To All The Wizards: The Return

The rest of the break was spent quietly. Dean managed to continue sending Hermione a sketch every day, mostly just quick single cartoons. She imagined him to be busy enjoying his family, going out to the cinema, or staying in for game nights. The thought of them all going about their normal Muggle life made her smile. Sometimes she would send him a quick note back but generally Edison, the owl Dean had bought his family, didn’t wait.

The New Year brought torrents of freezing rain. Hermione mostly stayed in, reading and writing the occasional letter to Harry. She had gotten out once to go shopping with her mum for a few necessities – new undergarments, hair-care products, and Mrs. Granger had tried to tempt Hermione into buying more make-up.

That she could tell, the wizarding world was unchanged. No great upheavals had occurred. The Prophet was all she had to rely on, and seemed to her to be back to its general agenda. Despite enjoying her relaxing quiet time with her family and Crookshanks, she was getting antsy to be back amongst wizards, magic, and news.

On the day of her return to Hogwarts, the sun peeked bright as ever through her curtains. As Hermione did some final checks around her room before levitating her trunk down the stairs, Crookshanks in tow, she felt almost giddy. Of course, excitement wasn’t an unusual emotion for her upon her return to Hogwarts. But as she and her parents sped down the M40, thoughts of Hogwarts, meals in the Great Hall, Harry, and even Ron, made her feel that she couldn’t cross over to Platform 9 ¾ soon enough. Thoughts even of Dean seemed to give her stomach a flutter.

“Where did the time go?” her mother asked wistfully as they helped her unload her trunk and Crookshanks’ carrier from the car onto a cart.

“I am sorry we couldn’t spend more time with you dear. It feels like we never see our only daughter.” As he said this with a crack in his voice, her dad pulled her into a firm hug, perhaps to hide the mist in his eyes.

“Mum, Dad,” she said a little exasperatedly, pushing her father away, “Summer break will be here before you know it.”

Her mother gave her a doubtful look. Uncomfortably, Hermione shifted back and forth on her feet, the unacknowledged truth hanging between them. They both knew she would likely be home for a few weeks at most, before a letter would come from The Burrow inviting her to the Weasleys’, back into the wizarding world, for the rest of the summer — that is if she even came home at all.

As her mother pulled her into a tight hug she whispered into her ear, “If you need anything make sure to write. Encouragement for exams, more money, boy advice, you name it.” Her voice came out strained in a way that made Hermione suspect she was biting back tears.

They pulled away and Hermione gave her mother a comforting smile. Instead of feeling exasperated at her mother’s one last attempt to glean a little information of her truthfully non-existent love life, she was touched. What a relief it would be to just break down and tell her mum everything, from the embarrassing and confusing mess with Ron, to the situation she had gotten herself and Dean into. They’d cry, her mother would laugh at her daughter, relieved that they have a “normal” teenage daughter after all.

She wasn’t a “normal” teenager, though. Everyone had hiccups in their routine life, social and otherwise, but it didn’t mean it had to define her. Besides, she didn’t need to cry to her mother. She was feeling surer of herself since Christmas break than she had all of the previous semester. In fact, she had only thought of Ron a few times over the last week.

“Well, I’d better be off then so you don’t miss tea with Ms. Stewart.”’

They gave her quick nods, her mother choosing to look somewhere distant over Hermione’s shoulder, leaving Hermione to suspect that she was still holding back tears.

Appearing on the other side of the wall to Platform 9 ¾, Hermione was unsurprised to find that it wasn’t very crowded. Groups of wizarding parents, who stuck out with their poor attempts at Muggle fashions, stood with their children going over final checks, ensuring they hadn’t forgotten anything. Being early was generally fine with her, but she now regretted it.

Dean and Seamus were nowhere to be found. It wasn’t that she was excited to sit with them per se, she just felt more ready to get on with their mission. Arriving early meant she was faced with the dilemma of either waiting outside the train for them or regularly poking her head out into the corridor so that they could find her.

Was that too eager? Maybe they wouldn’t even look for her at all. They were best friends, and it wasn’t like they were actually her friends. They would probably just find their own compartment to themselves, as friends do. It was probably best to leave them to it, and if they ran into her, great!

Levitating her trunk onto the train she contented herself with finding a quiet compartment towards the back of the train. She settled her trunk in the corner and set down Crookshanks, letting him out of his carrier. It was almost as if he could sense the magic in the air, he was completely back to himself. Still, she was hoping his surly countenance might keep anyone else from joining her.

Busying herself with the extra knitting she’d brought along to pass the time, she let her mind wander. The train got progressively noisier as more students started to pile in. Crookshanks lay on the opposite bench, pawing at a ball of yarn that he had managed to claim from her bag. A part of her lamented not having found Dean and Seamus, but with the train set to depart in a few moments it looked like she might have a compartment to herself after all.

Then, as if sensing her satisfaction, the compartment door slid open. Luna stood there smiling as serenely as ever, her wavy blonde hair pulled into pigtails. She was wearing her signature radish shaped earrings and a violently orange baggy jumper. A pale pink skirt peeked out from beneath, leaving Hermione to wonder if she had been attempting to dress as a Muggle or if this was something she actually kept in her closet.

“Hello Hermione!” she said brightly.

Not responding, Hermione turned to Crookshanks expectantly, waiting for him to hiss or at least stare at their new visitor uncomfortably until she left. Rather than do any of this, he instead hopped down from the bench and began meowing at her. He was practically inviting her in, the traitor!

Sighing, she accepted her new compartment companion and said as politely as she could manage, “Hello Luna.” Grumpily, Hermione turned to stare out the window, knitting abandoned in her lap. Now she really regretted not finding Dean and Seamus. She and Luna said nothing to each other as the train jolted forward.

Hermione resumed her knitting, trying her best to focus, nodding as Luna chatted to her about going with her father to Wales for an interview. She had hoped there was a recent edition of the Quibbler that Luna might pass the time with, so they wouldn’t have to chat. Luna was kind and actually a talented dueler, but her outlandish theories and conversations drove Hermione mad. When possible, she did her best not to find herself alone in conversation with her.

“Did you eat your dirigible plums for the New Year?”

Internalizing a groan, Hermione looked up. Her traitor cat was curled up next to Luna, letting her pet him lightly along his back. Stifling an eye roll she said, “Erm, no. My parents are Muggle. They were out at a benefit so I didn’t really do anything for New Year’s Eve.”

“It’s a shame you had to miss out. As they say, ‘Dirigible plums in a stew will help you see the world anew!’”

It was a strain to keep her face neutral. Ron often complained about her judgmental “know-it-all” look. Not wanting to be rude, she managed to give her a polite smile before turning to Crookshanks and fixing him with a cold stare as he snoozed next to Luna. They weren’t often at odds over an opinion of a person.

The trip drug on for longer than Hermione thought possible. Trying to listen to Luna’s stories and inquiries politely and passively was too great a challenge for her. She had gotten up to feign a prefect patrol three times. Luna had wanted to go over, in detail, newfound evidence that had come out proving that Minister Scrimgeour was a vampire. Upon arrival to Hogsmeade station, Hermione nearly ran off the train.

With a huff, she hopped down onto the platform. She shouldered her bag and took a peek at Crookshanks in his carrier. He seemed downright pleased with his new friend and to be back at Hogwarts.

“Traitor,” she murmured to him.

Eager to put distance between her and Luna, she made her way to the station exit. Her fingers, which were clasped around Crookshanks’ carrier, were quickly growing numb. Large banks of snow had been magically piled up to the side. As she exited the station, she found the snow banks were nearly up to her hips. She paused to put her gloves on. Setting Crookshanks’ carrier down, she looked up to the cloudy sky, hoping there wasn’t more snow in the forecast.

A pair of arms suddenly enveloped her from behind. She let out a yelp of surprise.

“How did you fair, surviving a whole week without me?”

She laughed and whipped around. “Dean!” His arms were still around her as she stared up at him. Her grin widened even further upon realizing that she wasn’t nervous in the slightest, unlike she might have been last term. “I could be asking you the same thing, you know.”

It was his turn to laugh. The fog of his breath caught in the air between them. He finally pulled her into a hug, the now familiar smell of bergamot surrounding her. He whispered into her ear, “I hope it was a good break, because we have a lot of work to do now that we’re back.”

When she pulled away she gave him a curt nod with a faux grim expression on her face to convey her understanding of the incredible gravity of the situation. This too, made him laugh.

“Alright, you jammy git. We get it, you have a girlfriend and you missed her.” Seamus pushed his way between them, looking annoyed at Dean. He turned to Hermione, “How are ye? Didn’t see you on the train. This one assumed you’d be busy with your prefect duties. Can you believe he doesn’t see me for two weeks and I barely get a ‘Hullo!’ but he sees you after one and acts as if he’s won the House Cup! Unbelievable.”

Not listening to Dean’s protests, Seamus picked up Crookshanks’ carrier and offered his arm to Hermione. Laughing, she took it and they walked together, leaving Dean behind, discussing their Christmases and their town’s respective lousy weather.

Hogwarts appeared ahead as they passed between the two winged boar statues guarding the entrance to the grounds. The sky was still grey, but even without the sun to reflect off of the paned windows, the castle seemed to wink down at them in the distance, welcoming them back. Hermione took a deep breath and smiled. She could feel her whole body relax, stress she hadn’t realized she had been carrying rolling off of her.

Dean was doing his best to engage Seamus in an enthusiastic explanation of a new television programme he’d seen over the holiday break, trying to get back into his friend’s good graces. Seamus mainly kept his attention ahead, sometimes responding to her rather than Dean. She could tell he was going to string Dean along a little while longer for not properly prioritizing his best friend.

To their left, the chimney to Hagrid’s hut billowed smoke. Hermione felt a bit guilty. She hadn’t managed to find time to say hello to her friend before leaving for the holidays. It was late in the afternoon and Harry and Ron wouldn’t be back till the early evening. She could visit him now.

Her mind made up, she piped up suddenly, “I’m going to Hagrid’s.” Dean and Seamus looked confused but she offered no further explanation. Most of the students, even their fellow Gryffindors who liked Hagrid, didn’t understand why she, Harry, and Ron liked him so well. “Will you take Crookshanks up to the common room for me?”

Bemused, they nodded. Without another word to them, she bounded off in the direction of Hagrid’s hut, eager to get out of the cold.

The gruff voice that came from behind the door after she had knocked told her he hadn’t been expecting any visitors.

“Just a mo’.”

She could hear the scraping of a chair and Fang moving excitedly behind the door. A bleary eyed Hagrid swung open the door. His wooly hair was a little matted to one side.

“Oh I’m sorry Hagrid. Were you sleeping?”

“Blimey Hermione! Thought yeh were Professor Dumbledore. Ah, is nuthin’. Just sat down fer a kip. Had ter get up early this mornin’ ter clear the paths fer you lot.” He indicated to the path to the gates, in which the Hogwarts Express passengers were still ambling up. “Come in, come in!”

He quickly ushered her into his one-room hut. There was a large fire burning in the hearth, warming the whole hut. Hermione pulled off her knitted cap and gloves, taking a seat at the table. She had to hop up in order to sit and her legs dangled down, feet not touching the ground, like they always had since first year.

“Tea?”

She nodded as he set a kettle over the fire. Fang padded his way toward her and set his head on her lap. His head was thick and heavy, taking up most of her lap. She laughed and patted his head.

“Did yeh have a good holiday?” he asked as he began washing out a couple of bucket-sized mugs.

Hermione could hear the accusation in his voice. She quickly apologized for not paying him a visit leading up to the holidays. Harry and Ron were always rather inconsistent with visiting Hagrid, but she tried to make her way down as often as she could. This whole situation with Dean and Ron had taken up so much of her time in December.

Hagrid forgave her. The tea was very bitter but, happy to be absolved of her guilt, she drank it happily.

They discussed the weather and their holidays. Hagrid and Professor Trelawney had apparently had a bit too much to drink over Christmas dinner and had quite loudly serenaded the Great Hall with their own particular stylings of Christmas carols. That was until Professor Flitwick had cast Silencio, which had been met with great cheer from everyone else trying to enjoy the festivities.

The conversation lapsed into silence. Hermione eyed the copy of the Daily Prophet laying under a few other papers on the table.

“The Daily Prophet proved to be useless again over the holidays,” she said with a sigh. “It seems to me like they were suppressing news. There were all sorts of disappearances on the Muggle news.”

“Can’ teach an ol’ dog new tricks. Times’re dark, an’ the Minister’s workin’ hard ter get people back on the Ministry’s side. Couldn’ have people frightened over the Christmas holidays, I s’pose.”

Hermione scoffed. “Yes. Meanwhile, they keep sending out these leaflets,” she held up a leaflet about home protection from the issue on the table, “and being a Muggle-born, I’m left to try and put up protective enchantments on my house by myself. I’m barely of age!”

“Come ter think of it, I think the Order might’ve mentioned something about getting protections in place for your family, ev’rythin’ considered. They’re a bit stretched at the mo’.”

She nodded in understanding. Of course, putting enchantments on a house in Muggle Reading that weren’t certain to be necessary wouldn’t be at the top of the Order’s priority list. But, she knew this was going to be a concern eventually as Harry’s best friend, even if they hadn’t yet considered the full implications of that fact.

Pulling her out of this deep reverie, Hagrid said, “Heard yeh’ve been seein’ tha’ Dean fellow. Good kid from the looks o’ ‘im.”

She sloshed a bit of tea onto her front as she moved to take a drink. “Ah yes,” she said, spluttering as she coughed. “You heard about that. It’s a bit embarrassing really. I didn’t expect it to garner so much attention.”

“O’ course ev’ryone is interested. They were las’ time, mind.”

“Everyone was interested in that salacious fake story Rita slapped onto paper because Harry and Viktor were both famous. And besides, that was years ago.”

“After the incident at the Ministry yer a spot famous yerself. Ev’ryone knows Hermione Jean Granger now.”

If the subject of Dean had made her blush, now her face was burning. She turned her attention to Fang, who had dropped a large slimy bit of rope in her lap, intent on being played with. As she feigned trying to tug it away from his mouth she replied indignantly, “That was just because of some creative reporting on the Prophet’s part. I was unconscious for most of it.”

Thinking about the Ministry made her uncomfortable. Partly because most students at Hogwarts had the complete wrong idea or just wanted information about Harry Potter, the Chosen One. Mainly though, she felt this sort of vague sense of fear when she thought about it. The events themselves were very hazy to her. Escaping the Prophecy Room was the last thing she remembered clearly. After that, it was just a veil and fear.

“Not ter the people who don’ know yeh. The Prophet, fer better or worse, is still most folk’s standard fer news. Yer becomin’ famous in yer own right.”

It was approaching dusk by the time she left Hagrid’s. She kept pondering the idea of becoming “famous in her own right.” What did that mean? It was true that amongst the Daily Prophet’s extensive coverage of the incident at the Ministry (most of which was grossly exaggerated or misrepresented) they had written up a couple of small profiles on her and the others to accompany their think pieces and reports on the matter. “Hermione Jean Granger – Bravery, Brains, and Beauty” in particular had been irksome. It relied on information from a source close to Hermione, whom she suspected was none other than Rita Skeeter.

The unsubstantiated speculation from a newspaper about her role among a dozen others hardly constituted “fame” though. It barely constituted any marked interest from anyone at the school who knew her. She hugged her coat closer to her. It had started to snow again.             

Although she had attempted to eat a few of the rock cakes Hagrid had offered her, she decided upon reaching the entrance hall to head to dinner. Harry and Ron should be back soon, and she could meet up with Dean and Seamus. Seamus had requested that she look over his Transfiguration essay, which was due Tuesday.

The Great Hall was full of students chatting merrily over potato soup, fish and chips, and other delicious smelling dishes, catching up after winter break. She quickly spotted Dean and Seamus, the latter enthusiastically waving to her to join them. She waved and began to head towards the Gryffindor table, when she ran headlong into none other than Professor Dumbledore. She let out an exclamation of surprise, followed by her immediate apology. He smiled at her, his eyes twinkling from behind his half-moon spectacles.  

“Ah, Miss Granger. What a happy accident.”

“Good evening, Professor,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster, considering she had just crashed into him in front of the entire Great Hall. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Dean and Seamus craning their necks to see what was going on.

“Would you please pass this note to Harry?” He handed her a small roll of parchment. As he did so, she caught sight of his other withered hand peeking out from the arm of his royal purple traveling cloak. This was the first time she had seen it up close, and it looked far more grisly an injury than Harry had described. “I believe he’s just arrived but I have some business in the village I must attend to.”

He conspicuously tucked his withered hand behind his back, and she brought her wide eyes to look at him. She stammered, “Erm, certainly Professor!” He didn’t show any other signs of being perturbed by her tactless gaze. She dropped her eyes to the floor, looking instead at the gold tipped riding boots peeking out beneath the hem of his cloak.

“Excellent! I do beg your pardon, but I must be off.”

With what she could have sworn was a wink and a swish of his cloak he was gone. It took a moment before what he had said sunk in. Her friends were back. Looking over to Dean and Seamus, who were looking at her curiously, she mouthed, “Sorry,” and turned on her heel, out of the Great Hall.

In her excitement, she nearly ran into Harry and Ron upon entering the portrait hole.

“Harry!” She said slightly breathless. “Where’s Ginny?” she asked looking around, having expected to see the three of them.

“She said she wanted to meet up with her friends in the Great Hall first,” said Ron.

“Well I got back a few hours ago. Just got back from visiting Hagrid. Professor Dumbledore wanted me to give you this.” She handed Harry the note and then looked at Ron. There was no blush creeping across her cheeks like there might generally have been. However, it wasn’t lost on her that this was the first time he had directly addressed her on purpose in months.

Before anything else could be said, a high pitched voice called from across the common room, “Won-Won!”

Ron grimaced. It was more than his usual grimace. His shoulders dropped and his face darkened. Hermione tore her gaze from him and back to Harry as Lavender ran to him, attacking him with a hug and dragging him away without a word to her or Harry. Right. They’re still together. Nothing’s changed. He hasn’t apologized, she reminded herself.

“Come on!” Harry said, sparing their friend no further thought. “I have loads to tell you.”

They had settled at a quiet table in the corner of the common room, thankfully far from Lavender and Ron, who had immediately attached themselves at the mouth. While she did feel more fortified against the visual onslaught of Lavender and Ron than she usually might have, she still didn’t fancy enduring it if she didn’t have to.

“Is that the news that was so important you had to tell me?” Hermione asked, exasperated, after spending the last half hour debating whether or not Professor Snape, a known Order member, was helping Draco Malfoy with some dark plan for Voldemort.

“Yes,” he said defensively, irritated by her apparent lack of enthusiasm in the mystery. “Well that and I was propositioned by the Minister.”

“I’m sorry?” she said incredulously.

“Yeah. We got into a bit of a row.”

As he explained the details of the argument, she couldn’t help but feel irritated at his lack of concern over this, an actually important matter.

“You can’t just get into rows with the Minister of Magic!” she said swatting at him with each syllable.

He blocked each swat with the cushion from the chair. “What else am I supposed to do, go along with it? ‘Sure thing, Minister. I believe it was the Ministry’s stance that I must not tell lies, but sure I’ll be your poster boy!’”

“Of course not. But I think you could be a little more careful. What if the Prophet had picked it up?”

“What, instead of running their crack-pot theories about me being the Chosen One? I think I’m–” He trailed off, his eyes suddenly catching sight of something towards the portrait hole. Turning to follow his gaze, she saw Ginny, returning from dinner. Harry’s eyes followed her all the way up the girl’s dormitory steps before he cleared his throat, continuing as if there had been no distraction. “Anyway. It doesn’t matter. This isn’t really a surprise, they’re panicked. And they should be!”

She nodded, not wanting to press further and also choosing not to comment on the red-head demanding so much of his attention mid-conversation. Lifting her hand to her mouth, she coughed, feigning ignorance. Without warning, Harry snatched her wrist and brought it up to his eyes for inspection. Realizing what he had noticed, she snatched it back, heat creeping back up her skin. It was too late, his eyebrows were raised behind his glasses and he had a smirk on his face.

“Don’t look at me like that,” she said airily, grabbing a random book off the side-table next to her seat. She feigned a sudden intense interest in Wizards Chess: Wins and Woes.

“I was just appreciating your­ nice gift.” His grin was almost devilish. He was so irksome sometimes. “Are you sure you two only just started dating?”

“It’s just a bracelet. Viktor got me a bracelet for my birthday last year.”

“I’ve never seen you wear that bracelet, plus I don’t imagine he knows anything about gold that doesn’t have wings attached to it.”

She glared at him. “Well then what did you get Ginny for Christmas?”

He spluttered, his face quickly turning as red as a Quaffle. “Erm, we don’t generally exchange gifts.” He looked down sheepishly, after surreptitiously glancing to the top of the girl’s dormitory staircase.

She sighed. It wasn’t as fun to tease him about Ginny as it was before. Now that Dean’s plan appeared to be working — or at least it had been before break — she wasn’t sure who Ginny had feelings for, and it made her feel guilty.

As if summoned by the thought, Dean entered the common room with Seamus. Dean was wearing a forest green jumper and had his hands tucked into his pockets. She wondered how many girls attention he had caught today, suspecting it had been a lot.

The two looked around mid-conversation, searching for a spot of their own. She smiled, feeling the solidarity, when she saw Dean notice Lavender, now in Ron’s lap, and grimace. He must have felt her gaze, because he looked over to her in that moment. For a split second he looked like he might come over, but glancing at Harry, seemed to think better of it. Instead he rolled his eyes and inclined his head at the bunch of limbs and movement that was Ron and Lavender in their armchair, as if to say “can you believe him?” She laughed.

Dean and Seamus eventually found their own spot with a couple of younger boys she knew to be Seamus’ friends. As the evening passed, Harry and Hermione finished catching up about Christmas, and the Weasleys. They had a grand time disparaging Percy for a while before Harry excused himself to go finish his Transfiguration essay (which Hermione knew to mean he was going to start his essay).

It was getting late, but Hermione didn’t feel tired. She made eye-contact with Dean who smiled at her before turning his attention back to Seamus and his friends. A thought occurred to her. The common room was still relatively full. This was her chance to make her move and play her part. Her newfound confidence surged through her and she smiled.

Not taking her eyes off of Dean, as he continued to listen attentively to Ciaran, a 5th year friend of Seamus’, she got up and walked deliberately across the common room. The three other boys didn’t look up when she dropped her bag at the foot of the couch. Dean looked up and motioned for her to sit next to him.

A little self-conscious, she looked over her shoulder. At that moment, Ginny was descending from the girl’s dormitory with some parchment and a quill, likely to send Mrs. Weasley a letter as she usually did once she returned to school. Ginny’s blue eyes met hers, and narrowed. A surge of boldness filled Hermione.

With a cheery grin, acting as naturally as she could, Hermione plopped down into Dean’s lap. She felt satisfied when he jumped in surprise. She looked into his slightly widened eyes and smiled innocently. His eyes looked at her questioningly. But she was sure. Accepting her move, he smirked at her, placing his left hand in her knee and resting his right behind her in the arm chair.

The group of boys didn’t notice anything amiss. Seamus rolled his eyes slightly at them before turning his attention to the others.

“What did your mum say when she’d found out where you’d been?” asked Sean, a 4th year boy she didn’t know particularly well.

“That if I ever snuck out to a Muggle pub again, she’d turn me into a sheep and sell me to Mr. Doyle, the farmer down the road,” Ciaran said with a mischievous smile. “If you lads are ever in the village, I’ll take you there myself. Best chips in all of Ireland.”

At the thought of hot, greasy chips, Hermione’s stomach gurgled. Dean turned his attention to her, eyebrow raised. Slyly, he poked her stomach. She pushed his hand away.

“Stop that,” she said.

He gave her side another poke, earning him a squeak from her. “Why didn’t you eat dinner?”

“I ate at Hagrid’s,” she said matter-of-factly. Another gurgle emitted from her stomach in protest. A few choked down bites of rock cakes did not constitute a meal. “And Dumbledore asked me to do something for him.” That mostly was true. He didn’t need to know how excited she had been to see two of her only friends, one of which she wasn’t even really talking to.

Dean looked at her suspiciously, before finally deciding to accept her explanation, but not before poking her one more time for good measure. The boys broke out into peels of laughter, pulling them back into the conversation.

“What’s brought this on, then?” Dean’s voice came in a surreptitious whisper, as the boys began setting up for a game of gobstones.

“Can’t a girlfriend sit with her boyfriend?” As she said this, she even batted her eyes for good measure.

“The thing is, ‘with’ and ‘on’ are two different things.” He looked at her with eyes that might have reduced other girls into a giggling heaps and tucked a curl behind her ear. Not her, though. This was a game, and now that she was playing properly, she was winning.

“True. But it looks like it’s working for them.”

In the corner, unmoved from their armchair, Lavender now poked and prodded at Ron, whose jaw was clenched as he stared off into space. Dean snorted. Then they both looked at Ginny, who was at a table by the windows, scribbling furiously on her parchment. Her neck was red, her temper’s first sign of warning.

Looking back at Hermione, he smiled brightly. “Looks like it’s working for us, too.”

The next day there was a buzz of excitement in the common room. Hermione stood in front of the notice board, reading the new notice thoughtfully.

“APPARITION LESSONS - If you are seventeen years of age, or will turn seventeen on or before the 31st August next, you are eligible for a twelve week course of Apparition Lessons. Please sign below if you would like to participate. Cost: 12 Galleons”

Hesitantly, she signed her name below Parvati’s. She had 12 Galleons to spare, but was apprehensive in learning. She had read that Apparition was quite unpleasant. Not to mention, it was a large responsibility. This was partly why she hadn’t learned to drive in the Muggle world.

Sighing, she backed away from the notice board.

“Good morning!” she said cheerily to Harry as he and Ron walked up to read the notice. She had no intention of speaking to Ron directly until he apologized, but had decided she could be civil while he was around.

Before they could respond, a pair of hands came to cover Ron’s eyes. “Guess who, Won-Won?”

Unable to keep a straight face, and barely able to repress the snort that threatened to crawl out of her mouth, she stalked off. It wasn’t fair to Lavender how laughable she found their relationship. She knew her roommate deserved better, but at the same time felt Ron brought all of this onto himself.

“I really wish she didn’t have to be around all the time,” Harry said, after catching up with her as she exited the portrait hole.

Ron, to both of their surprise, caught up with them before she could say that it wasn’t Lavender’s fault she liked Ron so much. Ron’s ears were bright red and his lips were pursed with frustration. To her relief, she spotted Dean up ahead. Not wanting to hear Ron berate Lavender when it was him being idiotic, she sped forward, leaving them behind.

“So – Apparition,” she said once she caught up with Dean.

“I’m excited, you?” he said, taking her book bag from her. She had forgotten that he had taken to carrying it for her.

“Erm, nervous. I’m probably going to pick up a book on the theory later tonight from the library.”

He laughed shaking his head. As he did, he caught sight of Ron and Harry behind them. His eyebrows shot up as he looked back at her. “Ron not walking with Lavender?”

Casually she replied, “I don’t know. Their relationship issues aren’t my business.”

“Looks like he wants to be friends with you again, if you ask me.”

“We are friends,” she reminded him. “He’s just a prat. He can apologize and be nicer to Lavender if he wants things to go back to normal.”

If Dean was surprised before, this surprised him even more. “Apologize to Lavender?”

“Yes. It’s not her fault she has feelings for him. She isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s Ron who’s using her.”

“Ah, to be used in romance. I wouldn’t know what that feels like,” he said with a straight face. She smacked his arm.

“Yes, because you’re the only one being used,” she said under her breath.

“You started it,” he said, looking down at her and giving her a playful nudge, dimples cutting into his cheeks.

She shook her head and laughed. A portrait of two old warlocks were shouting at each other, deep in a debate regarding the import of foreign magical creatures. Their voices carried and reverberated off the walls.

“That reminds me, I forgot to tell you last night, I spoke with Ginny,” Dean said suddenly in an undertone.

“Oh?”

“Yeah. She actually said hello to me at dinner. We chatted for a few moments, and she asked me and Seamus how our holidays were. So I told her about you coming over for dinner and meeting my family. You should have seen the look on her face! You would have thought she’d been hit by a Bludger.”

Hermione thought about this for a moment. Was it good or bad? Either Ginny was still interested in Dean and was trying to maintain some sort of familiarity, or she didn’t have feelings for him at all and could now easily make small-talk with him.

Taking Hermione’s silence as an invitation to continue he said, “She was upset. She tried to hide it, but I could tell. Her neck started turning red, which always happens when she’s angry. All she said was, ‘That’s nice’!” He looked at her excitedly, waiting to see her reaction.

This was news. First Ron being put out with Lavender and trying to insert himself back into their friend group, and now this. This insane plan was working, it was actually working! “I can’t believe it,” she said.

“It’s not like I didn’t want her to meet my family. She lived too far and never seemed keen on me meeting the rest of hers.” He slung his arm around her, looking very pleased with himself. “We’re doing it Granger.”

Part of her knew she shouldn’t be proud of their deception, but another, much louder part of herself was thrilled. Thinking about how she had spent last night, curled up in Dean’s lap as she chatted with Seamus and his friends, she smiled. She was apparently much more capable than she thought.

Who knows, maybe by the end of it, I’ll finally be over Ron like I hoped I’d be, she thought wistfully as they walked out onto the grounds towards the greenhouses.

Part 8