing arse.”

“It’s a nice arse.” Harry winks at her as Ron starts making gagging noises. He leans over and kisses Charlie quickly, which makes Ron whinge even louder. “I’m not the only one who whinges, Ron,” he points out when he settles back in his chair.

“Oh, please. That’s not fair. He’s my brother, which means there are boundaries to what I want to know or see when it comes to that private stuff.”

“Sex. The word is sex,” Charlie supplies helpfully, grinning when Ron turns red.

“I know the bloody word, Charlie. But I’m not going to say it when it involves you and Harry.” Ron looks at her hopefully. “You don’t feel comfortable when they’re being all kissy kissy and talking like that, do you?”

In all honesty, she isn’t feeling awkward. The kiss was very brief and perfectly acceptable for a public place, and they aren’t really talking about anything very private. They’ve obviously learned how to embarrass Ron without being crude, though she figures they’re being more respectful right now because she is sitting here.

“I don’t necessarily feel uncomfortable,” she admits. “However, we should probably order our food before you all have to go back to work or you might not have time to eat.”

“Right. Food. Food is good. Let’s get food and not do kissy kissy stuff anymore,” Ron says as he stands up. “I’ll go place orders. Charlie, come with me. What do you want, Hermione?”

“I’ll take the chicken salad, please,” she says, watching him and Charlie walk to the bar. There’s a short queue waiting to order, but the wait doesn’t seem too long. She looks at Harry and smiles when he begins asking more questions about her new job, wondering if he’s even aware that he sounds as if he’s investigating the place for a crime. He’s interested, though, which means a lot, so she doesn’t mind answering him.

April 24, 2009
Hermione can’t believe that she’s already been working for two weeks, much less that she’s been there long enough to receive a paycheck. It’s only for one week, but it’s more than she’s made at one time since she worked for the Ministry right after school. Her next check will be roughly double, because it’ll be for a full two weeks, and she’s pleased to see that she’ll be able to save money more easily than she had thought. Since Harry refuses to accept payment for letting her live with him, her money is mostly her own, which is slightly overwhelming after years of being dependent on David for everything from shampoo to new shoes.

It’s Friday, and she’s worked an early shift, so she has time to stop by Gringotts before going home. It’s odd being back in the bank, and a few of the goblins seem to recognize her if their glares and mutters are any indication. It’s been more than ten years since the war, and she doubts they glare at Harry whenever he comes in, but he didn’t try to open communication with the Ministry and the goblins like she did, so perhaps that’s why. She ignores the muttering as she waits in the queue, but she thinks back to her proposals after Hogwarts and wonders if anyone has managed to create a better dialogue with them over the years.

That thought is added to a growing list of them. As she becomes more settled into her life, she finds herself wondering about things that she used to, about inequality and fairness and magical creatures and witches. It’s funny how something as simple as questioning Harry about the Auror Department’s attitude towards rape victims can make her feel like she’s found another of those missing pieces of herself. If she thinks of herself as a puzzle, she knows that it’s not complete yet, but it’s an easy way to feel as if she’s accomplishing something with every new day and personal discovery that she makes.

She dislikes gravy on mash now, for instance. When she was younger, she didn’t mind it at all. David had a fondness for gravy that resulted in her having to cook it so often, though, that she began to hate it merely on principle, yet she was always forced to eat it under his watchful eye. Now, she doesn’t have to eat anything that she doesn’t want to, which is how it should be but not how it’s been for years. She can’t help but continue to feel disgusted with herself at times for letting him control her and change her, even if Harry’s books tell that such self-hatred isn’t beneficial to her. It isn’t hatred, after all; it’s more of a disappointment that she can recognize these things now that she’s away but failed to notice when she was living through them.

Reaching the front of the queue prevents her from analyzing her behavior any longer. It’s not as if she won’t likely think about it a dozen more times, at least, before the end of the night anyway. It’s almost empowering to be able to see where she’s gone wrong, to see how she became the woman who arrived in London last month. She is no longer the same, but she’s also not the girl who left nine years ago. She’s still trying to discover who she is, which is proving to be interesting.

After she finds out that her vault is still open, despite not being used in ages, she’s happy. There’s not very much in it, but it means that she doesn’t have to go through the entire enrollment process to open another. She goes with the goblin to visit her vault and leaves part of her pay there. The rest, she takes with her so that she can pay for her own things without giving Harry or Ron an opportunity to take care of her bills. She appreciates their desire to help her, but they still seem to have trouble separating ‘helping’ from ‘overprotective’. Besides, every time that she’s able to do something for herself is a step away from David’s control. She can recognize that, which has to mean that she’s slowly getting better, even if she still slips sometimes.

When she leaves Gringotts, she stops by the supermarket. She feels like cooking tonight, to celebrate her first paycheck, so she walks down the aisles while trying to plan the perfect menu. She stops by the boxes of sugary cereal when she realizes that she’s thinking too much about perfect and not enough about celebrating. David isn’t here, so she doesn’t need to feel stressed about having every detail exactly as he wants. She deliberately picks up a box off sugary chocolate puffs that David would never have allowed her to eat and puts it in the trolley. It’s a silly act of rebellion, certainly, but it helps ease the butterflies that were beginning to flutter in her belly, so she doesn’t care.

She hasn’t really cooked since that night back in Australia, not a real meal that consists of more than a sandwich or opening a tin of soup, and she’s actually looking forward to it. She chooses to cook fish, which makes her feel a little uncomfortable as her mind drifts back to that final meal with David, but maybe that’s why she’s suddenly craving it after all these weeks. It’s silly to consider cooking fish to be facing a fear, but maybe she’s trying to replace a bad memory with a good one.

By the time she gets home, she has figured out what she’ll cook and worked on various ways to try to appease Kreacher when she insists on cooking tonight. He isn’t pleased when she tells him, which she expects, but she makes a deal that involves giving him permission to clean her room once in exchange for using the kitchen. Since she hasn’t let him clean her personal space since she moved in, he seems content with the exchange. Of course, she keeps her room very clean, but he doesn’t seem to care.

It’s surprisingly fun to get back into the kitchen. She doesn’t have the stress of worrying about every piece of food she cuts being to David’s satisfaction, so there’s a freedom that she hasn’t felt in ages. Once she has everything that needs to be made early cooking, she gets a glass of pumpkin juice and sits at the table. Harry’s left the Daily Prophet there, so she gets it and begins to read while waiting for him and Charlie to get home or for the next part of her cooking to need to be done, whichever happens first.

There isn’t a lot of news today, though she’s interested to read about donations being accepted to help the witches and wizards who were displaced a couple of weeks ago by the earthquake in Italy. She has been reading the Muggle newspaper every day because there seem to be so many terrible things happening all the time, but it’s good to see the Daily Prophet report about something that doesn’t just affect Britain. She has to wonder how the magical communities in America are doing with all the trouble over there, since it seems there is news of a new horrible killing spree or economic collapse every couple of days.

Whenever they invite Kingsley for dinner, she will have to ask him how the Muggle economy and natural disasters of late are affecting the magical communities throughout the world. While they like to keep hidden from Muggles, she can’t see how there wouldn’t be some impact on their world, even if it’s just minor. It’s something that she hasn’t really thought about before, but she finds herself curious about it. Maybe her boss has a way of acquiring foreign magical newspapers, so she can read those and see what they report. She’ll ask him on Monday.

She finds something in the middle of the Daily Prophet that makes her forget about political impacts and worldwide magical communities for the time being. There’s a photograph of Amos Diggory, whom she hasn’t seen since she left for Australia. They worked together during her time at the Ministry, so she reads the article to see why his photo is in the newspaper. As she reads, she feels angry and disgusted. It’s about the work of her former department in closing a crup fighting league, which has left dozens of abused and injured crups in their care. The owners have been arrested, at least, but the crups are left with no one to care for them, so there is a need for volunteers.

The idea of people training crups to fight each other to the death is so horrible that she can’t even fathom it. She’s heard of Muggles doing that with dogs, but she never thought that it’d be something this world tried to imitate. She wishes that the owners had fought arrest so they’d have been cursed for what they’ve done to those poor animals. After a moment, she stands and goes over to the counter to get a piece of parchment and a quill. She writes a quick note offering to volunteer and sends it off with Charlie’s owl.

Crups aren’t fond of Muggleborns, of course, but she refuses to just sit here and do nothing when she reads about such abuse. Her disgust has given way to anger again, and she closes the newspaper with a bit more force than necessary. As she does, the floo activates and Harry steps out, dusting ash off his robes as he steps aside to let Charlie through.

“Bloody hell, I’m glad it’s Friday,” he announces as he looks up at her. “I’m not on call this weekend, either, so I vote that we block the floo and ignore any post deliveries, too.”

“Something smells good,” Charlie says as he sniffs the air before focusing on Harry. “We can’t ignore the post, but I don’t care if you block the floo or not.”

“Oh, that does smell good.” Harry sniffs and smiles at her. “I don’t see Kreacher, so does that mean you’re responsible for that aroma?”

“Yes, I’m making dinner,” she says before she looks at Charlie. “What have you heard in the department about the crup fighting? I just saw an article in the Prophet about it, and I’ve sent an offer to volunteer to help out.”

“It’s pretty bad. The wizards running it kept the crups in tiny cages and trained them to fight to kill, neither of which are good,” Charlie says with a frown. “Amos is pretty overwhelmed with the sheer number of animals they discovered, so I’m sure he’ll appreciate the volunteer offer. There’s talk of another group doing the same thing in Ireland, but I don’t know if it’s been proven to be a rumor or something more yet.”

“I saw that article earlier,” Harry tells them as he shrugs out of his work robe. “That’s great that you’re volunteering to help, Hermione.” He looks as if he might say something else but closes his mouth instead.

“I might not be able to do much, but I have to try,” she says honestly. She sighs and shakes her head. “All right, I’ll try to stop thinking about that for now. I’m making dinner so we can celebrate my first paycheck, so I hope you’re both hungry. There’s probably too much food.”

“We’re men. We’re always hungry. Besides, he’s a Weasley, so there won’t be any leftovers.” Harry grins as he walks over and squeezes her shoulder. “I think a first check is a good thing to celebrate, especially if the food is as good as it smells.”

“Are you insinuating that Weasleys eat too much, Potter?” Charlie winks at her before he says, “I seem to remember it being a certain skinny arse non-Weasley who goes to the kitchen several times a night for snacks.”

“My arse isn’t skinny, so you must be thinking about someone else.” Harry pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “You’d better not be thinking about anyone else’s arse, though, Weasley, or we’ll have to talk.”

“It actually is rather skinny. Isn’t it, Hermione?” Charlie grins as he gets a bottle of beer from the fridge.

“It isn’t something that I’ve paid any attention to, so I’m afraid that I can’t give an opinion,” she informs them as she stands up to check on the fish. “However, Harry has always been skinny, so it’s not an unreasonable suggestion that certain parts of him might be skinny.”

“I’m right fit, thanks,” Harry mutters. “I might not have huge muscles like that one,” he motions towards Charlie, “but I’m bloody well fit. And my arse isn’t skinny.”

“Of course it’s not.” Charlie gives Harry a bottle of beer and is obviously fighting hard not to laugh. “Don’t pout, Harry. We’re celebrating Hermione, not worrying about your arse.”

“I’m not pouting, you git.” Harry walks over to join her. “If you need a taste tester, I can probably be forced into volunteering. It’d be a very difficult job, obviously, but I can make the sacrifice.”

“That’s very noble of you,” she tells him. “I’ll let you know if I need to accept your offer.”

“Did you need us to do anything?” Charlie asks, obviously letting his teasing of Harry drop for now. She’s getting used to their relationship, so she knows that it’ll likely start back up again later, only with Harry instigating it next time. They just seem to have that playful aspect to their relationship, which she can admire because she never had that with David, not even before things changed.

“The table needs set, but it won’t be finished for another fifteen minutes or so.” She tenses slightly as she realizes that she didn’t give an exact time, but neither Charlie nor Harry demand a more precise answer so she relaxes.

“Hmm. I think I’ll run upstairs and clean up first, then,” Charlie decides. “I’ll help set the table when I get back.”

“I can set the table,” Harry says. She hears the sound of kissing behind her and keeps her attention focused on the pan that she’s heating. She adds a piece of fish to the pan and listens to it sizzle. Harry leans back against the counter as Charlie runs upstairs. “Fish?”

She glances at him and notices the look of concern on his face. “Yes, fish. I had a craving,” she explains. She knows exactly why he’s looking at her that way, but it isn’t something that she really wants to talk about.

“All right,” he says after a moment. He ducks his head down and brushes a kiss against her cheek. “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I’m proud of you.”

“I’m proud of me, too,” she admits. She smiles at him to let him know that she didn’t take his compliment in a bad way. “Thank you, for everything.”

“I haven’t done anything, Hermione. It’s all you,” he reminds her. “I love you, you know?”

She nods slowly. “I know. I love you, too.”

He grins before he snorts. “Listen to us, being all emotional and shite. Ron’d take the piss out of us for sure if he could hear this.”

“We’ll have to be sure not to tell him then.” She smiles and looks back at the fish as he gets plates down from the cabinet to set the table. She cuts off a small piece of the fish and tries it, wanting to see if the flavors are any good. There’s something missing, but it takes her a moment to realize what.

It hits her hard, for just a moment, and she feels tense suddenly. Instead of letting it get to her, though, she stops thinking about David, about that night, about all of it, and she focuses on the present. She isn’t that scared woman anymore, and no one will ever control her in that way again. She might still be finding out who she is, but she already knows who she isn’t, which is the most important part of it all really.

She glances at Harry, who is setting the table and humming an old Weird Sisters song, before she looks back at the pan of fish. After taking a deep breath, she lets it out slowly then reaches for the container on the counter next to the stove. She’s being silly, she knows, and that realization seems to snap the tension that she’s feeling. She picks up the container and holds it over the pan, slowly smiling as she adds salt.