Chapter 2 : Struggling
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Everything had changed. In one way or another, everyone had been ravaged by the war. Some had physical scars, and I noticed that others became lost in their thoughts for far too long. Neville had taken to wandering the greenhouses when he wasn’t helping with the rebuilding, and I caught Professor McGonagall crying in her office when I floo-ed into it.
Then I cried upon realising that her being headmistress meant that Dumbledore was gone.
Despite winning the war, we were all lost in one way or another. But no one looked more lost than Malfoy.
I was sitting at what used to be Gryffindor’s house table; Ron had told me McGonagall abolished the houses in hopes for student unity.
A bit late now, was the bitter thought that floated through my sluggish mind.
Malfoy was sitting alone at the original Slytherin house table, staring down at his plate. He’d gotten thin, like we all had. War and recovery will do that to a person.
“Who are you looking for, Hermione?” Ginny asked from where she was sitting next to me. I’d been back at school for a week, and she hadn’t left my side. She was my buffer, albeit a delicate one, from the stares of pity and sadness people sent me. Some of the students I recognised, others –like a tiny second year girl who hugged me about the waist on my first day back – I didn’t.
“No one,” I muttered, averting my eyes from the pale man. His hair wasn’t as bright as I remembered; somewhere in the last three years it had darkened, and his face had filled out. “Only, I just don’t remember who the girl is, sitting next to Seamus.”
Ginny flicked her eyes over to where Seamus was sitting, before sighing. “That’s Lavender Brown.”
“How?” I whispered, stealing a horrified look at my classmate. She had her long hair arranged to cover one side of her face, but the damage was too severe to hide.
“Fenrir Greyback got her. You saved her life, actually. Stunned Greyback and got her to safety before she bled to death.”
The look of pity in Ginny’s eyes was becoming too much for me as I struggled to comprehend what she was saying. Putting together the pieces of my past was near impossible, especially with these wild stories people kept telling me. Horcruxes, Nagini’s fang from the Chamber, living with Harry in a tent, breaking into Gringotts, being in love with Ron…
I abruptly pushed back my chair and strode out of the hall, lest I spontaneously combust into tiny pieces. I ignored Ginny’s worried calls and headed outside through the main doors.
Cold winter air bit into my uncovered skin as I jumped down the steps and leant against the cold stone castle walls. I could see Hagrid and a team of smaller people working on the grounds, clearing away debris and replanting grasses and trees in the snowy ground.
Grawpy was helping a group of Ministry wizards at the old gates, where they were reconstructing the perimeter and erecting a huge, spell-enforced fence. This new fence stretched as far as I could see into the forbidden forest and around the other side of the castle. There would be no entering or exiting Hogwart’s grounds from anywhere but the designated gates now.
I hardly recognised the castle anymore. Where it had been completely destroyed or damaged by stray spells, white stone was being used to replace the original dark grey stone. More windows were being added to the reconstruction, and the result was an open, bright home; a far cry from the dim corridors and occasional windows that I remembered.
I think I liked this change. It meant that I could have a fresh start alongside Hogwarts castle.
I came out of my reverie with a jerk of surprise as someone called my name. Hagrid had straightened up from where he was working and was waving at me. Panicking, I pretended to not see him as I ran behind the greenhouses and settled myself in a snow-free spot. Hidden there, I briefly remembered safely and tranquillity for a few moments.
On my second day back, Hagrid had found me and crushed me in an achingly familiar hug, but I couldn’t stand to see his sad eyes and grey-streaked beard. Needless to say that reintroducing me to an ecstatic Grawpy had sent me into a panic.
I leant back against the greenhouse’s glass wall and felt warmth seep into my body from the humid building. I idly traced patterns in the dirt as I shut my eyes. My thoughts were slowly picking up pace as the days passed, but no old memories were surfacing. My mind told me that I was about to start my fifth year after spending the summer at 12 Grimauld Place, but my body told me that I was nineteen and ready to live my future.
“Hello, Hermione,” a deep voice said, not sounding surprised at finding me in an odd place. I opened my eyes as a large shadow fell over me.
“Neville,” I murmured, and he sat down next to me. Of all the changes I’d seen, his was one of the most dramatic. Despite his wandering about the castle and occasional troubled days, he was different. Confident, strong, no longer the baby-faced forgetful boy that I remembered saying goodbye to at the end of fourth year.
“You’re looking well,” he commented idly, and I shrugged. I too looked nothing like what I remembered. When you’re older, three years won’t make much of a difference to appearances. But when you remember being sixteen and now you’re suddenly nineteen, three years mean the whole world. My hair was shorter, lighter, not as bushy. I was scrawnier, and my eyes looked too big in my small face.
Seeming to notice my disbelief at his comment, he said, “You look better than you did a few months ago. You’re not as… haunted, anymore.”
“That’s because I can’t remember a few months ago, Neville!” I growled, and he rolled his eyes. He had definitely changed.
“Some would consider that a blessing, you know. You probably don’t have nightmares anymore, or cry every time someone mentions Dobby like you used to.”
That was true. When I woke up of a morning, I felt rested despite my headaches. On more than one occasion I’d bounded out of bed ready to start a day of school, before remembering that Fred was dead and my parents didn’t know who I was and Sirius and Remus were gone. But that wasn’t the comment from Neville that caught my attention.
“You remember Dobby, don’t you?” Neville asked, sounding unsure.
“Yes, of course. The house elf. Where is he, then? I hope he’s still working here.”
Neville rubbed his forehead awkwardly, and straight away I felt sick. It was just like finding out about my parents all over again.
“Don’t say it, Neville,” I whispered, dropping my face to my hands. It turned out that running away from Ginny had only brought me even more pain. Neville set a heavy hand on my shoulders and kept it there, comforting me more than any words ever could.
“Just for the record, my parents don’t know who I am, either,” he commented after a while, and I shrugged his hand off my back. That was enough physical contact for one day.
“I know. Is that meant to make me feel better?” I sounded amused for the first time in a while, and he flashed me a grin. I was surprised to notice his straight teeth and attractive smile.
“Maybe not. But just remember, it’s never as bad as you think it is. Someone is always worse off. Like Malfoy, for example.” He nudged me and laughed, before remembering that I couldn’t remember. When I didn’t react, he awkwardly said, “Erm, right. Do you know about Malfoy being a deatheater?”
I nodded. Harry had told me a few days ago, and I almost didn’t believe him. The boy I remembered was just that; a boy. He was a malicious, egotistical idiot, but not a bad person.
“Well, after his father died a few months ago, he inherited all of the estates and all of the prejudice against his father. Combine that with his own misdeeds, and it’s safe to say that Draco Malfoy isn’t the most popular person in the Wizarding world.”
“Harry told me he and his family changed to our side. And he’s been helping with the rebuilding, I work on the same team as him,” I commented.
For two hours every day, before or after classes, we were split into groups of ten. This was our rebuilding team, and I had somehow found myself on Malfoy’s. Harry had told me that this was for me to keep an eye on him, but of course I didn’t remember half the spells that I supposedly already knew; I was more than useless as a guardian.
“He’s been subdued, Hermione. Without his cohort of buddies, he’s not as troublesome. He knows he has lost. All he can do now is get on with his life.”
I shrugged, trying to digest all of the information being thrown at me. Healer McDonald had taught me a method before I was discharged from Mungo’s; receive, process and store. Right now I was receiving, but finding it difficult to process the information.
“Thanks, Neville,” I murmured, closing my eyes again. He took this as his cue to leave, hauling himself to his feet. “Oh, and Neville?”
He paused and glanced back at me. “Yes?”
“You’re looking well also. You’re so different to what I remember, but in a good way.”
“I am different. War does that to people, Hermione.”
He walked away, and I rubbed a few tears from my eyes.
Everything was different, but I felt to be the same fifteen year old girl that I should be.
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