January trudged on with freezing wind and icy rain. Professor Flitwick led the Charms Club in special measures to strengthen the heating charms placed around the castle. Students spent most of their time huddled around fires with their friends, avoiding going outdoors when at all possible.
It was just as well. The start of the new term had brought heaps of new work that most students, besides Hermione, had not been expecting. Harry had additionally been tasked by Dumbledore with retrieving a memory from Professor Slughorn. Hermione knew the assignment must be incredibly important for Dumbledore to personally task him with it. However, instead of heeding her advice on how to carefully retrieve it, he had approached Professor Slughorn after a particularly irksome lesson that left Slughorn lauding his potion making skills, per Ron’s advice, and asked him directly. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work, and Professor Slughorn had shut him out since.
That Potions class in particular was also why she wasn’t speaking to Harry. They had been instructed to devise and brew an antidote for a poison they selected at random. This was an assignment that would require a working understanding and application of the theory, something the Prince could not do for Harry. However, despite her hard work, he had still managed to cheat his way through the lesson.
She had been certain the milky white poison she selected was Bane of Beasts. Specialis Revelio had confirmed that its ingredients included baneberry, death caps, and lacewing flies. This was her moment, she knew it.
A feeling of guilt had crept over her, as she stirred the contents of her cauldron, glancing at Dean who had been hunched over his cauldron, muscles taut in deep concentration, sweat dripping off his brow. She wished she could sit next to him so that she could help. That she could tell, Dean was over-stirring his antidote when it needed to sit and simmer. Glancing at Harry, meanwhile, proved that he was stumped, staring frustratingly at the Prince’s book.
Quickly, she’d shoved a few last ingredients into her bottle as Professor Slughorn walked around. It wasn’t complete, but it was no doubt closer than anyone else’s in the classroom. She felt smug as Professor Slughorn came around to their table. Bane of Beasts was a poison more commonly used in North America because of its use of baneberries. Unless someone had read the entirety of Advanced Potion-Making, they wouldn’t have read the last section regarding foreign poisons and their antidotes.
All of her hope soon dissipated, however, as Professor Slughorn stood over Harry, marveling at the shriveled bezoar that sat on the table in front of him. He had been so taken with Harry’s nerve that he hadn’t even looked at her antidote, and even though — like the rest of the class — she hadn’t finished, her attempt hadn’t even been marked.
She had stormed out of the classroom, livid. It took Dean’s best cautious attempts at soothing her and assuring her that everyone knew Harry was a fraud to convince her not to break down Professor Slughorn’s office door and force him to mark her antidote.
Instead, she redirected her energy into being angry with Harry. As far as she was concerned, if he’d rather rely on the Prince than put an honest effort into anything then maybe the blasted book could help him get Slughorn’s memory and find out about Horcruxes for him.
Of course, she was still concerned. She just refused to tell him anything about it. The library had still proved unfruitful in her many attempts at locating any literature on “Horcruxes.” All the while, the news in the Daily Prophet was constantly reminding her of the urgency of the tasks at hand. Some days the weight of it was too much and she couldn’t finish reading the paper. If disappearances and burning fields were what they were printing, what were the things they were hiding?
One Tuesday in late January, Dean and Hermione were looking over the Prophet together, as they had taken to doing over breakfast.
“Any news?” Seamus asked, peeking his head over the top of the paper.
Hermione set the paper down and with a sigh said, “‘Farmhouse and nearby farmland set ablaze south of Dungannon, suspected work of Death Eaters’.”
“What in Merlin’s name are they burnin’ out there for?” Seamus asked incredulously.
Dean and Hermione exchanged looks. The Death Eaters had been getting bolder since the holiday break. They were committing blatant acts of terror, but thus far had kept it out of urban areas, not daring to assert themselves that boldly against the Ministry. People were frightened. But apparently, there were those who still weren’t frightened enough, who thought things weren’t serious until the terror was brought to their back doors.
“What in Merlin’s name are they doing any of this for, mate?” Dean said a bit harshly. He stabbed at the eggs on his plate, gripping Hermione’s hand tightly with his other hand.
Seamus, tactfully realizing when more thoughts from him weren’t welcome, bowed out of the conversation.
Even with Harry off, busy courting both Draco Malfoy and The Prince, Hermione found herself easing into her new routine. Without Harry and Ron around, she generally found herself lonely. Especially last term, she had spent a lot of her time missing Ron, but she wasn’t now.
On the one hand, this might be because she found that she was, despite herself, less angry with him. There were times his blue eyes would find hers across the classroom, and she could still faintly feel her heart race. And though his treatment of her hadn’t much improved, she felt more accepting and less angry at the situation they were in.
Meanwhile, she was spending more and more time with Dean. It was beginning to feel like they were becoming friends in their own right. There was their public persona, which was still garnering quite a bit of attention. Since she had sat in his lap, Dean had taken it as some sort of challenge. Who could outdo the other as the superior significant other? Hermione’s favorite play was to sit on the floor against his legs while he sat in an armchair in the common room as she looked over his essay or homework. Dean would sometimes play with her hair, or braid it like he would for his sisters as he looked over her shoulder at her corrections, his breath tickling the back of her neck. This seemed to irritate both Weasleys to no end, to the point that they would disappear from the common room altogether.
Generally, Dean won in the sentimentality aspect, with all of the sketches he was still providing. He had treated her to a few more of his more detailed pieces. She now had a sketch of Seamus cheering from the Gryffindor Quidditch stands, one of Luna sitting on the ground, legs crossed, Quibbler in her lap, and one of Neville bent over some succulents in the greenhouse. He drew whatever inspired him or whatever he thought she’d like to see that day.
None of this, however, was what Hermione liked best. Her favorite moments were when they were by themselves, with no Weasleys, no Seamus, and no other prying eyes around. This is when they could laugh and joke about their predicament or at the antics of the wizards around them that seemed bizarre to them as Muggle-borns.
They had passed an enjoyable afternoon in just this manner, the Friday before their first Apparition Lesson. They were situated at a table in the library near the windows — Dean sat across from Hermione, who was surrounded with books on the theory and principles of Apparition. Outside was a muddle of grey and white. More freezing rain fell from grey clouds, creating slush with the grey week-old snow banks on the grounds below.
Hermione was engrossed in Flying Feats in Artful Apparition. It was a nice change of pace from all of the other literature on the subject, full of horror stories of hideous splinches and people who had Apparated and never arrived at their destination. Dean had spent most of the day teasing her for being over-worried. Once she had threatened to take House points for being disruptive in the library, he finally agreed to leave her be and work on some new sketches with the new charmed pencil set she had bought him.
As she read, she came across the story of a man who was recorded to have successfully Apparated the furthest distance in history (1,707 km). Particularly intrigued by this, she pulled out the quill she had tucked behind her ear and began scribbling on her parchment, making notes for later research.
Dean chuckled. Hermione looked up to see him smiling slightly, watching her. When her gaze met his, he didn’t look away. He leaned forward, hands clasped in front of him, propped on his elbows. His shirt sleeves were rolled up again, no smudges of ink on his forearms this time.
A smirk played on his lips before he finally said, “You’re cute.”
Hermione’s stomach did a somersault as if she were riding the back of a Thestral that had dropped into a sudden dive. She furrowed her brow, confused. Turning in her seat to look around, she found the library was mostly empty. There were no Weasleys around, or anyone else for that matter, only Madam Pince with a large stack of books in her boney arms, three more stacks floating behind her. She turned back to him. Was he joking?
He leaned back in his chair, seemingly satisfied with her reaction. “You heard me, Granger.” He opened his sketchbook back to the page he had been working on, unbothered, as if he always complimented her in this way.
Her nose wrinkled, as she realized what was going on. A blush was threatening to bloom on her cheeks, and she felt uncomfortable. “Don’t flirt.”
“Oh, is that in the contract as well, then?” he said, not looking up from his sketch. There was laughter in his voice. He was laughing at her. Of course he was. They were friends and he was clearly teasing her.
Indignantly, she pressed on. “This isn’t some teen drama TV show. We don’t flirt.”
He pretended to be focused on his sketching.
“Besides,” she said with a sigh, “I’m not Ginny. Conserve your energy.”
She had meant it as a joke, but he looked up from his sketch then, his warm eyes searching hers. The distinct feeling of having said something she shouldn’t have came over her. Things were going well with their plan, she thought. Perhaps he and Ginny had had an argument. Should she not have brought her up?
After a moment he seemed to come out of whatever thoughts he was having and instead said, “Have you thought about what you might want to do next week for the Hogsmeade trip? Madam Pudifoot’s is a treat this time of year.” Another joke.
The school had been buzzing about the upcoming Hogsmeade trip for weeks. It was a Hogsmeade trip on Valentine’s Day weekend. Hermione had never cared for the day. Shops were overcrowded, sweets and pastries were overpriced. She had fully intended to spend the day curled up in the good chair by the fireplace, reading up on any material their Apparition Instructor recommended.
“I don’t think I want to go,” she said, no longer looking at him, trying to ignore her irritation from the previous conversation.
They could hear Madam Pince shuffling amongst the stacks a few rows over. Dean leaned in close and said in an insistent whisper, “It’s in the contract that we would go to Hogsmeade together.”
“Yes, but it’s going to be madness if we try to go next weekend. Everyone is planning on going that day!” Hermione said desperately. She couldn’t think of anything she’d least like doing on Valentine’s Day weekend than going to that tea shop.
“You’re my girlfriend. What will it look like if I don’t do anything for you on Valentine’s Day?” Before she could open her mouth to respond that she, in fact, wasn’t his girlfriend, he added in exasperation, “I know you aren’t my actual girlfriend. Look, don’t let Ginny’s attitude fool you. She may look like she doesn’t care about that stuff, but if she knows I’ve taken you out for the day it will drive her crazy.”
The eye roll came of its own accord. She sympathized with his plight, she did. But she felt unwilling to give up a perfect and quiet day of studying to the grimy hands of the Valentine’s Day crowd. “I’m not trying to drive her crazy. I just want to help you, help make her aware of her own feelings, if they’re there.”
“Trust me, if they are there, you going with me will absolutely stir them up a bit. Besides, don’t you want Ron to see you having a perfectly good and unbothered Valentine’s Day weekend?”
Of course, when he put it like that, she couldn’t say no. It would look bad if they didn’t go. She didn’t want Ron to even think she was moping around, because of him or any boy. Besides, if they didn’t honor the contract, what was the point of any of this?
So a week later, she found herself walking hand in hand with Dean, down to Hogsmeade the Saturday after Valentine’s Day.
The actual day-of had already proven to be a trial for all who had to bear witness to the antics of Lavender and Won-Won. She had made Ron a huge and rather loud singing card that stood as tall as she did. When opened, little cherubs flew out and threw glitter and confetti at the recipient. This of course was fine, because Lavender had bought them matching pink jumpers with hearts on them, in which she insisted he change into, once he was covered in glitter from the attack. She then spent the rest of the day following and cooing after Ron, who bore it fairly well, looking more like he was serving a detention with Filch.
The morning of the Hogsmeade trip, however, they had left Ron and Lavender arguing in the common room. Giving into her more selfish thoughts, Hermione enjoyed having the consolation of knowing they may not join the festivities at all, while she would be seen out having a great time with her boyfriend, Dean.
A cold breeze whipped past them as they walked onto the Hogwarts grounds. Shivering, Hermione moved closer to Dean. Although the weather was still cold, there was no longer any snow on the ground. Taking advantage of any respite from the winter weather, most students had shed their winter cloaks for their lighter every day cloaks, paired with festive pink and red scarves and hats. Hermione wished she hadn’t been so hasty, and had opted for her coat rather than her lighter pink jacket.
Casually, Dean pulled her closer, throwing his arm around her as they walked. They stumbled a bit and he laughed.
“Couldn’t conjure a couple of blue flames in a jar could you?”
“Ah, but if we carried those around how could we hold hands and signal to everyone that we are, in fact, dating?” Hermione said knowingly.
He squeezed her tighter, chuckling. “Too right you are. In favor of the mission, I suppose we’ll have to make do.”
Looking at Dean, in his leather bomber jacket, eyes alight with excitement, it occurred to Hermione that maybe this might actually be fun. She’d spent so much time dreading the crowds and simpering couples, she hadn’t stopped to consider that it would essentially just be a day spent hanging out with Dean, when away from prying eyes.
Dean looked away from her and grimaced. Following his line of sight she saw Peter Davis, a 7th year Ravenclaw, and his girlfriend Sabrina Stevens, a 7th year Hufflepuff, cooing at each other. Hermione wondered if a love potion had been employed by either of them.
Clearing his throat, Dean said, “I suppose we should count ourselves lucky we found each other to be in a fake-relationship with. Anyone else might have expected that.” He indicated towards Davis and Stevens, who were now somehow tangled up with each other while still walking.
“We are lucky I suppose. That looks awful.” They laughed together as they strolled through the grounds entrance flanked by two winged boar statues. After a moment of thought, Hermione added, “It almost could have been Ernie Macmillan for me. What a nightmare.”
“Ernie? Why Ernie?”
“He was one of the ones who received my, erm, notes. He was decidedly not happy about it.”
Dean gaped at her, dropping his arm from her shoulders. “You considered Ernie as a potential boyfriend? You know he’s gay, right?”
“You don’t know that he’s gay.” Dean gave her a doubtful look. “And yes. He has the second best marks in most classes.”
“But he’s a pompous idiot!” Hermione shrugged sheepishly at him. “I mean, I suppose that’s a hex dodged, but your choice in men Hermione, I just don’t know.”
Instead of explaining that she too had come to that conclusion in her notes, she stopped, placing her hands on her hips. “What’s wrong with my choice in men?” Sure, not all of the boys who she had taken an interest in were winners, but she was young. Mistakes happen when you’re still learning.
“Well Ernie we’ve covered. Viktor was apparently about as bright as a mountain troll. Ron, no explanation needed there.”
With each name he ticked off on his finger, she let out another cry of indignation. At the end of his list she reached to whack him on the head, which he easily dodged. “Viktor is very kind! And I wrote a ‘note’ to both Harry and you, didn’t I? My taste in men can’t be that bad.”
He rolled his eyes and began walking, leaving her to catch up with him. “Sure. You included Harry in your notes specifically to rule him out. That leaves you one out of four. Odds say you have bad — taste —” Each of these last words resulted in a poke in Hermione’s side.
“Five,” she said, correcting him.
“Five? Five what?”
She stared at the village looming ahead, refusing to look at him. “Five notes.”
“You wrote notes about five boys? Who else, then?” Dean looked agitated. He looked at her insistently, demanding to know who else might have received the honor of getting an accidental letter from herself. It was actually quite funny.
“Oliver Wood.” As soon as she said it, her smug demeanor was replaced with a searing blush. She had never told anyone that she had ever had a crush on Oliver Wood. It had been short lived, from first year until third — a school girl crush.
“Wood?!” If Ernie had surprised him, Oliver Wood had left him gobsmacked. Seeing that she didn’t intend to convey anymore than that, he pressed on. “Why Wood? What did he say? Did he owl you?”
“No, of course not,” she said waving him away. “I imagine he’s busy with traveling for matches and training. He probably missed the owl altogether.” That’s what she had assumed, what she had hoped. Her letters to Viktor often got missed when he was traveling internationally. Besides, he would likely barely remember her if he had received her letter. How odd it would seem to get a letter from a girl from your school days gushing about her old crush on you. She shook her head, No, he couldn’t have received it.
“Do you just think Quidditch players make good potential suitors or something?”
“Suitors?” She raised an eyebrow and snorted. “No, I had a small crush on him in like first year. It wasn’t cause he was handsome, although he was. He was just so driven, and kind, and watching him on a broom—”
“Earth to Hermione.” Dean snapped in front of her face. She had trailed off, stopping in the middle of the road, while she stared out in the distance, eyes full of memory and imagination. “So you do have a thing for Quidditch players. Alright, alright! No need to hit me. I, too, have dated a Quidditch player, I get it.”
He was smirking at her. How insufferable. She narrowed her eyes at him. “If you tell anyone Dean, I swear I will hex you.”
He raised his hands in surrender. “No worries, Granger. Shall we add it to the contract?” His eyes were shining down at her, as they always did when he was feeling playful.
Without a word of response, she continued walking. Couples moved around them quickly, eager to secure a table at Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop. The faint smell of sweets and freshly baked bread rose to meet them. It was so inviting, Hermione couldn’t help but smile at the thought of sitting with a plate of biscuits and a warm cup of tea, away from the cold wind.
“Shall we head to Madam Pudifoot’s first?” She blinked in surprise at his ability to read her thoughts before wrinkling her nose in her tell-tale sign of disgust. “I’m joking Granger. Where would you like to go?”
Now that they were in the village, she realized they had made no solid plans, other than agreeing that the goal was to get out of the castle and be seen having a good time.
Hermione tilted her head up. Grey clouds loomed threateningly in the sky, warning of rain to come later that evening. As a precaution, she ruled out any outdoor activities.
“Maybe we could just go to the Three Broomsticks? I imagine anywhere else is going to be too busy today,” she suggested.
“OK, sure. Maybe first we can head to Tomes and Scrolls and look around?” Dean added.
Hermione looked at him with surprise. “You want to spend the day walking around a bookshop?”
“With you? Absolutely.”
She snorted. He really was so effortlessly charming. Most of the time, she got the sense he wasn’t even aware he was doing it. She wondered if this was the side of him that Ginny had seen that made her fall for him.
Spending the day in the bookshop seemed more preferable to anything else that Hogsmeade had to offer. Plus, she had only visited the shop a few times, because most of the time Harry and Ron didn’t want to go. They thought it was boring. Dean had never been and was excited to go.
A bell tinkled overhead as they pushed the door open to the admittedly rather dingy looking storefront. Tomes and Scrolls was a much smaller and more cramped store than Flourish and Blotts and a lot less clean. Shelves lined the walkways, packed tight with dusty old books. Some shelves featured strange foreign objects in addition to the books.
“What a creepy place to bring your boyfriend,” Dean said under his breath, chuckling.
That gained him a swift elbow to the side as a distant voice was heard from the back, welcoming them.
Though the books themselves weren’t pretty — most were worn, torn, stained, or some combination of the three — the bookshelves in Tomes and Scrolls were full of unique and interesting books and other objects. They specialized in the oddities and the rare. This seemed to genuinely interest Dean as he perused the cases with her, rather than standing back, like Harry and Ron might have done.
They spent a couple of hours laughing their way through the shelves, sliding past one another through the tight rows as they reached for a book or an object. There was a collection of magical taxidermy, which held their attention for a while. It wasn’t unlike Muggle taxidermy, except for the fact that when you touched a piece it became animated momentarily, almost indistinguishable from the living creature.
Hermione gave a great shout when she reached out to touch the silver fur of a life-size Hidebehind, deadly and dangerous when alive, only for it to suddenly reach out and snarl at her. She jumped back into Dean, who quickly moved her behind him. Clutching each other, they devolved into laughter when they realized it was merely enchanted, similar to an animatronic at a Muggle theme park.
At another point, Dean handed her a long rectangular book. When Hermione opened it she squealed, pushing it back in his grasp and pushing him away. He was bent over with laughter. The book had been sitting nondescript on the shelf of art books he had been perusing. Inside however, were a bunch of sketches of creepy crawly bugs. Being that this was a magical art book, the pictures of the bugs moved around the page, as if they were actually there ready to jump at her.
Deciding it was time to bring their visit to an end, they exited the shop with tears of mirth streaming down their faces. Both of them left empty handed, wanting to leave before they disturbed the shop owner any more with their giggles and shouts.
Silence settled between them as they walked down the sidewalk, taking a moment to catch their breath. Hermione wiped the remaining tears from her eyes and looked around. The atmosphere around Hogsmeade was very strange. It was almost eerie.
Posters of wanted wizards and decrees of warning appeared in shop windows and notice boards just as in Diagon Alley. Here, more shops had been shuttered, windows boarded up, appearing to have been recently vacated. Amongst the crowds, she spotted Aurors, posted in their Ministry attire, badges pinned to their chests, on official duty.
In stark contrast to the atmosphere, students milled about, seemingly oblivious to signs of dangerous times around them, too young to have eyes for anything else this day besides love and candy. Hermione shivered.
“It’s a bit eerie, isn’t it?”
She looked up at Dean. His face was serious, his jaw set. This was a look she’d seen from time to time while they read the news together and that one time when he had driven her back to the train station.
Nodding, she looked back to the people walking around them, at the couples laughing as they walked, exchanging kisses as they went. Others didn’t notice the poster with the photograph of a dark haired man who seemed to snarl at them as they passed.
Amycus Carrow is wanted under the suspicion of aiding and abetting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. He is the brother of Alecto Carrow — both are suspected Death Eaters and are extremely dangerous. Approach with caution.
If you have any information, please contact your local Auror office.
Dean laced his fingers through hers, tugging at her arm to make her face him. She jumped at the contact, not having noticed that she had stopped to stare at the poster and the snarling face of the angry man.
Shaking the dark thoughts from her head, she smiled. “Yeah, let’s get out of the street.”
The Three Broomsticks, they were relieved to find, wasn’t as crowded as they had expected. Ginny passed with her friends as they entered. She gave them a curt nod, appearing to Hermione unfazed. She supposed not each of their schemes was going to result in drastic reactions in both Weasleys each time.
They found a secluded table in the not often sought after second level, which was quiet with plenty of seating, albeit a little drafty. Dean bought them both butterbeers. Hermione sipped hers, letting the sweet warmth of the beverage overtake her as she looked out over the lower level of the pub.
“You sure you’re alright?” Dean asked after a moment. He looked sincerely concerned. His eyes were almost in a squint, trying to ascertain any distress in her face.
“Yes,” she said with a sigh, taking another drink of butterbeer. “It’s just a little unsettling to see Hogsmeade this way. Even more unsettling how unbothered some wizards are about it. Things are getting worse and—“ she trailed off not knowing what else to say.
He sighed, leaning back and rubbing his face with his hands in frustration. “I know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. It seems like people with wizarding families and wizarding parents aren’t worried at all.”
“Some of them are worried.” She thought of the Order, of Lupin going undercover in werewolf dens, and of Dumbledore training Harry. Then she remembered their inability to find time to help protect her family. “They mean well, they’re just a bit nearsighted.”
After a moment of silence, both of them mulling over their own grim thoughts and drinking occasionally from their mugs, Dean finally asked, “Do you know what you’re going to do, if things turn?”
His darkened expression told her this was something that had been bothering him for some time now. Below, raucous laughter rose up, a group of villagers had begun singing “She’ll be Striking Down the Mountain,” which she recognized to be a Holyhead Harpies chant about Gwenog Jones that Ginny would often sing around the Burrow.
“Yes.” Her voice came out squeakier than she intended. She cleared her throat. “Yes, of course.”
She hoped she didn’t sound as scared as she felt. What could she do to prepare for the worst? Instinctively, she knew running away with her parents was not an option. She knew she would be with Harry until the end. That was a foregone conclusion. It was what would become of her family that worried her the most.
“You’ll be with Harry, then?” His voice was gruff, but his face was kind, unjudging.
She nodded as she tipped the remaining contents of her mug back.
“I’m thinking of sending my family into hiding. My mum still has relatives in America.” He then added more forcefully, “I just don’t know when. Or how. I keep reading the news, waiting for the sign. The news is always bad, but never any worse than it was before.”
“I think we’ll have to start making preparations soon.” Another shiver passed over her as she considered the weight of the words and what they meant for her. “The sign you’re looking for will come suddenly and there won’t be time to prepare. It will be too late when it does come.”
She reached out across the table, covering his hand with hers, trying to be of some comfort. There was a closeness between them in that moment that she had never felt even with Harry and Ron. Like her, he was a Muggle-born. He too felt the gravity of what decision lay before her because a very similar decision lay before him. All of the signs and ill tidings were direct threats to their humanity and their families.
It was his turn to drain his drink. What a pair they must seem. Two teenagers, throwing back drinks in a pub, looking morose on what was supposed to be a romantic date. She laughed suddenly.
“What?” he asked, foam covering the top of his lip.
“I was just thinking we must look like a sorry excuse for a Valentine’s date,” she said, giggling as she moved to wipe the foam from his lip.
He jumped a bit, surprised by her touch. She grinned sheepishly, dropping her hand. A moment passed before he too laughed.
“Two more butterbeers, I think, and some chips,” she then said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Here, here!” he said, raising his empty glass.
She lifted her glass to meet his before standing to place another order. As she passed she placed her hand on his head, letting her thumb briefly rub back and forth. Having a friend like Dean made her feel less alone, which was kind of nice on Valentine’s Day weekend.
“She’ll be sending back the Chasers from where they come!” There were shouts of enthusiasm as the crowd below bellowed the final lines of the chant.
She dropped her hand from his head and smiled down at him. His expression was indiscernible as he looked up at her.
“I’ll be back,” she said before descending the stairs into the festivities.