After Harry and Ron die, Hermione must learn to live without them. Hermione, Luna, Ginny. Gen.
When Hermione woke up, she was in a white bed staring up at a white ceiling. With some effort, she turned her head and saw a window with sunlight streaming through it, illuminating a young man sitting in a rocking chair reading a newspaper.
Neville Longbottom looked up and smiled. "Good morning, Hermione."
"Wha' happ'nd? 'Ey okay?" Her mouth felt stuffed with cotton wool, but Neville seemed to understand her.
"You're in St. Mungo's, and you're expected to make a full recovery."
Hermione suddenly remembered, and tried to sit up. "Batt'l?!"
"You've been knocked out for two weeks, so you missed all the celebrations. You Know Who has been defeated. We're all safe now."
Hermione sank back onto her pillows with a moan of relief. They'd been taking a chance with that giant snake, but everything had turned out all right after all. "'Ank Go'"
Neville cleared his throat after a moment. "But, um, Hermione?" He was looking distinctly uncomfortable. "N-not everybody made it."
"Um, they said you ought to get better before we tell you, but, I really think you ought to..."
"Who?" Hermione whispered.
Neville swallowed. "Well, an awful lot of the Death Eaters, for one. Bellatrix Lestrange and her brother-in-law, the Carrows, that werewolf who bit R-Ron's brother. And nobody's really sure what happened to Professor Snape."
He was avoiding the real question. "Who?" she asked, one last time.
He sighed. "Cho Chang. Zacharias Smith. Pansy Parkinson. Parvati. George. And," he swallowed again, "Harry. And Ron."
"No." She could barely see Neville's face from the tears in her eyes, but she thought he was crying too. "'Simposs'ble"
"I'm-I'm sorry, Hermione."
She closed her eyes again. It was preferable to see his round, pitying face. "Pl'se. No."
Hermione stayed a few months with her parents to recuperate. Her regrown hand was numb in a few places, and turned orange when it was about to rain, but she could hold a wand in it, and soon she applied for and received a job as an Unspeakable at the Ministry of Magic. Even without NEWTs, they seemed happy to have her. Her new coworkers seemed a bit awed by her reputation, and she didn't bother becoming friendly with any of them.
She moved into a flat at the residential end of Diagon Alley. Hermione expected someone to worry about her living by herself, but her parents were walking on eggshells to avoid upsetting her, the Weasleys were still locked in their internal grief, and soon she realized that everyone else who might have cared was dead. She spent her days working at the Ministry, and her nights reading spell books about necromancy and the resurrection of the dead. And so the long, lonely months passed.
Ten days before Christmas, Hermione heard a knock on her door. When she opened it, Luna Lovegood wandered in with a fragrant package.
"Happy Kwanzaa," she said. "I brought you some pie."
They ate it in the kitchen. Like every other room in the flat, there were books stacked on every flat surface, and an overflowing bookshelf next to the refrigerator. Hermione watched with some apprehension as Luna's eyes roved over the titles of the books and scrolls, but she made no comment. The pie was apple, very sweet, and a bit on the dry side. Luna ate two slices in complete silence, then stood up and prepared to go.
"Be sure to return the tin when you're finished," she said as she headed for the door. "You can Floo to the house; ask for the Lovegoods at Ottery St. Catchpole."
A week later, Hermione Flooed to the Lovegoods' house. Mr. Lovegood met her at the fireplace.
"Ah, you must be Hermione. Welcome to our humble home." He was a short, thin man, wearing black work robes and a striped Santa hat.
"Hullo," Luna said, peeking in from the other room. She was wearing black robes as well, and a green and blue elf hat. "We're roasting chestnuts in the dining room. Would you like to help?"
"After they're roasted, we sprinkle them in the woods to keep away the Gurgling Grumples," her father added.
"No-o, I just wanted to return this," Hermione said, holding out the tin. "I'm really very busy." It was almost true; there was a reproduction of a 13th century Welsh scroll that claimed that Merlin could bring back the dead, and she wanted to find corroborating sources before the Ministry libraries closed for Christmas.
"They're almost finished," Luna said. "And before we sprinkle them in the woods, we were going to go around to the Diggorys and the Weasleys to give some to them. You could wear one of my coats over."
Hermione felt a pang of remorse. She hadn't seen the Weasleys in months. She'd been avoiding them at first; when she was recovering, even the sight of a redhead was enough to send her into tears. And then Mr. Weasley had retired and Percy had quit his position at the Ministry, and somehow her life never intersected with any of theirs anymore. She'd tried to ignore it, but now that slow, heavy guilt was coming back up to the surface.
"All right," she said finally, and the atmosphere lightened.
The Diggorys had sad eyes, but they smiled and made small talk over the cracking of chestnuts. After leaving them, Hermione and the Lovegoods trudged a mile or so through the snow to the Burrow. The house was all closed up with no lights, but there was a bit of smoke coming from the chimney. Mrs. Weasley answered the door. She was thinner than Hermione remembered.
"Come in, come in," she said to the Lovegoods. Then she noticed Hermione. "You too, dear," she said after a moment of hesitation.
Inside, Mrs. Weasley divested them of their coats and showed them into the sitting room.
"I'll make tea," she told her guests. "Arthur! Ginny! We've got company!"
There were large, framed pictures of Ron and George displayed prominently on the mantelpiece. Hermione looked away as soon as she realized what they were, and fought to stay calm. It had been a bad idea, coming here.
It was at that moment that Ginny came into the room. She stopped a moment on the doorstep, and Hermione saw surprise, anger, and shame flit briefly across her face.
"So you've finally come," she said.
A few moments later, Mrs. Weasley floated the teapot into the room, and a teacup into the hands of each guest. Mr. Weasley followed behind her. Mr. Lovegood and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley made a bit of small talk, but they didn't seem to know each other too well, and eventually they all trailed off into silence. The Weasleys had accepted the chestnuts without offering to share them, and it was so quiet Hermione could hear the bangings of the ghoul faintly through the ceiling.
"So, Ginny, how is Hogwarts?" Hermione asked. It was apparently the wrong thing to say; Mrs. Weasley drew in her breath sharply, and Ginny spilled quite a bit of her tea before she managed to set her cup down on its saucer.
"I'm not at Hogwarts right now," she said. "It was too hard, being there. Professor McGonagall said I could study at home and sit the NEWTs in the spring, since they're the only thing that really matters. Though really, I'm not sure I want to take them at all."
"Ginny!" Mrs. Weasley said.
"Fred and-Fred didn't take any NEWTs at all, and he's doing perfectly well."
"And I suppose you'll go open your own joke shop then," Mrs. Weasley said. Two bright spots of color had appeared high on her cheeks.
"Molly," Mr. Weasley interjected. He had been so quiet that Hermione had forgotten he was there: a thin grey man shrunk in on himself. "Life's too short to argue over a few tests."
"What will she do then, if she doesn't take them?"
"She can move in with me," Hermione said, surprising herself. And everyone else as well; as one, they turned and stared at her.
"I have a flat in Diagon Alley. She wouldn't have to pay rent, and she could work as a shopgirl for clothes and things."
"Certainly not!" Mrs. Weasley said. "Every child connected with you has-"
"I'm not a child, Mum!" Ginny said hotly. "I'm seventeen, I can make my own decisions-" While simultaneously Hermione said, "Do you really think it was my fault they died? Harry was hunted by Voldemort since he was a year old, and Ron was his best friend. How do I come into it exactly?"
When Hermione finally stormed out, the Lovegoods and Mr. Weasley had prudently disappeared, and Ginny was upstairs stuffing clothes into her suitcase. It wasn't a great shock when, two days after Christmas, she showed up on Hermione's doorstep.
With Ginny around, there were more people coming in and out of the house. Charlie was first, dropping in on his way back to Romania. He gave Hermione a moment of joy when she first glimpsed him, followed by several days of depression. She was better prepared for Fred and Bill, who came with Fleur. Fleur was pregnant and deliriously happy about it, which depressed Hermione for somewhat different reasons. She once saw Percy in the street outside her flat, but never caught him inside.
None of their old school friends came around, though; Ginny seemed as shy of them as Hermione was. She did hear news about them through her brothers, which she sometimes relayed to Hermione. Dean had disappeared into the Muggle world; Malfoy, his inheritance seized by the Ministry, was working the counter at Borgin's and Burke's; Susan Bones was an assistant to a member of the Wizengamot, which Hermione had already known; Neville Longbottom was living at home, nursing his ailing grandmother.
And so on. They talked a bit-just a bit-about Harry and Ron as well. Hermione found that she had less time to devote to her necromancy research, and perhaps less interest as well; she seemed to have hit a dead end as far as complete resurrection went. The influx of visitors meant Hermione had to move most of her necromancy books into the spare bedroom. Ginny was vaguely supportive, but couldn't offer any real help, and while the Weasleys never said anything, they tended to stare and then exchange looks with each other.
Two days before Easter, Luna showed up with a basket full of chocolate frogs.
"Peace be with you this Pesach," she said. "These are for both of you, as well as any Nargles living in your fireplace."
They ate them sitting around the kitchen table.
"I remember how Ron used to collect cards," Ginny said, sniffling. "They're probably still under his bed in a shoebox; Mum hasn't touched his room."
"I got Uric the Oddball," Hermione said.
"Merlin," Ginny said.
"I got Harry Potter," Luna said.
Ginny went white. "Put it away," she said hoarsely.
"No, give it to me," Hermione said. Luna shrugged and handed it over.
Harry Potter, 1980-1998. The only person known to have survived the Avada Kedavra curse, this wizard defeated Lord Voldemort several times, giving up his own life to do so in their final battle.
Hermione reread it.
Harry Potter, 1980-1998.
The picture was much too realistic. Harry waved up at her, completely unaware of his actual fate.
It was suddenly too much to deal with. Hermione threw the card down on the table and stood up, knocking over her chair. "I'm going to my room."
"Wait," Luna said, but Hermione was already out of the kitchen. She slammed her door and threw herself facedown on her bed.
It wasn't true. It wasn't true. She knew they weren't really gone forever. It was only a matter of time. She could do it, truly. Just because there were no more leads, or because everyone said it couldn't be done, didn't mean...
She could hear the murmur of voices through the door, though they weren't loud enough for her to hear what they were saying. After a time, she heard footsteps, past her bedroom and to the front door. There was a slam, and then she heard more footsteps. They paused in front of her bedroom door; she heard a few soft movements, and then a creaking as someone leaned against the door. Ginny.
"You're not going to be able to bring them back, are you?"
Hermione couldn't say anything. But then, she didn't have to. She couldn't lie to Ginny any more easily than she could lie to herself.
After a long pause, Ginny spoke again.
"Luna's re-opening Ollivander's shop this summer. She wants to room in the spare bedroom. I... I told her she could pay 75 Galleons a month rent, as long as you agreed to it. I hope that's okay. I know she's a bit strange, but she really is just trying to help."
Was this moving forward, one foot at a time? "All right," Hermione said finally. "I'll have to get rid of some of my books, though."
Some of the necromancy books were sold, others given to the Hogwarts library, and a few were boxed up and stored in the Grangers' attic. It was against Hermione's nature to get rid of books, but in this case she felt it better if they were out of sight. She felt worse, for a few days, but after that it was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She began running in the mornings.
Ginny tried out for Puddlemere United on a lark, and to her great surprise was named second-string Chaser. Shifty-looking Quidditch players began infesting the sitting room at odd hours of the night, drinking mulled mead and poring over scrolls of smudged tactical maneuvers. It was easy enough to cast an Imperturbable Charm around one's room, though, and even easier to come out and keep them company.
Luna moved in a week after the Hogwarts summer term finished, and immediately began hanging Christmas lights and setting out stalks of ginger to keep away the Nargles. She didn't have many visitors, and those who did come tended to be small children or very old men.
September found them all together and alone in the flat, a rare occurrence. They were sipping tea around the kitchen table in a comfortable silence.
"How do you feel?" Luna asked suddenly.
"Happy," Hermione said without thinking. Ginny broke into a brilliant smile.
"Me too," she said wonderingly. "And I'd thought I never would be again..."
"No, not that," Luna said impatiently. "I spilled Itching Powder on the floor this morning, and I cleaned it up, but I was wondering if either of you had itchy feet."
Hermione and Ginny grinned at each other. It wasn't the life she would have chosen, Hermione later reflected, but she truly was content.