Aching. Hermione’s body was aching all over. She had managed to get a few hours of sleep after returning to her dormitory in the early hours of the morning. Now she wondered if she should have sacrificed the sleep and sought treatment from Madam Pomfrey after all.
She slid open the hangings around her bed to find not only Parvati and Lavender out of their beds, but the dormitory nearly empty of any traces of her roommates. Parvati’s bed was neatly made, her bedside table cleared, and her trunk gone. All of Lavender’s things were likewise absent except for her open, fully-packed trunk. At that moment, Lavender walked out of the bathroom, her arms full of various toiletries. Her hair was still messy from sleep, piled on her head in a high bun, curls spilling out everywhere.
“I didn’t expect you’d be up by the time I left,” she said, dumping the armload of products on top of her already nearly bursting trunk.
“Erm, yeah,” Hermione said, voice still raspy from sleep. She swung her feet over the bed and slipped them into her nearby slippers. The morning was warm, but still she felt a chill she had been unable to shake from the night before. “Has Parvati left, then?”
“Yeah, she woke me earlier this morning to say goodbye. Classes have been suspended and exams postponed indefinitely.”
Hermione sighed. It was to be expected. She couldn’t even bring herself to lament the months of studying that she’d lost. Bone weary, for once, she could honestly say that she didn’t feel up to taking an exam.
“My mum owled right after Parvati left saying she was going to come get me, too,” Lavender continued as she bustled about the room, grabbing a few straggling odds and ends from underneath the bed and the windowsill. “I do wish I could stay for Dumbledore’s funeral. I just can’t believe...did you see it happen?”
Lavender had stopped and turned to Hermione. It was as if a cold lance had been run through her. The dull ache in her chest and the hollow in her stomach had a name—grief. The Death Eaters, Snape running, and Ginny’s words, “Dumbledore’s dead,” all lingered as if they were memories from another person, not her own. Shaking her head, she averted her eyes to the window, not trusting her words or their strength.
“Did you at least see the Death Eaters?”
Sighing, she stood up from her bed and shuffled over to her wardrobe, pulling out a top and jeans at random. “I dunno, Lav. Everything was so chaotic when I was on my way back from patrol.” It was a small lie, but Hermione didn’t have the energy to explain any further than that. She had forced herself to shower the night before, despite her exhaustion, washing away the dust and debris that might have been enough to tell Lavender just how involved she had been.
Lavender was bent over, latching her trunk closed. When she stood up her expression had changed. Something was worrying her. “Is it—facing them—was it like Harry taught us in the D.A.?” She was staring down at her wand delicately held between her fingers.
Sympathy tugged at Hermione’s heart. She was scared, too. Everyone was. Without Dumbledore, the world was less safe for all wizards, not just Muggle-borns.
“Yes and no. It’s much more frightening than you think it’s going to be,” Hermione said, opting for honesty rather than sugar-coating the matter. “But, if you can push that aside, and do what Harry taught you, you’ll be alright.”
She set her clothes down on the bed and walked over to Lavender, patting her arm in what she hoped was a comforting way. Lavender broke into a grin, shrugging off the gravity of conversation. “Thanks. I should be going. My mum will be here soon. See you after the summer break!”
With a bounce in her step, she levitated her trunk and bounded out of the dormitory. Before, Hermione might have taken this as a sign of a lack of maturity from Lavender, but after a long year at odds with her, she now appreciated that this was how she coped.
Hermione walked back to her bed and scooped her clothes up, thinking to herself with a smile, Well, that and crystal gazing.
The common room was, to Hermione’s surprise, not empty. Students stood around with their trunks, saying goodbyes to their friends, others crowded by the notice board, and some lowering their voices to hushed whispers as she passed.
Dean was waiting in a nearby armchair as he normally did, as if it were just another day. Unlike most days, without a word, he stood and enveloped her in a tight hug. It hurt slightly, her muscles still tender even after some light stretching, but a warmth spread through her, banishing the chill in her bones. She sighed, the scent of his freshly applied after-shave filling her nostrils.
“Is Harry still—” she began to ask.
“No, I think he and Ron went down to visit his brother earlier this morning.”
They pulled apart and Dean’s eyes searched her all over, looking for confirmation that she was alright. She didn’t want him to ask, because she knew the answer was that she wasn’t. She wasn’t sure if any of them could be alright in a world without...
“How was being prefect for a night?” she asked, with a casual lightness that should have felt wrong given the circumstances, but in the light of the morning was relieving.
Following her lead, he smirked. It didn’t quite meet his eyes. “Frankly, I think I was ace. Parvati and I made a great team. Herded all the students back to bed, posted memos on all the notice boards, and dare I say it, the other prefects like me. I dunno whether McGonagall is looking for replacements, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a badge showed up in the mail this summer.”
Her heart clenched for a moment, contradictory emotions swirling around in her—fear at what it would mean if Hogwarts should close and her own uncertainty if it’s being open would matter to her next year.
With a weak smile she said, “I don’t think I’d have minded being prefect with you.”
He took her hand and squeezed it. “Yes it might be nice for Gryffindor to have two prefects.”
Her mouth dropped, and he pulled her towards the portrait hole as laughter bubbled out of her.
The walk down to the Great Hall was almost like that of any other day. Sunlight shone through the castle windows, casting shadows of the intricate muntins across the flagstones. All the debris from the night previous had been cleared, the ceiling lifted back into place, and not a drop of blood could be seen anywhere. Dean’s warm hand gripping hers kept her grounded. If not for the chattering speculation of the portraits as they passed by, she could almost pretend nothing had changed.
As they descended into the entrance hall, they were met with shouting. Instinctually, Dean pulled Hermione behind him as her hand flew to her wand, but as they got closer they could see that the commotion was coming from two people.
A short russet haired woman stood in front of Seamus, who looked red in the face, arms crossed.
“No? No?” The woman swiped at Seamus. “I’ll do you! Who do ye think brought ye into this world, Albus Dumbledore himself?!”
Seamus dodged her flailing arm. His face was screwed up so tightly he looked ready to burst. Hermione felt a strange sense of familiarity, like she had seen the woman before. This must be Seamus’ mother. She looked more severe than she remembered her looking when they met briefly at the Quidditch World Cup.
“I should probably go see what’s going on. See you inside?” Dean asked as they reached the ground floor.
She nodded and he kissed her on the cheek.
Walking into the Great Hall, she expected to be met with the normal chatter and pleasant scents of breakfast freshly served. Instead, the cold emptiness of reality greeted her. The Hall was half-filled, many students having apparently left that morning. The teachers table loomed over them all, dark and damning with Dumbledore’s throne-like seat empty at the center. If she didn’t know better, she might expect him to pop in for a late breakfast as he sometimes did. But the chill it emitted throughout the Hall confirmed otherwise.
Ignoring the goosebumps that had risen to her skin, she scanned the Gryffindor table, spotting Harry and Ron. As she walked over, there were murmurs. Sardonically, she thought of the murmurs she had incurred upon the inception of her and Dean’s contract. She much preferred those to these.
Harry sat looking gravely down at his empty plate, which had no sign that there had been food on it in the first place. There were dark circles under his eyes. Ron, too, looked pale and tired. He however, still had a plate loaded with eggs and potatoes.
“How’s Bill?” she asked as she plopped down across from them.
“No better, no worse, I reckon. But Pomfrey seems to think he should wake up soon.” Ron shoveled a spoonful of potatoes into his mouth. “Ginny stayed so he won’t be alone when he wakes up.”
Hermione nodded and fixed Harry with an intent stare. “How are you feeling?”
He lifted his eyes from his plate, the dark circles underneath more pronounced from this close distance. “Peachy.”
She pursed her lips. “You should eat.”
“I did,” he said, turning away dismissively.
“Liar,” she said, eyebrows raised, looking at his spotless plate.
Heaving a frustrated sigh, he reached across and snagged a muffin from the pastry platter, taking a large bite. “Happy?”
“Better, I guess.”
She glanced up at the staff table. With a start, she noticed that Snape’s usual seat, instead of a looming, empty reminder of the events of the night before, was filled by a tawny-maned wizard. Rufus Scrimgeour was eating his food with a stern precision, ignoring all others in the Hall, including Percy Weasley who sat a few seats down from him.
“Has Scrimgeour asked you about last night?” she asked with concern, turning back to Harry.
“No. I imagine he’s waiting for the right opportunity.”
Ron’s face had gone stony, no doubt aware of Percy’s cool presence among the other Ministry officials.
“It was a fake, Hermione,” Harry said suddenly, staring at Hermione with grave eyes, willing her to fill in the blanks.
He could mean nothing else besides the Horcrux he and Dumbledore had found last night. There had been no time for him to explain, not in front of everyone in the hospital wing.
“How do you know? They’re really complex cursed objects, you might—“
“There’s a note. I’ll show you later when we go back to the dormitory. Someone with the initials R.A.B.”
She bit her lip and furrowed her brow. Off of the top of her head, she couldn’t think of any significant witch or wizard, especially specializing in Dark arts or the defense there of, with those initials.
“But if it’s a fake then—“
“It was all for nothing. Yeah,” he said, darkly.
“Right,” Ron said, cutting in with a pointed tone, “Fred and George are coming to visit Bill later today, probably gonna bring a whole heap of stuff to try and cheer him up. So we’re gonna go back up for a visit later.” He casually continued to spoon food into his mouth but his eyes focused behind her. Harry nodded towards the approaching company.
“Alright, Harry?” Dean asked as he sat next to Hermione, immediately setting his hand on her thigh, unconsciously comforting the hurt he couldn’t see.
Harry nodded sharply, turning back to his food.
“Me mam’s raging,” Seamus said as he took the other seat next to her. “She showed up this mornin’ demanding I come home with her. I told her I wasn’t leavin’. Finally got her to agree to let me stay for Dumbledore’s funeral—” There was a wave of discomfort that moved through the group at the words “Dumbledore’s funeral.” They shifted in their seats and averted their eyes. “—Says there’s hardly any rooms in Hogsmeade. Most places already booked up with people comin’ to pay their respects.”
“He is one of the most renowned wizards the magical world has ever seen,” Hermione said, automatically spouting off the fact, not catching the present tense as she used it.
“Exactly what I’m saying! I bet your family doesn’t have any problem with it, do they?” Seamus asked looking between Ron and Hermione.
“My brother is in the hospital wing so we’d be here either way.” He shrugged as if this didn’t bother him, but Hermione saw how he stabbed his fork into the sausage on a nearby platter with more force than necessary.
“I actually haven’t told my parents. It’d be difficult for them to understand.” Namely, the part about why Hermione needed to be so directly involved, and why, if Harry was in such danger, that was any of her problem.
“I sent my mum an owl before bed.” Hermione looked up at Dean in shock. He sheepishly avoided her gaze. “I didn’t tell her everything. Just that there had been an accident, that there would be a funeral, and I’d be home a little earlier.”
“Consider yourself lucky,” said Seamus, “I wouldn’t go worrying them if I didn’t have to neither. You see how me mam is and she actually knows things about the wizarding world. Imagine it’s that much scarier if they don’t.”
Dean leaned back, stifling a yawn. “Yeah, but I figure I better tell them soon. This kind of changes things I think. Things certainly aren’t going to get better.”
She could feel him watching her, waiting for her reaction. Instead, she busied herself, cutting up the sausage on her own plate. Guilt swelled up in her. Was she a bad daughter for not telling them these things? She had planned on sending a letter later that day, assuring them that exams were going well and “reminding” them that she would be home June 7th.
If she told them, they’d try to make decisions for her, keep her from her friends, from the wizarding world, trying to keep her safe. But they didn’t know, they couldn’t know, what safety really was, living only in the Muggle world. That’s why she needed to fight, to be where she belonged.
Thoughts of the lost Horcrux and her parents swirled through Hermione’s mind for the rest of the day. The fervor with which the school was speculating about the circumstances of the death of Dumbledore was at a nearly unbearable pitch. Trying to stay out of sight, Dean and Seamus joined the trio along with Ginny, claiming a corner of the common room to themselves. They played Exploding Snap and Wizard’s Chess to pass the time.
A lot of unasked questions hung in the air about the events of the previous night. The others seemed comfortable in not asking them or offering their own accounts, but Hermione couldn’t bring herself to meet Dean’s eyes. She thought she had only been living one double life this year, but she now realized now that even existing authentically in this relationship, there was a whole portion of her life, arguably half, that she still couldn’t share with him.
Eventually, they parted ways to go visit Bill and meet with Fred and George. Initially Hermione opted to stay back, but Dean insisted she go and not to stay on his account. As expected, Fred and George brought heaps of goods for Bill. Bill, who had awoken earlier in the afternoon, was being given sleeping draughts until the pain subsided. His wounds were still very deep and grizzly, open and covered in a green residue from the ointment that Madam Pomfrey diligently reapplied.
“McGonagall called an emergency Order meeting this morning,” Fred said in a hushed tone, glancing over at Neville’s bed, where he too lay sleeping.
“Not everyone was there of course, some were out in the field to be back-briefed later,” George said, uncharacteristically solemn.
Ron and Harry leaned forward in their seats, eager for any tidbit of Order information. Hermione wasn’t as eager. She was used to them lording their access to information over them, and by habit, refused to give them the interest they were seeking.
“She essentially told everyone to keep on with their respective missions as instructed by Dumbledore until we elect a new head of the Order.”
“Is it not McGonagall?” Ginny asked, a frown of confusion spreading across her face.
“She may be Headmistress of Hogwarts now, but she’s never been one for battle strategy,” Fred said, as if stating the obvious.
“So, it’ll be Mad-Eye?” Hermione asked, expectantly.
“He’d be my pick. Most experience on the ground by far,” George said.
“I’d like a vote,” Ron said. “I’m of age.”
“There’s no way Mum would let that happen while you’re still at Hogwarts.”
Hermione’s eyes shot up to look at Ron. He sulked in his chair but otherwise didn’t seem to have any thoughts on Fred’s words.
“Anyway, she also said that you were with him, Harry. When, well, you know.”
All attention turned to Harry. His face was grave but he didn’t flinch at the memory, having retold his story countless times now. “Yeah, I was.”
George nodded, as if he expected as much. “She thinks the Minister is going to approach you soon, digging for information. The Order is also worried about what the Prophet is going to do with the information once it gets out.”
Harry seemed like he had a good mind to tell the Minister and the Daily Prophet exactly what they could do with the information. If Scrimgeour didn’t get what he wanted, and Hermione knew he wouldn’t, would he be as petty as Fudge, encouraging the Prophet to run ridiculous stories about Harry, maligning their work? In the end would it matter what the Prophet printed while they worked in secret? Hermione chewed on her bottom lip as she thought, unconsciously rocking nervously in her seat.
“15 minutes, you lot! Visiting hours are almost up, my patients need their rest,” Madam Pomfrey called from the doorway of her office, before bustling over to Neville’s bedside.
“We should go,” Hermione said to them, motioning for Ron to follow her.
“We have patrol duties tonight.”
“Patrol? Still? What for? School’s been cancelled!”
“That’s exactly why we have to patrol. There’s Ministry officials staying here and kids get bored when there’s nothing to do. Come on.”
They bid farewell to Fred and George and told Ginny and Harry they’d see them later.
Hermione led the way, to the fifth floor corridor with the statue of Boris the Bewildered. Ron moaned the entire way, complaining that they should be given a break, given everything they've been through.
“Ron. Hush,” she said, turning suddenly to face a large wooden door. She murmured the password, and pushed it open, pulling him inside.
“Hermione, what—“ he stopped short, looking around the prefect’s bathroom. His face quickly deepened several shades of red. “Why have you—“
“We don’t have patrol. We need to talk,” she said. “Oh get yourself together Ron, it’s a unisex bathroom. It was the only place I could think where we wouldn’t be overheard, even by Harry.”
“Harry? Why would we, I mean couldn’t you have chosen literally anywhere—“
Ignoring his protests she walked over to the steps leading down into the white marble pool-like bath and sat down on the edge of the first step. She didn’t wait for him to join her.
“I don’t think Harry is going to come back to Hogwarts next year.”
“None of us will if they close the school,” he said, finally relaxing and sitting down next to her. He leaned back on his hands, taking in the bathroom, surveying the floor to ceiling marble and stained glass windows.
“He’s not going to come back either way,” she said, absentmindedly tapping her feet on the step below.
He looked away from the mermaid flipping her tail in the window and back to her. “Why wouldn’t he?”
She gave him a look to say, “Don’t be stupid,” without having to actually say it. “He’s going to want to complete the mission Dumbledore gave him. I think it’ll feel more urgent to him since the first one was a waste.”
Nodding slowly, he said, “I suppose you’re right. He told McGonagall he wouldn’t tell anyone what Dumbledore had tasked him to do, said that he hadn’t instructed him to reveal it in the event that he died. So he has to mean to go forward.”
They fell into silence for a while. How many conversations had they had like this, huddled somewhere in secret, concerned for Harry? It had become a common beat in their friendship—fight, don’t resolve, move on, worry about Harry. A soft smile played on her lips.
She looked around the bathroom. It was spotless, as she would expect the house elves would keep it. She had only tried to use it once, last year. She looked around at the hundred golden taps surrounding the empty bath, all filled with unique soaps and potions for hair and skin. All these taps, but not a single potion for my hair, she thought, shaking her head.
She sighed and turned back to Ron. “I think he’s going to tell us soon.”
“Mmm you think?” he said, staring again at the stained glass. The mermaid had now gone, diving below the blue glass water. “I dunno the rush, we have ‘til September to decide.”
She shook her head, leaning over to catch his eye. “He’s going to tell us soon because he means to go by himself.”
He dropped his head back and groaned, “Not again with this noble sh—“
“So you are going to go with him, then?”
“Well, aren’t you?” he asked, looking her seriously.
“Of course,” she said.
There it was. It had come out easier than she had expected. Even through the fog of her grief and the uncertainty surrounding her, she knew one thing for certain—she would be with him. But it was a truth that didn’t sit comfortably in her mind, so she felt the need to push it back. It was the truth that she didn’t feel she could share with anyone else, not her parents, not Dean, which scared her. But she had spoken it out loud now. She truly would go where Harry went, that much had been decided when he and Ron had saved her from that troll first year.
The next day Hermione lounged around in her PJs, planning. If they were really going with Harry to face dangers she couldn’t even now comprehend, she knew they’d need to prepare. So she did what she did best, she made lists.
She already had a running list of the supplies they’d need, and subjects she would need to read up on quickly. There was also a list that just read “Mum and Dad” at the top. All of her brainstorming on that she had cut short, her emotions overwhelming her.
Crookshanks snoozed lazily on the bed. For the past two days, if she was in the dormitory, he was there by her side. She got up from her desk and went to her bed, scratching his stomach. He purred for a bit before his eyes opened in warning. Understanding, she pulled her hand away, scratch-free. She went back to her desk and under her parents wrote “Crookshanks.”
Sitting back in her chair, she stared at the ceiling. Lists generally made her feel more settled. Did she feel more settled? There was so much to do and so much unknown, including the time she had to do it.
Then there was the letter. She had written it to Dean before bed, and it now sat on her desk, unaddressed, the envelope not even sealed. This time she had taken precautions to make sure there would be no magical mishaps or mysterious vanishings, not letting it out of her sight. Tears pricked the back of her eyes suddenly. Rapidly she blinked, looking away. Crying wouldn’t do any good right now. Instead, she picked up her quill and added one more thing on the third list, “Dean.”
Pushing that list far away, and the churning emotions that came with it, she pulled forward the other two lists—supplies and subjects of study. A warm breeze swirled through the window, carrying a few blank sheets of parchment with it. She let them fall to the floor, no roommates to consider.
On both lists she had vaguely written “Horcrux books,” with no titles or authors. For all she knew, the books no longer existed. She sighed, frustrated. It seemed so unlike Dumbledore to not have thought of this. Of course he needed to remove them from the library but why hadn’t he given Harry access to any source material? Of course, Harry probably would have never actually done the reading.
She chuckled to herself. Dumbledore might have very well brought out the books each lesson and Harry probably wouldn’t have noticed. She could imagine Dumbledore pulling out the books and flipping through them as he paced his office, explaining Horcrux theory as Harry flipped through the Half-Blood Prince’s book instead of listening.
“That’s it!” she said, with a gasp. Crookshanks, startled by the sudden outburst, got up from his spot on the bed, hopping over to Lavender’s bed across the room. “Could it work? They’re in his office. He wouldn’t imagine anyone going in there so why wouldn’t it?”
She was muttering to herself, pacing in front of the window, gathering her nerve. She picked up her wand from the side table and, standing on her toes, leaned out of the open window. It was an odd angle, but she could move her arm just so.
“Accio Horcrux books!”
She ducked her head back in, wand still aloft, standing in nervous anticipation. A moment passed and she began to lower her wand. Of course he would have used further enchantments, or at least kept the window closed. But before she could lower it entirely, three books came zooming in through the window.
She managed to catch them before they knocked into one of the bed posts. Laughing with glee she looked down at them.
“It worked Crookshanks!”
Crookshanks only meowed lazily, his back to her, from his new spot on Lavender’s bed.
Her excitement quickly drained out of her as she viewed the books in her arms. Revulsion filled her as she resisted the urge to drop them on the spot. The tamest of three resembled that of a Muggle medical book, The Anatomy of a Wizard and Their Uses. Another was covered in all sorts of awful stains, whether they were magical or human in nature, she wasn’t sure. The other was very old and covered in cobwebs. The only parts that lacked dust and grime were where it appeared Professor Dumbledore’s own fingers had gingerly touched the book to pull back the cover.
There was a knock at the door. Quickly, she swallowed the nausea rolling around in her stomach, and bent down to her trunk.
“Just a minute!” she called as she shuffled the neatly folded and freshly packed clothing to the side. She lowered the books to the bottom of the trunk and covered them with the now-wrinkled clothes. “Come in!”
It was Ginny.
“Slept in a bit late?” she asked amusedly as she sat on Lavender’s bed, petting Crookshanks.
“Not so late, wanted to get ahead on my packing before tomorrow.”
Ginny didn’t reply, instead wiggling her fingers at Crookshanks who swatted at them playfully. “I came up for two reasons. Firstly, because Dean is dying to know if you’re alright but doesn’t know how to ask anyone. ‘I guess Hermione was tired,’” she laughed as if she had made some sort of joke.
“Oh, that’s sweet. I’m fine, I just had a lot to, erm, get done,” her eyes darted to her writing desk, realizing her notes were in the open for Ginny to see. Casually, she moved to her desk and began to shift the incriminating papers under the pile, appearing to tidy up. “I was almost done anyway.”
“Right well,” Ginny slid off of Lavender’s bed and Crookshanks followed. She walked to the open window, letting the warm wind flow through her long red hair, “Mum wrote. She’ll be here early morning for the funeral, but she’s wondering when you’ll be coming for the summer. She says you’re welcome whenever but is just trying to make plans for the Delacours’ arrival.”
Hermione looked over to Ginny in surprise, whose eyes were still closed, enjoying the breeze. “I thought Bill and Fleur weren’t getting married until later in the summer.”
“Exactly. She’s going to drive me mad with this wedding, I can already tell. So please come soon,” Ginny said turning around, a pleading look in her eyes. “I don’t think I can handle her in the throws of wedding planning and Fleur being around sucking the fun out of everything.”
She walked over and clasped Hermione’s hands, eyes wide, lower lip jutted out, just like she always did with her family at the Burrow to get the things she wanted.
“I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get away, but I think I’ll only be home for a few weeks,” Hermione’s voice cracked, so she turned away, continuing to straighten the papers on her desk. She picked up the letter for a second and decided it best, considering the mishap at the beginning of the year, to keep on her person. She tucked it folded into her back pocket.
Ginny didn’t notice. Her hand was on her hip, her other stroking her chin thoughtfully. “If I only have to maintain my sanity for a few weeks I guess I could manage it.”
Hermione chuckled, pleased to see this side of Ginny, a side which she hadn’t seen in a very long time. “Weren’t we supposed to be fighting?”
“Fighting?” Ginny asked, her eyes once again wide and innocent. “Who’s fighting? The only thing I recall is both of us getting the boys of our dreams and being pleased for each other like good friends ought!”
Hermione let out a snort of laughter. “I mean that’s true in this moment, so I guess I can accept that.”
“There’s nothing to accept. I’m only speaking facts here Hermione,” she said with such a charm that her resemblance to the twins really stood out. She linked her arm with Hermione’s, pulling her away from the desk. “So let’s head to the Owlery. I’ll tell Mum you’ll be there in two weeks.”
“Two and a half!” she shot back as they exited the dormitory.
The negotiations continued past the stunned faces of Harry and Dean, who hadn’t seen them this friendly all year, and on to the Owlery.
The afternoon passed pleasantly, a relaxing reprieve. They all sat out under a beech tree by the lake while Ginny visited Bill with Mrs. Weasley and Fleur, and Seamus went into Hogsmeade with special permissions to have lunch with his mother.
The sun was bright and the air hot but for the shade of the tree and the breeze coming off the lake. Hermione had thought to have a nap outside and was laying on the grass with her head in Dean’s lap. She could feel the folded letter in her pocket, but decided not to think about it for the rest of the day.
Crookshanks was rolling in the grass next to her, thoroughly pleased to be outdoors. Dean chatted with Harry and Ron about Quidditch and classmates who had stayed and left. Hermione listened with her eyes closed, letting the sounds of their voices lull her into a relaxed state.
“Can’t say I’m sorry exams are postponed,” said Ron.
Dean’s deep chuckle reverberated through his chest. “I don’t think any of us are. What say you Hermione?” He poked her in the side.
“Mmm, no can’t say that I’m sorry,” she said sleepily. “I suppose it would be nice to have the option to take them, though.”
“It’d only be you taking them then.” This was met with laughter. She opened her eyes to fix Ron with a glare.
“You’ll have to take them eventually,” she said, rolling over and stroking Crookshanks’s orange fur. He had no time for her attention, having spotted a butterfly and intent on stalking it.
They made eye contact, a weighted look passing between them. Then, Ron threw himself back on the grass, hands behind his head as if nothing had transpired. “Not if they close the school.”
“They won’t. McGonagall won’t let it happen,” she said. It irritated her, all this talk of the school closing. Sure, she wouldn’t be attending, but Hogwarts was an institution. Without it, under-age Muggle-borns like her and Dean had no connection to the magical world.
“Might not have a choice. If the Ministry goes full damage control, which we know they might...”
“McGonagall and the Heads of House seemed pretty insistent that if one student wants to come they should be open to teach them,” Harry said. “Kids should have a choice, especially now.” He stared out over the lake, lost in his own thoughts. Hermione sat up and met Ron’s eyes, a knowing look passing between them.
Dean watched all of them, his expression conflicted. His eyes met Hermione’s briefly, but he quickly looked away, gazing off to the path leading back to the castle. Walking towards them was a figure with long golden hair gleaming in the sunlight.
“Hullo!” Luna called from afar, waving her hand over her head.
“Hey Luna,” Dean said with a genuine smile as she approached. She was wearing billowy white blouse that made her look a bit like a bell, with yellow shorts. She glowed with the very essence of summer. “Sit down with us.” He motioned to a plot of grass next to Hermione.
“I was headed down to the greenhouses to check on the Devil’s Snare that Neville’s been tending to, but suppose I can water them before dinner.”
With that, Luna sat down, cross-legged, smiling pleasantly at them all. Suddenly, completely uninterested in the butterfly he had been tracking, Crookshanks padded his way over to her, nuzzling his head against her arm. Hermione frowned at their familiarity.
“We were just talking about the school closing. What do you think?” Ron asked her, looking ready for a laugh. He was always amused by the bizarre things that came out of Luna’s mouth. Dean, on the other hand, looked genuinely interested.
“Hmm no, I don’t think it will be. The Prophet would have to report on it, and it would cause a mass panic. Daddy says they never break news with any tact. I think the Minister would sooner reveal his ties with the Italian Vampiric Mafia.”
Ron snorted and Hermione bit her lip to keep from smiling.
“I do remember you telling me he’s secretly a vampire himself,” Harry said, doing a better job of holding back his laughter.
Luna didn’t notice any of this. Dean smiled and said sincerely, “I think you’re right, Luna. They’ve done more to prevent even smaller bouts of panic in the public.”
A surge of appreciation towards Dean and his kindness rushed through Hermione. It was easy to laugh at Luna, most people did. Even she hadn’t found it easy to take her seriously. Yet Dean always seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say.
“This is an incredibly intelligent cat, you know,” she said, suddenly. She dangled a few stray blades of grass in front of Crookshanks’s face, like a cat toy.
“Is he?” Ron asked, feigning innocence. Hermione shot him a glare.
“Oh yes. I’d always wanted to introduce myself when I would see him on the train between terms. It’s rare to find a cat who is part-Kneazle.”
Hermione started. The others rolled their eyes, except for Dean who was intrigued. “Part-Kneazle? How can you be sure?”
Luna looked up at them all, surprise registering on her face. “Did you not already know? Well it’s quite obvious looking at him. His facial features are very similar to the structure of a Kneazle, but you can also see it in his eyes.”
Of course, Hermione knew Crookshanks had unique physical attributes (as she often rebuffed Ron when he would accuse him of being “ugly”), and was highly intelligent, but she understood that was normal for wizarding cats.
Luna’s wide eyes were blinking at Hermione in confusion. “If you didn’t already know, why do you send him to deliver your post?”
Hermione frowned. “I don’t send him to deliver anything.” She looked at Crookshanks, who was now sitting between them both on his haunches, chin raised high, looking very proud of himself. “Have you been getting into trouble?” she asked him suspiciously.
Luna tapped her chin, her eyes turned to the tree limbs overhead. “It was months back now I think, yes. I came across him in the Owlery. He had a small stack of letters, but none of the owls wanted to help him.” She nodded in solidarity at Crookshanks, obviously perturbed at the discrimination he had faced at the hands of the owls.
Hermione felt any retort she had for Luna’s ridiculous theory dry up in her mouth.
“A stack of letters?” Harry asked, sitting up. He glanced between Hermione and Dean.
“How many letters? Would you say about five?” asked Dean, just as eager as Harry.
Hermione’s mouth hung open as the pieces settled into place. He was the only one who knew about the letters, she had even showed him. But, he can’t have she thought to herself, He’s a cat.
Luna looked at Crookshanks as if confirming the number with him telepathically. “Yes, I do think it was five. However, they weren’t addressed. I did think it was odd you sent letters with nothing to identify them by,” she said thoughtfully.
Ron was looking at Luna, brows furrowed, not fully grasping the situation. “What would a cat have to do with five letters?”
“Kneazles are very helpful companions, more intelligent than your average cat, dog, or even Crup.”
“They weren’t addressed. He couldn’t have sent them!” Hermione said, desperately trying to hold onto a remaining bit of sanity.
“No, he couldn’t,” Luna said conceding. “Nor did the owls seem to want to help him very much,” Luna was now petting Crookshanks sympathetically on the head. Crookshanks sat, happily, uncharacteristically reveling in all the attention. “So, I helped him. I knew he was your cat, so I added your name as the sender and found owls to take them for him!”
She beamed at them, happy to have helped. But Hermione sat speechless. Why would Crookshanks do this? Sure, she had been a little preoccupied by her fight with Ron, but she didn’t think she’d been a neglectful cat owner. Did cats even understand the concept of humiliation much less how to humiliate?
Ron, missing the entire revelation, fixed Luna with an incredulous stare. “So you just helped a random stray cat in the castle to send some letters and you didn’t think that was odd?”
“No,” she replied.
“But how did you know Hermione’s full name?” Dean asked, eyes watering with apparent held back laughter.
“Daddy did a profile on her last year! Well he did a profile on all of us who went to the Ministry. He was so proud.” Her smile faltered, “You didn’t see them?”
“Ah, I can’t get the Quibbler to my aunt and uncle’s house. Muggles, ya know,” Harry said quickly, covering for them.
All of this was lost on Hermione. Her mind was racing. Her entire school year had been thrown off the rails by her cat and Luna Lovegood? All the boys she considered romantically got to read her deepest thoughts about them—Dean, Ron, Harry, Ernie, Oliver—because of her cat. No matter how much she repeated it in her head, she couldn’t make it make sense.
“But, why?!” she asked, eyes focused directly on Crookshanks.
His eyes opened and he stood slowly. Everyone, except for Luna who didn’t see anything strange or significant in her story, watched, almost expecting him to open his mouth and speak. Instead, he turned to Ron and hissed. Ron jumped back, having had plenty of bad experiences with Crookshanks to know what this meant. But instead of pouncing at Ron, Crookshanks relaxed, sticking his head haughtily into the air and strutting over to Dean. He meowed, then plopped down into Dean’s lap, making himself comfortable, closing his eyes for what looked like a well earned nap.
Dean, Harry, and Hermione exchanged looks, the same thought clearly running through their minds. Crookshanks had played matchmaker. They simultaneously burst into laughter. It was entirely ridiculous, and yet somehow under the beech tree, in the sunlight, listening to Luna Lovegood tell the story, it made as much sense as anything else at Hogwarts.
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” Ron said to Luna, clearly still offended by Crookshanks’s behavior. They continued to laugh.
“I guess I owe a lot to this little guy, don’t I?” Dean said, looking down at the orange cat in his lap, wiping away the tears that had fallen from his eyes.
Hermione stared at Dean, a lump welling up in her throat. He looked up, smiling, his dimples peeking out at her as they always did. She smiled back. “I think I do, too.”
Today was the day. It had to be. The Hogwarts Express was leaving at noon following Dumbledore’s funeral. There would be no other time. But preparing for the funeral was bringing her heartache front and center, and she could feel her resolve waning.
The school was gathered in the Great Hall, waiting to go outside. The air was dense with the mingled scent of perfumes and hairspray. Students and staff alike filled the hall, dressed in what Hermione thought to be the wizarding equivalent of “Sunday Best.” Many wore dress robes, while others opted for simpler well-accessorized day robes.
She shifted on her feet in her heels, still died burgundy from Slughorn’s Christmas Party. She squeezed her arms around herself subconsciously, as she looked around at the witches and wizards surrounding her in their colorful robes.
“Mum, told me purple and emerald were traditionally worn at funerals,” Ron had said when he saw her dress that morning. Begrudgingly, he tugged at his own plum jabot that his mother had sent to be paired with the new robes he had gotten from Fred and George.
Of course, purple and emerald were traditional colors worn amongst wizarding kind. Hermione knew this. It hadn’t even occurred to her that this might also apply to funerals. Instead she wore a simple black dress that was inoffensively cut so that it suited a myriad of occasions.
A firm arm wrapped around her shoulder and pulled her in. She looked up at Dean, a mixture of relief and dread welling up inside of her. He too seemed to have been unaware of wizarding funeral customs. When he told his mother about the funeral, without asking she had sent him the suit. In his usual self-assured manner, he wore it with pride, seemingly unbothered by looking out of place.
Hermione pulled back. The suit was his step father’s and fit a little too big around the shoulders. Still, he looked incredibly handsome in it. She felt guilty thinking this, not only because they were at a funeral, but because she knew what she would have to do after. With some effort, she tried to smile at him.
“You don’t have to smile at me. We’re gonna make it through this, together.” Sincerity swirled in his brown eyes, making her lip tremble and further eating away at her resolve. He looked at her for a moment like he might say something, but instead he pulled her back into him, rubbing her back.
Professor McGonagall entered the hall. Her voice echoed all around them, the Sonorus Charm overpowering their light chatter, “It’s almost time. Please find your seats on the grounds.”
The crowd started moving, spilling out into the entrance hall. Harry, Ron, and Ginny were sliding their way past people towards them. Harry’s face was solemn and his jaw clenched. Ginny held his hand, looking forward, face resolute.
“Let’s get this over with,” Ron said, looking as if he might be sick.
The weather was lovely. If the day before was warm, this one was warmer, brighter, and breezier. As they walked towards the area that had been set up for the ceremony, Hermione felt like she couldn’t focus. She willed herself to take in every last moment with Dean, to focus on his hand in hers, but she couldn’t.
She was panicking. For the first time since her third year, she wished longingly for her time-turner. If only she hadn’t given it back. Not that it mattered. Supposedly they had all been destroyed after their exploits in the Department of Mysteries last year. But as they found their seats by the lake she couldn’t help but wonder, if she did have one, would Dean go back with her? Would he go back a day, a month, maybe even a whole year, just to give them a little more time?
Her eyes wandered over the heads of the large number of attendees. There were people she knew personally, mostly from the Order—Kingsley, Mad-Eye, Remus, and Tonks. Tonks’ hair was a bright magenta and her eyes a bright blue. When their eyes met, Tonks gave her a sly wink. Finding happiness in love had nearly turned Tonks into a new woman.
There were several important wizards and witches present, including the Minister and several of his underlings. Her eyes locked on Dolores Umbridge. Hermione almost felt bile rise up in her throat. The evil woman had the nerve to screw up her face in what she must have thought looked like detached grief, but Hermione could see the smug satisfaction behind her taut frown.
She elbowed Dean, knowing he would find it just as laughable that she was here. Upon spotting her, he snorted and shook his head. She thought to make a joke about how the green of her robes truly made her look like a toad, but bit her lip, feeling a lump form in her throat. Would that be their last joke?
Before they could say anything, a hush fell over the congregants. Everyone turned to see Hagrid lumbering up the aisle between the seats, a mass cradled in his arms. With a start, she realized that it was Dumbledore’s body, wrapped in a cloak of purple velvet, glittering with golden stars.
At the same moment, a chorus came over them as if floating on the wind, haunting and sad. Hermione looked around and realized it was coming from the lake—mermaids. She turned to Dean to see if he could see their heads floating just beneath the surface. But as his brown eyes looked into hers, the lump in her throat seemed to swell with the end of the mermaids’ song.
The tears fell, heavy and continuous. Rather than bring relief, they grew heavier as her heart did. It was almost over. The wizarding world as they all knew it and her relationship with Dean. A small old man in long black robes stood before the marble table in which Hagrid had placed his body.
Dean put his arm around her, and she fell into him.
“Shh, it’s alright,” he murmured into her hair.
But it wasn’t alright. In that moment, she wasn’t sure if anything would ever be alright again. It was as if she didn’t have enough tears to mourn everything they were losing. Dean couldn’t understand that, not yet, but he held her throughout the funeral anyway.
She was so overcome she almost missed it. Dumbledore’s body burst into white flames as the old wizard resumed his seat. Many people cried out, but Hermione sat numb, feeling the weight of the moment. Arrows flew overhead, drawing more cries of concern. It was the centaurs, offering one of the highest honors bestowed amongst their people.
Where white flames once engulfed Dumbledore’s body, now stood a marble white tomb. It stood strong, resolute, and final. People began standing, quietly murmuring amongst each other about plans, students asking each other if they were going to change before boarding the train.
She felt frozen, immovable. Maybe if she didn’t move it would all just stop.
“Hey, let’s go,” Dean said, standing beside her with his hand held out to her.
She hadn’t even felt him get up. Apprehensively, she took his hand, so soft and reassuring in her own. She didn’t deserve that. With her other, she checked her dress pocket. The letter was there.
How should she say it? Should she just say it? They weren’t walking towards the castle. Instead, they headed towards Hagrid’s hut, Dean apparently thinking she might just need some air. Where was her Gryffindor resolve? She balled up her free hand tight to stop it from shaking.
If anyone could possibly understand what they were trying to do, Dean would. He was one of the most ardent supporters of Dumbledore’s Army, the most vocal against Umbridge’s tyranny, and like her was one of the people with the most to lose.
Finally, she spoke. “Why did you never question Harry?”
He raised his eyebrows, the corners of his mouth pulled down as he contemplated the sudden question. The expression was not unlike the one he made when contemplating a complex set of runes. I could stop now, she thought to herself.
“Because I know Harry,” he answered simply.
They had stopped walking, now yards away from the dissipating crowd. She looked at him, searching his face, not knowing what she was looking for. A reason not to do this, she thought. There was a war, she knew this, but it didn’t stop the wild thoughts that had plagued her over the last few days. They were both Muggle-borns. They could run away to America or Australia. They didn’t need to stay and fight. These thoughts would only come in brief moments of helplessness. She knew that couldn’t be the answer for either of them.
“Dean, I—” her voice cracked. Calm and steady. “You know I never thought—I never meant—”
“I know,” he said. So sure again. She remembered when this trait of his irked her.
“No, you really don’t. I-I can’t—”
He cut her off again, this time with his lips on hers. The kiss was deep and wondrous. Blood was rushing in her ears and she couldn’t remember what had even brought them outside on this gorgeous summer day. His lips were soft, and sweet, and understanding. Before she could tilt her head to deepen the kiss any further, he pulled away.
Reality snapped back into focus. He was in his suit, and she in her black dress, fresh from Dumbledore’s funeral.
“I know,” he said with a voice so raw, she wondered if he might cry. There was sympathy in his expression, but also sadness.
Her lip trembled. “How could you know?” Her voice was watery and shaking. So much for Gryffindor resolve.
“You three aren’t exactly subtle.” He gestured up the hill. Hermione turned around to see Ron and Harry waiting, facing the other way to afford them some privacy.
She felt desperate for him to understand. If she could have it any other way, she would. “I want more than anything to come back to Hogwarts, to get my N.E.W.T.s, to start career planning, to be with you—” his listened patiently but his face was impassive “—but we just can’t. It’s bigger than me. It’s bigger than Harry, even.”
She dropped her gaze to the ground, toeing the grass.
He cleared his throat, and rubbed his jaw, looking over at Hagrid’s hut to avoid her eyes. “I asked you before if you’d be with Harry in the end.” He turned back to her, a sad smile on his face, and she felt the tension leave her body, leaving only sorrow in its wake. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I knew. I just didn’t want this to end before it had to.” His smile faltered.
She threw her arms around him and held him hard. She could hear his sniffs mingling with her own. After a moment, she pulled away.
“But what will you do?” She asked with concern. She knew his family needed him. He wouldn’t take that lightly. He may even choose not to return as a result.
He sighed and shrugged. “My step-dad is going to get orders stationing him in Canada on special assignment. The money will even cover my family’s move there. I haven’t figured out the logistics of securing him a position once he’s there, but I figure with a bit more paperwork—”
Forgetting herself for a moment she gasped. “That’s illegal! That’s using magic to interfere with international government relations, customs fraud, magical immigration abuse—”
He burst into a genuine laugh. “Should we all just stay then?”
“No, no of course not. I’m just—”
“Impressed?” he asked with a slight smirk.
“Well, yes,” she said honestly.
“Good. That’s how I want you to remember me when you’re out there punching Death Eaters—as the guy who reminded Hermione Granger that she isn’t the only one with tricks up her sleeves.”
She smiled, a half laugh, half sob slipping from her mouth. The leaves of the nearby tree rustled as the warm wind fluttered through them. Gently, he reached out and cupped her face. Wordlessly, he leaned down and softly pressed a kiss to her forehead.
“Will you write?” he asked as he pulled away.
“I...I’m not sure I’ll be able to.” It didn’t seem smart to do so once she was at the Burrow, and it certainly wouldn’t be once they set off on their mission.
He nodded and dropped his eyes to the ground. She shoved her hand into her pocket, pulling out the letter and thrusting it at him.
“I may not be able to write. But—no don’t open it yet! I think there are going to be times when you might—” she blushed suddenly feeling presumptuous “—miss me or feel like you need me. Open it then, but not before.”
Her heart was hammering in her chest, suddenly embarrassed. Of course, he might not want a letter from her. He might not want anything to do with her after this, and rightfully so.
Instead of giving it back, he broke out into a grin as he examined it. “Ya know, last time I got a letter from you it brought me a lot of luck.”
“Did it?” She meant it as a joke, but a tear trailed down her cheek.
“Hey, it’s not for good, just for now,” he said soothingly as he wiped the tear away with his thumb.
She took a deep breath, trying to center herself again. Calm and steady. “So we’ll see each other—”
“As soon as all of this is over,” he finished for her.
There was nothing left to be said, she realized. He seemed to realize the same, taking an involuntary step back from her, breaking the spell. He stared at her for another moment, tapping the envelope on his open palm.
Finally, he nodded up the hill at Harry and Ron. “I guess you better get back to them.”
Nodding sadly, she turned to leave. She took only a few steps before turning back around. She ran the few paces between them and pulled him into her, into one last selfish kiss. It was quick, and he barely realized what was happening by the time she pulled away.
“Not for good,” she said, moving backwards, back up the hill.
He laughed with that sad smile and shook his head. “Just for now.”
Turning around she faced her friends as she ascended the hill. Hearing her approach they turned towards her, Harry’s face looking resolute, Ron looking irritated. She knew Harry must have finally broached the subject, he was playing the noble card after all.
“You alright?” Ron called to her, looking over her shoulder in concern where she imagined Dean was now walking in the opposite direction.
There was a pit of sadness threatening to swallow her whole, and the rest of the wizarding world with her. But as she stood before her friends, she felt the strength between them, the bond that kept dragging them back together against logic and perhaps, sometimes, their best interests.
She sighed, “Yeah I think so. For now.”