As it turned out, committing to a fake relationship couldn’t have come at a better time. Spending her time with Dean gave Hermione a valid reason to be unavailable to engage in Harry’s obsessing. It was becoming increasingly clear that Katie Bell wouldn’t be returning to Hogwarts before the start of winter break. These unfortunate tidings had given new fuel to Harry’s speculations about Draco Malfoy. He was determined to pursue his own ideas on the subject rather than trusting Professor Dumbledore and the Order, and no amount of logic from Hermione seemed to sway him.
That wasn’t to say she had gotten accustomed to the idea of having a fake boyfriend. To the contrary, she was stumbling through the whole thing. This seemed to escape everyone’s notice, because Dean was graciously picking up her slack. No one noticed her discomfort on Day One as they saw him handing her a note embellished with sketches, or when he was holding her hand in between classes, or studying closely with her in the common room; the gossip spread itself.
Dean was a lot more skilled in his art than she remembered. The two notes he had presented her thus far were usually just a series of doodles or cartoons. Her favorite was a cartoon of Professor Slughorn and Harry. In the sketch, Professor Slughorn was cartoonishly short and Harry wore a superhero cape that read “Chosen One.” The speech bubble above Professor Slughorn’s head read “50 points to Gryffindor, Harry, my boy for being such a splendid Chosen One.”
Two days into the arrangement, Hermione found herself crossing paths with Luna and Ginny. Hermione and Ginny didn’t speak often when they were at school, having such vastly different schedules and social circles. However, they had always been on friendly terms when they saw each other outside of class. Trying her best to feign normalcy, she squared her shoulders, resolving to move forward just like she would if she were in a real relationship. Besides, she had her own predictions about Ginny’s feelings for Harry.
“Good morning, Hermione!” Luna said cheerily as they approached each other in the corridor.
Hermione smiled at Luna, returning the greeting. Luna was almost dressed normally, draped in her winter cloak, except for the headband with silver antlers that adorned her head. “Good morning, Ginny,” Hermione added, smiling directly at Ginny.
Ginny allowed the slightest of smiles that didn’t meet her eyes to pass over her features in response, before prompting Luna, “We should hurry before we’re late for Charms.”
“Good-bye, Hermione!” Luna called as Ginny dragged her by the sleeve of her cloak without another word.
Had she been wrong? She had felt so sure about Ginny’s renewed feelings for Harry. Surely they would supersede whatever remaining feelings she had for Dean. Dread continued to gnaw at Hermione as the week went on. The thought of being romantic rivals with Ginny Weasley, who was popular and beautiful in ways that she wasn’t, just didn’t appeal to her. But this was the risk she took.
The plan did seem to be working. That she could tell, Ron hadn’t told Harry anything about his note, nor had he tried to approach her again. They were mostly back to where they were before – ignoring each other. She did find his blue eyes staring at her more often, especially when Dean was with her. Dean was immediately perceptive to this. When he noticed, he would put his arm around her or lean down to whisper something silly in her ear to make her laugh. Every time she would glance back at Ron, watching with satisfaction when he looked away, ears glowing red.
Possibly, it was Seamus’ reaction that had been the most surprising. The first night they had sat all together at dinner he immediately launched into news of Ireland’s most recently injured Quidditch player. This hadn’t bothered Hermione. She sat next to the two boys, fully intending to let them get on with it and get more reading done.
“Oi! If you’re going to date Dean, I have a few rules.”
Hermione looked up from her book bag in surprise. What other rules could he want to add on top of the contract she and Dean had agreed to?
“No reading at dinner. I don’t want to be reminded that we’re at school while I’m eating my roast.” Dean was biting back laughter at the look of astonishment on her face and signaled to Seamus that he had no objections. “Secondly, you have to help me with my Transfiguration studies.”
“Oh, is that all?” Hermione asked incredulously, her eyebrows raised. Dean was now laughing in earnest.
“Yes, it would hardly be fair for me to flunk out of my N.E.W.T.s classes while Dean aces everything, all because he’s dating Hermione Granger.”
“That’s all well and good mate, but Hermione is the smartest witch in our year, not a miracle worker.” Dean ducked as Seamus moved to hit him over the head, laughing at his own good burn.
“Alright, I’ll help you with whatever subjects you need. May I stay?” Hermione asked sarcastically.
“Yes, you may,” he said in what she supposed was meant to be a stuffy English accent. It came out a bit more cockney than anything.
“No. Nope. We agreed no more English accents from you,” Dean said as he threw his arm around Hermione’s shoulders.
After that, Dean and Seamus brought her into the fold as if she belonged there, rather than like a third-wheel to two best-friends. That she could remember, Ginny hadn’t spent much time with Seamus and Dean. It was always Dean accompanying her with her friends. It suited Hermione just fine. It meant she was spending less time listening to Harry go on about the Prince and Malfoy – and less time around Ron.
By that Friday, they had fallen into a sort of routine. It was the first sunny day they’d had in weeks and the bright blue of the Great Hall enchanted ceiling shined accordingly. When Hermione approached the Gryffindor Table at the end of the lunch break, she expected to find Dean and Seamus locked in conversation about the latest upset win by the Chudley Cannons, but was surprised to find Dean by himself.
“Seamus went to post a letter to his mum,” Dean said without her prompting.
She sat next to him as he finished up his meal. She had spent most of her lunch in the library, searching for the book, Forget Me Not: the Metaphysical Structure of Memory Charms, that Professor Flitwick had mentioned in their lesson that morning. She wanted to check it out for some additional reading before anyone else could beat her to the Restricted Section copy.
“Are you going to eat?”
She grabbed an apple off the table and smiled. “This will do for me. Are you ready?”
He grabbed her book bag as they got up from the table. In addition to the things they had agreed upon in the contract, Dean had insisted that he carry her books to all the classes they shared. They’d argued over it, but he ultimately won. She’d thought of pointing out that this might be exactly what Ginny meant when she said he was too chivalrous, but she knew that wouldn’t be tactful.
“Blimey!” he said as he swung the bag over his shoulder in a way that she thought was surprisingly effortless. “Have you considered going easy on the boulders?”
She rolled her eyes. “I told you I can charm it to make it feather-light. I only keep the weight because it helps me to remember whether I’ve forgotten something or not.”
He looked at her with amazement before sighing, resigned to his duty. “No. If I’m going to be your boyfriend, I have to do the thing right.”
The corridors were full of students rushing to their first class of the afternoon block. Hermione did her best to operate like everything was normal. This isn’t normal, though. She should be walking to class with Harry and Ron. Dean’s hand shouldn’t be gently resting on the small of her back as they walked. There shouldn’t be so many people whispering and staring in their direction.
“No running in the corridors, Nguyen!” she called after a Slytherin third year who was often causing trouble. Ignoring the additional stares this earned them, she moved her curls over her shoulder exposing her prefect badge.
“Got to admit, I didn’t expect our little charade would garner quite this much attention,” Dean said to her under his breath.
“Surely you’re used to this, girls are almost always looking at you.”
Dean’s face flushed. “Not like this they don’t,” he said in a mumble. “Is this what it’s like to be part of the ‘Golden Trio,’ then? People whispering over everything you do?” He shoved his hands in his pockets and Hermione felt herself relax a little without his pressure of his hand on her lower back.
“Well, I suppose Harry garners a lot of attention, so, in that way it seems like people are always watching you. But that’s different.”
Lots of girls swooned over Harry’s appearance, and everyone else was constantly speculating about the Boy Who Lived and the implications of him being the Chosen One. It was him they were watching, not her.
“Come off it. You’re Hermione Granger, the witch widely regarded as the brightest of her age, and you really think people don’t pay attention to you?” At this, he lazily tilted his head in the direction of a cluster of second years who seemed to be talking animatedly while repeatedly glancing at her.
Dean smirked. She blinked a few times in surprise. “Coincidence.”
She wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince him or herself.
By Tuesday, she was exhausted. Her time was split between pretending to be Dean’s not-so-very doting girlfriend and keeping up with her actual studies. She hardly had any time for relaxing on her own. Her mother and Viktor both had sent letters she hadn’t yet had time to read. She resolved that in the evening she would make time to relax by a fire and finish them. If she was lucky, she might even have time for a bit of knitting.
Potions proved to be further trying on her nerves. They had spent the class finishing their Calming Draughts. Hermione’s was nearly perfect, Professor Slughorn had said so himself. However, the shimmer of the silvery liquid was slightly too bright. The subtlety with which Harry’s potion shimmered and swirled was masterful, and it infuriated Hermione that she agreed with that assessment. Of course, Harry accepted all of the praise and house points without mentioning that he hadn’t actually completed the assignment as it had been instructed.
She stormed out of the classroom, irritated with the whole thing. Despite her very best efforts, meticulous attention to the instructions, and hours spent bent over the cauldron, she was still being bested by that dumb Prince. Calm and steady, Hermione, she told herself as she strode away from the classroom. She had scheduled time to relax for herself, she shouldn’t let that “book” ruin it.
“Hermione, wait!” It was Dean. She felt a little guilt creep over her for leaving him without a word, even if she wasn’t actually obligated to. If this had bothered him, he didn’t say. Instead he said. “Harry’s running Quidditch practice after afternoon block to get some flying in before the break.”
“Is he mad? It has to be five degrees outside.”
“It’s eight and it’s the warmest day we’ve had in weeks.” He shook his head dismissively. “Anyway, I want you to come and watch after you’re done with History of Magic.”
“Oh good, you’re mad, too,” Hermione said while laughing. Then she said in a low voice, “I agreed to Quidditch matches and the next match isn’t until February, assuming Katie isn’t back by then.”
“First of all,” he began, also in a lowered voice, “If Katie comes back, you still have to attend, you’ll just be my date. Secondly, while it’s not in the contract it’s a great opportunity. Both our Weasleys will be there together and you can be sure Lavender will be too.”
She glared at him. Did he not understand? She needed this break. “I have plans and they don’t include freezing my arse off in the stands!”
Dean looked as if he was trying to bite back laughter. The few students that were filing past them gave them strange looks. Attempting a straight face, he took a step closer to her, leaving only a few inches between them. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Language, Madame Prefect.”
Before she could retort, he pulled away. Her face felt hot. That was the closest they had been to each other since their last kiss. The past two weeks had been emotionally draining on her, which had to be why she was feeling so flustered. Plus, Dean was tall and his handsome brown eyes were twinkling down at her. Who could tell him no?
“This will be our only real opportunity to make a real appearance in front of both of them before holiday break,” he said imploringly. “We can spend the rest of the evening by the fire, if you’d like.”
“Alright,” Hermione said begrudgingly. Then she added over her shoulder as she turned to walk to History of Magic, “I’m still going to bring some work to keep me busy!”
Dean only laughed and shook his head in response before turning on his way towards the staircase.
After Professor Binn’s lecture, Hermione made a quick stop to the girl’s dormitory in order to change into some Muggle clothes and a Muggle coat. While her winter cloak was heavy enough for the weather outside, the wind usually found a way into the billowy fabric. Changing took a bit longer than she had expected. Crookshanks was lying stubbornly on her trunk where she kept her Muggle clothes.
He refused to move, bright yellow eyes staring at her defiantly.
She sighed and picked him up to set him on the floor. He was peeved at the lack of attention she was giving him. Well, she told herself that, but he typically only wanted her attention for treats anyway.
Once Crookshanks was sorted, Hermione headed to the Quidditch pitch. It was a blustery cold day.
“‘Eight degrees,’” she grumbled to herself as she hugged herself against the wind.
Luckily the sun still hung in the late-afternoon sky, which would give her enough light to read her mum and Viktor’s letters by.
As she approached the pitch, she could see the Gryffindor team already going through some warm-ups about 15 meters in the air. Hermione shook her head disapprovingly as she ascended the steps of the stands. Choosing to ride a broom for amusement always seemed to her, a Muggle-born, to be needlessly reckless.
She was surprised to find that Lavender was in fact not in the stands. The only explanation could be Ron’s interference because Lavender, when left to her own devices, didn’t leave his side except at night to sleep. The stands weren’t completely empty, though. A few rows up sat Seamus, waving her over enthusiastically.
“There you are! I didn’t think you’d come. I thought you didn’t like Quidditch?” he said through chattering teeth. His breath came out in puffs of fog.
With a sigh she resigned herself to the fact that she wouldn’t be able to read her letters here with Seamus so near. It might look a little odd for Dean’s girlfriend to be in correspondence with an international Quidditch player with whom she was once romantically involved.
“I don’t, but Dean does. So, here I am!” She tried her best to sound cheery about the being there. She grimaced. Try as she might, she wouldn’t be able to fake that kind of enthusiasm for a boy. Lavender might be able to teach her a thing or two on that front.
The winter sun hung low over the horizon. A shiver coursed through her and she noticed that Seamus’ teeth had not stopped chattering since she sat down. Figuring there was no sense in being miserable and bored while they watched the Gryffindors practice, she pulled out her wand. With a few quick movements of her wrist she had conjured a few glass jars and subsequently three bluebell flames to fill them.
Seamus looked at her aghast as she handed him a jar. “How did you do that? You conjured all of that so quickly. I feel like I blinked and then there it was!”
Hermione sighed with frustration as she set the second jar between them, taking the third in her own hands for warmth. “Yes, but I muttered the spell out of habit. I’ve been trying my best to achieve 100% non-verbal incantations.”
“You’ve got me beat then! I hardly ever use non-verbal incantations outside of class. S’pose you’re the top in the class for a reason.”
Before Hermione could chastise him for taking non-verbal spellwork so lightly, a whistle blew. It appeared the team was done with their warm-up. Harry was instructing everyone on the plays they’d be running. Before flying to his position, Dean flew by the stands, winking at her as he passed. Sheepishly she waved at him, aware that his sudden maneuver had caught the entire team’s attention. To her satisfaction, Ron was glowering at Dean. That’s not the point of this, she reminded herself. This was about proving she didn’t have feelings for Ron, although she did.
With what Hermione could tell was an eye roll, Harry blew his whistle, setting the play in motion. At first, Hermione watched on with vague disinterest. Then, as she watched the team moving about the field, play after play, some dynamics began to stand out.
Firstly, she realized that Dean was good, really good. Ginny and Demelza were quicker than him from what Hermione could tell, but he could throw farther and could out maneuver his teammates. He weaved in and out of the formations with deft ease. She could tell that Harry’s reflexes were superior to Dean’s, likely due to him being the Seeker, but Ritchie Cootes didn’t even come close to touching Dean with a Bludger as they ran through each drill.
“He’s so good!” Hermione said equal parts impressed and stunned.
“Yeah he is. Shame about the tryouts. He wasn’t on his best game.” Seamus shrugged staring at his friend as Dean tossed the Quaffle effortlessly past Ron in the center hoop. “When competition’s thick, you can’t ever be off your game.”
What was more, Ginny was also flying really well. She had improved even from the last match. Watching Ginny and Dean fly together, there was no denying they made a good team, whatever their issues were off the pitch. They worked through Harry’s drills and plays without issue, predicting each other’s movements as they flew up and down the pitch. They were totally in sync. Ginny tossed the Quaffle up in the air right as she reached the center goal post, and Dean appeared above head, catching it. He threw it down through the hoop from an angle, taking Ron by surprise, making it nearly impossible for him to block.
“Fair play, mate!” Seamus shouted clapping his gloved hands together.
Ron, on the other hand, was flying abysmally. She hadn’t seen him fly this badly in a long time.
“He’s really is off his game, today. Makes you feel almost sorry for that git, McLaggen.”
Hermione, didn’t respond to Seamus, looking away in case her blush betrayed her memory of a certain Confundus Charm. As she looked away, she saw Lavender entering the stands from the other end. She waved enthusiastically to her and Seamus. They waved back, awkwardly.
“Let’s go, Won Won!” shouted Lavender from the edge of the stands.
Another Quaffle flew past him through the goal posts. He had come to a halt midair as he whipped around at the sound of Lavender’s voice. They were too far to hear, but Hermione could tell he had groaned.
The practice deteriorated from there. Ron was clearly rattled by Lavender’s presence. He was moving left when he should move right, falling for each of the Chasers’ feints. Harry was very clearly frustrated. He called an end to the practice session early and the team headed to the locker rooms. Lavender rushed down the stands to be there when Ron emerged from changing, ready to comfort him. Hermione knew that would not go over well. She felt a little bad for Lavender. She truly seemed to care for Ron, who seemed increasingly disinterested with her.
“Glad Dean didn’t find him a lass like that,” Seamus said. He did seem relieved. “You’re not so bad. The only thing I’ve seen you get that ga-ga over is new library books.” He screwed up his face in a doe-eyed stare.
“You’re probably right,” Hermione said laughing. Seamus was funny and not in a mean way like she was accustomed to from Ron or the twins. He might poke fun at you, but you knew he never really meant it. It was strange for her to think that he had taken such a fierce stance against Harry, when he was in denial of the truth about Voldemort.
Once they decided that they had waited long enough for the team to finish changing, Hermione vanished their bluebell flames and jars, wordlessly. Seamus lamented the absence of the warmth, and Hermione agreed. It amazed her even six years on that she could conjure such a small thing that could give off so much heat.
To their relief, it was far less windy on the grounds and thus measurable degrees warmer. Some of the team had already made their way out of the changing rooms by the time they approached. Ginny was speaking animatedly to Demelza and seemed to be purposefully ignoring Hermione and Dean’s presence amongst the group.
Dean approached Hermione with a cocky grin on his face. “So, how did I fly?” he asked, grabbing her waist, pulling her into him.
She became distinctly aware of eyes on them, her queue to perform. The heat from Dean being so close to her, his muscular arms around her waist, his dimples peeking out at her, all of it was overwhelming her. Was no one else noticing how forced and insane all of this was? Ginny glanced at them from over her shoulder as she walked past with Demelza. This jolted her back to her senses. She had a job to do.
Hermione rolled her eyes in response to his question, swatting him lightly on the arm. But before she could ready a retort about how average he was, Seamus jumped in. “You were great, mate! The turns you were able to cut were phenomenal. If you had flown that way at tryouts…”
Amused with Seamus excited long speech about strategy, Dean didn’t notice as she disentangled herself from him. Ron had finally exited the changing rooms with Harry. Harry raised his hand in a brief wave, before turning back to Ron to continue what looked like a serious conversation. Ron seemed to be taking the coaching sorely, that she could tell. He did not wave to her, pretending to not notice her. His face fell further when he saw Lavender waiting for him off to the side of the group.
Having seen it before, she knew Seamus and Dean could go on for a while about the strategies and technicalities of Quidditch, especially in comparison to football. Dean liked to bring that into the conversation often, football being his main frame of reference for sports. She figured this might be her only moment to read Viktor’s letter so she left them behind, beginning to make her way towards the castle.
Unfolding the letter from her bag, she began to read as she walked up to the path,
…As I have mentioned before, our last match of the year will be in Madrid. I am wishing that you could be there. A few of us team members will be staying through the holiday time.
I have been reading the book you sent in the spring. This Nick Hornby seems to be very passionate about Muggle football. I am relating to him on this point. However, football does seem like a very boring sort of sport. Is all of it always played on the ground?
“That doesn’t look like schoolwork,” Dean’s voice came from behind her. They had evidently put aside their football banter at present and caught up to her. With his eyebrows raised, Dean tried to snatch the letter from her. She snatched it back, with an indignant look on her face. “You know, it’s bad to keep secrets from your boyfriend.”
There was a mischievous look about him. Instinctively, Hermione began to back away, but she was too late. His reflexes might not be superior to Harry’s, but they were far superior to her own. He began tickling her, mercilessly. She cried out in laughter. Valiantly, she tried to fend him off through her mirth, but she lost the letter to him as his hands found a particularly sensitive spot on her right side.
“Give that back, Dean!” She shouted it but she was still half laughing, tears streaming down her face. Her hands were on her hips in a way that she hoped denoted authority.
She tried to jump for it, but he raised it above his head. He was so tall that this put it far from her reach. “Dean!” she whined, breathless from the exertion and giggling. She was almost ready to give up. Vaguely, she could hear Seamus’ laughter at their antics and his exclamations in support for Dean’s cause.
Dean turned away from her still holding the letter out of her reach, and began reading.
“That’s private,” she said, trying in vain to reach around him and grab it.
When he turned back to her, she knew he had seen who signed it. His eyebrows were arched at her in amusement and the mischievous look remained on his face. “Oh you’re in for it now.”
Expecting him to tickle her again she backed away this time more quickly. However, he didn’t tickle her. Instead, to her shock, he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. She would have yelled at him if she wasn’t so busy laughing.
“My bag!” she said through her laughter. It had fallen to the ground at some point in the scuffle.
“Got it!” Seamus called to them.
Dean waved back to Seamus with ease, as if he were simply carrying his book bag over his shoulder. “Thanks, see you at the castle mate!”
Feebly, Hermione protested through her giggles. Her sides hurt. It had been a while since she had laughed that hard.
“Good work today, Granger,” Dean said as he gave her a playful hoist.
She propped her elbow on his back, and placing her head in her hand the best that she could, resigned to her fate. As she did so, she looked up at the changing rooms just in time to see Ron stalking back into them.