Her mother nearly dropped the pan of muffins she was holding when she saw the scar, but that didn’t phase her; people always reacted that way.
“Hermione!” She said with a gasp, pointing to her daughter’s arm. “What on earth is that?”
She knew, though. Of course she knew what it was, she just didn’t want to believe the things she’d heard in hushed voices at the Weasley’s dinner last week. Or the fragments of story she’d heard from around a corner when she’d been to the castle with Hermione to see the graves of the fallen. She’d been let in on the condition that she’d not ask Hermione anything about her dead friends.
Looking up from the stack of plates she had been putting away, Hermione steadied herself and told her mother what she’d been telling people for weeks.
“It’s a slur.” She said. Her features would have been schooled into a careful mask of calm if she’d been telling the truth a year ago, but today Hermione was too tired. “It’s a racial slur wizards use to talk about people like me, and a madwoman carved it into my arm while I screamed and her friends looked on.”
Best just to give it to them straight, she’d learned. Nobody wanted to know but they always asked, so Hermione gave them their answers.
The look on her mother’s face was one, not of horror, but of hopelessness. It was like she’d only just come to realize what terrible things there had been on the other side of the curtain.
Hearing footsteps come into the kitchen from behind, Hermione turned to see her father walk in and lean against the doorframe with a hand over his mouth like he was trying to stop himself from crying.
In the end, Hermione just put the plate back on the stack with the rest of them and walked out the front door, leaving her parents in the kitchen with the cutlery and muffins.
“I had a speech prepared.”
“I know. I heard it.”
“I was going to try to make the war out to be something beautiful for them, something they could be proud of me for winning, but that wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair to Remus of Tonks or your mum and dad and my parents have never seen battle so if I sugarcoated things it would have been lying. And I didn’t want to lie.”
Hermione looked up at Harry with tears in her eyes, and he looked back with just about as much pain as one would expect.
“I’m sorry you have to relive it with them. I’m especially regretful that we all have to relive it when somebody wants to know why we left our childhoods behind. Some people still don’t know.”
“I know, I know. Can you believe that, Harry?” She asked, sniffling against her sleeve. “Some people still don’t understand why.”
“Once upon a time I’d have said that they were better off. Funny, that. How things change.”
Sometimes they wouldn’t leave the cushy, second-floor, den for days at a time. The few, and the last of the children who fought in the war.
Hermione would just lie there, on the floor, waiting for the day to come when she would have to lie to someone else about how ‘no, I never tortured anyone for information,’ or that ‘no, of course I never learned to kill on sight,’ ‘no, parts of me did not die with every person I killed.’
Conversely, Ron would pace, wearing a hole in the carpet with his inner monologue about how much his mother must hate him for the people he killed in cold blood. Usually, he’d do it until Harry got the scotch from the cupboard and convinced him to ‘bloody fucking sit down, Ron.’
A thousand years ago, Hermione would have done something like chastise them, but now she only had energy enough to stare at the ceiling and stop the tears that still threatened to flow.
Luna sometimes made it down the stairs from her third-floor bedroom to hold Hermione’s hand and lie on the floor with her, but mostly she just waited to cry until everyone else was asleep.
While the others wallowed in their den-room, Ginny just got mad. She got so mad sometimes that she would set fire to trees in the back yard just to watch them burn, and those were the manageable days.
On the unmanageable days, Ron would drink himself stupid, Harry would cry, Hermione would wish herself dead, and Ginny would yell at Luna for something silly, old and forgotten.
There were worse things than days like these, but nobody cared to move forward. Nobody could. Except for Neville, that was.
“Please, Hermione. Mrs. Weasley feels as though she’s lost all her children and it is absolutely killing her.” Neville said as he sat holding Hermione’s hand in the dusty kitchen of No. twelve Grimmauld place.
Looking further into the distance, Hermione ignored him.
At least he was trying.
“Please.” He said, taking her other hand. “Bill and Fleur have gone back to France, and Charlie’s gone to live with the dragons in Romania again. He said he couldn’t handle one more day of Molly looking at him like he’d died too, and he just left. She’s got nothing, ‘Mione. Just come to dinner, yeah?”
Hermione looked down at her hands in Neville’s, dry from the stale air, and then up the stairs to the second floor where Harry and Ron were sleeping. There was still dust on the walls, and an infestation of puffskeins in the library. Ages ago—a lifetime ago, it would have driven her mad.
“Okay, Neville. Dinner.”
When she finally got all of them out of the house, they made a dreadful picture, but for the first time since she told her mother about the scar on her forearm, she felt like she’d done something. Ginny had stormed out on them the day before, but she had been known to do that and Hermione wouldn't let it get her caught up.
“Ron, don’t forget your scarf.”
As they stood on the hill overlooking the Burrow, Luna came to stand close to Hermione, and said “One day, when this is all over, we’ll be free, like we always said we would be.”
Hermione turned her head to look into Luna’s deep, blue eyes, and then back out at the Burrow, and said “One day, we’ll be free.” She said it like a prayer.
“Oh! Ron, you look just dreadful, let me get you a cup of tea. And Harry, dear, why don’t you and Hermione take a seat in the lounge, I’ll just go put the kettle on.” Molly then turned to Luna and put a hand on her shoulder, looking at her, and then at Neville like she could see straight through them, and then she was back to the kitchen.
Harry and Ron shrugged at each other and went to sit down on the sofa, squishing Hermione between them, while Neville and Luna sat together on the loveseat closest to the kitchen.
“Getting a bit big for this, aren’t we?” Said Harry, with a grin.
The three of them barely fit on the couch anymore, but it had been theirs since they were young, and a thing of comfort to them.
Luna laughed, and Neville smiled a bit, looking just a little like himself. Ron chuckled and laced his fingers with Hermione’s. From the outside, things might well have looked cheerful. Almost.
“Hermione?” called a voice from the doorway.
Hermione started at her mother’s voice, and then looked at Neville accusingly.
“Hey! I didn’t know she was inviting other people! You know how she is, very devious when it comes to her family.”
“Oi!” said Ron.
“Well, she is!”
“She is, dear, it really can’t be contested.” Chimed Luna. “Also, Hermione, you’d better make up your mind about going to the door pretty soon because she’s going to find you sooner or later.”
“Right. Front room, here I go.” Said Hermione, with a hesitation set upon her face and in her hands.
“Coming Mum!” She said, and went.
“Do you think she’s invited anyone else, or just Hermione’s parents?” Asked Ron.
“I think it’s a safe bet, actually.” Said Harry. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she talked Ginny into coming, but there really isn’t anyone else.”
At the room’s sudden silence, Harry rushed to amend “Well, Bill and Fleur are in France, you know, and Charlie’s off to God knows where—“
“Romania, again.” Interjected Neville.
“— right, Romania, and if she’s gotten Mcgonagall to come I’ll eat my hat.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Said a voice from the corner.
“Mrs. Granger, it’s nice to see you.” Said Harry, turning to see her.
“Likewise, but please do call me Jane, you are all quite old enough now.” She said with a watery smile.
“Luna,” started Hermione, “I know you haven’t met my mother—“
“I have, actually.” Said Luna. At Hermione’s questioning look, she continued, “We met the night you came to stay at Grimmauld with us. I was here, having tea with Molly, and she came to see if you’d come to the Burrow.”
“Ah. Of course.”
A rather long silence followed, but they were saved from further empty minutes by Molly Weasley rushing back into the room with a plate of biscuits and a falsely cheery “Come, eat!”
The tea had been spectacularly awkward, though not completely devoid of conversation. As it turned out, Mcgonagall had indeed showed up, and just before dinner at that. Ginny had not, but nobody had expected anything less. When Ginny went away, she very much went away and was not to be looked for under any circumstances.
They ate mostly in stilted conversation, but it was something more alive than what they’d all been for the past few months. For that, Mrs. Weasley appeared to be enormously grateful.
After the sun went down, Mcgonagall and Mrs. Weasley stayed in the kitchen with Mrs. Granger to talk in hushed whispers over (more) fussy tea, and the rest of them went up to sit in Ron’s old room with the windows open. It was late August, and the air was still warm even after dark.
“I remember the rain.” Said Luna, to the room at large. At Harry’s questioning hum, she continued, “I remember the clouds that rolled in over us that night, after the battle at the ministry in our fifth year. They came only for a few minutes, just enough to get us soaked on our way back to the castle, but still, I remember them.”
“Why, Luna?” asked Hermione.
“It’s just like a dream when you’ve been fighting and then you're just not. Because it’s over, and you’re not fighting for your life anymore, and then something stupidly normal happens- it rains. I was almost offended.” Luna wiped her eyes on the hem of her shirt. “No, I was offended, and I nearly yelled at the sky because the world had kept on turning while we were in there.”
Luna was decidedly misty-eyed by the time she was finished, and Ron took her hand.
“I didn’t remember the rain, but I do remember the letter my mother sent me when she’d learned what had happened.” Said Ron. “It was tearstained, even though the words were angry. I think that’s when I knew. What was coming, I mean.” He said, gesturing widely. “I mean, we didn’t know until it hit us, but that’s when I realized that it was all over.”
Hermione looked a bit lost when she said “I keep wishing that we could change things, that we could go back, but every time I do, I just end up thinking of more horrible ways to watch it happen over and over again.” She said. Then, everyone was looking at her when she said “I thought about it, you know. Going back.”
“We broke them, though. We broke them all at the ministry that night.” Started Harry, with a question in his voice.
“But I never gave mine back.” She said. “Mcgonagall took it from me, but she sent back a rather convincing duplicate in place of the original. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to know, but I did, obviously. I think she might have wanted me to.”
“You destroyed it though, didn’t you?” Asked Neville.
“Yeah. I threw it, actually. Into the fire in the common room the night after the last battle. I was so angry at myself for even thinking of it.”
“Hermione,” started Ron.
“Don’t. Please, Ronald I can’t do it tonight, I’m just so completely empty.” Hermione was standing with one hand raised in front of her asking him to stop and Ron couldn’t press her. He was empty, too, after all.
It was Harry, then, who broke the silence.
“I still get nightmares.” He said, and Hermione looked back at him. “Not the ones you would think I’d get, of killing people in the last battle, but of Sirius.” Hermione sat down on the bed and let his words wash over her. “I don’t yell so much anymore, like I used to, but I wake up with this terribly unsafe feeling, like it’s not over yet. Like we’re still fighting. I think, sometimes, that I can’t remember a time without war. That I don’t know how to live without it.”
“There were times without war.” Said Ginny from the doorway. None of them had bothered to close it when they came in, and she’d come into the room quite silently.
It was a mark of how used to her they were that nobody drew their wands.
“Gin.” Said Luna, gesturing to the pillow beside her. She’d saved a place.
Ginny closed the door, walked over to sit with Luna, and continued, “We lived in wartime, but there were days, weeks even, without war. I remember the day in your sixth year, my fifth, that Gryffindor won a match and you kissed me and Ron just about lost his mind.”
“I did no such thing! I was very supportive.” Said Ron indignantly.
Giggling, Luna added “yes you did, you said you couldn’t even look at them, and you wouldn’t sit with them for three days.”
Hermione smiled, but she didn’t say anything, and Harry only grinned at Ginny.
“Like I said, Harry, there were days,” said Ginny, looking at him now, “there were days we could live.”
Jane Granger was not proud to admit that she’d stopped to listen at the sound of her daughter’s voice talking. She had, allegedly, been on her way to the restroom, but she didn’t like to lie to herself, so she didn't examine it to closely.
“I remember the sunshine.” She was saying.
Frozen in the hallway, Jane dared not move.
“I know it seems silly, but I remember that day we went out to the lake to study for that paper on mandrakes, Harry, you know the one?”
“Yeah, Hagrid was trying to get fang to play fetch with raw cow hide. He was scaring the first years.” Harry said with a laugh.
“Yes, that’s the one. It was perfect, that day. We sat under that tree we were so fond of, and I quizzed Ron on Herbology until he threatened suicide, and you made me stop by promising you’d make him finish the last six inches of the essay before if was due after the weekend.”
“Of course that’s what you remember, ‘Mione.” Ron teased.
Jane almost started at the sound of his voice, she’s been so wrapped up in Hermione’s words.
Hermione continued, “There was a bit that stayed with me long after we left— it was lying back onto the grass, looking up at the clouds, and thinking that it was the most beautiful day I’d ever seen. It was perfect. The sun was warm and we were together and it was everything, but I knew, then. I knew that it wasn’t forever.” Hermione sounded so sad that Jane almost burst through the door, but she refrained.
“I know the feeling.” Said Luna.
At that, Jane’s heart almost broke.
“How did she take it, when you told her?” Asked Neville. “Your mother, about that night at Malfoy Manor.”
“I haven’t actually told her.” Said Hermione.
“I thought you said-“
“I know. About the scar. It was all I could manage, really.” Sighing, she added, “I don’t know that I ever will tell my parents about those things. They could never really understand, so what good would it do for them to know? They don’t—“ Hermione stopped, at a loss for words.
“They don't know what it’s like to lose yourself to the enemy.” Finished Luna.
“Right.” said Harry and Hermione at the same time.
“The people on the outside will never know, and I don’t think we can let them in. Survivors guilt doesn’t cut it; they can’t know what any of this is like.” Said Ron.
“I can’t ever make my mother understand what it’s like to come unhinged.” Said Hermione, becoming just hysterical enough to sound completely hopeless. “We killed people in cold blood. We killed them and died over and over again with them and people like us can't go back. That’s why I didn’t do it. I threw it in the fire and watched it die, too and told myself that it would be the last time I killed anything.”
“Threw what, ‘Mione?” Asked Ginny.
“The Time-Turner.” Said Harry.
“Oh.” Said Ginny, with confusion. After a moment— “OH. oh. right, mhmm, the Time-Turner.” She said, understanding.
Jane had begun to feel somewhat out of her depth, but she wanted to know. She wanted to learn the things her daughter thought she could not know. She felt heavy under a pile of guilt for staying as long as she had, but she did end up staying just long enough to hear Hermione say, after a long silence:
“It’ll weigh heavy on my mind, I think, until the day I die— this life we’ve lived.”
The last thing she heard before she tiptoed away was a resounding chorus of “yeah,” “mhmm,” and tired sighs.