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Chapter 1: 1. Internal
Her soul felt fractured. Clinging to the last shard of dismal reality, she rolled over in bed. Sleep would not come easy tonight.
She absentmindedly massaged her left breast, hoping the strange pinch was just heartburn. It passed slowly, as it had before.
A hot cup of tea and twenty minutes later, she went to her bathroom to repeat her nightly ritual.
Pee-wash hands-brush hair-brush teeth-
Always from left to right, in all situations.
Routine held law and… predictable comfort. Outcome same?
Cursing the feeble strands of light that fought their way into the room, she struggled to sit up. Today she would have to check in with her friends. She had put off talking with anyone as much as possible over the last week. Tired of being told that solitude was unhealthy, she shook her head in utter frustration and forced herself to her feet. A long shower- in solitude was healthy.
She dressed in faded, holey jeans, a gray tank and well-worn black boots. Her hair pulled back in a ponytail, she blew off any makeup like it was a rebellious statement. She dressed in solitude- cursed and kicked at the door. Alone-
“I’m sorry! Throwing a temper tantrum and not hurting anyone’s feelings because I don’t want to see them!” she kicked at the wet towel on the bathroom floor, “Is perfectly healthy!”
Staring mutely at some unknown space between herself and the people walking by, she waited for Harry to join her. The café was generally unpopulated and the patio was pleasant. Gripping the coffee cup in both hands, she sipped and lightly swung her foot like a metronome. The scuffing sound, kept her mind in that still, calm blank, eyes unfocused.
He sauntered up to her, breaking her reverie and promptly kissed her forehead.
“Hullo, fine morning!” he sighed as he flopped in the opposite chair.
Her smile was genuine and she was relieved that she was glad to see him.
“Hello, Harry. Bloody peaceful, I hope it lasts.”
He grinned and reached for her hand across the table, “This… sudden…” he pulled back gently, “I don’t mean to lecture, but this… thing, you have against crowds and people lately… Well I just worry, is all. I don’t mean to-”
She cut him off by waving a hand in the negative, “I know, I know. It’s just my mind is so full, I’d rather not feel so vulnerable under a great deal of eyes… Analyzing me, judging.” she paused.
He sat straighter, silent so he could let her finish.
“I’m guilty of doing just that to others. Heh!” she grinned slightly, “I suppose I’m paranoid.” she shook her head, still grinning.
He reached for her again and carefully laced his fingers with hers, smiling gently.
“No, it sounds normal to me. If there is such a thing for the likes of us.”
This made them both smile and she gripped his hand tighter in thanks. He stood and moved his chair around the table so that he was right next to her. She let her head fall on his shoulder when he placed a firm arm around her.
The waitress came and brought him some coffee and asked if they needed anything else.
“A frontal lobotomy for me!” she quipped, making Harry laugh. The waitress looked at them as though they were completely nutters and walked away, looking indignant.
“Witches! They know nothing!” he joked.
Her clear, chiming laughter sounded wonderful to his ears.
Taking snail sprout and moss cucumber sandwiches, some Sweet&Sourvine juice (at the waitress’s suggestion) and a dozen almond biscuits, they walked toward a small park nearby. She transfigured his jumper into a blanket and sprawled on her back, drinking in the breeze and bird calls above.
“My solitude is healthy for me.” she bluntly stated, then rolled to her side and pierced him with her eyes.
He held up his hands in surrender,
“Far be it from me to completely disapprove of quiet. My forced solitude made me stronger, you know that. I‘m never lonely, I know how to occupy myself.” he raised his brows and pointed at her, “You lectured ME, if I failed to share harmful information. You hated it when I hurt in silence. I’m strong and so are you. I accept your silence. I do not accept your suffering in it, Hermione.”
She huffed and sat up, propping herself up by her arms,
“But I’m not in pain, Harry. I’m in no danger and harmful is not what I have when I’m alone. I’m…” she paused, her eyes glassy for only a moment, “I’m getting to know myself, for lack of better words.”
She sat further up, crossed legged, “Believe it or not, I’m content.”
He sat next to her, “Pushing you to drown out and distract yourself, surrounded by people can be just as unhealthy. Just, please don’t push me away. I need you more than you need me.”
“Oh, Harry!” she sighed in exasperation, “You know that’s not possible.” She moved to lay her head in his lap, “You want to know why I did it, don’t you?”
He stroked her bangs lightly, “I trust that you do what you need to do. If breaking off a romantic connection is what is best for you, I trust it.”
“I need to learn to be with me before I can give anyone such a commitment.” she almost whispered, “I don’t trust my needs to keep me from outright neglecting his. It’s best, you know.”
He answered, “He understands. He’s pretty patient.”
“Ugh! It makes me feel horrible! I can’t give him the attention he needs, granted he’s never been demanding. I’m horrid, just horrid and he’s so damned compassionate with me.” She swallowed, feeling slightly ill.
“No, none of us want you to stretch yourself thin. Take this break and use it to fix you.” he cocked his head to meet her eyes, “All right?”
She shook her head in surrender, “Now that things have slowed down, I think too much.”
He laughed, “How is that unusual at all?”
She swatted him and announced, “Enough about me! How’s training this week?”
He gave her all the details just as she liked. They sat for nearly an hour before they thought of their lunch. While they ate, the conversation shifted from defensive spells and blocking to her decision to stay on in the Ministry. She was adored in the Auror program for her quick intelligence and unwavering courage. She felt truly whole studying with the other apprentices and excelled in her own way, which complimented others in their own strengths. To her it was very rewarding and it made her happy.
“I’ll most likely return soon. Shacklebolt was more than accommodating in his giving me time off. I honestly asked for two weeks, but he generously told me to take up to a month if need be.”
By one o’clock, she pulled him to his feet and announced that she needed to catch up on some reading in her training manual. They parted ways and she strolled around the park, soaking in the sunshine and the feeling of being alone again. She was growing accustomed to it, she rather liked it the more she experienced it. She turned and apparated to her back door off her kitchen.
Solemnly reading over the Prophet, she huffed at the whole page that was devoted to “reformed” witches and wizards. Of course, the Malfoys were featured. She knew that Draco and his mother weren’t willing participants in the war.
“That poor woman.” she blurted.
Having Lucius in Azkaban must be humiliating for such a proud family. The paper disgusted her, she wondered why she read it sometimes.
“We were all victims.” she hushed. Her dark expression only deepened as she stared out the window above the sink. “Pawns, that’s all any of us were.”
Crookshanks bounded up the garden wall, batting at a moth. His tail swishing dramatically, he crouched and sprung off again; out of sight.