Sharp pain filled Hermione’s throat. Both of her hands gripped the side of the sink, as she shook from the force of her own emotions. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat down, back to its rightful place. The tears streamed down her face, landing with a loud splatter in the sink. Why was he doing this?
Bloodshot, brown eyes looked back at her from the mirror, peeking beneath the mass of dark brown curls on her head. She looked as utterly ridiculous as she felt. She wiped her sleeve roughly across her face, taking slow shuddering breaths like her mother had taught her.
Calm and steady, she thought.
People had teased her for being a “know-it-all” and a “goody-two-shoes” her whole life. Yet, in the first week of Ron and Lavender’s newfound relationship, he had managed to consistently reduce her to tears either by being outright mean to Hermione or plainly ignoring her. This teasing from him shouldn’t be any different than her past school bullies. And yet, it was.
Calm and steady. A boy is not worth crying over.
She repeated this mantra with each breath she took. It was no use. The vision of Ron’s cruel smile swam in her mind.
Professor McGonagall had just finished instructing them on the principles of transforming human appearance. She was working diligently to nonverbally lighten her own eyebrows in the mirrors that were conjured before them. She had just given Harry a reproachful look after hearing him muttering the incantation under his breath when she heard a shocked exclamation. The class laughed as everyone observed Ron’s newly acquired handlebar mustache.
I guess he's gotten that attention he apparently wants so badly, Hermione had thought to herself as she laughed with the rest of her peers.
Professor McGonagall, lips pursed in disapproval, removed the mustache with a quick flick of her wand. Ron had turned to glare at her, as if she had been the one to conjure the mustache for him. Hermione had glared right back at him.
It was later in the lesson when everyone had mostly forgotten about Ron’s hefty handlebar mustache that he started in on her once again.
“Now, why is it inadvisable for a witch or wizard to transfigure themselves into an inanimate object?” Professor McGonagall asked the class. The class turned to Hermione expectantly, prepared for her to raise her hand and answer.
“Oh Professor, Professor! Please pick me! Oh please, Professor. However will anyone notice me if I don’t answer this question?” Ron’s mocking high-pitched voice had cut right through her from across the room. He bounced in his seat in a way that, although exaggerated, was not unlike Hermione when she was particularly excited by a subject.
Hermione’s face had grown hot. Lavender and Parvati were cackling while Ron beamed, soaking in the attention. Professor McGonagall’s mouth formed a tight thin line that usually meant trouble. Hermione tore her gaze away and glared down at her notes. Her vision was already blurring. The buzzing in her mind drowned out Professor McGonagall’s response.
“She’s a nightmare, honestly. It’s no wonder no one likes her.”
The memory of those words washed over her like acid on her tongue. After all this time, that’s what they had come back to? Growing up, her Muggle classmates had teased her relentlessly. At Hogwarts, Snape and other Slytherins were arguably just as cruel. Yet, somehow, it was only Ron who could always manage to make her cry. And it was at that last thought that the bell rang. She dashed out of the room, leaving her belongings behind, not sparing Ron another glance.
“That’s enough now.”
Her voice reverberated against the wet stone of the empty bathroom. She was at Hogwarts for one reason and one reason only – to get an education. Feeling more centered, she turned the tap to cold. She let the cool water wash over her fingers for a moment before splashing some on her face.
“You know, if you apply the sap of the Gurdyroot plant to your eyes it will decrease swelling and help to ward off Gulping Plimpies,” a dreamy voice said.
Hermione started. “Oh! Hello Luna. How are you?” she said, purposefully not acknowledging whatever nonsense Luna was trying to convey.
“I’m alright.” Her eyes had a faraway look about them as she stared at Hermione with her serene smile. “Why were you crying?”
Luna generally aggravated Hermione with her outlandish poorly researched claims but right now, as she stood there with her golden hair piled on top of her head and mismatched socks, Hermione felt heartened by her presence.
“Ron was teasing me in class today,” she said turning back to her reflection.
“That was very mean of him.”
Hermione’s eyes met Luna’s through the mirror. Although she was odd, she always had a way with words. The frank response quickened the resolve within her even more. “Yes it was, Luna. Yes it was.”
Hermione squared her shoulders. That was enough, indeed. There was a war coming and more importantly, exams. Yet here she was with her eyes bloodshot and still watery over a boy. She would get over Ron, by any means necessary. She knew what she needed to do.
The girl’s dormitory was thankfully empty during her free period. Crookshanks looked up lazily from his spot on the windowsill next to her four poster bed. Her book bag gave a very pronounced thunk when she dropped it on the floor. Crookshanks hopped down rubbing himself against her legs.
“Not now, Crookshanks. I’ve got work to do.”
Affronted, Crookshanks stuck his nose in the air and sauntered back to his spot on the windowsill.
Hermione opened the drawer of her bedside table where she kept all of the stationary she generally reserved for letter writing to Viktor and her mother. She pulled out several sheets of parchment with a light floral design printed on it. Now settled on her bed, using her planner as a writing surface, she tapped her quill on her chin.
A crazy idea had taken hold of her as she left Harry – who had waited for her with her things outside – and Luna behind in front of the girl’s restroom. Her feelings for Ron were inadvisable, that much was clear. Ron had never been very considerate, or kind, or thoughtful. Yet her heart still fluttered anytime he leaned over to her, trying to get a peek of her notes. His scent was always so warm, like fresh cotton and pine needles. (She would push him away every time, of course. It wasn’t up to her to pass his N.E.W.T.s for him.)
Being that her feelings were obstinately persisting, she would need to redirect her attention until they went away. This problem was nothing more than a puzzle. And the thing about puzzles is, they can be solved.
Her crazy idea was this: she would come up with a list of boys most objectively compatible with her. Through process of elimination, she would find the boy that was more appropriate for her romantic inclination. In focusing on these facts, her misguided feelings for Ron should dissipate. Lists had never failed her before.
There were many variables to consider: perception, compatibility, and schedule. The list of candidates she managed to come up with from that criteria was comically short. That was sort of the point, though. She needed a logical counterpoint to her feelings for Ron without risking actual romantic entanglement. Dipping a quill into a bottle of jet-black ink, she began writing:
Boys Best Suited for Hermione Granger –
She eyed the coversheet to her new project. A chuckle escaped her, causing Crookshanks to raise his head, eying her warily. Was this too much? Other girls her age didn’t deal with school crushes in such a clinical manner. Girls didn’t deal with a lot of things in the way that she did, she reminded herself.
With the list decided, it was time for the difficult part. She wrote Ronald Weasley on a fresh sheet of parchment. What was it that she liked about Ron? There was the way his brows furrowed as he concentrated during a game of Wizard’s Chess, his ginger hair falling into his eyes. She thought of the way he’d smirk and roll his eyes at her in an endearing way when she would excitedly explain a new fact she’d learned while reading. And then there were his blue eyes that would brighten just so when discussing Quidditch.
Honesty was the only way this was going to work, so she wrote those thoughts down exactly. As for what she disliked about him. There wasn’t much to say.
I can’t seem to stop the feelings I have for you, she wrote. Which is not ideal considering how we stand right now.
There. The ending was honest and to the point. That was Ron’s done and it hadn’t been as hard as she had expected. Rather than finding it emotionally draining to detail the feelings she’d been grappling with for so long, she found it to be rather freeing.
So with that, she moved on to a new sheet of parchment for Harry. His was easy. One line graced his sheet:
While it’s true that we’re compatible on paper – absolutely not. You’re the brother I never had.
Next was Ernie. He was smart and driven for a Hufflepuff. He really valued his studies nearly as much as she did. But he was insufferable. All of which, she wrote exactly on his sheet.
She moved on to Oliver Wood. He no longer attended Hogwarts, however she had always admired him. While it was true she didn't know much about Quidditch, his determination and drive caught her fancy her first two years at Hogwarts. And though she was embarrassed to admit it, she couldn’t deny her appreciation for the male athletic form. He was now playing for Puddlemere United. Something about the memory of his fierce gaze as he studied his play book and his polite greetings in the corridors inclined her to keep his name on the list and finish his sheet.
Giggling as she eyed the last name on her list, she set the final sheet of parchment in front of her. On the surface it was quite silly, but when she thought of it, he was a strong candidate. While Ginny had only broken up with Dean a week ago, in her esteem, this made him an even safer choice for her battle of wills. They had been classmates for six years sure, but his most significant role in her life was that of “Ginny’s boyfriend.” However, you’d have to live in the dungeons to not hear the chatter amongst girls across various houses and grades that surrounded Dean Thomas. He had grown to be quite attractive the past few years. Some girls even argued he was more attractive than Harry Potter.
Hermione coaxed Crookshanks off his windowsill in order to give him a good pet. She thought more about her evaluation of Dean. He was handsome, but it was more than that. They were both Muggle-borns. He was artistic and quite intelligent; the only classes they didn’t share were Muggle Studies and History of Magic. Even she had to admit that was quite a full load compared to most of their peers.
Once she finished Dean’s sheet she laid them out in front of her in order.
“Well what do you think, Crookshanks?”
He appeared to look them over contemplatively from his new spot on her lap.
“It’s just a mental exercise to help me refocus,” she explained as she scratched him behind the ears in the spot she knew he liked.
He mewed in understanding, pushing his head into the scratches. She sighed, feeling a little lighter already from the exercise.
Noise rose from below in the common room. People must be coming up for the evening to put away their school things. Lavender and Parvati would be up soon. She gathered the pages and slipped them into her bag amongst her other essays and projects. Though there were a couple of candidates she was certain were already ruled out, she would take notes for the next couple of weeks to whittle the list down further. It was a simple enough plan.
After she changed into more comfortable clothes, she headed out the girls dormitory with Crookshanks at her heels. She glanced back at the bag one last time. The plan would work, she assured herself. She would out logic her heart into finding her old self.
Over the weekend, the autumn chill had given way to winter mist. As Hermione walked through the breezy corridors down to the Great Hall for breakfast, she pulled her cloak and scarf closer to her. She made a mental note to give Harry the scarf she had knitted him over the summer. She knew his uncle and aunt wouldn’t have bought him any new winter wear over the break.
When she reached the Gryffindor table for breakfast, the smell of sizzling bacon and fresh orange juice filled her nose. She was pleased to see Harry alone. He had spent the weekend drilling the Quidditch team in new formations to accommodate Dean, who was acting as their new temporary Chaser to replace Katie who was still being treated in St. Mungo's.
As she approached however, her skin prickled with irritation. “Must you read that thing at the breakfast table? Is there not some other homework assignment that could use your attention?”
“Good morning to you, too,” Harry said absently, not pulling his nose from The Prince’s book. “Don’t bother. There’s nothing new, just a few suspicious Muggle disappearances,” he said as she sat and moved to pick up the morning’s Daily Prophet.
“Honestly,” she grumbled as she took her seat in front of him.
Between The Prince and Malfoy, Harry had been far too distracted to offer much support with her current predicament with Ron. It was probably for the best that she quickly ruled him out for further consideration, she noted humorously, he was too emotionally unavailable. In fact, she rather thought he was avoiding the subject. Of course, he must suspect her feelings.
It was just as well with her. Even if he had been emotionally available, she didn’t think she would want to talk about it. In an attempt to tear his attention away from that blasted book, she brought up the only other subject that interested him these days.
“How was practice with Dean and Ginny this weekend? I know it was the first since they broke up,” she said nonchalantly. She spooned some fluffy scrambled eggs onto her plate, not making eye contact. His head shot up from the book.
In an attempt to play his reaction off, he reached for his goblet, resulting in him sloshing some orange juice onto his robes ever so smoothly. “Erm, they both flew really well. You wouldn’t know anything was the matter, really. Ginny was joking with the team and making fun of Ron as per usual.”
After contemplating this a moment, Hermione said, “I’d say Dean is putting on a brave face for the team. He’s already been down to breakfast in hopes of avoiding Ginny at the moment, see?” She indicated to Seamus who was eating by himself.
Harry’s eyes trailed from Seamus to behind her at the Ravenclaw table. Ginny had taken to sitting with Luna for meals since breaking it off with Dean. Hermione turned to see her shining sheets of silky auburn hair framing her freckled face. She was chatting animatedly with Luna, who was dressed in a pair of bright yellow dungarees over a blue turtleneck. They were an odd pair, but it was true that Ginny didn’t seem troubled at all. Rather, she seemed to be quite happy in Luna’s company.
When she noticed them looking at her, she beamed at them. Hermione did not fail to notice how Ginny’s eyes lingered on Harry before she turned her attention back to Luna. When Hermione turned back to Harry, he was bright red. She raised her eyebrow at him knowingly.
“Oh, shut up.”
Their first two classes were spent with Hermione trying to prod Harry into just talking to Ginny. He wouldn’t confirm what she had suspected since their summer at the Burrow, but his red face and curt nods told her all she needed to know.
In Transfiguration, they were partnered together, since Lavender managed to claim Ron before Ron could claim Harry. They were meant to be lightening each other’s eyebrows, having mastered transfiguring their own. Hermione had already successfully turned Harry’s eyebrows to a shade of platinum that even Malfoy would have envied.
Hermione rolled her eyes as Harry shook his wand at her face. “You’re too close Harry. You have to remember, you’re casting the spell but you’re removing the pigment. Channel that.” He grunted and tried again. “Let’s hope wooing Ginny goes better than this – OUCH!”
He had whacked her with his wand while animatedly trying to transfigure her eyebrows. His glare let her know that that conversation was in fact over. She couldn’t help the smirk that came over her.
They resumed their work on Hermione’s eyebrows. He continued poking and prodding his wand at her while she alternated between encouragement and chastisement when he muttered the spell verbally. However, she found herself getting distracted when she noticed Dean Thomas staring at them. No, he was staring at her specifically.
Every time she looked up, his brown gaze was waiting for hers before quickly averting itself. Confused, she returned her attention to Harry’s antics. Clearly, he was no longer even trying.
“Fine! I’ll show you how to do it again. You just had to ask. You didn’t have to keep poking my forehead with your wand.”
As she raised her wand to demonstrate the hand motions, her eyes met Dean’s brown ones again. A thought occurred to her. Had Harry managed to horribly disfigured her and was he trying to hide it? She clamped her hand to her forehead. “Harry! My eyebrow is gone!”
No wonder Dean had been staring at her. Her face turned bright red. Harry burst out laughing. “I dunno. I thought it was a nice look. Now you can’t keep raising it at me.”
She narrowed her eyes at him and set to work conjuring her eyebrow back into place.
The rest of her classes passed by uneventfully. She didn’t share them with Harry and while she did appreciate having his company, she actually preferred the ones where she was alone. Classes without Lavender cooing over Ron the entire period were easier to focus in.
At the end of Ancient Runes, Hermione noticed Dean lingering near her desk as she gathered her things. Before she could make eye contact with him or speak, he walked out of the classroom. Out of an abundance of caution, she pulled out a small cracked compact she kept in her bag. Her eyebrow was intact and the proper color.
The embarrassment from Transfiguration had obviously made her paranoid. It was very likely all in her head. By the time she set out her study things on her favorite table by the large common room window, she was ready to forget the strange ordeal altogether.
Her books and parchment and ink bottles were spread across the entire table. Her book bag laid at her feet, now mostly empty except for a few drafts of essays she had started and other loose parchment. She dove into her Arithmancy homework and hardly noticed time passing. Students milled in and out of the common room but it stayed largely empty. The afternoon sun drifted lazily lower in the sky, signaling the near end of the last period of the day.
“Hey, uh Granger,” a voice called from the other side of the common room as it approached.
Hermione tore her eyes away from the chart she was studying to decipher a particularly difficult piece of numerology. “Oh. Hello, Dean,” she said curiously.
There was a small part of her that felt vindicated. So, she hadn’t been imagining things! A bigger part of her felt nervous. Though they were in the same year and house, they rarely talked. Was this about the eyebrow incident? Her face colored again. No, that couldn’t be it. Why would he seek her out just to mention he had seen her without an eyebrow? He was probably looking for Harry about something Quidditch related.
To her surprise, he sat down at her table. Although his eyebrows were furrowed in what was perhaps confusion, his earthy brown eyes were direct and determined. An echo of a thought about how handsome he was flitted through her mind.
“Uh, sorry for interrupting,” he gestured to her homework spread across the table before him.
He looked around awkwardly, seemingly unsure of where to start. This was odd for him. While it was true they had not interacted very much, Hermione did know he was a self-assured person. Unlike Hermione, it hadn’t taken him long to assimilate into wizarding culture and seem like he belonged. Had she not known otherwise, she would have assumed he came from a wizarding family.
“I just wanted you to know that I’m really flattered,” he began. “I mean, I never would have imagined you would think I’m, um, ‘intelligent or artistic.’ You’re the smartest girl in our year by far, and all. But this whole thing with Ginny is still fresh and . . . ” he trailed off.
Hermione blinked at him a few times, confused. Was Dean Thomas rejecting her? She thought back to every conversation they had been a part of in the past week, trying to remember if she had unwittingly made any misleading advances. Her eyes fell on his hand.
He was clutching a folded piece of parchment with a light but unmistakable floral design printed on it. Her breath caught in her throat.
“This was really sweet,” he held out the parchment to her. “I just don’t think it would be appropriate considering everything that’s happening right now.”
Eyes wide, she snatched the parchment out of his hand. Her eyes tore through the contents. It was undeniably her handwriting. This was the same sheet she had written up as a mental exercise for herself just a few days ago.
Your dimples are very lovely and add to the charm of your smile. It’s no wonder why girls are so taken with you this year . . .
She turned it over in her hand, on the back it said, From Hermione Jean Granger in an elegant script written in green ink.
That was not her handwriting.
Without a word or second glance at Dean, she thrust the parchment back into his hands and tore into her book bag. Frantically, she rustled through the various pages; there was her Ancient Runes essay, her Potions essay, and the rest of her loose parchment. Finally, she found it. Or rather, she found the cover page with the list she had drawn up. The rest of the pages had all vanished.
“Where did you get this?” she said as evenly as she could manage. Her breathing was heavy. How in Merlin’s name had Dean received that parchment? They had been in her book bag all weekend. No one else knew about them.
“In the owl post I assume. I wasn’t at breakfast to receive it, but the school owl found me out at the pitch.”
Panic was clinging tighter and tighter to her skin. She needed to get to Harry now and ask if he’d gotten any post from her. Nothing had come in the owl post for him during breakfast, but she had to be sure. She shot up from her seat. “This is a huge misunderstanding.”
Dean’s deep brown eyes were wide and a little worried. He leaned away, almost afraid of what she might do, clearly having taken in her frantic energy.
“Listen, this is not what it seems like. I mean, I did write this. But it wasn’t a confession. I was writing a list. I make lists to clear my head. It was sort of a mental exercise.”
Now Dean chuckled, raising his eyebrow. It was the same look she had given Harry this morning. “’More handsome than Harry Potter’?”
He was laughing at her. She stuck her chin out defiantly. “So I hear other girls say.”
Dean licked his lips, bringing his fist to his mouth, clearly biting back laughter. “Look you don’t have to be embarrassed. I just thought you deserved a—“
“I don’t need an explanation, Dean. I don’t fancy you. Thank you for being a gentleman. But truly, I’m far too busy with my studies to be writing love notes.”
It took a few seconds of consideration but he nodded, accepting the truth. She started to gather all of her things, shoving them carelessly into her bag. She needed to hurry and find Harry before Ron could find her. If they all had disappeared, logically there was a risk Ron could have received his.
“Can I have that?” she indicated to parchment in his hand.
Oddly, Dean hesitated. “You know, it’s not every day the Hermione Granger writes you a love note.”
“It was a list,” she said as she snatched the slip out of his hands. He laughed, leaning back in his chair.
Just as she was about to sling her book bag over her shoulder, she heard the portrait hole open. Dread filled her stomach as she looked up, her worst fear confirmed. In came Ron, his tousled red hair shining against his freckled face. He looked paler than usual. Her stomach flipped and then it dropped. In his hands, a floral piece of parchment stuck out. His eyes met hers, determined.
“Merlin,” she said in a barely audible whisper.
A crazed feeling came over her — that Gryffindor feeling. She had to stop him, they could not have this conversation, ever. There was only one thing for it.
She plopped down onto Dean’s lap as gracefully as she could and smashed her lips to his. He froze, startled. Tentatively, he brought his hands to her hips, likely to push her away. She could feel Ron staring. Desperately, she grabbed Dean’s face, deepening the kiss and trying to ignore the fullness of his lips against hers. Shock threatened to overcome her as she realized that she was properly snogging Dean Thomas and that he was beginning to kiss her back.
She heard a sort of sputtering sound from Ron’s direction. She had almost missed it, while focusing on not looking like a complete idiot. Snogging was not something she had much experience with. She suspected the kisses she had exchanged with Viktor, based on how many times they bumped noses, didn’t really count.
She pulled away from Dean abruptly. His eyes blinked slowly as if he were just waking up. His jaw flexed as he opened his mouth and closed it repeatedly, as if wanting to say something.
“Yes, well, thank you. Sorry about the note.”
Without waiting for a response, she stood quickly from their compromising position, snatched up her bag and hurried away from Dean. She brushed past Ron, who seemed to be frozen in confusion, and scurried out the portrait hole.