To All The Wizards: The Greenhouse

The next morning, Hermione awoke to sunlight streaming in through her half-closed hangings. It was a warm morning. Her blankets and pillows were coaxing her back into another slumber. She had such a pleasant dream the night before, of dimples and full lips. A contented sigh escaped her mouth. Perhaps she could sleep a little longer.

Clenching her eyes tightly she tried to will the dream back into her mind—shelves pressing into her back, the smell of bergamot enveloping her being, a low chuckle. With a start, she shot up in her bed. It hadn’t been a dream. She really had confessed her feelings to Dean Thomas and he had reciprocated. There hadn’t been only one kiss, but several.

Frantically, she ripped open her hangings, snatching up her watch to confirm the reality of the situation. It was 9:40 AM already, she had slept in quite late. Her eyes lingered on the small “18” on the face. It was, in fact, the day after the match. It had all been real.

She stared, wide-eyed, around her empty dormitory. Would he have waited this long for her to get ready for breakfast? Without the express purpose of putting on a show of being in a relationship, she wasn’t sure how a normal couple was supposed to behave.

In a flurry of nervous excitement she moved about the room getting ready. Mess and disorder followed her as she went. The scene was more chaotic than their dormitory had been when the girls had prepared for the Yule Ball fourth year. With a sense of helplessness she stood in the middle of her strewn clothes and accessories, realizing all of her cutest outfits had been wasted on fake dates and performances. Did Dean even like those outfits?

Finally, she settled on a rumpled yellow blouse that was actually quite cute after she had charmed the wrinkles out of it. For a moment she eyed herself in the mirror, her reflection hesitant.

This is ridiculous, she thought. He knows what you look like and decided he fancied you anyway. She rolled her eyes at her reflection before squaring her shoulders and bounding toward the door.

With a surge of confidence she propelled herself down the first flight of steps before indecision brought her to a halt once more. This wasn’t the same Dean she had been meeting before breakfast every other day since December. This Dean knew how she felt. They couldn’t just say “Hello!” or “Mornin’” and be on their way like they used to, could they?

She turned back towards the dormitory and bit her lip. Shaking her head, willing the anxiety away, she turned around again. She had almost convinced herself to retreat back to the dormitory and regroup when she spotted him. He caught her eye from the couches below and waved. With a nervous smile, she continued down the stairs.

He beamed at her as she walked towards him. “Did you wait long?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could. Like it’s any other day, she told herself.

Shaking his head, his eyes searched her. He gave a dry chuckle and said, “This is a bit weird isn’t it?”

A couple of third years entered from the portrait hole and walked past them, causing Hermione to take a step towards Dean then immediately step back in a panic. She laughed at herself. “A little I guess.”

“It’s hard to know how to act after having it in writing for so long,” he said with an air of effortless ease. He didn’t appear to be nervous at all. “Alright, we’ll just take it slow then.”

She nodded her assent, slightly unnerved that he knew her so well. Sheepishly, she took his hand, and he led her out of the portrait hole.

The Great Hall was teeming with residual excitement from the previous day’s match. To Hermione, the Quidditch Cup and party seemed like a lifetime away. The atmosphere of the day was just somehow sweeter. Everyone was jovial. The food looked impeccable—thick-cut smoked bacon, coils of fat sausages, platters of muffins with pats of butter dripping down the sides, and decanters filled with a colorful array of exotic juices. It was possibly the best breakfast she ever had.

Dean and Hermione sat next to each other, chatting comfortably like two old companions. A jolt of excitement would run through her when she remembered that this was no longer fake or when he reached over to wipe the crumbs of her muffin from her cheek.

Sighing contentedly, Hermione set down her now-empty goblet of pomegranate juice. It had been cold and sweet, a relief from the imagined heat radiating from the enchanted ceiling.

“This isn’t so bad, is it?” Dean asked as he reached over, grazing her cheek with his thumb.

Happiness and doubt churned inside of her—a pleasant chaos. It didn’t feel hard. Things felt like they were coming naturally, but she still felt uncomfortable not knowing what it was she was meant to do. “No I guess not,” she said, smiling shyly.

He snorted. “You guess? I could have sworn it was you who snogged me out of the blue again.” He leaned down towards her and with a smirk asked, “Should I be expecting more of that?”

Feeling flushed, she pushed him away. “No! I mean—erm yes. What I mean is yes but not the surprise part.” Glancing around the table, she saw that no one was paying any attention to their conversation, but she still felt aggressively exposed.

“I don’t mind. Surprise me all you want.” His eyes burned right through her with such an intensity she thought she might evaporate.

Nervously, she broke eye contact and reached for her goblet. Realizing it was empty, she lamely tipped it back anyway, looking for any excuse to cut through the tension. It was bad enough she didn’t know what she was doing, she didn’t need the whole Gryffindor table to see that as well.

He chuckled, not affronted, and looked up at the clear blue sky of the enchanted ceiling. “So, how long has it been for you?”

She watched him as she thought for a moment. He needed a haircut, the gradient of his fade was shaggier and disheveled. Still as the enchanted glow of the artificial sun above and the real sun beams streamed through the window and bounced off his features, he was incredibly handsome.

Her heart skipped a beat and she looked back down at her empty plate. When had she started fancying him? In her memory, there were two distinct periods, one where she didn’t have feelings for Dean and one where she did. She couldn’t say for certain the exact point where the two met.

“Hogsmeade,” she said finally. It was impossible to riddle out what precisely her heart felt at the time, but she did know that was the first time it had no longer felt fake.

Dean looked back down at her and smiled in triumph. “I win.” In response to her confused expression, he said, “Christmas.”

That was nearly two months before their Valentine’s Day Hogsmeade trip. There was no way. “Christmas!” she said with a gasp. She lowered her voice, noticing their neighbors glancing at her curiously, “You’ve liked me since Christmas?”

He looked out of the arched windows thoughtfully, as if double checking his calculations. “After I dropped you off at the station, the night you had dinner round my place, I couldn’t stop thinking about you. It went on for days. I would just wonder how you were and what you were doing.” He shrugged. “When we got back from break, I realized you were still working out your own stuff with Ron so I did my best to leave it.”

“But what about Ginny? You kept meeting with her. I assumed...”

“That wasn’t what it looked like,” he said. “She was angry with me.”

“About what?” she asked, taken-aback.

He rubbed his jaw, now looking down at the table sheepishly. “She thought I was using you to get to her and she was angry about it. I didn’t tell you because then I would have had to admit I no longer had feelings for Ginny. Then you would have ended things, which in my defense you seemed pretty keen to do.”

All this time and he never told her. She stared at him aghast. If this was true, he had been in the same awkward position she had been, but longer. A wave of relief washed over her. It felt like somehow the scales were balanced. If he had liked her for that long, even if he wasn’t showing it, surely he was as nervous as she was.

“Are you mad?” he asked.

“Mad? No. Why would I be mad?”

“Mad because I didn’t tell you sooner,” he said, looking uncertain for the first time all morning.

She laughed, feeling much more relaxed now, and clutched his hand on the table. “Let’s just call it even.”

“Deal,” he said, dipping down and lightly kissing her on the forehead.

A giggle threatened to bubble forth, but before it could she spotted Harry entering the Hall with Ginny, hand-in-hand. They made eye-contact, and he looked significantly between her and Dean, who was now spooning more jam onto his toast, and winked at her. Hiding her blush, she pulled a face at him. He grinned at her knowingly in response, spotting her blush even from across the hall. She rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Dean, but not before seeing Harry’s enthusiastic thumbs up.

“What was that about?” Dean asked, taking a bite of his fresh piece of toast.

“Harry just...it’s nothing. He’s just stupid,” she said dismissively as she reached over to pluck a few red grapes from a nearby platter.

Finishing his last piece of toast in a few swift bites he looked down the table to where Harry and Ginny were now seated amongst her friends.

“So you’re sure you’re not bothered about Ginny and Harry?” she asked tentatively.

Sighing with exasperation, he brushed the crumbs off the table and pushed his now empty plate away. “Yes. I’m sure.”

Hermione pursed her lips and stared down the table at the red-headed girl. “I just don’t understand then. Why has she acted so strangely? All year she’s made snide remarks and even snapped at me when Harry got detention, but she was defending me to you? It doesn’t make sense.”

There clearly had to be a misunderstanding between Ginny and herself that she had perpetuated by never confronting Ginny in the first place. For all she knew, it was Ginny who thought she was angry. Although she had never thought of Ginny as a particularly close friend, this still made her feel guilty. They shared a room over the summer for Merlin’s sake. She was the older and more responsible one of the two. If it truly was a misunderstanding, she shouldn’t have let it languish for so long.

“Maybe you should talk to her, if it really bothers you.” There wasn’t any contractual reason she couldn’t just talk things out with her now, but she still felt hesitant. “Look, I know Gin. She’ll stay angry for as long as you let her. But confronting it is like popping a balloon. It will quickly deflate all in one go and that’ll be that.”

She sighed. “You’re probably right. I mean it’s not like I have some fake narrative to spin anymore so there’s no harm in talking to her, I suppose.” She looked at him questioningly, giving him one last chance to tell her no—to change his mind about Ginny.

He brought his hand up to cup her face. “There’s no harm if you know how to block a Bat Bogey Hex.”

She burst out with laughter. “I suppose you’re right. Best to stay constantly vigilant.”

The day passed pleasantly between them. Hermione spent some time with Dean in the library reworking his revision schedule. Now that he was done with Quidditch, he had more time to prepare for exams. He teased her for being too aggressive in scheduling their study dates.

She looked at him seriously from atop the Muggle planner he used and glared, “These aren’t dates. During these times I’ve blocked out we’re concentrating on our assignments and revisions. That’s it.”

He raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, fine. You just better prioritize our ‘not dates’ over helping other people study.”

She glared at him and urged him to take it seriously. But she couldn’t help but smile as she penciled more time into the planner.

Hermione knew it was all backwards, but just as he had promised, they were taking everything slowly. They had already done so much together, it should make sense to jump all in on the first day. But now everything was real, and that made each little step feel thrilling and simultaneously exhausting. She was grateful that he respected that this was her first real relationship and that they were navigating her new boundaries.

A “first” is just a mental block. It’s just a matter of overcoming it. I’ve excelled at far more frightening firsts than this, she reminded herself.

Shaking her head, she tried to focus on the roll of parchment in her hand. It was later in the evening and she was editing Harry’s Defense Against the Dark Arts essay on the theory of Shield Charms. Dean had disappeared to find Seamus, who had mysteriously been absent all day. Ginny was off in the library with friends preparing for their fast approaching O.W.Ls.

“Harry, you’ve misspelled ‘shield’ three times already. You’re not using one of Ron’s wretched spell-checking quills are you?”

He was staring out the window with a glazed look in his eyes.

“Harry!” she said, snapping her fingers in front of his face.

“Huh? Sorry. No, normal quill.”

She tapped her quill to her chin, looking over the lines drawn through words and the arrows she had drawn, rearranging words for flow and tone. “Your writing is never this bad. It’s usually Ron who has this many corrections.”

He groaned, taking the parchment from her, looking over the revisions thus far. “Sorry, I’ve just been distracted.”

“You get a girlfriend and now you can’t spell?” she asked looking at him amusedly.

“No not just that.” He sat up and handed the essay back to her. “There’s something that has been bothering me.”

“Mmm,” she said, once again immersed in revisions.

“These attacks that have happened at Hogwarts, we agree that they seem to be targeting Dumbledore. So then why haven’t they increased security around him?”

Hermione laughed distractedly, puzzling over a particularly thorny run-on sentence. “Dumbledore is the greatest wizard of the modern era. What good would a bodyguard do for him?”

“I dunno, act as a deterrent? If he had a guard posted, those things wouldn’t have gotten past.”

Hermione looked up from her work, eyes narrowing. “Is this about Malfoy again? I thought we agreed to dro—”

“Not Malfoy. It’s about whoever is behind it. You’re not concerned they’re still out there?”

Exasperated, she rolled her eyes. “Regardless, if there was anything to actually be concerned with I’m sure the Order has looked into it and made—”

Harry gave a sudden gesture and averted his eyes, a look she knew very well meant to stop talking.

“Bad time?” Dean plopped down next to Hermione and looked between the two of them.

Harry glanced at Hermione. “No not at all!” she said with a cheery smile. “Erm, did you find Seamus?”

“Uh yeah,” he said, shifting his eyes between them, but otherwise brushing off the abrupt change in subject. “Apparently he’s got a new tutor.”

Hermione frowned, feeling slightly put out. “If he needed help I could have—” she began to say.

“I think his current tutor is much more to his liking. It’s Padma.”

Oh.”

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise. Taking his now forgotten essay from Hermione, he pulled out his own quill to start working on the edits she had made. “So the poetry actually worked?”

“How do you know about the poetry?” she asked, impressed at the insight into his roommates’ personal life and his memory.

“He left them lying around, didn’t he?” Harry said, bent over the essay.

“Nah, Hermione helped me convince him to just talk to her instead of showing her those.”

Harry let out a sudden bark of laughter. “Hermione?”

“And what’s so funny?” she asked crossing her arms.

“Nothing,” he said, looking up from the essay innocently. “It’s just that I don’t imagine you were in the position to give romantic advice this year.” Hermione cast her eyes around the vicinity for something to throw at him. Seeing her unarmed, he continued, “How long were you two ‘fake-dating’ before realizing, like the rest of us already had, that you both clearly fancied—hey!”

She had ripped the cushion from behind Dean and hurled it at him with surprising precision. Dean, lost as to what was going on, looked offended at suddenly having toppled over, devoid of his support. She smiled apologetically.

“So you told him, then?” he asked as he sat himself back up.

His voice wasn’t accusatory, just surprised. She hadn’t thought to tell him that she had told their secret. Her face burned with the memory of why she had told Harry in the first place, the hopeless defeat she thought she was surrendering to.

“She mentioned that, and how, like a lunatic, she sent out letters to multiple guys, including you.”

“And you!” Dean said, now laughing with Harry.

I didn’t send them,” she said defensively. ”I don’t know how they got sent, but it wasn’t me.”

“Maybe it was house elves,” Harry said. “Second year, Dobby was doing all sorts of things to ‘help’ me that nearly got me killed.”

“Most house elves would only do that if commanded or asked,” said Dean, looking concerned at the idea of “death by house elf.”

Harry snorted. “Well you haven’t met Dobby.”

Hermione stretched and yawned, bored with the conversation. This was something she had pondered over for weeks following the incident. Of course she was still curious, but as it was stated in Hogwarts: A History, “the magic of Hogwarts will never be truly comprehended by the common witch or wizard.” She plucked Harry’s essay back from him to make her final edits, leaving them to theorize back and forth amongst themselves.

“And you didn’t get a ton of owls back saying ‘Why in the flying broomsticks did you send me a love letter?’

She looked at Harry coolly, “They weren’t love letters, and as a matter of fact, no. I didn’t.”

“That’s a bit odd. What kind of bloke expects a letter like that? Who did you send them to?”

Harry looked at Dean expectantly because Hermione had returned to double-checking her edits and was trying to ignore him. “Well if she didn’t tell you, I don’t think I can,” Dean said shrugging.

“OK but maybe you didn’t hear back from them because one of them is the culprit,” Harry said insistently.

Hermione refused to look up. “It wasn’t any of them I’m sure.”

“Well how can you know? How many were sent?”

“Only five.”

“Five!” Harry shouted. A study group from a nearby table looked up and glared at the sudden outburst.

Dean shoved his fist to his mouth to hold in the laughter. She glared at him, a silent reminder that he was supposed to be on her side. He bit his lip in a failed attempt to sober up.

“Right, so you won’t tell me who the other two are. Obviously one is Viktor Krum. Not sure if you were compatible but he sure thought so,” he ticked one off of his fingers thoughtfully. “No clue who the last one could be though. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you fancy any other guys...” he trailed off in thought.

A nudge at her ribcage. She looked up to find Dean looking back at her questioningly, his forehead creased with concern. She nodded, indicating that she was OK to let Harry speculate. She was confident. Harry would never guess who it was.

“Unless...is it Percy?” Harry burst out in laughter at his own joke. “You two did always get along.”

Instead of looking for something more to throw at him, her eyes widened slightly and her cheeks began to grow warm. It wasn’t the right guess, of course. He meant it as a teasing dig between friends about her shared bookishness with everyone’s least favorite Weasley. But his guess was closer than he knew. Percy was Oliver’s roommate and best friend in school.

Harry noticed her reaction and suddenly became serious. “Wait...you’re not serious. Was it Percy, really?”

Dean sat up, ready to step in on her behalf. But Hermione made a final mark on Harry’s essay and handed over to him. As indifferently as she could manage, she said, “As if. Prats aren’t my type.”

Harry took the essay and raised his hands in surrender. Hermione sighed in relief, happy to speak no more on the subject. Her school girl crush had been intense, albeit short lived. It was an oddly happy memory and she didn’t want Harry and Ron to ruin it with their banter and teasing, as she knew they would.

Everything was good for the first time all year. She didn’t feel timid any longer, but she did have principles. At the end of the first week of their official relationship, Dean had surprised her by meeting her outside of the History of Magic classroom. She giggled, pleased to see him being pleased to see her.

“No classes until Monday. Just time together, you and me,” he said as she approached.

She nodded enthusiastically and squealed in surprise as he grabbed her around the waist and spun her around. Her books thudded to the ground and she shouted, “Dean!”

He stopped spinning her around and looked at her with a slight smirk, a dimple winking at her, sending her pulse racing. While he had set her down, he still held her firmly to him. She knew there were other people watching them but the twinkle in his brown eyes had her mesmerized. He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to her lips, snapping her out of her trance.

She pushed him away and looked around wildly. “Dean, I’m a prefect.”

His expression quickly went from affronted to incredulous. “You still don’t want me to kiss you, then?” he asked with a knowing smirk.

“That’s not what I mean!” Her face was hot. People were watching as they walked past. “Just not in front of everyone. I’m supposed to set an example!”

He laughed and shook his head. “I knew what I was getting into when I chose to date Hermione Granger.” Leaning down, he brushed his lips against her temple. “Well come on then,” he said with a smile and held out his hand. She blushed but took it gratefully.

The warm days of May blurred together in a delightful haze of revising and organizing in preparation for exams with Dean. Hermione tried to convince herself that her studies were her first priority. She had strict rules for when they studied in the library to mitigate any distractions. Dean still managed to persuade Hermione to allow for more breaks than she normally would have. These breaks sometimes consisted of them just chatting and enjoying each other’s company. Other times they consisted of other distractions amongst the stacks, away from the watchful eye of Madam Pince.

Hermione had resolved to remain resolute in her treatment of Ron. She was cordial when he was around, but was still refusing to help him with his homework or go out of her way to spend time with him. He still had yet to apologize for his outburst before the match. Now that Dean was actually her boyfriend, and she could see he had her best interests at heart, she figured that it was time to hold Ron accountable. Harry had tried to act as a liaison a few times but quickly gave up, his time being stretched thin with an increasingly busy Ginny and his remaining Saturday detentions with Snape.

The first Tuesday in June, Hermione was sitting between Dean and Ron in Greenhouse #5. Most of their Wiggentrees were reaching maturation and would soon be ready for bark stripping. This Herbology lesson was to be spent pruning the trees one last time. Dean and Hermione’s trees were not in need of pruning so they spent their lesson chatting with each other and helping Seamus and Harry as needed (Ron didn’t dare ask either for help with his).

Most students opted to use regular pruning shears, but Harry was among those, mostly Gryffindors, who insisted on severing the non-viable branches with magic. Hermione was showing him a more effective wand movement when a large clap of thunder was heard overhead. Everyone looked up, startled. It had been breezy and sunny earlier that morning.

“Goodness. The weather is turning quicker than I predicted,” Professor Sprout said absentmindedly, looking worriedly at the glass dome of the greenhouse. After a moment, she looked around the stations, finally spotting Hermione’s table. “Granger and Thomas. Your Wiggentrees are pruned, yes? I need your assistance moving the Mandrakes into Greenhouse #2. I had the second years move them outdoors to sunbathe but the rain will drown the poor lumps.”

“Sure, Professor,” Hermione said with a smile. Dean, however looked apprehensive, clearly remembering the shrieking ghoulish baby of a plant.

“They aren’t mature yet, but take these as a precaution. Don’t want you fainting in the rain.” Professor Sprout summoned a couple of ear muffs from the toolshed at the head of the greenhouse and handed them each a pair. As they walked outside, their classmates looked away, intent on pruning their plants and relieved at not being volunteered to join them.

The sky outside had indeed turned a deep sinister grey. The wind swirled around them as the clouds churned overhead. Thunder rumbled from up above in warning. From what she could tell, they had minutes. Hermione nestled her ear muffs around her neck.

As they approached the first row of greenhouses, Hermione saw that a few dozen Mandrakes had been set out amongst the Flitterbloom patch. Upon closer inspection, she could see by their leaves that they were shivering.

“Oh dear, they’re frightened. They sense the storm coming.”

“Well they can keep shivering as long as they keep their mouths shut,” Dean said, looking at the pots in disdain.

“Dean! They’re just plants.”

“Yeah, well my ears still ring thinking about the time we had to repot these gits second year.”

She sighed in frustration. “At any rate, I think we should just levitate a few at a time to make sure not to hurt them, and just go in trips.”

They were only half a dozen yards away from the greenhouse, so it shouldn’t take very long with the two of them. Or at least that’s what she thought. They had made it only one trip when a few light patters began hitting the panes of the glass. Then, without any further warning, it came down in a deluge.

Dean looked at Hermione, eyes wide. Without thinking, she ran out into the rain, her robes instantly soaked through. She reached the Mandrakes and pointed her wand to the sky, Protego! she said forcefully in her mind. The spell bloomed overhead like an invisible umbrella, protecting the entire patch. Panting she looked down at the shivering Mandrakes, water dripping from her hair down into her face, conditioner stinging her eyes.

Dean ran towards her, now also sopping wet.

“Just take them! I’ll wait here!” she shouted over the rain. He looked at her doubtfully, eyeing the distance between the patch and the greenhouse. “A little water won’t hurt them, just go.

He nodded resolutely and picked up a couple in one arm, levitating a couple of other pots with his other, running as he went. Back and forth he went, nearly slipping in mud a couple of times. Hermione’s arm was growing tired by the time he came back for the last few pots.

“You ready?” he asked, looking at her intensely. For a moment she was confused, then she realized what he meant. They were going to make a break for the greenhouse.

She looked up at her charm, knowing she wouldn’t be able to run and hold the charm steady. Looking at him she nodded. He flicked his wand and levitated the final three pots. “On three. One...two...three!

He grabbed her hand with his free one, Hermione released the charm, and they ran. Not only was she soaked, but in the short distance covered by their sprint, she had kicked up so much mud her legs were covered. It was a warm rain, and by the time they reached Greenhouse #2, she realized she was laughing.

They burst through the threshold and she doubled over in laughter. Water was pooling on the ground at her feet. Dean lowered the plants onto a workbench with the others and turned back to her, panting. He was looking at her like she was crazy. She must have looked it, soaked from head to toe, damp limp curls framing her face, mud caked on her legs. But after a moment, he too was laughing.

“Freaking Mandrakes,” he said incredulously.

“I’m a mess,” she said through tears of mirth, looking down at the robes clinging to her body, her now brown shoes and socks.

“Yeah you are,” he snorted, kissing her on the cheek. She blushed and gripped her wand.

Clearing her throat, she reached out for his robes. His eyebrows shot up and he tensed. She pointed her wand at him and thought Aguamenti. A small jet of water shot out from it and she began siphoning the mud off of his and her shoes and legs.

Chuckling he reached out and began wringing out parts of their robes. Splats of water fell to the floor. Their giggles were interspersed with incantations for hot and cold air as they worked to dry all of their things. Hermione dried their shoes as Dean dried her clothes. She dried his clothes as he moved to dry her hair.

She stopped him there though. “If I’m going to dry my hair, I have to use the Cool-Air Charm and twist it like—”

He cut her off, looking at her as if she were overlooking an obvious fact. “Hermione, I know how to dry hair.”

She paused and looked at him. She was so used to explaining how her hair worked to others — primary schoolmates, Mrs. Weasley, Ginny — that she was always taking for granted that not only was Dean black, but he had five younger sisters.

Biting her lip she smiled shyly. “Oh, right.” She nodded for him to continue.

Moving around her, he worked with precision and patience. He really did know what he was doing. Her heart fluttered, impressed with the boy before her.

“Done,” he said from behind her.

They looked each other over. Hermione laughed, “I think it’ll do. Oh hold on, your hair.”

Beads of water still clung to his small afro. She reached up to fix it but he grabbed her hand to stop her. “Leave it.” He was looking at her with that dangerous glint in his eye. The same glint that often lead to them hiding amongst the shelves in the library.

She licked her lips and looked around nervously. “They’ll be expecting us back,” she said, smiling despite herself. Playfully, she backed away.

“Not until the rain stops.”

The pings and patters of rain on the greenhouse had yet to subside. She smirked in turn, her hips hitting the workbench behind her. He stepped towards her. Giggling, she said, “Alright, until the rain stops.”

The rest of the day passed more eventfully than either of them had expected. By the time they got back, they found they were some sort of horticultural heroes.

“We were worried you got lost out there!” one Hufflepuff exclaimed during their free period in the library.

Hermione was generally used to these sorts of stories being blown out of proportion to what actually happened. This, she had to admit, had been the most ludicrous of them all. They had moved some potted plants to a greenhouse in the rain and then...And then hid in the greenhouse until the rain stopped, she said to herself.

By the end of the day Dean, who was not used to the attention, was exhausted and turned in early. Hermione stayed up, reading an anthology of old Daily Prophet articles she had found in the library. She had found a student by the name of Eileen Prince the previous week and was convinced she was “The Half-Blood Prince.” She assured Harry she intended to find out for sure. The articles were fascinating from a historical standpoint. There was foreign news of Grindelwald’s transfer to Nurmengard, the paper lauding the defeat and capture by the one and only Albus Dumbledore. It struck her how history, even in the magical world, seemed doomed to repeat itself.

A couple of hours past curfew Ron plopped down next to her with a book and parchment. She glanced up at him warningly.

“I’m not here to ask for your help! Just thought I’d join you. Harry’s off meeting with Dumbledore.”

After a moment, she nodded that it was fine, turning her attention back to the anthology. There was one interesting article about defected Grindelwald followers who had sought asylum in the UK.

The article almost had her enthralled, but she found Ron’s lack of distraction in itself distracting. To her surprise, Ron really did seem intent on doing his homework on his own. He was hunched over the coffee table in front of him, cross referencing the book as he wrote. She glared skeptically at him over her book. This was undoubtedly just a performance that Harry probably advised was a good idea. She explicitly told Harry the only way they would make-up was if he apologized and meant it this time.

Shaking her head, she turned back to her article. Before she could find her place however, Harry burst in, a wild look in his eyes, panting.

“What’s happened? Harry, are you OK?” she asked in concern.

Ron sat up from his essay and looked at him. “What did Dumbledore want mate?”

“I’m fine,” he said after a moment of looking between the two of them. He raced up the boys’ dormitory staircase.

Hermione and Ron looked at each other incredulously. She closed her book and set it aside, article forgotten. Before they could say anything else, Harry was stomping back down the staircase, Invisibility Cloak and Marauder’s Map in hand.

“I’ve got to be quick,” he panted. “Dumbledore thinks I’m getting my Cloak. Listen, I heard Malfoy whooping in the Room of Requirement. Well, Professor Trelawney heard him. Never mind that. He’s solved whatever he’s been trying to do and is going to act tonight. Dumbledore won’t be here, leaving Malfoy a clear shot to do whatever it is he’s doing.”

Ron and Hermione glanced at each other skeptically. “Harry—”

No, listen to me!” he said forcefully. “I know it was Malfoy celebrating in the Room of Requirement. Here—” He shoved the Marauder’s Map into Hermione’s hands. A vague sense of dread that she hadn’t felt in well over a month started expanding inside of her. She looked down apprehensively at the map. “You’ve got to watch him and you’ve got to watch Snape too.” Hermione looked at him incredulously. Harry pressed forward, ignoring her gaping expression. “Gather anyone you can from the D.A. Hermione. Use the old contact Galleons. Dumbledore put extra protection around the school, but Snape will know about that, won’t he? Won’t be expecting you lot on watch though.”

“Harry—” Hermione’s eyes were now wide with fright. If what he was saying were true they should go straight to Dumbledore.

“There’s no time,” he said. “Take this as well.”

He thrust a ball of socks into Ron’s hands.

“Erm, thanks. What, am I meant to throw these at Snape’s head?”

“Felix Felicis is wrapped in them,” he said, urgently backing away from them toward the portrait, “Share it between yourselves and with Ginny too. Say goodbye to her for me. I’ve gotta go, I’ve been too long already.”

“Harry!” she exclaimed, more forcefully this time, standing up from her seat. “We don’t want it, you take it! Who knows what you’ll face hunting for a Horcrux.” She snatched the socks from Ron and thrust them out towards Harry. Her voice was shrill, but resolute.

“I’ll be fine, I’ll be with Dumbledore,” he said. Hermione grit her teeth, anxiety seeping into every crevice of her being now, worried for her friend, worried that he might be right. “I’ve got to know you lot are OK...Don’t look like that, Hermione, I’ll see you later.”

And with that he was gone.

They sat dumbfounded, the silence impregnable. She looked down at Ron, who had gone slightly pale. She took a deep shaky breath. He could be wrong, she knew. But something was gnawing at the back of her mind, instinct. It was that same feeling before they ran off to the Ministry last year. Calm and steady, she said to herself. With a woosh of air she breathed out.

“I’ll go get the Galleon then,” she said finally, squaring her shoulders.

Ron stood too, taking the map from her now only slightly shaking hands. “I’ll start looking for the ferrety git on here.”

She walked towards the staircase and stopped. “Ron.” He looked up from the map. “You better drink your part of Felix. I’m going to go get Ginny.”

He nodded, a look of understanding passing between them. Once again Hermione knew there would be no “Sorry.” There would be no time for one. She nodded and turned around, accepting that facing whatever this was would have to be more important.

Part 16