The mood throughout the castle the next day was one of excitement. It was the first Quidditch match since before the holidays, and it had brought with it excellent weather. Golden shafts of sunlight shined onto the grounds through the patchy clouds. Hermione walked down to the pitch hand-in-hand with Dean, behind the rest of the Gryffindor team.
They chatted amicably about the past week. Having seen each other only sporadically between practices, hospital wing visits, and classes, it was nice having time to catch up.
“The Chasers have a bet going on about who can score the most goals,” Dean said excitedly.
“And what do you get if you win?”
“The other two are in charge of cleaning your uniform and routine maintenance on your broom for the rest of the season.”
Hermione laughed. “Sounds like you’re about to spend the next few months getting good at laundry charms, then.”
He slung his arm around her, pulling her in tight in a faux head-lock. “You don’t think I can score the most goals?”
“I think,” she said laughing, pushing herself free from his grip, “That Ginny is a whiz at getting out of chores. There’s no way she’s wagered taking on extra unless she’s confident.”
Stopping in his tracks, he feigned shock at her hurtful words. She giggled and ran forward towards the changing rooms. He chased after her, pushing past the rest of the team, catching her around the waist.
“Take it back.”
“I am rooting for you! I just think we should go in with evidence-based expectations.”
He scoffed and looked towards Demelza and Ginny, who were entering the changing rooms behind them. “I can take them on.”
“Sure you can,” she said, conceding, an amused grin still on her face. She made a move to disentangle herself but he stopped her.
“Aren’t you going to wish me luck?” He was looking at her expectantly.
“Good luck,” she said, watching him cautiously. He had that glint in his eye again—the look that made a giggle bubble in her chest and fairies float in her stomach.
Turning his cheek to her, he tapped it, demanding a token of her well wishes. She rolled her eyes and flicked him on his cheek. He grasped it in shock.
“Fly well!” she called back as she spun and walked away, heading towards the stands. Turning back to glance at him one last time, she saw him still cupping his cheek and shaking his head.
The Quidditch stands were filled to capacity. It seemed the whole school was keen to soak up the weather after the drawn-out period of rain they’d experienced.
“If we do as well as we did last match, we’ll be in the lead for the Cup,” Seamus said excitedly to her, waving his Gryffindor pennant around. The players had just taken off at the sound of Madam Hooch’s whistle.
Seamus had arrived early and chosen their seats strategically, to Hermione’s dismay. Glancing down two rows, she saw the unmistakable head of curly brown hair sitting next to two identical manes of lustrous dark hair. Seamus’ campaign to charm Padma was still in full effect and wasn’t not working, Hermione had to grant him. He took every opportunity he reasonably could to situate himself in Padma’s vicinity.
Both Padma and Parvati were wearing matching, sparkling Gryffindor themed bows in their half-ponies. Hermione wanted to ask them where they had bought them, thinking she might like one of her own next match. But they were sitting with Lavender, who had immediately met her with a glare when Hermione had walked past them to her seat.
“And that’s Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle,” the unmistakable dreamy voice of Luna Lovegood floated through the stands. Many laughed, others craned their necks to get a better look at the commentator’s podium to confirm it was really in fact her. “Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose, it looked like it. Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now he’s playing them…”
Hermione’s eyes darted up the field to see Ginny speeding away from Zacharias Smith. The Quaffle was in her grip and she was zipping up the pitch with a determined look on her face. In a surprise move though, a Hufflepuff Chaser came from below and snatched the Quaffle out of her hands.
“Oh someone has stolen the ball from Ginny. I can’t remember his name, it’s something like Bibble—no Baggins,” Luna’s voice drifted overhead.
“It’s Caldwallader!” Professor McGonagall’s said loudly in her stern Scottish accent, but her words were drowned out by the laughter of the crowd.
Hermione did not laugh. Ginny’s face looked murderous as she set her sights on Caldwallader. They were lucky that Ginny didn’t have her wand on her, even from that distance she could land a nasty Bat-Bogey hex when pressed.
“And Harry Potter’s now having an argument with his Keeper.”
“Oi, what’s that git going on about in the middle of the match!” Seamus called out gesturing to Cormac. He put his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Call a timeout Harry!”
Of course Harry did not hear this or heed the advice, but Hermione did notice Padma glance up towards Seamus as she flipped a long strand of her hair over her shoulder, slightly amused.
This match was not going well. Down field, Hermione saw Dean flying next to Ginny, who was nodding resolutely. They must have agreed to run some sort of play since Harry was currently too preoccupied to call a timeout. Hermione watched their interaction intently. That she could tell, Ginny’s expression was neutral. Dean’s face was alight with excitement, but she couldn’t tell if that was from talking with Ginny or from the game.
Ginny was extremely competitive, so all of her focus would be directed to the match. But if she still had feelings for Dean, wouldn’t they be a bit more apparent? I suppose being able to work with him as well as she does could mean...mean what? she thought. Ginny, who often wore her heart on her sleeve, had become so unreadable in regards to her feelings about Dean or Harry.
Hermione hadn’t told Dean about her revelation about Ron, in part because there hadn’t been time, but also because she decided that it would feel like gloating. Part of her wanted to just ask Ginny on his behalf and get it over with. Another, quieter part dreaded any conversation of that sort.
Cheers erupted as Dean deftly feinted from Ginny to Demelza, who dived, catching the Quaffle from mid-air, leaving the Hufflepuff Chasers stunned as she sped away. The Hufflepuff Beaters chased after her in yellow blurs. Ginny and Dean smiled at each other, whooping at their success as Demelza scored the goal.
Smiling, she stood to cheer with the rest of the stands. Keeping it up a little longer wasn’t so wrong was it? There was no way to know definitively what Ginny was feeling, and it was up to Dean to figure that out on his own. Which, for whatever reason, he didn’t seem to be that pressed to look further into, and that was fine by her.
She smiled, watching Dean swoop and loop as the Quaffle was thrown back into play. Suddenly, however, the cheering faltered, everyone’s attention drawn by Harry speeding, not towards the Snitch, but to Cormac, shouting what Hermione could only guess were choice words. Not yet seeing him, Cormac swung Peakes’ bat at the oncoming Bludger. Then Harry was falling and everyone was screaming.
Everything turned out to be fine in the end. What’s a cracked skull to healer’s magic? Gryffindor had lost the match, but Harry got to keep his skull and they were still second in line for the Cup. The next few days, as their Quidditch Captain lay languishing, as it was told, in the hospital wing, many threats had been made on Cormac McLaggen’s life. Hermione, for her part as a prefect, found it all to be very barbaric. Yet even she couldn’t help becoming suddenly distracted in the moments when these threats were made, causing her to accidentally overlook the perpetrators.
“Has anyone knocked McLaggen’s teeth out yet?” Ron grumbled the next evening as Hermione sat between her two friends’ bedsides.
“Hmm, not to my knowledge. You would have seen him here if that had happened I should think,” she said absentmindedly, pondering over the last few lines of the letter she had written to her parents.
“Whose idea was it to take N.E.W.T.s level Transfiguration, again? I’d like to send a Howler with my thoughts,” Ron said as he threw his essay to the side, falling back on the bed. “I can’t believe McGonagall won’t give me an extension. I was poisoned!”
Hermione glanced in concern at Harry, whose slack sleeping form surprisingly remained unmoved by Ron’s sudden outburst.
“Oh don’t worry about him. He’ll be out for a while. Pomfrey gave him a sleeping draught,” Ron said very matter-of-factly.
Sitting up straighter, now concerned, she turned her full attention to Harry. Madam Pomfrey had made it sound like he was nearly fully recovered. Looking at him now, his sleeping face looked peaceful, the bandages around his head from the day before had now been reduced to a simple gauze pad over a cut. “Why? What’s wrong with him?”
“Wrong? Nothing. I told Pomfrey he’d said he was having trouble sleeping, so she made him take the potion. He wouldn’t stop moaning about Malfoy so I thought he could do with a few winks.”
Hermione spun around to face him in shock. They stared at each other for a moment, her face incredulous, his fixed in a mischievous smirk, before they both burst out into laughter. It was good to have a friend with whom she could share simple things again — like exasperation at their other deluded friend. Hermione had worried that after addressing the note, everything would change or that things might be awkward. Ron, however, didn’t seem bothered. She guessed he figured it was better to be back as friends than nothing and dropped it.
After the moment of levity passed, Ron glanced back at his homework and pushed it away in disgust, as if even the sight of it made him sick. Hermione skimmed over her letter one more time and, deciding it was good, began folding it to address it.
“Couldn’t you just look it over?” he asked with feigned innocence, holding his essay out to her.
“Ronald,” she said with a warning tone, not looking up from her quill as she addressed the letter.
“What if I promised to not tell Harry you wrote me a love note third year?”
Hermione spluttered, letter forgotten. Ron looked at her and began to laugh, pleased with his own joke. “Third year? What makes you think I wrote it then?”
“Well,” he said, scratching his chin for effect, “firstly, no one our age or older would write that girly of a note, so it had to have been a while ago. Secondly, you were constantly emotional that year. I remember you wouldn’t stop fighting with me. Fred and George told me that fighting is how girls show they like you. I just never believed them.”
Doing her best to hide her surprise at his sudden introspection, she said, “Oh, did they? Either way, I’m not doing your essay for you.”
“Fine, what if I promise never to bring up the note again, at all?”
Their eyes met. This was a test disguised as a joke. She could feel that he was offering her something. His eyes looked at her hopefully, willing her to say what he wanted to hear. She shifted her gaze away, snatching the essay out of his grasp. “Fine. Deal. I’ll look it over.”
As she shuffled the pages, organizing them, she looked back at him. His neck and ears were red, but he was leaned back against his pillows, arms behind his head, looking unperturbed.
“Man it would kill Cormac to know that not only am I coming back on as Keeper, but that I’m one of two guys to get love notes from Hermione Granger.”
Furrowing her brows she tilted her head in confusion. “But you—“ she cut herself off, realizing he didn’t know about the other notes. He opened his eyes at her pause. “You are right. You and Viktor.” She laughed airily.
“Still might knock some of his teeth out, mind. Is he mad? Could have killed Harry,” he said, quickly adding, “Don’t you go on saying ‘you’re a Prefect, Ronald.’ That’s why it’s gotta be me. It’ll be interest for the detention McGonagall should have issued.”
Hermione rolled her eyes, but laughed all the same, grateful for the subject change and that he was done teasing her.
At that moment, Ginny entered, her hair in a messy bun and wearing an oversized sweatshirt. “Late post from Mum,” she said by way of explanation, looking between the two of them. She held out a wrapped parcel to Ron.
Hermione, remembering her letter, jumped up, looking at her watch. “I should really be going. I lost track of the time! I need to get all the way to the Owlery before curfew so I can send this off.” Ron looked ready to protest but she shook her head as she gathered her things. “I’ll look over this,” she shook the pages of his Transfiguration essay, “tonight and give it back to you with corrections tomorrow.”
“Ah, you’re the best,” he said, smiling sincerely at her. She paused a moment, though now accepting the change in her feelings, still trying to adjust to the lack of familiar butterflies she had become accustomed to his smile inducing.
“No problem. See you tomorrow,” she said, waving at the two from over her shoulder.
As she exited, she heard Ginny begin to nag Ron about the lack of effort he’d made in keeping in touch with Mrs. Weasley over the last two months. “She’s constantly nagging me to remind you of stuff. Just write to her!”
“What’s got your tea-cloth in a knot, then?”
Just as Hermione was about to pull the hospital wing doors shut, she heard Ginny groan in frustration and paused. “Dean. He’s an idiot. We just had a fight.” Hermione froze. “Never mind that, it’s dumb. I’m taking these.” She heard rummaging. Mrs. Weasley must have sent a tin of assorted sweets.
Dean and Ginny had fought. That was strange. That she knew of, they hadn’t spoken to each other directly by themselves since they broke up. For some reason, this made Hermione feel uncomfortable. What could they have possibly fought over all of the sudden? She knew there could only be one answer. But if so, what did that mean? She shut her eyes tight, trying to remind herself that what happened between them in their relationship wasn’t her business. Quietly, she pulled the hospital wing door shut.
Her hopes of putting her mind at ease by sitting with Dean and lounging in the common room till late were quickly dashed. He wasn’t in the common room that night, and no one had seen him all evening. Trying to convince herself that he had probably just turned in early, she did as well.
This was all well and good, but then he was also nowhere to be found the next morning. On weekdays, he generally waited for her in the common room if he didn’t get up early to post a letter to his mum. What gives? It wasn’t like Dean to avoid her. If he was avoiding her, then why? Had his and Ginny’s fight really confirmed what she’d long suspected and recently come to worry about? If it had, he might be avoiding her because he knew he’d have to end their agreement.
These thoughts consumed her as she met Harry and Ron upon their release from the hospital wing. They ran into Luna, who had a note for Harry from Dumbledore and she was so preoccupied she didn’t even manage to say “hello.” She couldn’t even bring herself to feel guilty when at the bottom of the marble staircase appeared a livid Lavender, apparently upset that she didn’t know Ron was being released today and somehow Hermione had.
As she and Harry strode off towards the Great Hall, leaving the bickering couple behind, her mind was now swirling rapidly. Of course, ending things with Dean was always going to be tricky. But along the way they had never considered what it would mean. They had spent months in each other’s company now. Would they no longer be friends? It would definitely have to end when Dean admitted to her the conversation he had with Ginny and she admitted that she no longer had feelings for Ron. There was no reason to continue. Still, the prospect of no longer having a reason to spend time with him like they had been bothered her.
All of this fell away, however, when they entered the Great Hall and heard a rousing cry of “Oi, Potter!” rise above the clattering of plates and goblets from the Gryffindor table. Many of their housemates stood cheering to see their captain fully recovered. Among them were Seamus and Dean who were standing and clapping, waving them over. If Dean was avoiding her or feeling upset at all, he wasn’t showing it.
Harry waved at everyone, smiling, ignoring the attempted counter of “boos” emitting from the Slytherin table. They sat down, Harry next to Seamus, and she next to Dean. He smiled down at her, as he always did, his dimples and bright grin sending a flutter through her chest.
“Alright then, Harry?” Dean asked, turning his attention away from Hermione.
“Yeah. Pomfrey said it wasn’t the first cracked skull she’d had to mend after a Quidditch match.”
They laughed and Seamus gave him a hearty slap on the back. “Glad you’re better mate. Gave the whole pitch a right scare.”
Everything was normal. Better than normal in fact. There wasn’t any tension when later Hermione glanced over to Ron, who for his part looked put out, and Lavender sitting on the other side of the table. Dean also didn’t seem to be any more aware of Ginny’s exuberant face amongst her friends further down the table either. It was irritating. Why did everything seem fine if he had been avoiding her and if Ginny and he had truly fought last night?
“Yeah I’ve never seen Hermione like that. She’s not athletic but she tore through the stands to get to the hospital wing before anyone else had thought to move.” Seamus said in amusement.
Harry grimaced in apology.
“It looked just awful!” she said. “I’ve told you that sport is much too dangerous.”
The rest of breakfast went on with her nagging and the boys defending him. She couldn’t shake her annoyance and was trying her best to pour it into other outlets. Was Dean even planning on telling her about the fight or was he just going to end it without explanation? She really regretted not demanding to better map out the end in the contract. Hermione didn't do well with unknowns. She needed plans and lists.
By the time she and Dean were on their way to Ancient Runes, Hermione was fully in a foul mood. She was annoyed because she couldn’t figure out why she felt as if she were being played for a fool. It wasn’t her business if he and Ginny had fought, talked, or even admitted their feelings to each other, not really. That was the goal from the onset. However, she did feel she was owed at least the courtesy of him telling her before Ginny ran off planting ideas about the state of her relationship or the behavior of her boyfriend in Ron’s mind.
“I’m glad Ron and Harry are out of the hospital wing. It was really cutting into our schedule.” He shifted her book bag on his shoulder and shoved his hands in his pockets.
His smirk faltered, confused by her abrupt answer. “Everything alright?”
In a huff, she blew a curl out of her face. “Sure. I’m fine.”
He pulled her to a stop, grasping her arms to face him. “See, I knew something was off at breakfast. What’s going on?” His eyes were searching hers as if the answer would broadcast from her mind straight into his.
“You know, you look quite happy today. Chipper almost,” she said irritably. If he was confused before, now he was certainly at a loss. “When were you planning on telling me that you were off secretly fighting with your ex-girlfriend last night?”
He gaped at her. “Are you mad at me?” he asked, clearly taken aback. “We weren’t meeting in secret, we just got into a fight. I didn’t think it was a big deal,” he said with a shrug.
“She told Ron! And then you have the nerve to show up to breakfast acting as if everything was completely normal. Do you know how that looks for me? My boyfriend is going around fighting with his ex-girlfriend and then doesn’t even tell me about it! Ron probably thinks I’m a complete idiot.” She pushed his hands away from her arms and crossed hers across her chest.
“I’m lost, Hermione. Are you mad because I didn’t tell you about it right away or because I was alone with Ginny?” His eyebrows were raised and he was looking at her suspiciously. She didn’t like the way his eyes were appraising her, like they were seeing everything.
She looked away, hugging her arms closer to herself, suddenly conscious of the students staring at them as they passed. It hadn’t occurred to her how loud they were talking. Without a word in response, she moved further down the hall, finding a spot out of the way of passers-by between a large pillar and the wall. He followed reluctantly.
Taking a few deep breaths to calm herself, she said, “I’m not mad, just frustrated. I must have looked so ridiculous to Ron and Ginny.” She shook her head, cutting off his response before sighing. “I think this is the answer we were looking for anyway.”
“I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone. You can’t actually be fighting with me, too. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it was that serious. Isn’t the whole point of this for Ginny and I to figure out our feelings and you to prove to Ron you’re indifferent to him?” His eyes were searching hers again. He bent down so that he was eye-level with her. Stubbornly, she turned her face away.
“Yes, that is the point. I just would have rather heard about it from you,” she said begrudgingly.
“I haven’t seen you,” he said with an incredulous chuckle. “I really wasn’t hiding it from you. We’re a team. You’ve just been rather busy.”
Meeting his eye she felt herself giving in, her indignation slowly being replaced by embarrassment. Even if he had been meeting with Ginny in secret, what a gross overreaction on her part. She had even told herself this wasn’t her business but here she was acting like a girlfriend with hurt feelings.
Sighing again, she said, “You’re right. Sorry. It must be the stress like you said. I don’t know why I overreacted like that. That is the point of it all.”
He exhaled in relief. “Thank Merlin. Because honestly, I was at a loss. How does one fight with a fake-girlfriend, anyway?”
She chuckled with him half-heartedly. “About that, this being the point of it all. I think this is probably proof enough that Ginny must have some sort of feelings for you—“ he tried to cut her off but she held up her hand, pressing forward, “and I’m still kind of sorting it out for myself, but I realized I don’t have feelings for Ron anymore. I think that spells mission accomplished for both of us, pretty much.”
“You don’t have feelings for Ron anymore,” he repeated slowly, trying to comprehend her words.
She shrugged, glancing down at her feet. “I’m not sure when it happened. It’s still a bit complicated, but he wanted to talk about the note and instead of feeling excited, I didn’t feel anything,” she looked up at him. His eyes were staring intently at her as if he’d just discovered something fascinating. “Now with Ginny and you talking at least, I was thinking we should start moving towards ending things. It’d be easiest to let things ‘naturally’ come to their conclusion over Easter Holiday.”
This snapped him out of his thoughts. “No we can’t,” he said, voice firm. “There’s another match to go and Katie still isn’t back. The contract clearly states you’d attend all of my matches. So we have to keep it up at least until the end of the Quidditch season.”
“Nope, I’m not letting you reason your way out of this. I’ve seen what happens to people who don’t hold up their end of a written contract with you. How do I know you won’t hex me?”
Hermione gave an indignant cry. “I didn’t hex this one! Why would I?”
“Regardless,” he said, waving her off, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Ginny, it won’t happen again. If anything happens, you’ll be the first to know.” He held out his hand to her, looking at her expectantly.
She watched him warily, but couldn’t ignore the leaping in her chest, relieved at an excuse to go on.
“Alright then,” she said, taking his hand.
The bell rang, signaling they were late for class. But for the first time ever, Hermione didn’t think she cared.