The horror of the morning’s conversation had lasted until the evening, when a fresh horror presented itself. Hermione was gathering her laundry for the wash when she heard the phone ring. Her bedroom telephone sat on her desk across the room. Her hands were full of laundry, so she left her parents pick it up. It had been years since any of the old neighborhood kids had tried to call.
“Hermione! Dean is on the phone for you!”
She froze. In the hysteria from the morning, she had forgotten that she had given Dean her number. This really wasn’t going to help her “We’re just friends” angle. She dropped the clothes in the middle of the floor and lunged for the phone.
“Your mum sounds nice.”
“Uh, she is.” His voice surprised her. It sounded somehow deeper over the phone, more mature. It was almost unbelievable. Here she was, talking to a boy on the phone like a proper Muggle teenager. She began pacing around her room, the cord dragging behind her. “So, why did you need my number?”
“My mum wants to invite you to dinner sometime next week.”
Hermione balked. “What? Why?”
“Well I couldn’t hide that I had a girlfriend from her, could I? And I definitely couldn’t hide it from my sisters.”
“You don’t have a girlfriend!”
Panic crawled up Hermione’s throat. She couldn’t lie to her parents, and admit she had suddenly got a boyfriend overnight, not after the scene she had made this morning. But she couldn’t sneak out of her house for dinner either.
She could hear his eye roll through the phone.
“I don’t even know where you live. I can’t Apparate yet and my parent’s fireplace isn’t connected to the Floo Network,” she said.
“Neither is mine.” Right. He’s Muggle-born, like you.
It turned out he lived in London. That was only a 30 minute train journey from Reading Station. She could tell her parents she was spending the day at Diagon Alley and then meeting some friends for dinner. That wouldn’t be a total lie.
“To be honest with you Granger, I don’t think my mother means to be refused.”
She gulped. They weren’t really dating, she tried to remind herself. If his mum didn’t like her it wouldn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Yet, she still felt the same drive she always did to have adults approve of her.
They set the date as Friday, the 27th. She really would have much preferred keeping their families out of it altogether but she couldn’t stress over it, so she did her best to put it out of her mind.
The next few days passed innocuously. The Daily Prophet had been fairly quiet for the first time in months. Hermione suspected they might be suppressing news in order to maintain the morale in the country for Christmas. Based on the hints in Harry’s letter, beyond what he intimated about his new musings on Malfoy after the Slughorn Party mishap, the news on the ground was unchanged from what they had been hearing for months.
On Christmas Eve, Hermione and her mother were decorating Christmas cookies when the evening news reported on a missing dignitary who had disappeared Monday evening. Hermione knew the signs. She felt certain it wasn’t an accident and the perpetrators weren’t Muggle. Of course, she considered opening a dialogue about it with her parents, but she didn’t want to dampen the Christmas spirit that filled the Granger household.
Christmas came shining through her window early Wednesday. She stretched and yawned, looking out the window. There were a couple of children already outside in their coats, enjoying their new gifts, riding around on bikes and swinging play swords at each other.
Oddly perceptive to human activity as usual, Crookshanks sauntered over to her, rubbing himself against her legs, meowing as he walked.
“Happy Christmas to you, too Crookshanks.” She walked over to her rather full bookcase and stood on her tiptoes to grab a small loosely wrapped parcel of his favorite treats from the Magical Menagerie, setting it on the floor for him to unwrap.
Before pouncing on the package, he nuzzled his head against her. She laughed as she petted him, appreciating the exceptional show of affection.
When she headed downstairs, she found her parents were already up. “Happy Christmas, Hermione!” her father called from the kitchen.
As she walked past the kitchen, she looked in to see him decked out in his striped pajamas and a Santa cap, rummaging through the cupboards.
She grinned to herself, heading to the sitting room where she found her mother nursing a cup of tea. The house already smelled of the Christmas Day waffles that her family always ate. She gave her mum a hug and began sorting out the presents for her parents.
It was late morning by the time they finished unwrapping gifts. Empty, syrup laden plates sat discarded next to them. It was a treat to be able to eat in the sitting room, which was something her mother was quite particular about any other day of the year.
Hermione thought this might have been one of the best Christmas’ all around. Her dad had received a new set of golf clubs as a joint gift between “his two favorite ladies.” She bought her mum new perfume that both her parents immediately declared as “smelling divine.” Harry had bought her a new set of eagle feather quills. They were lovely and came in a leather case. To her surprise, Ron had also gotten her a gift. It was a tin full of her favorite wizard sweets, mainly Treacle Fudge. A classic Weasley emerald jumper with an orange cat knitted into the front came from Mrs. Weasley, with a container of nut brittle. She had bought the boys a gift each — a new Potion-making kit complete with a new set of vials for Harry, and simply some chocolate for Ron, though she still wasn’t convinced he deserved that much.
“Hermione, there’s one more parcel for you. It came this morning.”
Her mother passed her a delicately wrapped brown parcel and an envelope that had been set among the branches of the tree. Taking mental inventory of all the gifts she received, the only person she hadn’t gotten anything from was Viktor. They hadn’t discussed exchanging gifts, though. Hermione set aside the card and carefully opened the parcel. Inside the wrapping was a black velvet jewelry box. A flutter filled her stomach.
“Someone is trying to make a last minute bid for ‘Best Gift,’ aren’t they?” Mr. Granger said chuckling to himself.
She didn’t respond. Her mother’s eyes bored into her, her eyebrows raised knowingly. Slowly, she opened the box, avoiding her mother’s gaze. Laying in the satin lined box was a thin gold bolo bracelet with a small heart for the clasp. Her jaw dropped a little as she lifted it from the box. The bracelet glinted in the sunlight streaming through the sitting room window.
Astonished, Hermione’s eyes met Mrs. Granger’s shrewd ones. “I-I wasn’t expecting a gift like this.” It was the truth.
Her mind was racing. Who would have sent this to her? Surely not Viktor. He knew they were just friends, and to be frank, he had bought her a bracelet once last year that was nowhere near as tasteful.
Her thoughts drifted hopefully to Ron even though he couldn’t possibly have afforded such a gift. Logic reminded her that he had a girlfriend and that he was too proud to ever ask to borrow money from Harry or the twins. Her heart wasn’t listening to her head. Excitement fluttered in her stomach in spite of herself.
She ripped open the envelope that came with the gift.
“I know this could never possibly equal one of my amazing sketches, but I hope the gift will suffice for today.
The excitement drained out of her and embarrassment took its place. Of course Ron hadn’t and wouldn’t have bought her a gift like this, she knew that. It hadn’t even occurred to her that she and Dean would exchange gifts. Why did he insist on actively keeping up the charade when they didn’t have to? Besides, it wasn’t really a gift if she was going to return it once the contract was fulfilled.
Silently, she placed the bracelet back in the velvet box and snapped it shut. She finally looked at her parents, who seemed somewhat amused, but they didn’t dare bring up any of their suspicions.
Suppressing an eyeroll she said, “Who’s ready to watch It’s a Wonderful Life?”
Friday came much quicker than Hermione imagined it could have. That morning Hermione tried to casually inform her parents of the day’s plans as she cleared the table from breakfast.
“I’m headed into town today. I have a few things to pick up at Diagon Alley before break is over,” she said as she flicked her wand, guiding the dirty dishes to the sink where they began to wash themselves.
Her parents were still not quite used to her doing magic freely around the house. They looked equal parts mystified and concerned.
“Just as well. Your mother and I have plans this afternoon and will be out. Shall we expect you for dinner?” Mr. Granger had heroically managed to converse without breaking eye contact as a washcloth flew by him and began to wipe down the table.
“Actually, no. I’ll be meeting friends for dinner. I’ll be back before late.”
While they hadn’t questioned Hermione any further since Sunday, her father in particular having mostly moved on, her mother was constantly giving Hermione looks. Even now she raised her eyebrows and made a “hmm” sound. Hermione was grateful there was no further prying as she managed to make it to the station with a container of brownies left over from their Christmas bake-a-thon, and with the bolo bracelet glinting from her wrist.
Diagon Alley was surprisingly empty, but she should have expected this. Signs and flyers were plastered throughout with sayings and notices like “A wise wizard is a wary wizard” and “By decree of the Ministry of Magic, Diagon Alley curfew is henceforth set at 9:00 p.m. No wizard shall be seen out of doors, after which a fine of 10 galleons shall be assessed.” A few menacing wanted posters of those wizards recently escaped from Azkaban dotted the shop windows as well.
Everything was rather quiet. The groups who did wander the street spoke in quiet whispers, huddled as they walked. Hermione pulled her coat closer to her.
She stopped at Gringotts to exchange the Muggle money her parents had given her for the rest of the school year. When she went to the apothecary to stock up on some potions ingredients, she had a thought to buy Harry some dried nettles, knowing he was running low, but thought better of it. The Prince surely had a section in his book about ingredient stock management, or maybe even ingredient substitution.
After finishing her shopping at Scribbulus Writing Instruments, she looked around the street deciding where to go next. Down the street, she could see Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes’ colorful storefront. That she could tell, it was busier than the rest of Diagon Alley. She wondered if she should visit. It might be nice to see Fred and George again. But it might be strange for her to go without Ron and Harry. Thinking of Ron reminded her of Lavender and she resolutely turned the other way.
Instead, she decided to finish her afternoon in Flourish and Blotts. The atmosphere of the store was much warmer and welcoming than outside on the street. She loved coming when she could in the off season. The shop was calmer, with more space to browse the shelves and linger if a book caught your eye. Losing herself in the shelves, she looked around for a couple of hours until she found a couple of new releases she hadn’t yet seen in the school library.
After she finalized her purchases, she left Diagon Alley. She hailed a cab, giving the cabbie the address she had written down on a scrap of paper.
“Not too far off. Be about 10 minutes, love.”
She thanked him and sat back, watching the grey of London pass them by.
They eventually pulled to a stop in front of a red brick attached house. It had a beautiful yard, much more so than the Grangers’ simple neat yard. There were colorful pots of plants that when in bloom, she assumed were just as full of color. It was clearly a home full of life.
Hermione paid the driver and got out with her bags. Once the driver pulled away she looked around for any passers-by. Seeing no one, she pulled out her wand and shrunk her shopping bag of purchases to fit nicely in her tote. She tucked her wand away in a pocket on the inside of her coat and walked through the gate and up the walkway.
The white door, as bright and inviting as it was intended to be, loomed ominously before her. She stood there nervously, shuffling from side to side on Dean’s front porch. Her hands were shaking as she tried to smooth her hair, which she was sure had turned frizzy in the cold rain. Why did they have to do this? Every time she thought she was getting used to their arrangement, they upped the ante.
“You can do this, Hermione. Adults like you.”
And besides, that was the whole thing – even if Dean’s mother didn’t like her, they weren’t really dating. Slightly steadier, she rang the bell. She could hear a lot of commotion on the other side. To her relief, it was Dean who opened the door.
He was wearing a maroon turtleneck, a grin on his face. The grin quickly vanished when he caught her nervous expression. He stepped out onto the porch and shut the door behind him.
“What’s wrong? You look like you think you’re about to fail your N.E.W.T.s.” His brows were furrowed in concern as he looked at her.
“I’m just a little nervous. I’ve, erm, never done anything like this before.”
“You’ll be fine, my family is going to love you. Just be yourself.” He paused and then added, “Well, except the part where we aren’t really dating. Don’t be yourself in that.”
She laughed nervously and moved her hand to smooth her hair again.
“Stop that,” he said as he placed his fingers in her hair, lightly tousling it.
Startled, she moved to stop him. If it hadn’t frizzed up to twice it’s normal size yet, it had now.
“Stop flattening your hair. It looks nice when it’s curly and full. More you. I like it,” he said with an earnest smile.
Her stomach did a flip. He was complimenting her hair, not as Dean her pretend boyfriend, but as just Dean. Most people didn’t understand why she kept it so curly and “wild.” People often lamented that she didn’t slick it down with Sleakeazy’s every night, because it was “so pretty straightened.” Sheepishly, she tucked a curl behind her ear.
Catching sight of her wrist, he exclaimed, “You wore it!” He sounded genuinely pleased as he reached out to examine the bracelet dangling from her wrist.
“Actually yes, I wanted to speak with you about that,” she said as she pulled her arm out of his grasp, tugging her sleeve down. “You really didn’t have to get something this nice. We’ve only been fake dating for a few weeks.”
He shrugged shoving his hands in his pockets. “It suits you.” She had figured he would brush her off, which is why she had come prepared.
“Well, on that note, before we go inside, I got you something, too,” she said as she pulled out the wrapped package from her bag.
She was satisfied to see that he looked surprised; he hadn’t expected her to reciprocate the gesture. He took the package, carefully unwrapping it. His eyes lit up as he held the gift up in the porch light. It was a soft leather-bound sketchbook. It had a slightly weathered look to it and was tied with a leather strap. With it, she had bought a magical set of sketch pencils.
“The pencils are charmed. What you draw should move on the page, sort of like a Muggle flip book.” Her voice trailed off. The confidence she had in the gift when she had purchased it was dissipating. Maybe it was a weird gift from a fake-girlfriend. Quickly, she added, “I figured you had used so much of your sketch paper giving me sketches each day, it was only fair.”
He didn’t say anything, instead pulling her into his arms, wrapping her in a tight hug.
“It’s great, Hermione.”
Relieved, she laughed a little into his chest and hugged him back. They stayed that way for a moment, until a car rolled by, reminding them they were still outside on the porch. They pulled away.
“Come on, let’s get inside before they come looking for us.”
The entryway to Dean’s house was an explosion of color and activity. Photos of a younger Dean and all of his sisters lined the wall, interspersed with large paintings with vivid depictions of African people. Some paintings depicted children playing, others were of dozens of people, dancing in celebration. They were beautiful.
“Are those—“ she began to ask, breathlessly.
“Mine? No, I’m not that experimental with paint as a medium. Those are my mum’s.”
As he said this, she noticed the initials “DW” in the lower right corners of the canvases. She knew his mother had a different last name than him, but hadn’t known she was an artist, too. In fact, Hermione had never considered what had inspired him to pursue art when there was no real outlet for that kind of creativity at Hogwarts.
He led her through the hall slowly, giving her time to look from painting to photo. He seemed to be in no rush to join everyone else, their muffled voices coming from behind the closed doors ahead. It felt almost nostalgic, passing by the photos. Dean and his sisters smiled, frozen in time with various missing teeth, unlike wizarding photos that would have moved within their frame. There was a particular photo of a woman with a large, tangerine colored head wrap and a stout light-skinned man in a Royal Navy uniform.
“That’s my step-dad,” Dean explained without prompting. “I don’t see him much. He’s stationed overseas, and doesn’t come home much. Last time he came home, I was at Hogwarts.”
She tore her eyes from the photos to look at his face. There was a slight frown in his face but nothing to betray any great upset.
Before she could give any sort of response, a door to the right swung open. The smell of garlic and sizzling meats wafted into the hallway. A woman followed by a younger girl emerged from the doorway. The woman was tall and darker complected than Dean, but had his same dimples. Her hair was tightly coiled and long, growing out in all directions. She wore a yellow and orange kaftan that appeared to make her glow. Dean’s mother looked much different than Hermione’s, who preferred a muted palette of trousers and jumpers.
“Hermione, this is my mum, Dana Williams. Mum, this is my girlfriend Hermione.”
Despite knowing it was coming, Hermione’s cheeks colored at being called his “girlfriend.” She had never heard him or any boy introduce her as such.
“Hello, Ms. Williams. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she said, shaking her hand.
“And this is my youngest sister, Emilia.”
Emilia’s face lit up with a smile full of wires. She had rainbow colored bands on her braces, giving the smile even more character. Hermione smiled back.
“It’s nice to meet you Emilia,” she said shaking her small hand. “You know, I used to have braces, too. But I always picked boring plain bands. Your rainbow pattern is much cooler!”
Emilia giggled and said a quiet thank you.
“I brought brownies,” Hermione said, suddenly remembering, shuffling the container out from her bag. As she handed them to Ms. Williams, she noted and felt proud that the heating charm had held.
“What a dear! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hermione. We’ve heard so much about you.” At this, she gave her son a knowing glance. “I’ll set these in the kitchen. Dinner should be ready in about 15 minutes.”
There was no time to celebrate her passing her first test. Dean took her hand and led her around the house, to introduce her to the rest of his sisters – Cecily, 10, Sofia and Julia, 12, and Alice, 14.
They approached the first open doorway on the staircase landing, to find two girls deeply engrossed in their respective books, reclined in a couple of blue and purple bean bag chairs. Sofia and Julia were twins who were very unlike Fred and George. In fact, they reminded Hermione of herself at their age. Their hair was tight and coily, like their mother’s, but not nearly as long, with differing headbands to keep their hair out of their face. When Dean introduced her, they merely nodded to them in greeting before turning their wire rimmed glasses back to their books.
The second room was much different. It was bright pink, with various pictures of horses hung throughout. They found Alice helping Cecily paint her toenails. Cecily excitedly introduced herself, exclaiming that she was happy that her brother had found a new friend, but Alice merely looked at her. Hermione thought it was a good sign, when Alice’s eyes glanced down at her bracelet, looking satisfied.
Soon after introductions were made, they were called to dinner. The dining room, was just as vibrant as the rest of the house. The walls were lemon yellow, and more artwork hung on them. She thought that Luna would very much enjoy visiting this house.
In the center of the table was a big blue dish of bowtie pasta with a white-wine sauce, capers, and Italian sausage. There was a basket of buttery warm rolls and a large bowl of salad. Everything tasted just as good as it looked. Even the Italian dressing for the salad tasted homemade.
They discussed their respective Christmases. They told her about the call they had from Dean’s step-dad, Jarold, on Christmas. It was a happy piece of conversation, Hermione was surprised to find. She couldn’t imagine being forced apart from her dad, at such a young age, for such an extended period of time.
The conversation eventually turned from Christmas to Hogwarts. There were a lot of questions about daily life there, which she figured was natural. She must have been only the second or third Hogwarts student they had met, if they had never met Seamus. Discussing school made her shift in her seat uncomfortably. They were skirting so close to the root of their lie. No details regarding how they started dating came up, thankfully.
Instead, the questions took a turn, inquiring about wizarding culture at school specifically.
“How do your parents handle sending you off to such a unique school year after year?” Dean gave his mother a reproachful look, as if he understood some secret meaning to this question that Hermione did not. “They are non-magical like us?”
“Erm, non-magical, yes,” she glanced around the table, unsure if they knew of the word ‘Muggle.’ “I imagine it was hard for them at first, I am an only child. But for the most part my parents are just happy that I’m happy and have managed to make friends, I suppose.”
She brought her glass to her lips, hiding the awkwardness the last point made her feel. Not many people knew, although they could have probably guessed, that Ron and Harry were the first proper friends she ever had. Her childhood had been quite lonely, with only her adult parents and books for friends.
“I’m proud to have a wizard for a son, but I do think it’s quite presumptuous that these people show up on our doorsteps and expect us to hand over our kids to a school we have never heard about!” She lowered her voice, as if she were now divulging a secret, “Mind you, I was still reeling from the revelation that he was a wizard.”
Looking around, she saw the younger of the siblings were picking at their food, uninterested in the conversation, but judging by Dean and Alice’s reaction, this was not a new conversation for their family. She wished she had more to offer. While she was sure her parents had had their concerns and doubts when Professor McGonagall had shown up at their doorstep, she felt they were mainly relieved.
“Professor McGonagall was who came to my house.” She looked at Dean who nodded, confirming the same was true for him. “When I was a kid, a lot of very strange, unexplainable things kept happening to me. I think my parents were just happy to finally have an explanation.”
Ms. Williams conceded, “That is true. While I was surprised to find out he was a wizard, it also made sense. He always had such a strong creative energy as a kid.” She smiled fondly at Dean, who seemed to be groaning internally. “But they left so much unanswered. What about the children born into wizarding families? I’ve done my best to prepare him for the prejudices of this world, but what do they look like in a culture I’ve never seen?”
Hermione didn’t respond immediately, worried about saying the wrong thing. Dean broke in instead.
“Mum, I’ve told you it’s different, you don’t have to worry. In wizarding culture, race doesn’t come up like that.”
His mother shook her head, waving her hand dismissively at Dean. “I just can’t see how that’s possible. And I can’t be the only one who questions it.”
“You’re not wrong, Ms. Williams,” Hermione said. Dean’s eyes snapped to her, surprised. “I don’t think anyone could argue the wizarding world is a utopia. Adversity exists everywhere for certain communities...it just might look different in different places.”
Becoming fixated with the remaining leaves of salad on her plate, Hermione averted her eyes. She didn’t dare say more. Harry had told her last year that Dean hadn’t told his family about Voldemort’s return. She imagined there was a lot he omitted for their mental well-being. She knew what that was like and didn’t want to bring discord where there needn’t be any.
Ms. William’s sigh drew Hermione’s attention. She was eyeing her appreciatively. “I suppose you’re right. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders.”
Suddenly, Sofia spoke. “Is it true that you’re the smartest witch of your age?”
“Yeah! Can you show us some cool magic, unlike Brother?” Julia added quickly.
Dean cried in protest and Hermione laughed, happy to have the heaviness of the previous conversation lifted.
Dinner continued on much more lighthearted subjects and stayed far away from the society of the wizarding world. They retired to the sitting room (with walls of deep plum) for dessert. The girls quizzed Hermione on the different types of spells and magic over brownies and ice-cream.
“Could you turn me into a pig?” Emilia asked, jumping up and down in circles with Cecily, face sticky with chocolate.
Hermione laughed. “Technically, yes.”
Julia and Sofia, who were rolling their eyes at their little sisters’ antics, snapped their attention to her, surprised by her affirmative response. “Really?” they said in unison.
“It would be illegal, since you all are non-magical. But as far as ability goes, sure.”
The younger two were cackling. “If we write to you over the summer when Brother is being mean, can we get you to turn him into a pig?” Cecily asked.
They were all now laughing. “I dunno,” Hermione said through laughter, looking at Dean who sat in a corner with Alice, “Don’t you think he’s too handsome to be turned into a pig?”
“Blech! No!” Sofia exclaimed.
“You can turn him into a pig, it’s fine.” Julia said very resolutely.
The girls began excitedly discussing the possibilities. “If not a pig, what about a cat like the brother from that Halloween Disney movie?” Hermione found herself watching Dean and Alice out of the corner of her eye. They glanced at her a few times. She hoped that Alice’s smile meant that she had gotten the final seal of approval.
The evening drew to an end quicker than Hermione had expected. Surprisingly, she found that she had honestly enjoyed herself. Sofia and Julia were excited to discuss literature with her. She had to admit that they were better readers than even she was at their age. Alice didn’t speak to her much for the rest of the evening after she and Dean had rejoined the group, but she did smile warmly when they made eye contact. The two youngest insisted she come back and play dolls with them. It was already 9 p.m. when Hermione lamented that she should probably call a cab.
“Oh nonsense, at this hour?” Ms. Williams said as she entered the sitting room. “Dean can drive you to the station.”
Hermione looked at Dean in surprise. Learning to drive took a lot of practice and dedication. Not to mention, the whole thing was incredibly nerve-wracking. Hermione had never found time to take the test, much less practice, since she spent so much of her summers away at the Weasleys’. She was impressed.
“I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“Don’t be silly. I won’t let my son get away with not making sure his date gets home safely.” Her smirk told Hermione she was just saying it to rile Dean up.
With that, Hermione found herself being let into the passenger side of a new Toyota Camry by Dean, with a Tupperware container of pasta to-go for good measure. Dean got in and rolled down the window, waving to his mother. Hermione shouted one last “Thank you!” across him as they pulled out and took off down the street.
At first they drove in mostly silence. A warm glow had descended over Hermione, and she didn’t think it was the after effects of dessert. That she could tell, Dean’s family had really truly liked her. And she had liked them. With a pang, she realized that she likely wouldn’t see them again after they fulfilled the contract.
“They really liked you,” Dean said, breaking the relaxed silence. He looked pleased. “Congrats, Granger.”
“Really? You think so?” She said in a rush, excited to have her feelings confirmed. Heaving a heavy sigh of relief, she felt the remaining stress leave her shoulders.
“Definitely. I’ve never properly brought a girlfriend over before. Alice would have been the hardest to crack. Wearing the bracelet we picked out for you really sealed the deal.”
“Your sister helped pick it out?”
“Yeah,” he said. “She kind of insisted. She was worried I’d blow it.”
They both laughed.
“Well she can rest assured, the bracelet is lovely,” she said, holding her wrist up so that the passing street lights illuminated it in shifts. “I’ll be sorry to give it back.”
Dean smiled at her. Seeing him smile was contagious, Hermione always found herself grinning back. The dimples in his cheeks and the light in his eyes ensured it was catching.
His expression shifted as a thought seemed to come to him, his smile faltering as he turned his attention back to the road.
“Sorry about my mum,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
He took a moment before speaking. His right hand was slung over the steering wheel, and the other rested on the gear shift. But for his clenched jaw, he looked relaxed, like driving was a force of habit. He seemed so mature in that moment, and here she was, the kid who couldn’t drive.
“About all the race and culture stuff,” he finally said. “My grandparents are American so they raised her to always think of things in those terms.”
Was he really embarrassed? He was defensive, posturing maybe, but she didn’t see any sincerity in it. It was true that these things weren’t really discussed in such stark terms at Hogwarts, or in the wizarding world at all for that matter. But she certainly didn’t disagree with his mother.
“The wizarding world isn’t free of those prejudices any more than the Muggle world. I think we just don’t notice the small instances that occur because we’re so focused on everything we face as Muggle-borns.”
Dean didn’t respond, lost in thought. Hermione turned her attention to the passing buildings. It was misty again. She shivered, wishing she had brought her gloves. Without a word, Dean turned up the heat.
The car came to a stop at a light. He reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze. The red glow from the light reflected on their faces, which thankfully hid the blush that once again threatened to overtake hers. He gave her a small smile, shyer this time.
“Thanks for coming. Really. I know you weren’t looking forward to it. My family is just really close.” He brought his hand off the steering wheel and rubbed the back of his head. “It would have been too much to keep from them on top of everything else.”
The light turned green and he trailed off. She nodded in understanding because she did understand.
“Well, jokes on you,” she said, attempting to lighten the conversation. “They gave me express permission to turn you into a pig should you get out of line.”
He busted out in laughter and she joined him.
To Hermione’s surprise, once they reached the station, Dean got out with her.
“Give me a ring when you get home safely.” Before she could interrupt he added, “I don’t care how late it is. It’s the duty of a good boyfriend to make sure his lady gets home safe and sound.”
Hermione wrinkled her nose at being called his lady. This only made him laugh. He pulled her into another hug, rubbing her back in an attempt to warm her up. Even in the cold night air, his scent still enveloped her – warm like bergamot.
Once seated on the train, she leaned her head back on the seat, exhausted from the mental exertion. She thought of pulling out one of her new books, but they were still shrunken and may look too odd to the few Muggle passengers on the train. Her hands were still cold from the crisp night air. She shoved them into her coat pockets, pausing when she felt a folded piece of paper in one of them.
The train began moving as she pulled it out. It was one of Dean’s notes. She laughed incredulously to herself, drawing a few stares from the few late-night riders. The memory of their hug came back to her. He had snuck it into her pocket! A huge grin spread across her face as she unfolded it. It was an adorable sketch of Crookshanks, curled up in front of what she presumed was the common room fire. In the corner, there was a note, “Thanks for everything, Dean x.”