To All The Wizards: The Talk

The next morning brought fresh snow. Having woken up early to finish packing, Hermione watched the sunrise glimmer off the undisturbed blanket of snow. Her mind was foggy from lack of sleep. After the party Lavender and Parvati, who had waited up for her, demanded details of the party, including but not limited to what every guest was wearing. They had interrogated her for over an hour before she was able to excuse herself to bed.

After all of her things were packed away in her trunk, she looked around the room to ensure there was nothing she was forgetting. Her tote and coat she left on her bed. The house-elves would only transport things left at the foot of their beds onto the train.

Satisfied everything was set, she headed down to breakfast. It was still early, but she needed a strong cup of coffee to clear her mind. The Great Hall was nearly empty. Even the head table where the staff generally took their meals was empty except for Professor Sprout, who always woke early to tend to the greenhouses.

The enchanted ceiling made it appear as if the soft flakes of snow were falling overhead, just as they were outside through the tall arched windows. Staring up at the gently falling snow, she sipped on her coffee (black just like she liked it), her mind wandering.

“I told you how amazing you looked tonight, and I meant it.”

These words had come to her mind repeatedly over the course of the morning. It embarrassed her to admit even to herself how flattered she was. She knew Dean had meant it in his own way because he was kind. But she also couldn’t shake the memory of his face when Ginny had entered the party. It was clear how affected he was. Had Ron ever looked at her like that?

Of course he hasn’t, she thought to herself, sighing. And even if he had, those days are long gone now.

More students were slowly milling into the Great Hall. They carried with them a buzz of excitement, with the holidays now upon them. A distant bell chimed. Shaking her head she got up, pushing away her plate of cold eggs and toast, and looked at her watch. She would need to hurry if she was going to reach the common room in time to see Harry off.

By the time she had rounded the corner to the corridor leading to the common room, the Fat Lady’s portrait was already swinging open. She waited at the end of the corridor as Harry, Ginny, and Ron made their way over to her. As they approached, she could see that although Harry and Ginny had been out just as late as she had been, Ron looked much worse for wear.

“Sleep well?” Harry asked as they made their way down the next corridor. His voice was slightly raspy from a lack of sleep.

“Well enough. Got up early to finish packing. Lav and Parvati kept me up late talking about the party.” Hermione could feel Ron bristling from the other side of Harry, still apparently bitter about not being included in any of the Slug Club activities.

“Had to get my packing done last night so McGonagall could have it sent off to the Burrow,” Harry said stifling a yawn.

“Speaking of last night, where did you get off to? Dean and I went to say goodnight to you and Luna and couldn’t find you anywhere.” She glanced at him suspiciously.

He shrugged. “Don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh don’t play thick. You disappeared pretty shortly after Mr. Filch and Malfoy showed up.”

This piqued Ron’s interest, making him forget that he had refused to speak in conversation with Hermione for the past month. “You didn’t tell me Malfoy was there.”

“You were asleep when I got back and you’ve been in a right mood all morning. When would I have had time to tell you?”

Ron merely grunted, now remembering that he was in a sour mood.

“Professor Slughorn was pretty disappointed that you and Dean left so early,” said Ginny suddenly, looking at her coolly from beside Ron.

She instantly caught what Ginny was trying to suggest. Harry’s eyebrows flew up and Ron was scowling in her direction. Most couples probably would have taken the opportunity of having the express permission to be out past curfew to find a dark corner in the castle for themselves. Was she supposed to pretend that’s what they had done, too? Even if their relationship was real, that wasn’t really something she would do, even if normal couples would have.

“It wasn’t that early. We both just had a lot to get done before leaving for the holidays.”

Ginny shrugged and gave her a look that said “if you say so.” Ron stared ahead, seemingly unaffected but for his pink ears. Harry, for his part, looked very uncomfortable at the shift in conversation.

Nothing else was said on the matter as they reached Professor McGonagall’s office.  Professor McGonagall sat at her desk tidying some papers. She looked at them expectantly.

“I was under the impression that you would not be traveling to the Weasleys’ this holiday, Ms. Granger.”

“No, Professor. I’m just here to see everybody off.”

“Well do be quick, Ms. Granger, this fireplace is only open until 10 a.m.”

Hermione glanced at the clock hanging above Professor McGonagall’s desk. It was 15 til. She turned to Harry.

“Don’t do anything stupid.” He looked affronted. “I’m serious. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have plenty to deal with without you getting any ideas into your head regarding your theories.”

“Yes, because I’m going to discuss them over the dinner table.”

She ignored his sarcastic remark. “And do you have the scarf I made you? You really need to look into getting a new winter cloak over break, yours is too short in the arms.”

“Yes, Mum, I’ve got it.” His voice sounded exasperated but he laughed and pulled her into a hug.

They pulled away and she turned to Ron. Standing there now, faced with spending their first Christmas apart in four years, it almost felt like their displeasure with each other had evaporated. His red hair was still messy, sticking up at odd angles from sleep. She felt a warmth in her stomach. Part of her longed to go back to the way they were before. As his cerulean eyes searched hers, she wondered if he was thinking the same.

She reached out and hugged him briefly. She breathed in the scent of him, fresh cotton and pine needles. He pulled away first and nodded at her, clearing his throat, an unreadable expression on his face.

Ginny had already moved towards the fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo Powder. Hermione felt the slight, but felt proud the plan was working on Dean’s behalf.

“Go ahead, Ms. Weasley.” Professor McGonagall inclined her head.

Ginny shouted, “The Burrow!” and was engulfed in emerald green flames. Ron went next without looking again at Hermione. She tried not to feel saddened by this. Harry followed, grabbing a fistful of grey powder before stepping into the fireplace.

“Be sure to write!” Hermione said in a sudden rush.

“It’s two weeks, Hermione.” Then after seeing the insistence on her face he relented. “I’ll write!” Then he threw down the powder, shouting “The Burrow!” and was gone.

After seeing the three of them off, she decided to go ahead and grab the rest of her things and head down to the station. If she got there early she might be able to claim a compartment to herself. It took some time coaxing Crookshanks into his carrier. He was very stubborn about being carted around in such a container.

“I don’t look forward to carrying you all the way to the Hogsmeade station either, but it’s this or you walk the whole way in the snow yourself.”

He quickly settled himself into the carrier with that threat on the table. She shifted the tote bag on her shoulder with the books she planned on reading on the train and picked up the carrier in the other hand. Parvati and Lavender were nowhere to be found, so she left without any further good-byes.

It was beautiful outside. There wasn’t a cloud remaining from the early morning’s snow. Everything looked bright and clean. Fluffy tufts of snow clung to the trees of the Forbidden Forest. Hermione’s breath caught on the air as she walked down the path towards Hogsmeade Village. Her Muggle puffy coat was almost too warm with the sun shining down so brightly.

She was doing her best to be excited for the holiday with her parents. It was the first in four years. It would be good for them. But there was a noticeable pang she felt imagining a Christmas without her friends. They had become as much a part of her family as her parents were to her. To spend it away from them worried her, especially with the news always bringing such ominous tidings.

Sighing, she conceded that still, it would be good to see her parents over the break to recharge. Plus, there were things she needed to take care of now that she was of age. The Ministry had sent out directives for everyone to put up basic protection charms on their homes, but being a Muggle-born meant having to wait until you were of age or hoping that a wizarding friend could spare the time to safely travel and do it for you.

Her footsteps crunched in the crisp snow. Most of the students walking to the train were walking in pairs or groups. She hadn’t seen Dean or Seamus all morning long and hadn’t tried to find them before heading to the station. With term being over, they wouldn’t have to pretend to be dating for the next two weeks. While it was nice having new friends, fake though it all may be, she was mostly relieved to have that pressure of performance removed.

“You’re a hard girl to pin down.”

Hermione whipped around to see Dean approaching. He smirked at her, which served to make his eyes sparkle in the sun like the snow around him. His hands were tucked away in the pockets of his leather bomber jacket. The collar of his jacket was lined with fleece and he wore spotless trainers. She had never noticed, but he was quite stylish by Muggle standards.

Now in front of her, she could see there was a slight shadow of stubble that lined his jaw. He subconsciously rubbed his jawline. “Erm, yeah I slept in and didn’t have time to shave.”

“It looks nice, actually,” she said, trying to make him feel less self-conscious but only making herself feel embarrassed in the process.

“Where were you at breakfast? Seamus was worried.”

She explained briefly that she had woken up early, trading the part about her seeing Harry and Ron off for her being in the library. The key to obscuring their whereabouts was for the students leaving to assume they had stayed for the break and students who had stayed to assume they left on the train.

“You weren’t even going to wait for us?”

“I sort of assumed we wouldn’t be riding together,” she said with a shrug. “Neither of our Weasleys are heading home on the train, so our two weeks off start now.”

“You can’t be serious,” he said, looking at her in bewilderment. “Seamus is going to be down in a bit. He’s going to think it’s weird.”

“I dunno. Just tell him I’m patrolling and sitting in the Prefect compartment.”

“Don’t make this weird, Granger. You’re sitting with us.”

His eyes were boring into hers, untying the knots in her resolve she had held tight. She bit her lip. “Alright alright.”

“Brilliant!”

She tried not to feel too happy about it. We aren’t really friends. This is all based on a lie, she tried to remind herself. In spite of herself, she was a little pleased. Becoming friends, or whatever it was they were, had greatly improved her 6th year. Fighting with Ron had left her often without any other friends. Harry of course was still her friend, but he was splitting his time between the two of them. It had gotten quite lonely. If only she had made new friends without having to hold up the pretense of such a big lie.

By the time they reached the station, Seamus had caught up to them. As they boarded the train, they saw that there were several Aurors walking up and down the train, checking various compartments. To her surprise, Tonks was aboard. Her hair was still a mousy brown, but she had regained some color in her cheeks. She looked better than Hermione had seen her since Sirius’ death, and even gave Hermione a sly wink as they passed.

“I figured they would have done without the Aurors since Harry isn’t riding,” Seamus said as they sat down in an empty compartment.

“You-Know-Who’s followers are only terrorizing Harry, are they?” Dean said.

Hermione didn’t partake in this discussion, not wanting to dwell on the oncoming storm. After she released Crookshanks from his carrier, she reached into her bag and pulled out Forget Me Not: the Metaphysical Structure of Memory Charms, intent on finishing the book. Reading, however, proved not to be as productive as she had hoped. The boys didn’t interrupt her, leaving her in peace with her book. That wasn’t the distraction. It was Dean, specifically. He had casually rested his hand on her thigh, like a boyfriend would to his girlfriend.

It always felt like he was working three steps ahead of her. She would get used to certain aspects of their relationship, and then he’d introduce something new. She tried to subtly move her leg out of his reach, but his hand merely moved with it. Her leg was tingling where his hand rested.

Resigned to this new development in their fake relationship, she tried her very best to ignore it. That was until they were laughing about something having to do with Quidditch. Unconsciously, Dean’s thumb began gently grazing her thigh. She snapped her book closed. The two stopped talking and turned to look at her.

“I’m going to go patrol,” she said, as nonchalantly as she could manage.

She shot up without waiting for their reaction and slid out of the compartment. Placing her hand on her chest, she could feel her heart hammering in her chest. She took a few deep breaths and looked around for a distraction, any distraction. A few Aurors still stood in the corridor. The rest had probably positioned themselves towards the back and front of the train. Aimlessly, she made her way down the train, trying to calm her nerves. She was beginning to wish she had more experience with boys. Maybe then not every fake interaction with Dean would come as such a surprise.

She thought fondly of her original plan that morning of having a compartment to herself, no fake-boyfriend in sight. Had she managed to evade Dean she wouldn’t be as flustered as she felt now.

Not flustered, she tried to correct herself, just surprised.

Generally, the start of term train ride was much more chaotic. First and second years would be running up and down the train while older students were getting up to their own mischief. The ride back for the holidays was always a quieter affair. The prefects didn’t even have assigned patrols, but Dean and Seamus didn’t need to know that.

Feeling calmer, she turned to walk to the other end of the train, having reached the end of the compartments. She thought happily that she might even find Tonks and have a chat. The last time they had seen each other, Tonks was still nursing a broken heart over Sirius. Instead, she found herself approaching Ernie Macmillan, who was apparently also on patrol.

Ernie had definitely received his letter, she had already determined. Over the past couple of weeks, any time their paths crossed he would stick his nose in the air and turn in the other direction, even when they were heading to the same class. She didn’t think it was really in a Hufflepuff’s nature to hold grudges, but then again her note analyzing their compatibility had amounted mostly to thinly veiled insults.

When he caught sight of her now, he turned to head in the opposite direction.

“Ernie, wait!”

He hesitated before stopping, allowing her to catch up to him. His face was set in a scowl as he faced her with his arms crossed.

“So,” she said awkwardly. Now that she had him here she wasn’t sure what to say. “I guess we both decided to patrol the train at the same time.” She gave a half-hearted laugh.

“I guess so,” he said. He raised his finely groomed eyebrows, indicating for her to get on with whatever she was taking up his precious time for.

“Look, Ernie, I know you got my, erm, letter.” She faltered. They weren’t letters exactly, but at this point fighting that point hadn’t made a difference.

He sniffed a response, looking away from her and taking greater interest in the frosted glass of the compartment window next to them.

She sighed. “I just wanted to apologize if anything in it offended you. I was just trying to clear my head. It wasn’t ever supposed to get sent to you. It was an accident. So, I’m sorry,” she finished lamely.

“Is this because of the higher marks I received than you on that Charms test?”

Hermione’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What are you talking about? The Charms test from weeks ago?”

“I knew you were a competitive student, Hermione, but I would have thought sending mean notes was beneath you.” His nose was in the air again. She bristled.

“You didn’t receive higher marks than me on a Charms test, Ernie. Professor Flitwick offered to apply the points from the bonus questions directly to the test or convert them to house points.” She couldn’t believe she was having to defend one of her test scores to him. “You put yours towards the test and I put all of mine towards house points. I actually outscored you by 4 points on that test.”

Hermione really wasn’t actually that competitive with her classmates about school work, but she didn’t like it being suggested that she gave anything besides her best effort. She sniffed, offended by the insult. He glared back at her. This was not going at all how she had expected.

“It’s not like I’d have dated you anyway. I’m gay.” He looked triumphant, as if he really expected that to take the wind out of her sails. His admission hung over them for a moment before his grin slid off of his face, the realization of what he said dawning on him. “Erm, can you not tell anyone that? I’m not exactly ‘out’, as they say. Most people in Hufflepuff know, they’re good about it, but the rest of the houses...I’d just like to wait.”

She did feel slightly shocked by the revelation, but not offended in the least. She knew that kind of thing was taboo in the Muggle world, but had never heard of it spoken about in the wizarding world to really know. Her parents had never subscribed to any of that, they taught her that people loved who they loved.

“Of course. Good for you.”

They stood there awkwardly for a moment before Ernie stuck his hand out. She took it and they shook. He smiled at her, any prior resentment now gone. Whatever had just transpired, she wasn’t going to question it. She was glad just glad whatever feud they had been in was behind them.

“You better watch it come end of term exams, though. I intend to get top marks.” His face was resolute.

She smiled, unsure if he was jesting. “Alright, I’ll be on the lookout.”

When she got back to the compartment, she found Dean and Seamus in a deep discussion. Dean looked up and stopped whatever he had been saying.

“The Trolley Witch came by, I got you some cauldron cakes,” he said, trying to play off whatever conversation they were just having. Hermione looked at the handful of sweets on the seat next to him, then to Crookshanks who seemed to have pinned a rogue chocolate frog in the corner by Seamus’ feet.

“It’s fine, she’ll figure it out eventually,” Seamus said waving him off.

“What’s this all about?” Hermione asked as she took her seat and grabbed a cake, taking care to leave some room this time between her and Dean.

“Seamus has plans for the new year.”

“You’re a girl, Hermione,” Seamus said. A faint memory of a certain red-head saying those same words to her floated through her mind. She pushed it away and her inclination to be offended by it. “If you liked someone who has no idea you exist, how would you go about getting their attention.”

“Mate, she knows you exist,” Dean said rolling his eyes.

“Yes, she knows I exist as a random guy in her year. She doesn’t know I’m a handsome single bloke.” Dean snorted at this. Seamus ignored him, turning his attention back to Hermione expectantly.

She glanced at Dean. He knew she was the most unqualified girl to go to for this advice. But to Seamus, she was his best friend’s girlfriend who must know something about romance. “Have you tried talking to her?”

He groaned and slouched in his seat, frustrated. “That’s what your boyfriend said. But Padma is always surrounded by her smart Ravenclaw friends.”

Her eyebrows shot up. Padma Patil was in Ravenclaw and was possibly one of the two prettiest girls in their year, the other being her sister.

“Don’t look too surprised. It’s not that unbelievable.”

Hermione stifled a laugh. She didn’t think she had ever seen Seamus this wound up, outside of discussing Quidditch.

“My plan is to start sending her notes, like Dean does for you. Maybe start casual at first, throw in a little poetry. I dunno, should I do it daily?”

She wrinkled her nose, shaking her head. “That’s a romantic gesture,” she started, glancing at Dean before turning away, feeling slightly red in the face, “But it’s an empty one if you don’t have the relationship to build on.”

“What did I tell you? Just try sitting next to her in class. Strike up a conversation.”

“Oh right, because she’s going to be real impressed when I blow up another goblet in Transfiguration.”

“You haven’t blown anything up all year!” Hermione said encouragingly.

Seamus glared at her.

“Do you really think I impressed Hermione with my stellar Arithmancy work? Of course not! I actually talked to her. If I hadn’t started talking to her in class she’d never have looked at me. Gotta take the first step, mate.”

Though she couldn’t tell if he was playing it up to support their story, she thought this was an unfair assessment of himself. Every girl noticed Dean. She was no exception.

With that, feeling he had made his point, Dean slung his arm around her, pulling her in closer. She giggled slightly, leaning into him, in what she hoped looked like the actions of a happy girlfriend.

“Alright, I get it. You got the girl.” Seamus sounded annoyed, but he was smiling at the two of them.

They arrived on the other side of the barrier and Hermione immediately spotted her parents. They must have driven to London straight from work, as they were both still in their work clothes and her mother’s hair was still in the wrap she generally wore to the office.

“That’s my parents,” she said indicating over to the pair standing a few yards away.

Seamus gave her a brief hug, grinning broadly. “See you next year!”

She smiled in return. “Yes, see you in ‘97!”

Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she turned to Dean. He took a step closer to her, smirking. She was suddenly very thankful she’d had the foresight to include “No Kissing” in the contract, because she could see his eyes calculating his next move. He was aware, as she was, that this would generally be where couples kiss each other good-bye. Her parents were undoubtedly watching her and she had no plans on explaining to them that she had a boyfriend, fake or otherwise.

His gaze was intense and he was standing so close to her. Without taking his eyes off of her, he reached into the pocket of his bomber jacket and handed her a folded note. She took it from his hand, her fingers brushing his.

Before she could protest that it was their holiday break and, as such, he really didn’t have to give her a sketch, he smiled at her and said, “Happy Christmas, Hermione.”

Looking at the way his dimples accentuated his smile, she couldn’t help smiling back. “Happy Christmas, Dean.”

He pulled her into a tight hug, resting his head on the top of her head. Unable to stop herself, she breathed in deeply. He smelled warm, like bergamot mixed with something deeper and earthier. It was nice. She hadn’t noticed it until now.

They pulled apart and Hermione couldn’t help smiling a little shyly. It was strange to think that, though they had kissed before, they had never hugged each other.

“See you.” He was still smiling at her.

“Yeah, see you.”

She tried to keep her face neutral as she pushed her cart over to her parents, ignoring the way her mother’s eyebrows were raised. Whatever she was thinking, she didn’t say. Mrs. Granger merely said, “No Harry and Ron, dear?” as she gave her a hug hello. Hermione didn’t answer her, instead turning to greet her father who didn’t notice anything amiss.

The drive from London to Reading wasn’t long, a little over an hour. Traffic was light and free moving. Hermione always felt a little disoriented coming back into the Muggle world. It felt almost foreign being in a car. Crookshanks stayed in his carrier. He hated car rides.

She watched as they passed Heathrow Airport, planes taking off and landing, carrying passengers to and from their holiday destinations. Everything was so routine coming back, while everything in her world – the wizarding world – was in chaos.

Her parents told her stories of the latest happenings at their respective dentist offices. They told her a story of Ms. Stewart, an elder at their church, whose niece had eloped with some Scottish boy. None of the immediate family had heard from her since. This gave Hermione a great sense of unease. Was young love or Death Eaters to blame for the sudden disappearance of this young Muggle woman? Muggles didn’t know to look at things with that sort of cynical skepticism that was becoming common in the wizarding world.

It was dusk by the time they pulled up to their house. Her parents lifted her trunk out of the boot and carried it in between them. She opened the door for them with the key she had dug out from her trunk earlier that morning. Her parents moved to carry it up the stairs to her room, but she stopped them.

“You can leave it. I’ll take it up in a moment.”

They looked like they were about to protest but she insisted. She leaned down and let Crookshanks out of his carrier. He stretched and bounded towards the stairs. Mr. and Mrs. Granger weren’t the biggest fans of Crookshanks, as he aggravated the former’s allergies and got cat hair all over the latter’s stockings. The feeling was mutual. Crookshanks did not like the Muggle world. He refused the cat food sold at Muggle supermarkets and generally didn’t leave Hermione’s room except to go out around the neighborhood in the evenings.

Without another word to her parents, she removed her wand from her bag and headed outside. The suburb of Emmer Green was still and all on their street was silent, except for the distant sound of cars. Christmas trees in windows and lights on houses shined onto the street below. Their neighborhood had always felt safe. When she was young, she and her parents would often go for evening strolls together. She looked around the yard, remembering the winter before she got her Hogwarts letter when she built a snowman that miraculously grew to be two heads taller than she was in an instant.

She sighed, checking twice to make sure she was alone, shrouded by the dim lighting, before turning her back to the house and lifting her wand into the air.

Salvio Hexia, Protego Totalum, Cave Inimicum.”

Methodically, she worked through the incantations she’d read about over the summer in preparation. She had been practicing the enchantments for months, knowing the importance of doing it properly. Once she had circled the entire property, she lowered her wand arm, which was now shaking from the exertion.

A breeze rippled across the yard, the dead grass crunching beneath her feet as she turned back to her house. The brown bricks stood there as warm and inviting as they ever were, unaware of the danger they were keeping out.

Looking around, she wondered if the enchantments would work. The air looked empty. There was a subtle crackle of magical energy, but nothing else that could assure her that her parents would be protected from dark wizards. There were other enchantments she still hadn’t had the time to master that would likely have to be arranged by the Order sometime soon. Remus might be able to do it if he was in between assignments.

“What about take-away, Hermione?” her mother called from the kitchen as she hung up her coat.

“Yes, that’s fine. I’m going to go unpack.”

Poking her head into the kitchen, she saw her father rummaging through their refrigerator and her mom sorting through the post. “Alright, dear. We’ll let you know when it’s here. Curry alright then?” If her parents were concerned with her behavior, they weren’t giving anything away.

She gave them a nod and headed up the stairs, levitating her trunk behind her. She passed the sitting room and was happy to see their family Christmas tree already up. The Christmas spirit had eluded her thus far with all of the things going on at Hogwarts and in the larger wizarding world.

Her room was the furthest from the upstairs landing. She pushed open the door, sighing in contentment. Setting her trunk in the middle of the floor, she ran to her bed and threw herself on the quilted floral bedspread.

Rolling over on her back, smiling, she called out, “Crookshanks!”

She propped herself on her elbows and looked expectantly at the window, his favorite spot. He poked his head out of the curtains, almost as if to check if she was alone before hopping onto the bed. With a meow, he plopped down beside her, rolling over.

Laughing, she scratched him on the belly. He rarely let her scratch him here, she got the impression he had decided he was too dignified for it. “Well somebody is in a good mood.”

He purred in response and got up to rub himself against her arm, back and forth.

“I should unpack. If you help me, you can have some of the treats I have left from the Magical Menagerie.”

The bribe didn’t work. Immediately disinterested, he was already sauntering over to the windowsill, to hop back to his perch.

“I don’t really feel like it either,” she sighed. Her mind drifted to Ron and Harry.

They had already been an entire day at the Burrow. She wondered if they had seen the twins. Did they go out and ride their brooms? Mrs. Weasley probably cooked up a big meal to welcome them all home. She wished she could write to them, to Ron even. All of the chaos of the wizarding world hadn’t made her want to run away from it all like it probably would for most sensible Muggle-borns. Maybe it was the Gryffindor in her, but it only made her want to cling to the wizarding world and her friends tighter. Spending time away now was more painful than ever.

There was also guilt there. To admit that would mean that the wizarding world was her home, which would be unfair to her parents and the life they spent — the life they had raised her in — in the Muggle world. She sighed, grabbing a pillow and throwing it on her face, groaning.

She thought of Dean. Did he feel any of this? He was Muggle-born and stood to lose just as much as she did. Maybe it was different for him, he had siblings at home, not just his parents keeping him anchored there.

Thinking of Dean reminded her of his note from earlier. She sat up and reached into her back-pocket. Unfolding it, she gasped.

This wasn’t like the other sketches he had given her. Most of the notes she had received featured a cartoon or a series of smaller sketches that were more like random doodles he had drawn throughout his day. This one was a full detailed sketch of Ron and Harry. Their heads were bent low over a wizard’s chess set. Ron, wearing a trademark Weasley jumper, had his chin in his hand, his face screwed up in concentration. Harry was reaching for a piece, light reflecting off of his glasses, wearing a smirk she recognized – he knew something Ron didn’t.

It was beautiful. It could have almost been a photograph if not for a few rough outlines left behind. She thought back to the night she and Dean had sat by the fire together. Hadn’t Ron and Harry been playing a game of chess that night? Was that what Dean had been sketching – her friends?

In the lower right-hand corner were his initials and “Happy holidays.”

She cleared her throat, trying to rid it of the mysterious lump that formed and called again to Crookshanks. “How about we spend the night reading a good book instead?”

The break was set to be a quiet one, unlike the ones spent at the Burrow or skiing with her parents. Hermione was glad for it. She woke late the next morning, clearly having exhausted herself from her travels.

She entered their small dining room to find her mum and dad already dressed, and sat at the table. Mrs. Granger had already removed her bonnet and fixed her hair, ready for the day. It was rare for her to see her mother in her bonnet past 8 a.m.

They were both drinking from their mugs – tea for her mother and coffee for her father. There was an assorted spread of pastries laid on the table, a typical Sunday breakfast in the Granger household.

“Good morning,” she said with a yawn.

“Good morning,” they said in unison, her father not looking up from the Muggle paper.

Wordlessly, she pointed her wand in the direction of the kitchen, summoning a mug and tea-bag. She reached for the kettle and paused, looking at their reactions. Her mother was faring better than her father, but they both looked shocked.

“Hermione!” her dad exclaimed, setting aside his paper in amazement.

Realization came over her; they had never seen her do magic with her wand. Since coming of age, she had been using it all the time, it was second nature now.

“Sorry! I think I told you both, wizards come of age at 17. I’m free to do magic whenever now. It’s technically not allowed in front of Muggles, but seeing how you are my parents, the law is a bit more vague as to whether it applies...” she trailed off.

“That sounds like big news. Of course, I’m sure you mentioned before,” her mum said. “We are very proud of you! Just excuse us if it takes us a bit to adjust.” She said the last bit with a laugh as she watched incredulously as Hermione lowered the mug and tea gently on the table.

She felt sheepish, a bit embarrassed for forgetting herself. “Erm, has the Daily Prophet arrived?” Post by owl was something they were used to. Her mother often collected the newspaper, to which Hermione had a subscription, as well as the periodic letters from Harry, Ron, and Viktor that didn’t come directly to her bedroom window.

“Ah yes,” her mum said, getting up and disappearing into the kitchen. She returned with the Prophet, as well as a letter. “This came as well,” she said, handing it to her.

She took both, setting the Prophet on the table. “Is Hedwig still here?” she asked, assuming the letter had come from Harry.

“This was a different owl. I didn’t recognize it.” Her mother’s eyes appraised her knowingly. “It’s sitting out in the garden, waiting for a response I presume.”

Hermione looked down at the front of the letter. She knew the handwriting, and it wasn’t Harry or Viktor’s. Without another word, she tore open the letter and walked to the kitchen.

Dean was apparently truly committed to send her a sketch every day in the break. If they hadn’t drawn up a contract, she would have been touched by his dedication. Today’s edition was back to his usual series of little cartoons. She was a little disappointed. Seeing the level of talent he possessed had floored her, and she longed to see more.

Below the cartoon, he wrote asking for her phone number. This struck her. No boy had ever asked for her number and definitely not a wizarding boy. She hesitated. She couldn’t really say no without being rude, but why would he need to call her?

Nevertheless, she summoned some parchment, pulled a pen out of one of the drawers, and wrote a quick note in reply with her number. She went out to the garden to find a brown tawny owl waiting. It hooted, happy to see it would soon be on its way home and out of the cold.

“Sorry I don’t have any owl treats,” she said as she tied the note to it’s leg. “I didn’t know Dean had an owl.” The owl merely hooted and took off once she was done.

When she was walked back into the dining room, she had the distinct sense that her parents had just been speaking about her. Judging from their faces, they had something they wanted to talk to her about. She sat back down and began pouring some water over her tea bag, waiting for them to speak. Her eyes fell on the Daily Prophet. It was folded, but she could make out a portion of Harry’s face and “Harry...Chosen...Dark Lord.” Had they seen this?

She looked up and they exchanged looks. Sighing, she braced herself for the questions that would undoubtedly follow. It was careless for her to leave the Prophet on the table, knowing what the articles contained these days. For their safety, it would be better for them to know some portion of the truth about what had been going on at Hogwarts and in the broader wizarding world, anyway. They needed to be ready.

The smell of bergamot was now wafting up to her from her mug of earl grey tea. She thought of Dean and their hug. She took a deep breath fortifying herself. This would be a lot to explain but she was an adult, and she could do this. “I think we need to talk.”

“Yes, your father and I were just discussing that would be good for us to have a talk.” Her mother sounded relieved that she had broached the subject.  Before Hermione could respond, she continued, “Now that you’re a young woman, there are...situations we want you to be prepared for. We saw you with that boy at the station yesterday, and the letter today.”

“It’s none of our business,” her father cut in quickly, his hands raised in defense, “But as medical professionals, we would be remiss if we didn’t do our due diligence as parents to prepare you.”

“So, I was thinking on Monday I’d call up to the clinic to schedule you an appointment before the start of term.”

Hermione who had tried to take a sip of her tea, was now spluttering, thoughts of her intended conversation completely gone, startled by their insinuation. “M-medical professionals? You’re dentists! Dean and I – we’re not – he’s not!”

Her mother eyed her over her own mug, knowingly. “As your dad said, we’re not trying to weasel our way into your affairs, you don’t have to tell us anything. We just want to make sure you’re empowered to make whatever decisions you feel are right for you.”

She was horrified. “Dean and I aren’t dating!” They glanced doubtfully at each other again. “We’re friends, Mum. Just friends.”

“Whatever the kids call it nowadays, it would still be good to visit the clinic. Your mother and I never worried about you. We know you have a good head on your shoulders.” He chuckled to himself. “Heck, your studies always held your attention more than any boy could. But like you yourself said, you’re a young adult now. Better to arm you now rather than—“

“I’m a witch!” Her voice was shrill, panicked at the thought of continuing this conversation any further. “We have our own sort of...” she was frantically searching for the right words, “Medical care! There’s potions a-and spells. I’m not, I repeat, not dating anybody right now. And if I were, I promise I am plenty prepared.”

Pushing her nearly-full mug of tea away, she shot up from her seat. Her face was, no doubt, five shades darker than normal. Her parents had always been open and progressive, but this was too much. The horrifying image of sitting in the doctor’s office, explaining to the nurse that she needed Muggle contraception for her fake wizard boyfriend, swirled in her mind.

“We didn’t mean to pry. We just want to ensure—“

She cut off her dad again, “Not prying! No boyfriend to pry about!” She snatched up the Prophet and a scone off the table and backed away to the doorway. “I appreciate your concern really, but it’s totally unnecessary. And I just remembered that I need to feed Crookshanks. I think I’ll just take my breakfast in my room.”

They nodded, looking concerned, but accepting the end of the conversation.

She bolted up to her room and rested her back on the door once it was closed. Guilt and humiliation swirled unpleasantly together in her stomach. Her parents were just striving for the open relationship they had always had, but she did not want them anywhere near her fake relationship. They wouldn’t understand and admitting to it would be too embarrassing. It was going to be a long two weeks.

Part 6