Chapter 1 : Prologue: A Gift
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"You're not haunted by the war, Dr. Watson. You miss it."
And the whole Amon/non-bender story line in Legend of Korra (if you don't watch that show you really should, btw)
I hope you all enjoy it! Reviews are always lovely - I'd really like to know what you guys think of the general plot line and want to take your opinions into account, and reviews are the easiest way to do that, so please try!
It's been going on for days, drowning the streets of London, keeping it's people trapped inside the square boxes they called homes, the perfect excuse to not.
Hemione has no problem with staying indoors now. There was a point, once, when she would go searching for adventure, crave it. But at twenty-two and with the world outside always seeming to come up short, she finds that solitary is not so bad as anything else.
She is a permanent image of dissatisfaction.
What was there to satisfy cravings for danger when one had been a hero? Hermione Granger, the level-headed one, the one who would fall into a normal life without struggle or qualm, but the one with the thirst. The thirst for knowledge, for new things and discoveries and more. How was she meant to go back? To move on to a life where nothing happened, except for weddings and babies and tea with old mates from years back?
And so she waits for something to happen, which, in her opinion, is better than the alternative.
Where would she be, were she more easily entertained? Married to Ron, most likely, with happy children in a happy home and a happy job where nothing ever happened. What did they call that? The American dream? Strange, how a country with such power could have so few ambitions.
Some would argue that she had taken the wrong path. For what could be more monotonous than sitting in a small flat in an average part of London alone, reading and waiting for adventure to fall at her feet?
No, she certainly can't argue with them. Her life is anything but eventful, far from her glory days back at Hogwarts, far from what she sees in her sleep at night.
But, when the time came, she would be ready, and that is enough to keep her hanging on.
"You can't stay hidden forever, Hermione. You have to move on."
Dark hair cropped short to his head. Dull eyes, no longer the evergreen colour they once were but flat, one-dimensional. Voice is rough, like he's used to speaking quietly, his hands are scarred and calloused, lips chapped.
She isn't listening to a word he says.
"Honestly, Harry, you need to stop worrying. I'm okay. I'm alive, aren't I?"
"This isn't being alive, Hermione. You're all alone. You're barely living at all."
She knows what's coming next. You should give Ron a call, he worries about you, he misses you. Come back, you can stay at the Burrow, I'll get you a job at the Ministry, or at St. Mungo's. We can be together again, just like the old days.
Except it isn't. Because Harry has Ginny, and they obsess over their work, and she simply can't see the point in sitting in an office, taking orders and trying to fool yourself into believing that you're saving the world.
No, she'd much rather sit in her flat, read, and prepare.
Something big is coming. A storm. She can feel it - she`s been feeling it for weeks, but now it's there, stronger than ever. Hermione doesn't know who or what or when, but she knows, and that is enough to keep her planted where she is, the small of her back pressed against her kitchen counter and a rapidly cooling mug of tea in her hands, staring at her once-best friend with a nostalgic sadness.
"How can you just move on?" she asks him, desperate for an answer. She wants to know for herself, needs to know. "All the things we did, the wonderful things, the people we saved - and the people we couldn't. How do you just forget about that?"
Harry is silent. He seems to be silent often these days, not having much to say about anything, because when you are born in the battlefield your life is the war, and without it she knows his new life is a facade.
She knows this just as well as he does.
"You don't," he answers suddenly, at once, and his voice is sad and soft and not Harry's voice, not how it should be. "But you try, and if that doesn't work, you pretend."
Of course. Pretend. A coward's way out, pretending, and one that Hermione never would have associated with Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived, faking his way through his days? Funny, how he tried to convince her that she was the one who wasn't alive.
Placing her mug in the sink, Hermione gripped the edges and ducked her head, reluctant to face him. "I won't lie my way through life, Harry."
She doesn't need to turn around to know that he's gone.
A month later, and another visitor comes knocking on her door.
Blue eyes this time. Red hair, fire red. Freckles. But not Ron. Thank Merlin it's not Ron.
"Go home, Ginny," she sighs, stepping aside as the redhead barges in without warning. "I know Harry sent you, but I'm fine. Really."
And it's not a lie; she is fine. More than fine, really. She feels it in the air, the change brewing. Walking along Diagon she hears it - the whispers in the shadows, whispers of a power, of something rising, of something about to happen.
There's that, and there's the letter.
Coming to her a week ago, not by owl, not by post, but simply appearing on the table by her bed, it is written in black ink, precise, to the point, and unquestionably for her. A hundred times she has read and re-read it, still not understanding it's meaning; dissecting every word until she knows, but she doesn't know. There's something wrong about it, something she can't explain, something she can't put her finger on.
"Your strengths have not gone unnoticed, Miss Granger, nor have your struggles.
You are one of us - we are one in the same, you see, and we always protect our own.
We will be sending you a present soon, one we think you might like.
And then nothing. No signature, no initials, only a red dot in the bottom-right corner of the paper - stationary paper, muggle paper - and she simply cannot understand what it means. Hermione Granger, the girl know knows everything, faced with something she doesn't, and for the first time since Hogwarts she feels like something is happening.
"I'm not here to lecture you," the girl says, and for some reason Hermione believes her. "I'm just here to say hello, since I knew you wouldn't come to me."
She pauses, while the other girl wanders around the small foyer, taking in her friend's home. Hermione knows what she must be thinking - she's living like a muggle - but she's not, really, at least not intentionally. Wizard shops are places she tends to avoid - too many old friends wanting to catch up, swap stories about children, too many conversations she can't bring herself to have.
So she fills her home with trifles, things and memories from days past, and yes, she lives in a muggle flat and has a proper kitchen and watches tele, but it doesn't mean she's put magic behind her, not even close.
She's just waiting.
"We're having a baby." The words are abrupt and unplanned, but suddenly a smile is spreading over Ginny's face, one that Hermione hasn't seen in ages, and although she usually couldn't be bothered she's filled with a rush of pride. "Harry and I. We just found out less than a week ago, and I wanted you to know."
"I'm so happy for you two," she says, and the words are honest, even though she's disappointed. Another one moving on. Another one lost.
They hug, and they share tea ans swap stories, and it's nice, Hermione thinks, to be with someone who isn't afraid of talking about the past. Talking about then, about when they went on adventures and lived their lives and did something that had meaning, something that was valuable and right.
When she leaves they smile fondly - they both know that they live in two different words, but Hermione finds that sometimes pretending isn't all that terrible after all.
A week later, her gift comes.
When she hears the bang come from her kitchen, Hermione thinks she has another visitor. Ron this time, perhaps? She doesn't quite know how she'll be able to face him, but she always knew the time was coming when she would have to.
She only hopes it's not Molly - out of all the figures from her past, the older woman understands the least.
Too domesticated. Too used to a life standing still.
"Hello?" she calls out, but there's no answer other than another bang in the kitchen - a burglar, maybe? If so, she pities them, breaking into the home of a witch. And it's not as if she'll be punished for doing magic in front of a muggle; as a former member of the golden trio, she's found she could get away with murder.
And then she hears it. A moan - pain - and burglary is out of the question.
Flicking on one light after another, she walks slowly, deliberately. What if it's a trap? They've fallen into those before, and she won't allow herself to do it again.
Wand is gripped tightly in her had, at the ready. It's been ages since it's seen use, proper use, and there's a part of her that hopes that it might tonight. How good it would feel, to see an enemy fall flat on their back at her hands, what a thrill it would be to watch the fear in their eyes. She worries sometimes that she might be losing her mind, sadistic, with how much she enjoys it, but there's no time to dwell now.
Because whoever is in her kitchen is still moaning, louder now, as if crying for help, and she decided that now is not the time for caution.
As soon as the kitchen lights are on she sees them immediately - how can she not? Soaked in blood against her white tiles they look like a stain, a permanent fixture on the cold floor. Face down, but she can tell that it's a man from his voice, all of this running through her mind as she rushed to help him.
It wasn't a known spell, wasn't one that was practised in duelling, not even one that was used in dark arts circles. Not because it wasn't effective, quite the contrary, but simply because no one had been told about it. A spell of Snape's creation, only known by Harry, Ron, and herself.
But there was no denying it. Gashes running red across his skin - even on his face, she noted as she turned the body over - deep ones, by the looks of them, and by the shrieks of pain that he let out when she tried to shift his shoulder.
Whispered, hurried words and she hovers his hands atop his body. She knows the counter spell, Harry was sure to teach it to her as soon as Snape was on the loose in sixth year, back when everything was still muddled and confused and unclear. Her hands are shaking and she's nervous, so nervous, and it's only then, as she's realizing that she's far too excited, enjoying this brief occurrence far more than she should, that Hermione notices just who her patient is.
Fair hair. Alabaster skin on which the marks look far too red. Sharp features, pulled in a grimace.
And it's such a funny thing - with him lying there in her kitchen, bleeding to death, the only thing she can now think is that a pureblood and a muggleborn bleed the same blood after all.
She should be saving him, she knows she should. But Hermione's hands have paused, her voice has halted, and even though she knows he doesn't have much time yet, even though he's twitching in her arms, she doesn't know if she can continue on.
He doesn't deserve my mercy.
He doesn't deserve saving.
He doesn't deserve.
She's almost made up her mind to leave him there to die when her hands start moving at their own accord, as they seem to do, and her mouth started speaking the words which Hermione herself couldn't even remember.
Once he's recovering and on her couch, unconscious, Hermione finally wills herself to pick up the note that was lying next to his body.
She knows that she should contact the Ministry, tell someone - Draco is an auror, after all, and they would want to know that one of their men appeared in her house bleeding to death (how did he get there, anyway? She'll have to investigate) but she simply can't bring herself to do it. Something about this feels personal, like it was intended only for her, and for the time being she plans to keep it that way.
There are how's, and there are why's, but now is not the time. Now her mind is cluttered and her head is spinning and there is a piece of notebook paper on the ground, blood-covered and titled with her name.
For a while she simply stares at it, as if presenting a challenge, trying to one-up a notebook sheet. Then she picks it up and twirls it between her fingers, the black-ink words blurring as they spin, and Hermione can almost imagine that it's not there at all.
But she's not procrastinating, not afraid. No, she's resisting, because in truth she's excited. Excited by the fact that a bleeding man appeared in her kitchen, excited by the fact that there's another note, excited because she's been right all along.
Have you heard about Hermione Granger? They would say. She's gone mad. Such a life ahead of her, so smart, but so fragile. Couldn't deal with the war, so she coops herself up in a flat in London and hides from the world, poor thing.
Her therapists - because they forced her to them, more than once - had told her that she was living in the past. That she was stuck in a dream, that she was dying before her time.
Wrong, all of them. She wasn't scared, she wasn't broken. She just saw what no one else could see.
That it would never be over.
And now, sitting with the stationary in her hands, she knows that it has started again. What is still unclear, but there is a gravely wounded man in her living area and blood on her kitchen tiles, and this, she knows, is the beginning of something much bigger.
So Hermione reads the words with a hunger she didn't know she possessed, and she cannot even be ashamed.
"We're sure you remember this face - say hello to Draco Malfoy, pureblood elitist.
He says he's changed, but that's what they all say.
You of all people know better, Miss Granger, don't you?
Remember the things he said. Remember the things he did.
Remember, and show no mercy."
Do not make us regret our generosity. It's always rude to refuse a gift.
So that was what they - whoever they were - thought that they had done. Sent a former enemy into her kitchen, mortally wounded, with the intention to please her? To make her want to be on their side?
Of course, she had almost accepted it, and that is what frightens her the most. More than the red dot in the corner of the page. More than the puddle still sitting on her kitchen floor, the one that she cannot bring herself to look at, let alone clean up.
They thought she would be grateful.
And she almost had been.
Hermione doesn't want to think about what that might mean, can't, and so she sits, and waits, and knows that whatever has happened is no more than the beginning.
And she is more alive than she has ever been.