How to Go On
"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hermione awoke with a feeling of disorientation and possibly the worst case of cotton mouth she'd ever had. Admittedly, she felt better but refreshed wasn't a word she'd apply to herself just now. Her sleep had been much needed and blessedly free from specters, but it felt artificial somehow...medicated. Dreamless Sleep potion, she decided, didn't deliver the bliss implied in its name. Also, she had gone to bed still wearing the grime she'd acquired in the battle, and it was impossible to feel refreshed when one felt gritty. She didn't even want to know what her unkempt, bushy hair looked like, but it had been a while since she'd been fussed over much about something like that, so she tied it back by feel and headed down the hall to check on Harry and Professor Snape after brushing her teeth.
"Alright, Hermione?" Harry asked when he saw her.
"Better, thanks, Harry. How'd everything go? Any problems?" she asked.
"Just fine," he answered. "Still running a fever. No change really. I've managed spelling in the fluids and potions and things, but would you do the spelling out bit?"
Hermione felt Professor Snape's forehead with the back of her hand and ran a diagnostic charm. He was definitely still feverish, but not critically so. As she did the "spelling out bit" Harry told her that Kingsley had sent a note and was coming over to have dinner and talk with them in an about an hour.
"Mind if I grab a shower, Harry? I'm still wearing battle grit," she asked him making a face.
"Sure. I'll keep an eye on him." Harry looked around Grimmauld Place with more cheer than he'd ever done before. "It's still a bit dreary here, but it's loads better than the tent, huh? Actual showers. And a way to do laundry...and food. I managed a shower at Hogwarts but had to make do with a cleaning spell for these," he indicated his rather tattered jeans and jumper. "Why don't you drag all the clothes out of that beaded bag of yours and I'll have Kreacher clean them for us? Not that anything in there is much better, but still. We're gonna have to go shopping soon...especially for the funerals." Harry finished much more glum than he had begun.
"Shopping...Surreal, isn't it?" she asked Harry. "I mean yesterday...was that just yesterday?...and then today we're talking about shopping." Hermione smiled at him as she dug the clothes out of her bag and put them in a pile on the floor. "It's a good thing Harry...a sign that we won, and that however broken things are, good survived and we'll find our way back to normal. And I'll not complain about a list of things to do. I've the feeling that if I stop...If I have too much time on my hands...well, I'm afraid it'll all really catch up with me, and I can't afford for that to happen yet."
"I know what you mean," Harry said, giving her a look that spoke volumes of acknowledgment and acceptance. "Shopping, then. Good. Not my favorite thing...but good." They shared smirks and Hermione made her way to the shower with the least worn clothes she could scavenge from the beaded bag.
The shower was steaming hot and heavenly. The tent had what could technically be called a shower, but a tepid, misty, drip was the most it ever managed, and in a tent that was already chilly, they'd frequently opted for sponge baths and a hair wash in the sink. This shower felt wonderful, as if a year's worth of grime was washing away and spiraling its way down the drain. Unfortunately, the runnels of water cascading down her body didn't wash the trauma and painful memories away as well, but she stayed in long enough to give it a try anyhow. She might have, in fact, attempted to live beneath the muscle-massaging water had Kingsley not been expected.
Hermione finally forced herself to leave the shower and towel herself dry. Two additional applications of the cleansing charm notwithstanding, it was dissatisfying in the extreme to put on a pair of unlaundered, bedraggled clothes.
A familiar bald-headed black man with a gold earring was in the sitting room when Hermione made her way down the hall. He greeted her with a smile and a warm hug. Every embrace of the kind was an acknowledgment: I'm glad you're alive. In a way, it was too overwhelming...that beat of rest and acceptance that had been denied them for so long. But part of her also hoped the grateful embraces never stopped...she never wanted to take the blessing of a friend or comrade for granted again.
"Congratulations on your appointment, Kingsley," Hermione said. "We've needed someone good for so long now, and I'm so glad it's you. I worry for you - it's bound to be difficult with all there is to do and rebuild, but I can't think of anyone better for the job." Hermione raised her arm toward Severus, "My commitment is here for now, but I pledge you what help I can, if you need it."
Kingsley gave her a huge smile. "I'm honored and accept gladly, Hermione. Many have earned my thanks and regard, but you three, and it seems Severus, are at the top of the list. I pledge you my help and support as well. Whatever our public roles become, I hope to be counted among your friends in truth."
Hermione's smile was a bit watery. "That means a lot, Kingsley, thank you! I'm not looking forward to the public role playing one bit, but I'm grateful for your honest friendship."
Harry laughed. "Just so you know, friendship with Hermione entails a great deal of...um, keeping you on track on her part. We wouldn't have survived our first year or any of the last one without her, but we weren't always the most appreciative of her...um instructions."
Hermione gave him a wry look. "I've always known you have more tact than Ronald, Harry. Even his new and improved self would never have tried so hard to avoid the word 'nagging'."
Kingsley chuckled a deep laugh. "Those kinds of friends are the most rare and valuable, Harry. The ones who care about you enough to tell you the truth even when you don't want to hear it. I shall be doubly glad of that kind of friendship in the days and years to come."
"See, Harry. You're lucky to have me," she grinned. "I only hope I can convince him," she added more seriously as she checked over Professor Snape again.
Harry gave her a side hug. "Well, we'll just see what happens, won't we? I don't expect it'll happen right away, but if anyone can out-stubborn him, it's you."
Hermione finished running diagnostics, giving potions and mopping Severus' brow. She looked up at Kingsley and said, "Harry mentioned you were debriefing or something of the sort. Is that why you've come for a visit this evening?"
"It is. We're collecting everyone's stories to make sure we get an accurate picture of what happened...so we can remember, bestow honors, dispense justice, and take measures to prevent something like this from happening again. It's your stories I've been most anxious to hear."
Kreacher called them to dinner and after they'd chatted and eaten their fill, they began to talk in earnest. It was Harry that started it.
"Kings, you all knew Professor Dumbledore entrusted us with information and a task. Whatever guesses you came up with, no one except Dumbledore and we three know the full extent of it. We couldn't take the risk of Riddle figuring out what we were up to, the steps we were taking to make him mortal again, and the details of what he did could be just as dangerous in the wrong hands now. I trusted you with Severus and his memories before he's officially cleared, and now I'll trust you with everything else. I know you trusted Dumbledore's judgment, and I hope you'll follow his request for secrecy in this. You'll have the facts to help make decisions and can decide what to disclose and how. When he's ready, I'll entrust Severus with the same information...he was so integral with it anyhow...and I plan on telling Neville…I know he can keep it under wraps and I feel like he has a right to know, but that's as far as I think it should go."
Kingsley nodded gravely and took out parchment and a quill. "Some people reported hearing you say 'there are no more Horcruxes,' to Riddle in the final duel. It was Horcruxes, wasn't it? More than one?" he asked as if wishing to hear that he was wrong.
"Yes," Hermione said. "Seven of them."
"Seven!?" Kingsley exclaimed
"And I was one," Harry said.
"You..were...what?...how?" Kingsley asked weakly, dropping the quill.
"Do you have time for a long story? I think I should start at the beginning. Dumbledore spent all of his last year teaching me everything he knew about Riddle, showing me all the memories he'd collected. I'll start with what I know if you've the time."
"I think I'd better hear it," Kingsley said.
They settled in the sitting room. It took a long time, but they filled Kingsley in on everything they'd learned about Riddle and the Horcruxes, about Severus and the Marauders when they were in school, about Harry's relatives and all the adventures they'd had during their own school years, Professor Snape's true role in the scheme of things, their hunt for the Horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, and finally their actions during the last battle.
Kingsley looked wrung out and done in by all that he'd learned in the course of the evening. "I didn't know even half of that...see what you mean about not disclosing everything about the Horcruxes." He reviewed his notes, mumbling as he filled them in a bit. "I can't believe Dumbledore...and you were first and second years when the?...And the...time turner...and the cave, and the Hallows...how do we explain the Ministry and Gringotts without?"
Kingsley shook his head and his characteristic comforting and calm demeanor returned to him. "I'll say it again to anyone who asks: you three are heroes – the real deal - and have been for years. Everyone's going to be saying it anyhow; it's just too bad that most people won't ever know the true extent of it. We'll have to work out how to edit your statements of the last year, figure out what we should release to the public."
The look on Harry's face said plainly that his hero status could go unrecognized all together as far as he was concerned.
Hermione gave him a commiserating look and then scrunched her face. "I've thought about it, but it's a bit of a conundrum...how to explain some of what we did without the divulging too much about the Horcruxes. The best I could come up with was to be very vague about the specifics and fairly forthcoming with the broad gist. Enough detail to not be cagey, not detailed enough to give anyone an instruction manual. You know, say we were on a mission to gather information and counteract the steps Riddle took toward immortality without going into the specifics of what that information and those steps were. We could call the Horcruxes 'cursed objects' if we need to mention them at all."
"If anyone asks for more detail, say the Ministry has deemed the information dangerous and, therefore, classified. If anyone gets on the trail of the Horcruxes, acknowledge they were part of what was involved, but don't explain what they are or make it sound like it's the crux of the matter. Even the Death Eaters didn't know about them. Play up the Riddle aspect and some of what we learned of his past so everyone understands who he was and what led him down that path - that should further disenfranchise any remaining closet followers. Most of them don't have a clue about who he really was. Downplay the self-fashioned Lord Voldemort construct - deny him the god-like status he aspired to. What do you think?" she asked.
Harry and Kingsley both nodded. Kingsley said, "I believe you're right...going to need documented statements we can use, editing of Severus' memories and the right people in news dissemination," Kingsley rattled off as he jotted down a list.
"I'll work with you on writing our official statements if you wish," Hermione offered. "Maybe Harry could carry documents between us when you're unable to come here?"
"Sure," said Harry, "Sounds good."
When Kingsley had gone, Hermione stood by Harry. "You remember those old World War Two posters: Keep Calm and Carry On?" she asked. "Sometimes it's remarkable how much Wizarding Britain has in common with its Muggle counterpart, don't you think?"