To All The Wizards: The Test

Heart racing, sweaty palms, blushing, Hermione ticked off things on the list she’d mentally been keeping, and the butterflies!

She had run through this same list several times over the last couple of days. So much so, that it was invading her dreams. She rolled over, pulling the red patterned quilt on her bed over her head, attempting to hide from the shaft of light streaming in through the gap in the hangings. There was no getting around it. There was really only one explanation for her embarrassing outburst.

At first, she couldn’t understand what in Merlin’s name could have made her snap at Dean like that. She had never been so worked up about a boy, over something so trivial. But if that were true, when had her feelings changed? The list echoed in her mind, “heart racing, sweaty palms, blushing—” she groaned into her pillow, feeling her face go red.

She had tried being rational, but over the last few days even a glance from Dean would twist her stomach into knots. They had an agreement, she tried to remind herself. This was unprofessional and she felt mortified.

Flopping back over and throwing the covers off, she huffed, blowing a wild tendril of hair out of her face.

“Calm and steady,” she murmured to herself.

There was no need to be this dramatic. He had made it very clear that he wanted to see their vague contractual terms through. It wouldn’t be fair of her to run away with her feelings now. Every now and again, she would catch him looking at Ginny with a furrowed brow, looking conflicted. This grounded her, reminding her that she had a job to do.

With a snort she thought, Worst case scenario, I'll just make a new list and get a new fake boyfriend to get over this one.

Sighing, she sat up and threw open the hangings. She could do this. She had faced worse hadn’t she?

If the disconcerting revelation of her own feelings hadn’t been enough, being friendly again with Ron, rather than bringing some relief, had brought further stress upon her current state of affairs. Neither Ron nor Dean liked to be around when the other was near. She assumed Ron’s reasoning was a mixture of a sense of pride and his usual stubbornness.

Dean, however, made his feelings plain. He didn’t approve of her renewed friendship with Ron. While it was flattering that he cared about anything she did, it was creating tension that even Seamus couldn’t miss.

In the afternoon, Hermione and Seamus were in the library, which was nearly empty except for some seventh years. Most students were out on the grounds whiling away their Saturday, enjoying the warming temperatures.

She was helping Seamus with his Transfiguration homework, while simultaneously reading up on more Apparition theory, when Ron rushed in, looking agitated.

“Why are you so out of breath?” she asked him suspiciously as he plopped down, looking behind him for signs of Harry.

“I’ve only just escaped!”

“Escaped what?” Seamus asked.

“Lavender! She’s driving me mad. She wants to spend every waking moment with me, and then spends her time nagging me about how I don’t seem ‘present.’ I don’t even know what that means!”

Hermione pursed her lips, determined not to say anything.

“Have you told her you need some space?” Seamus asked.

“You don’t think I’ve tried? Half the time I can’t get a word in, the other half she looks on the verge of tears.” He was exasperated, apparently feeling as if he had been put in a tough spot.

No longer able to focus on the Three D’s of Apparition, she closed her book in frustration. “Have you considered why she might be acting like this?”

“No.”

Before she could lose control of her frustration and snap at him, Seamus spoke. “You should listen to Hermione. She’s bang on about this girl stuff,” he said with a smile in her direction.

Despite her frustration, Hermione smiled sheepishly. At least one of her friends, which she felt she could fairly call Seamus now, felt that way. Although considering the mess she’d made for herself with Dean, maybe he shouldn’t have so much faith in her judgement.

“Yeah, you should listen to her,” came Dean’s deep voice from behind.

Ron sat up, drawing himself up to full height, locking eyes with Dean as he approached, levitating a few books in front of him. Not breaking eye contact, Dean lowered the books onto the table and placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked to him and he raised his eyebrows, checking to see if she was alright. Seamus’ eyes darted between all of them, sensing a sudden change in the atmosphere.

“Anyway, I should go find Harry. See you, Hermione,” Ron said, finally looking away from Dean. Without another word to Dean or Seamus, he got up and left, forgetting that he was meant to be hiding from Lavender.

Dean sat down in the vacated chair, his jaw clenched in frustration. He picked up a book at random from the small mound on their table, Ansel’s Anthology on Apparition. He didn’t look up from the book when he asked, “Has he apologized yet?”

“To Lavender?” Dean looked up, cutting her with a sharp look. She knew then he meant her. “Ah, well, no in either case...but—“

“Why do you keep trying to defend him?” he asked exasperatedly, sitting back in his seat, looking at her expectantly.

“I don’t know. I mean, he’s your roommate! You know what he’s like.”

“Exactly, I know what he’s like. He’s just going to keep taking advantage of you,” he said, leaning forward, setting the book to the side, voice now concerned.

Biting her lip, Hermione glanced at Seamus, feeling a little embarrassed. Seamus, thankfully was doing his best to busy himself with his Transfiguration book, jotting down notes very intently.

Dean also seemed to become aware that it wasn’t just the two of them at the table. He leaned back slightly, and placed his hand over hers, resting on the table. He gave it a squeeze as he said, “Just think about it, OK?”

She nodded and he pulled his hand away, picking up a book from the stack he had just brought over.

It surprised her how seriously he was taking any of this. While she conceded that he had a point in regards to Ron’s cyclical behavior, this was just par for the course of being Ron’s friend. Ron didn’t only treat her this way. He’d done similar things to Harry in the past and was clearly doing it to Lavender as well. When Hermione pointed this out though, Dean would just assert that, “Harry and Lavender aren’t my concern.”

Per his wishes, she did try to think about it over the course of the next day. Yes, Ron could be a bit sensitive and temperamental. But they had been friends for so long, she had just accepted that side of him. Just like he had accepted her bossiness and impatience. He was quick to jealously, but he was also fiercely loyal. There had been multiple times when he’d ended up losing House points or landed himself in detention in an attempt to defend her to the Slytherins or even Snape. She knew this wasn’t an excuse for his behavior, but she understood that friendship was about give and take. Right now, she was just happy to have her friend back.

It was hard to see all of the faults from before now that the three of them were all on speaking terms. The routine felt so welcome, she hadn’t realized how much she had missed it. The following evening, after she had bid Dean good night, she joined Harry and Ron in their usual spot by the fire.

The relief she felt at being able to sit and join them, rather than heading to the dormitories because Ron was present, quickly dissipated at the sight of what was in Harry’s hands.

“You won’t find anything in there,” she said eyeing the Prince’s book irritably.

“Don’t start, Hermione,” said Harry, not glancing up from the book. “If it hadn’t been for the Prince, Ron wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

“He would if you’d just listened to Snape our first year,” she said with a sniff, reaching up to begin unbraiding her hair, intending to tie it up in a pineapple for bed.

It had been almost a week since Professor Dumbledore had expressed his disappointment in Harry’s lack of progress in their last meeting. Hermione thought he deserved the telling off, feeling rather vindicated. She knew she should be happy he was back to thinking of solutions, but he had spent the week pondering over the Prince’s book instead of spending any time thinking of real solutions for getting on Slughorn's good side.

The common room slowly began to empty. The sixth years, having been excited by the notice announcing the date of their Apparition Test, had lingered behind to discuss the news. Hermione and the boys lost track of time, chatting about Apparition and pondering over their own fates. She had unbraided her two French plaits and shook out her hair before any of them realized what time it was.

Ron desperately tried to refocus on his essay for Defense Against the Dark Arts.

“Argh!” he exclaimed. “This bloody quill. One of Fred and George’s Spell-Check ones. It figures. The charm must be wearing off...”

Hermione moved to the spot next to him, looking over at the parchment as she piled her hair on top of her head, gathering it with a scrunchie. “Oh I expect so. ‘Augury’ isn’t spelled O-R-G and ‘belligerent’ isn’t B-U-M.” Then she broke out into laughter. “And I don’t remember you changing your name to ‘Roonil Wazlib’ either.”

“No! Please don’t tell me I’ll have to write the whole thing out again!” he said, horror-struck.

Mirth subsiding, she pulled the essay towards her and took out her wand, “It’s alright, we can fix it.”

“I love you, Hermione,” he said sinking back into the couch in relief.

She felt herself grow slightly pink, knowing he meant nothing by it, but uncomfortable with the implication still. “Don’t let Lavender or Dean hear you saying that,” she murmured.

She had just finished fixing the damage of Ron’s spell-check quill when there was a loud crack. Hermione gave a small shriek as Ron spilled ink all over the parchment. Before them stood Kreacher, the house-elf.

Crack.

Now Dobby was here too, much to Kreacher’s apparent disdain.

“Dobby has been helping Kreacher, Harry Potter!” Dobby squeaked.

Gaping at the elves and then back at Harry, Hermione finally found the words to ask, “What is this? What is going on, Harry?”

He hesitated before answering, a sign already that the answer would anger her. And she wasn’t wrong.

Dobby and Kreacher had finally left, relaying their adventures in tailing Malfoy at Harry’s behest. Hermione was still fuming. She siphoned ink off of Ron’s essay with her wand, not wanting to participate in any of Harry’s excited musings. She wasn’t sure what was more bothersome, that Harry had used elf labor, that he had used them to tail Malfoy, or that he had done all of this instead of focusing his efforts on getting the memory from Slughorn.

Ron and Harry had deduced that Crabbe and Goyle must be using Polyjuice Potion in order to help Malfoy with whatever he was up to. Harry then figured Malfoy had used the weight of his Dark Mark to coerce them into doing his bidding.

Unable to help herself she said, “Hmm...the Dark Mark we don’t know exists.” She rolled up Ron’s essay and thrust it back to him.

“We’ll see,” Harry said with a smug unearned confidence. This was all speculation without any hard facts. And more than that, none of it mattered.

“Yes, we will,” she said, standing and stretching. “But, before you get too excited, I don’t think you should forget that what you’re supposed to be concentrating on, per Dumbledore’s orders, is getting that memory from Slughorn.” She picked up her bag and slung it over her shoulder and with her chin raised resolutely, she stalked away and up to the girl’s dormitory.

It was ironic and frustrating that Dean was pressing her to hold Ron accountable when it was Harry who was going to send her straight to St. Mungo’s. Given the sensitive nature of pretty much all things concerning Harry, she couldn’t vent her frustrations to Dean. That left Ron as the only friend she could really talk to.

That Friday evening, she and Ron were patrolling the seventh floor corridors. They were meant to be patrolling the opposite ends of the floor but, as he always did when they patrolled, Ron insisted on them walking together.

“It’s boring, isn’t it? Walking empty corridors just in case a student is dumb enough to come bumbling right into me,” he complained.

“Yes, but McGonagall clearly assigned this corridor to me and you’re supposed to be patrolling near Flitwick’s office.”

“If I go back in that direction, I’m going to the common room and going to bed.”

“You can’t!” Hermione said firmly, a bit louder than she meant.

“Shh!” a few nearby portraits hissed, apparently roused from their slumber.

Ron covered his mouth in a failed attempt to contain his laughter.

She stood, lit wand still raised in one hand, the other placed on her hip. He shook vigorously with unreleased laughter. “Fine,” she sighed, dropping her hand from her hip. “If you’re going to tag along, at least be quiet.”

He nodded solemnly, holding his hands up in surrender. “Dunno why we have to patrol this corridor anyway. Who’s going to come mucking about this close to Dumbledore’s office?”

“Would you rather we patrol the corridor you were assigned? I’m not picky.”

“No, I’d rather be back by the fire—“ he stopped himself, noticing her glare. “Alright, I'll drop it. Why don’t we patrol by the Room of Requirement? Least that’ll be interesting, if Malfoy shows up.”

“Not you, too,” she said with a groan. They turned down a corridor brightly lit with torches, the corridor leading to Dumbledore’s office. She extinguished her wand.

“No of course not ‘me, too,’” he said with a slight laugh. “You gotta admit though, Harry’s probably right. Malfoy’s up to something.”

“Whether he’s right or not, it doesn’t matter. He’s wasted time all year obsessing over Malfoy when he should be focused on the tasks Dumbledore assigns him,” she said haughtily.

“I know. You should have heard him when you and I—“ he caught himself mid-sentence, shooting her a worried glance. He shook his head and continued. “Well, anyway, before he was worse. Had the Marauder’s Map open even before he went to bed.”

“Merlin,” she said, shaking her head, absentmindedly peering out of a passing window. There was rain streaming across the panes of glass.

“You don’t think he...ya know...I mean he hasn’t really fancied anyone since Cho.”

Hermione spun around to look at Ron incredulously, expecting him to laugh. But he was serious. This made her double over with mirth. Part of her longed to see his face when he found out who Harry actually had feelings for, the thought of it alone made her laugh even harder. Several portraits nearby began shushing her, but she couldn’t stop.

“What? It’s not unheard of. I have a great-uncle on my mum’s side who was always a bit of a dandy, but we always thought he might—“

“Stop, just stop,” she said waving her hand at him trying to silence him through her tears. “To answer your question: no, I don’t think Harry has feelings for Draco Malfoy.”

Am I speaking Gobbledygook? I say! Some of us are trying to sleep!” shouted a rather grumpy looking warlock from a portrait nearby.

Hermione bit back a new wave of laughter and nodded sheepishly, pulling a confused Ron along to finish their patrol.

The Easter Holidays came and went without much fanfare for the N.E.W.T.s level students who had stayed behind. Their days were filled with tackling the mountains of homework the teachers had assigned before break. Hermione was, of course, up to the challenge, but even she hadn’t finished her assignments until the first week of the break had passed. The rest of the time she spent rereading her favorite bits of Apparition theory, laying out by the lake studying with Harry and Ron or Dean and Seamus and helping them all with their remaining assignments.

After the break, Hermione, and many sixth year students, were pleased to return to Apparition lessons to find themselves much improved. Hermione, who had already Apparated twice, was able to Apparate one more time in the lesson leading up to their test. Ron had described it to Harry as perfect, and Twycross, their instructor, had raved over her abilities. Even Ron had managed to successfully reappear in their last lesson. He missed his mark, but was thrilled nonetheless.

Despite her success, Hermione still couldn’t shake her nerves. In the days leading up to the test, she was beginning to wonder if she should even take it. Apparition felt awful. She wanted to will herself to like it because it was magical and better than flying, but she couldn’t bring herself around to the idea.

When she confided this to Dean on the way down to the Great Hall for dinner the evening before their test, he agreed.

“Yeah it’s awful, like you’re being sucked through a tube. I think I’ll just stick to driving. What’s so wrong with a Muggle car that they prefer that?”

They laughed together and she said, “I guess I may have to get my driver’s license after all.”

He grabbed her hand and smiled at her. “Maybe I could teach you if there’s time over the summer. You live close enough.”

She slid her hand out of his, feeling a blush coming over her. Lately, she had done her best to avoid holding his hand, as it always left her palms clammy and heart racing and she was sure he was bound to feel her pulse jumping out through her skin.

Trying to act as if nothing were amiss, she said matter of factly, “But we’ll be broken up by then.”

He laughed and nudged her to the side. “Sure to everyone else, but we’ll still be friends, won’t we?”

Her heart soared, in spite of itself. Finally, she had the answer to the question she’d been too embarrassed to ask. They were friends. Of course, now that seemed obvious. But she had been worried that after all was said and done, they wouldn’t be—that everything would go back to how it was before.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right!” she said with a bright grin.

He took up her hand again, and pulled her down the corridor, rambling on about plans to teach her to drive, starting in a car park.

As he spoke, a weight pulled her back down from floating so high. She couldn’t tell him, of course, but she probably wouldn’t be home for very long over the summer. If she could manage it, she’d head straight for the Order after she’d visited her parents for a bit. She was still in school, but she was of age, and she had a feeling she could get Remus to convince the others to induct her. Still, even the idea of spending time with Dean over the summer was enough to put a smile on her face as they entered the Great Hall.

The day of their Apparition test dawned bright and breezy upon the Hogwarts grounds. The whole day, Hermione was a bundle of nerves. Ron and Harry tried to calm her, reminding her that she’d been successfully Apparating for weeks now, but it was no use. She couldn’t shake the feeling that this was going to be the moment she failed.

Practical magical tests always brought her a certain amount of stress. Even when she knew she could perform the incantation or other ability successfully, there was always a small part of her that was sure it wouldn’t work, as if the magic that had randomly appeared in her would Disapparate without warning.

She was thankful she had a full schedule of classes to distract her. Sometimes in classes, Dean also tried to calm her, like in Ancient Runes when he began rubbing her back as they bent over a nearly destroyed piece of ancient text. This, of course, did nothing but further agitate her nerves.

In Arithmancy, he slipped her a sketch with a mischievous wink. Passing notes in class, she thought, what is this, a Muggle secondary school? Instead of feeling irritated at his disregard for the rules, she smiled as she unfolded the sketch.

He had gotten better at using his enchanted sketch pencils. The picture featured a cartoon Hermione with bold curls Disapparating and then reappearing, waving a little lion pennant, only for her to disappear and reappear again. She kept looking at the little cartoon throughout the remainder of class, finding that it did make her feel a little better.

For lunch, Hermione joined Harry and Ron in the courtyard, hoping the warm sunlight might do the trick in finally banishing her nerves. Instead, she found herself clutching the Ministry of Magic leaflet they had been given that morning—Common Apparition Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—as if it were a life preserver keeping her from drowning in the sea of her inadequacy.

“So, where’s Dean off to then?” Ron asked nonchalantly, not looking up from his own pamphlet.

“The library,” she said distractedly. “He had a Charms essay to finish.”

“And you aren’t helping him with it?” he asked, glancing at her.

Hermione looked at Harry who shrugged, not interested in being a part of this conversation. “No,” she said, “he knew I wanted to study and didn’t want both of us to miss out on the good weather.”

Before he could reply, Ron gave a start as a girl rounded the corner near them.

Hermione rolled her eyes, turning her attention back to her pamphlet, and wearily said, “It isn’t Lavender.”

The girl walked up to Harry, looking nervous and red in the face. “Harry Potter? I was asked to give you this.” She handed him a roll of parchment and sprinted away.

“Dumbledore said we wouldn’t have any more lessons until I got the memory!” he said, looking at the roll of parchment apprehensively.

“Maybe he wants to check how you’re doing?” Hermione suggested, trying to be encouraging.

It turned out to be a tear-stained letter from Hagrid to the three of them relaying the news that Aragog had died and requesting their presence at his funeral. They quickly decided it was out of the question, for Ron especially given his fear of spiders. Hermione thought it would be wasteful to risk detention now if Harry was going to get the memory from Professor Slughorn by some other means.

“Look, Potions will be empty this afternoon with all of us doing our tests,” Hermione explained, “Try and soften Slughorn up a bit then!”

Harry scoffed bitterly. “Right. Fifty-seventh time lucky, you think?”

“Lucky,” Ron said suddenly, “Harry, that’s it—get lucky!”

Hermione gasped. How had she not thought of that before? She had been so bitter over the Felix Felicis, having lost out on it in class unfairly and Harry having tricked her with it during the first Quidditch match, that she had put it mostly out of her head.

“Ron, that’s it! Of course!” She beamed at the two of them, relieved that they might actually be able to secure the memory. Her smile dimmed slightly seeing Harry’s face.

“Felix Felicis? I dunno...I was sorta saving it...” Harry trailed off into a mumble.

“What for?” Ron asked incredulously.

“What on earth is more important than this memory, Harry?” she asked suddenly riled, daring him to say what she was worried he might. If he says anything about Malfoy, I might actually hex him this time, she thought.

But then a soft, slightly embarrassed look overcame him and a light color tinted his cheeks. Hermione bit her lip realizing what, or rather who, he must have wanted to use it for. If Harry used it to try to win over Ginny, it might solve her problems, too, she thought wryly.

She shook her head and instead said, “Earth to Harry,” snapping him out of his reverie.

It was agreed upon that he would use the Felix that evening if he wasn’t able to get anything out of Slughorn while they were away at Hogsmeade.

“That’s decided then,” Hermione said, standing up. Then she murmured to herself, “Destination, determination, deliberation,” spinning in what she hoped was a graceful pirouette.

“Oh stop that,” Ron said, annoyed. “I’m worked up enough as it is—quick, hide me!”

“Would you stop it! It isn’t Lavender! And if it was, it’d probably be for the best. You need to actually talk to her and stop panicking at the sight of every girl.”

“S’not my fault. She’s mental,” he said, somewhat chastised.

The bell sounded overhead, signaling the end of the lunch period. “Anyway,” she said as she gathered her things, ignoring Ron’s ignorance, “I’m off to History of Magic. I’ll see you in Hogsmeade. Good luck, Harry!”

Generally, she found History of Magic to be quite interesting, especially given the subject of the current chapter, “Wizarding Colonization in India.” Today, however, she couldn’t stop glancing at her watch. Her leg bounced so much that Professor Binns paused his dry reading to give her a severe look. By the time the bell rang, she was so worked up, she shot up from her desk, and out the door, right into Dean.

He laughed, “Alright there?” She nodded enthusiastically. “Let’s go then.”

He offered his hand, which she took to calm her nerves, or so she told herself. She was talking a mile a minute, going over the details of the three D’s and specific instances of tests gone horribly wrong—including one where a student had splinched themselves, part of them ending up in Northern Ireland.

They were outside, walking down the path leading away from the castle, when she finally paused in her speech, noticing that Dean was staring at her in vague disbelief.

“Sometimes I can’t believe you’re real.” Hermione opened her mouth ready to retort, offended, but Dean cut her off. “You’re easily the smartest witch I’ve ever met. And yet, somehow, you don’t seem to know that.”

Hermione felt lost for words. She knew she was smart, for all the reading she’d done growing up she ought to be. But how could she explain the feeling of her magic being like a well that she was happy to have discovered, but was constantly worrying might run dry?

“I always sort of thought your nerves before exams were a bit of an act, but you’re actually nervous up to the last, aren’t you?”

“Erm, yes?” she said, not fully understanding his point. “This is important. Just because I was able to do it before doesn’t mean I’ll be able to perform during the test.”

He shook his head and laughed, throwing his arm around her, pulling her close. “Listen Granger, if you can’t pass, then the rest of us are up a creek without a paddle.”

The testing area was set up on Hogsmeade’s main street, which had been cordoned off with several Aurors stationed around at strategic points. This didn’t dampen the spirit of the excited sixth years, who were all eager to put the test behind them and get approval for their license.

The test itself wasn’t complex. There were three examiners who would be grading them on their distance traveled—“Destination,” their aim—“Determination,” and their form—“Deliberation.” They waited in a line along the sidewalk as the examiners called them up. Their objective was to Apparate from their current position to the end of the long street, at the Hogshead where a hoop had been positioned. A non-scoring examiner waited at the end to confirm results for the others.

Hermione couldn’t bring herself to watch the other students go. The atmosphere was tense and she could hear the series of cracks as each student Disapparated and then the echoes of faint cracks for the ones that successfully appeared in their hoop at the far end. There were a few yelps of pain and instances of ensuing commotion from what she assumed were from splinched students.

“Granger, Hermione!” Wilkie Twycross, their instructor who was overseeing the proceedings, called out.

Hermione let out a squeak, and looked up at Dean.

He smiled and gave her a poke in the side, “Go on, then!”

Hermione walked up to the second examiner, who was standing next to an empty hoop.

“Alright Miss Granger we will be scoring you on a scale from 1 to 10 in these three areas...”

Calm and steady, Hermione said to herself, trying to regulate her breathing, trying to take in as much information from the monotone examiner as she could.

“Do you understand the instructions as I have explained them, Miss Granger?”

She nodded emphatically.

“Alright, you may begin your Disapparition.”

Hermione let out a great woosh of air, having found during lessons that holding as little air in her lungs as possible made Apparition slightly more bearable. She envisioned the hoop at the end of the road, picturing herself in it. She was going to stand in it. She turned swiftly on the spot and felt herself being pulled along, as if she were being forced through a small straw.

To her great relief, when she opened her eyes, and the world had expanded again, she found that she had landed surprisingly gracefully in the dead center of the hoop. She turned around, grinning from ear to ear, to see Wilkie Twycross down the road applauding.

The rest of testing passed without incident. There were a few students who were unable to Apparate at all. Dean did really well that she could tell, although he swore he barely made it into the hoop.

She hadn’t seen Ron, but did notice him standing a ways off with Lavender, who appeared to be fretting over him. It looked to her like he was missing half an eyebrow. She thought to go over to him and ask how he’d done, but thought that neither Lavender nor Dean would fancy that very much.

Waiting for the results felt like it went on for ages. Hermione couldn’t stop fidgeting and Dean mostly just sat and watched her, amused. When the results were finally posted on the village notice board, Hermione ran to it.

She cut through the few students who were already searching the results. Scanning the sheet she finally found her name.

Turning to Dean, she squealed. “I passed!” In her excitement, she jumped on him, laughing in relief. He laughed with her, holding her steady as she jumped up and down, barely able to contain herself.

“‘Course you did,” Dean’s voice came out muffled with her curls flying in his face, but she could hear the smile in his voice.

Not letting go of her, he craned his neck over her mass of curls to scan the list for his own name. She turned to look too. Next to his name, “Pass” was written in green. She whooped and laughed. He was docked slightly for being a few inches off target, but that didn’t matter to her. They could now return all of the Apparition books they had checked out to the library!

He shrugged and rubbed the back of his neck. “A pass is a pass.”

“You did really well! A few inches is nothing.” She smiled at him encouragingly.

He returned the smile, his dimples winking out at her, sending a series of flutters through her. He held out his hand, ready to return to the castle.

“One second,” she said, turning back to the list.

She scanned until she got to the bottom. “Weasley, Ron...Fail — Splinched.”

Looking through the crowd, it was as she expected, a very ill-tempered and red-eared Ron was standing to the side. Lavender appeared to be trying to console him, but Hermione could tell that it was only further irritating him.

Dean squeezed her hand, bringing her attention back to him. “Do you wanna wait for him?”

She shook her head, turning back toward the castle. “He’ll be fine.”

Their spirits were high as they walked back to the castle. The sun was beginning to sink behind the turrets, casting a warm glow on the Hogwarts grounds. A cool breeze floated past them from the lake. Most of the students elected to stay behind to have a celebratory or a commiserative drink at the Three Broomsticks. It seemed only Ron, likely desperate to get away from his companions, Lavender, and Parvati were heading back, as well.

She could hear renewed coos of “Won-Won,” coming from behind them, Ron’s very slight injury apparently inspiring forgiveness in Lavender. Hermione turned to look at the pair. Parvati was walking arm and arm with Lavender while Ron had a surly expression, refusing to participate in whatever conversation they were having. He’d be fine by this evening, she knew, but she did wish he would stop stringing Lavender along when they were clearly both so unhappy.

Dean and Hermione laughed and joked as they made their way up the path. Dean teasing Hermione, insinuating that Twycross had a crush on her.

“I mean and why not?” he exclaimed. “You’ve got the brains and you spin so prettily when you Apparate. You’re a 10 in old Wilkie’s book.”

She giggled. “He’s not really my type.”

“Is it the wrinkles? Or the candy-floss hair?”

Wrinkling her nose she shook her head. “I’m not that shallow. It’s his whispery voice. You can never hear a word he’s saying! Speak up, man!”

They laughed, their hands clasped, swinging merrily between them. Another breeze flowed through the air, blowing Hermione’s hair across her face. Normally she might be self-conscious of her hair blowing out of place and frizzing up, but with Dean she knew he didn’t care. She looked up to see him watching her.

“What?” she asked with a laugh, ready for another Twycross joke.

“You’re just really pretty,” he said almost disbelievingly. He blinked, shaking his head, almost as if he were rousing himself from a stupor.

Hermione’s face felt as if it had been placed under a heat lamp. She bit her lip, and looked down, trying to remain impassive. “Oh, thank you.”

“It’s not a wonder you’ve got Weasley so bothered.”

Almost forgetting her embarrassment she said indignantly, “I don’t have Ron...” but she trailed off, noticing Dean’s expression, lost in thought. She closed her mouth.

She really wished he wouldn’t do that. But how could she ask him to stop flirting with her when as far as he knew, they were in a consensually fake but friendly relationship? She couldn’t, not without admitting her changed feelings, and she didn’t think she could bear that. If that was how this charade ended, all she will have done is traded one humiliation for another.

They reached the castle in a comfortable silence. He stopped at the top of the steps leading towards the great oak door, not bothering to pull open the door. He looked at her for a moment, and Hermione had the distinct feeling he was sizing her up.

“Do you think he’s still behind us?”

He didn’t have to clarify, she knew he meant Ron. “I suppose. I don’t remember seeing him pass us.”

Before she could turn to check, he tugged at their clasped hands, pulling her firmly into his chest. Confused, she didn’t have time to ask what he was doing, or, much less process his hand on her jaw, gently lifting her mouth to his.

This was a real kiss. It was slow and purposeful and warm. How had she not noticed how warm his lips were all those months ago? How many months had it been? She didn’t know. This close to him, his scent enveloped her, the smell of bergamot overpowering the rest of her senses. It was all overwhelming. If pressed, she wasn’t sure she even remembered her own name. She only knew his lips against hers, and his warm hand pressed to her cheek.

And in an instant, it was over. Dean pulled away from her, looking down at her with unreadable eyes. She felt dazed, her lips slightly parted in shock. Her heart was thundering against her chest so loudly, she was sure he could hear it.

“I’m off to find Seamus, so I’ll see you later?” he asked, as if they had just merely hugged.

“Erm, well, I have a thing with Harry, so, I—yes. See you later,” she said, trying desperately to cobble together a normal sentence and hide the shakiness in her voice.

“Alright then,” he said, his thumb grazing her cheek, sending chills through her. “See you.”

He smirked at her before dropping his hand and walking away, leaving her stunned on the steps.

Part 13