The Struggles of Separation

Hermione was upset for the rest of the day. She was short with Harry and Ron, and went to bed early to avoid strange looks and probing questions from the both of them. Even as she tried to sleep, she kept playing her argument with Blaise over in her head, fueling her anger and making it hard to drift off.

The rain let up overnight, so that when it was time for she and Ron to go to Hogsmeade for their Apparition practice Saturday morning, it was relatively dry, if not still gloomy. Harry was preparing to try to find Malfoy while they were out, to Hermione’s annoyance.

“You’d do better to go straight to Slughorn’s office and try and get that memory from him,” she hissed. In that moment, Blaise entered the entrance hall from the Great Hall. Her irritation spiked as she turned away from him resolutely.

“I’ve been trying!” said Harry. When she rolled her eyes, he added, “You saw him yesterday. He doesn’t want to talk to me, Hermione! He can tell I’ve been trying to get him on his own again, and he’s not going to let it happen!”

“Well, you’ve just got to keep at it, haven’t you?” she said, her misplaced anger spilling out in her words.

She and Ron joined the line to leave the castle, held up by Filch’s inspection, and Harry wished them good luck. Blaise was only a few people ahead of them, but Hermione pretended not to notice. His words were still swirling around in her head.

After Filch was done poking and prodding at them with Secrecy Sensors, Hermione and Ron began their trek to Hogsmeade. Ahead of them Hermione noticed Parvati walking with her sister Padma.

“Glad Lavender’s not of age yet,” Ron sighed.

Hermione glanced at him, “You do know it’s okay to just break up with her, right?”

Ron jumped as if she had poked him with a sharp stick. Looking around quickly he said in a hushed voice, “She’s not that bad. I just need my space is all.”

Thinking he sounded a lot like his sister, Hermione tilted her head at him, “Are you sure, Ron? Because it doesn’t seem like you’ve been very interested in her lately.”

He sighed, “We used to have fun, you know? Now it feels like she’s trying to get serious…”

“I wonder what would give her the impression that you wanted to be serious,” Hermione said in a deadpanned voice, “It doesn’t sound to me like you want a real relationship. It’s not just ‘fun’—” she broke off suddenly, thinking about Blaise. Even in her lingering anger she wondered, had he only been with her because it was fun? Maybe that was why he’d snapped, upset that the darkness of the real world was impeding on their time together.

“But how am I supposed to break it off?” Ron asked, not noticing Hermione’s change in demeanor. “Everytime I hint at it she just clings tighter.”

“You have to be straightforward and honest about what you want,” she heard herself say, “And don’t be a coward about it.”

As she said this to him she wondered if the same applied to her. She didn’t want to be with someone who she couldn’t share the difficult moments with. But did that mean she wanted to break up with Blaise? Was he going to break up with her? Just the thought alone broke through her ill temper and sent her mind into a tailspin. She was still upset, and wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to talk to him, but what if this was it? He hadn’t looked at her once since yesterday morning. What if their first fight was also their last?

They got to a cold and gray Hogsmeade, where Twycross was waiting for them near the boarded up Zonko’s Joke Shop.

“Gather round students,” he called weakly, “Today we’ll be taking a more practical approach to Apparating.”

Hermione forced herself to focus on what the instructor was saying. She had been able to Apparate since the second lesson back in the Great Hall, but knew from her research that doing so further than a wooden hoop and in real world elements could prove to be more difficult.

But she did well, prompting Twycross to fawn over her as they all got drinks at the Three Broomsticks once the lesson was over.

“I’ve never seen someone take to Apparition so naturally!” he cried, making Ron roll his eyes good-naturedly and Hermione squirm in her seat. “Truly, perhaps not since Dumbledore himself!”

Hermione took a large gulp of butterbeer so that she wouldn’t have to respond, and she wondered how old Twycross was as her eyes unconsciously drifted over to Blaise on the other side of the pub. He would have understood her discomfort, she thought. His back was to her as he sat with Theodore Nott and Daphne Greengrass, his fingers playing with the grooves of the full glass of butterbeer in front of him. Was it just her or did he look tense?

“Hey Madam Rosmerta,” Ron said suddenly, jerking Hermione out of her thoughts and pulling her gaze away from Blaise, “Have you heard the one about the hag, the Healer, and the Mimbulus Mimbletonia?”

The barkeeper raised an eyebrow in mock interest. Hermione kept drinking as Ron told his joke, snickering to herself when Madam Rosmerta had no reaction to his punchline.

Hermione didn’t speak to Blaise for an entire week. By Monday she was completely over her anger, and by Tuesday morning she could admit that though his delivery was off Blaise wasn’t wrong for being upset by how distant she had become. She’d tried to think of ways to find and talk to him, but no opportunity presented itself. By Thursday she was starting to worry that maybe they really had broken up.

That Friday was the first sunny day they had had in weeks, and Hermione sat with Harry and Ron in the courtyard after lunch, trying to soak up some sun before her and Ron’s Apparition test. She was skimming the pamphlet they had been given to prepare for the test, but her mind was wandering as she wondered to herself if she could find a way to get Blaise on his own in Hogsmeade.

A girl entered the courtyard, causing Ron to duck behind her.

“It isn’t Lavender,” she said with a bored sigh, shrugging Ron’s hand off of her shoulder as the girl passed Harry a letter.

Harry opened it, disbelief twisting his face the further he read.

“Look at this,” he said, passing it to Hermione.

She read it quickly. It was from Hagrid, informing them that his pet acromantula Aragog had finally died, and asking them to use the Invisibility Cloak to attend the funeral that evening.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she said, passing it to Ron.

“He’s mental!” Ron said angrily.

She was glad both of them were on the same page; they had checked in on Hagrid in the time leading up to Aragog’s death, but there was no way they would risk getting caught after hours to bury a monster they were less than fond of, one who had literally tried to kill Harry and Ron. Harry, though, couldn’t seem to keep his eyes off of the tear-blotted note, pity turning down the corners of his mouth.

“Harry, you can’t be thinking of going,” she exclaimed. “It’s such a pointless thing to get detention for.”

Harry sighed, folding up the note and shoving it into his pocket, “Yeah, I know. I s’pose Hagrid’ll have to bury Aragog without us.”

“Yes, he will,” Hermione said, relieved. She then changed the subject to more pressing matters, “Look, Potions will be almost empty this afternoon, with us all off doing our tests…Try and soften Slughorn up a bit then!”

“Fifty-seventh time lucky, you think?” said Harry wearily.

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

His words seemed to puncture through Hermione’s cluttered brain, “Ron, that’s — that’s it!” she said, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of it?”

Harry seemed hesitant to use the liquid luck, but after some pushing he agreed. “If I can’t get Slughorn to talk this afternoon, I’ll take some Felix and have another go this evening.”

The bell rang soon after, signaling that it was time for Hermione and Ron to head over to Hogsmeade for their Apparition test. Ron was jittery, but Hermione tuned him out, muttering the three D’s under her breath.

There was a moment, as they were winding up the road, where her eyes met Blaise’s and her words died in her throat. Before she could think anything he looked away, leaving her feeling as if she had just run uphill.

She had to focus on the task at hand. Once they got to Zonko’s, Twycross explained that he would examine them one by one, and that they were to Apparate from here to the Hog’s Head Inn at the other end of the street. Susan Bones was first.

Hermione recited the steps in her mind over and over until Anthony Goldstein finished his turn and her name was called. She took a deep breath and hurried forward.

“Alright, Miss Granger,” Twycross said with an encouraging smile, “You may proceed.”

Hermione took another steadying breath. Destination. Determination. Deliberation. She felt her body twist and compact, sliding through a small tube and then spitting out into the open air, landing neatly in the street, just in front of the Hog’s Head. She grinned.

She waited for Ron to go, and at first it seemed that he had passed too, until Twycross noticed the half-eyebrow he had left behind. Once everyone had gone — Blaise passed effortlessly — they made their way back to the castle, Ron grumbling the whole way there.

His woes were quickly forgotten as they met Harry for dinner, eager to find out if he had succeeded in getting Slughorn’s memory. He hadn’t, it turned out, and so there was only one course of action left.

They hurried up to the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory after dinner. Harry searched through his trunk before finding a ball of rolled-up socks. He pulled a tiny bottle from it.

“Well, here goes,” he said, raising the bottle to his lips and taking a gulp.

“What does it feel like?” Hermione whispered.

Harry’s face seemed to relax, worry lines smoothing out and a carefree smile pulling at the corners of his mouth. “Excellent,” he said, grinning, “Really excellent. Right…I’m going down to Hagrid’s.”

“What?” Hermione and Ron said at the same time.

“No, Harry,” Hermione was confused, “You’ve got to go and see Slughorn, remember?”

“No,” said Harry firmly. He seemed to puff his chest out a bit, “I’m going to Hagrid’s, I’ve got a good feeling about going to Hagrid’s.”

“You’ve got a good feeling about burying a giant spider?” Ron sounded skeptical.

“Yeah,” said Harry, pulling his Invisibility Cloak from his bag. “I feel like it’s the place to be tonight, you know what I mean?”

Hermione grabbed the bottle from Harry and held it up to the light, peering into it. “This is Felix Felicis, I suppose? You haven’t got another little bottle full of — I don’t know —”

“Essence of Insanity?” Ron put in.

Harry just laughed. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing…or at least Felix does.”

He winked and pulled on the cloak, disappearing before them. Hermione exchanged a wary glance with Ron and shook her head, following Harry down the stairs.

“What were you doing up there with her?” a shriek cut across the common room as the three of them came to the bottom of the stairs, Harry unseen. Lavender looked livid.

Hermione grimaced as Ron began to splutter. “I didn’t — we weren’t—”

Just then, the portrait hole opened and Ginny and Dean stepped inside.

Don’t push me, please, Dean,” Ginny snapped, “You’re always doing that, I can get through perfectly well on my own.”

“I didn’t even touch you,” Dean retorted.

“I can’t believe you would do this, Ron.”

“I don’t even see what the big deal is, I’m only being considerate.”

“No, you’re pushing me around!”

“Lavender, calm down…”

The bickering was getting to be too much for Hermione. She turned to the girls’ staircase and hurried up to grab the book on her bedside table. She had a few more days before it was due in the library, but she had finished it already and she needed to get out of Gryffindor Tower until things died down.

She walked quickly through the common room, where both couples were still going at it, hurtling through the portrait hole and into the quiet.

As she headed towards the library, Hermione couldn’t help but compare Ron’s and Ginny’s relationship woes to her own. She thought about Blaise’s angry face, how she had called him selfish. Regret sat heavily in the back of her mind. She wondered for a moment if she should write him. But no, she felt that the conversation was best had in person. Would he agree to meet her if she asked?

She entered the library, making for Madam Pince’s desk. A familiar figure was standing in front of it, a brown hand scooping up a book from the surface. Hermione froze, her heart beating in her ears.

Blaise turned. His eyes widened slightly when he saw her, but before she could say or do anything they went blank. His fingers tightened around his book as he walked past her without a word.

Hermione didn’t expect the pain that rose in her chest, her eyes stinging, her breath shortening. Was that really it? She tried to swallow her emotions as she walked up to Madam Pince, passing her the book. Once the librarian was finished checking the book, Hermione turned from the desk quickly, hurrying out of the library.

Blaise was just outside, sitting at the foot of the staircase that led up to the Transfiguration corridor. Hermione stopped in surprise, watching as he pushed himself up. He was frowning at his shoes.

“Can we talk?” he asked quietly.

Hermione nodded, relief mingled with a new wave of fear. She followed Blaise in silence, their footsteps the only sound echoing through the halls. She bit her lip as she looked up at his face, taking in his clenched jaw, his guarded eyes. She desperately wished she could tell what he was thinking.

They ended up in the trophy room, surrounded by medals and plaques given to students for various good deeds. Torches dimly lit the room along the walls. Blaise shut the door gently behind Hermione as she stepped inside, arms crossed around her front.

She turned to him, steeling herself.

Blaise took a deep breath, “Look. I’m sorry, Hermione.”

Hermione stared, the back of her throat beginning to itch.

Blaise frowned and shook his head. “I shouldn’t have gotten so upset — I know how bad things are, and I know they’re getting worse. I just, I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure from my mum, and I ended up taking out my frustrations on you. That shouldn’t have happened.”

She felt relief at his words, but still the air sat heavy between them. His shoulders were slumped forward, his teeth chewing on his bottom lip. She took a step towards him, her arms loosening around herself.

She took a deep breath, hoping that what she was about to say would reach open ears. “You have to find other people to confide in,” she told him gently, “I want to be there for you, really, but I can’t be the only person.”

Blaise nodded, “You’re right,” he said, “That’s a lot to put on one person.”

Hermione could tell, now that they were alone, how much he had been wanting to talk to her. His attitude was often hard to gauge when they were out in public; he was so used to blending in, to hiding himself. But now she could see the regret on his face, could feel his longing as he rocked back and forth on his feet. She took another step towards him, reaching out to take his hand.

“I want to apologize too.”

Blaise’s eyes met hers, confusion on his face. He squeezed her hand, “You don’t have anything to apologize for.”

She shook her head, “I shouldn’t have been so dismissive. And I…I haven’t fully been honest with you.”

She paused a moment, taking in the surprise on Blaise’s face. 

“My friendship with Harry and Ron is…deeper than most people probably realize,” she started. “When Ron and I became friends with Harry we ended up on a path that is difficult at best and dangerous at worst. But we know what we’re getting into, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.”

She looked him in the eye, wanting to make sure he got this next part. He was frowning slightly, but he was listening.

“There are things we’re dealing with that I can’t tell you about,” she said, “I’d like to say that I want to tell you, but I don’t. It’s too dangerous. For them, for me, for you. And for a lot more people than even I’m able to get my head around. I just need you to understand that it doesn’t have anything to do with how I feel about you or our relationship. It just is what it is.”

He didn’t speak at first, his eyebrows pushing further together as his frown deepened. For a moment, a flash of fear ran through her mind. This could be a problem — her inability to be completely honest with him could be the thing that split them up for good.

But Blaise’s eyes flashed back to hers with a warmth she hadn’t seen in days. He leaned down, pressing his lips softly to hers. Hermione reacted instinctively, her free hand coming up to rest on the back of his neck. Blaise’s arms wrapped around her tightly, his scent enveloping her as he deepened the kiss.

He pulled back slightly, their noses still touching. “Okay.”

Elation ran through her, and she grinned as her arms slid around Blaise’s neck, to keep him close. “I’ve missed you.”

Blaise smiled at that, bright and brilliant. As he closed the distance between their lips once more, Hermione could feel a warm giddiness filling her up, and felt as if she had been the one to take Felix Felicis.

Blaise walked Hermione back to the Gryffindor common room a while later. They didn’t hold hands in the halls; though there was little chance of anyone running into them this close to curfew, Hermione remembered that Harry might still be out there, coming back from his trip to Hagrid’s. Still, she couldn’t help but drift towards Blaise, their hands occasionally bumping and brushing each other, sending Hermione’s heart racing each time.

They slowed to a stop a few yards from the Fat Lady.

“I’ll see you later,” Blaise said, brushing a stray coil of Hermione’s hair from her face and lightly kissing her forehead.

He started to turn away, but Hermione grabbed his hand and pulled him back, pushing up on her toes to plant a kiss on his lips. “See you,” she said as she settled back down, smiling at the surprise on his face.

Blaise seemed to hesitate a moment, a spark in his eyes, before he gave her hand one last squeeze and turned away, making his way down to the Slytherin common room.

“Cutting it a bit close, aren’t we?” the Fat Lady said with a wink.

Tapeworm,” Hermione said in response.

After climbing through the portrait hole, Hermione found Ron alone, sitting on the armchair nearest the fire, his face white.

“Harry not back yet?” she asked breezily. She felt as if a large weight had been lifted off of her chest, and everything around her seemed to emit a soft glow. The prospect of learning about Slughorn’s memory seemed even more exciting.

Ron shook his head, “Nah not yet,” he glanced at her quickly and then back into the fire, “Lav dumped me.”

Despite having a strong feeling that it was coming, Hermione felt some sympathy. “Are you okay?”

He shrugged, “I mean it wasn’t pleasant, you know, the dumping part. But at least I don’t have to pretend anymore, right?”

“Hmm.” Hermione inwardly thought Ron had done a pretty poor job of hiding his lack of feelings from Lavender, which ended up being a part of the problem, but figured now wasn’t the time to say as such.

“I think Ginny and Dean might be done too,” Ron said. He seemed even more relieved about this information, and Hermione had to keep herself from rolling her eyes. She thought about Harry, wondering what he would make of the news.

“Well,” she said, “It seems tonight has been eventful.”

Ron snorted, “You could say that.”

Hermione watched as the last of the Gryffindor students — two third years struggling to carry their copies of Monster Book of Monsters up the stairs — filed out of the common room.

“I’m going to grab a book to read,” she told Ron, “If Harry comes while I’m gone, don’t let him say anything until I get back.”

Ron nodded and Hermione turned to head up to her dormitory. She glanced down at her watch, wondering how long it would take Harry to get back. The sight of the books clasped together around her wrist made her think of Blaise again, her stomach fluttering.

She had pushed the door to the sixth year girls’ dormitory open and was halfway to her trunk before she registered the sound of someone sniffling. She looked up to see Parvati sitting next to a crying Lavender on her bed, consoling her. Suddenly, what Ron had said to her downstairs came back to her and she immediately felt guilty. She hadn’t thought about Lavender at all.

“Hey Lavender,” she said now, quietly, “Are you okay?”

Parvati grimaced as Lavender’s head shot up, her red puffy eyes narrowing at her, “Am I okay? I can’t believe you would ask me that after stealing my boyfriend.”

Hermione’s mouth dropped open. Her first impulse was to laugh, but she quickly realized that likely wouldn’t go over well. “What are you talking about? I would never — I wouldn’t even want to!”

“Oh, don’t give me that ‘I don’t even know why anyone would want to date Ron’ farce,” Lavender spat, rolling her eyes. “The two of you haven’t talked since we started dating, and now that you’re cool again all of the sudden he’s ignoring me.”

Hermione sighed, “I wasn’t speaking with him because he was being absolutely horrid to me. Once we became friends again, I’m the one who told him to treat you better.”

Lavender scoffed, her hurt feelings feeding her anger, “That’s a likely story. You were just waiting for your chance.”

“Lavender, I have a boyfriend,” Hermione blurted out. 

Both Lavender and Parvati gaped at her, and Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth, horrified. Panic rose in her chest. She hadn’t meant for it to come out, but her exasperation had cut through her reason. What was she going to do now?

Parvati tilted her head to the side, “Who is it?”

Hermione bit her lip, “I…I shouldn’t say.”

Lavender rolled her eyes, “Of course not.”

“Is it McLaggen?” Parvati pressed.

Hermione couldn’t stop herself from wrinkling her nose in disgust, “Absolutely not.”

“Come on, Hermione, we’re your roommates.”

“He isn’t real, Parvati.”

Hermione was stuck. She supposed she could lie, say she was back with Viktor or that she and Harry had finally taken Rita Skeeter’s rumors to heart, but there would be no way for her to keep up either of those without causing a mess.

She glanced at their shut door, as if their voices could carry all the way back to the common room. “You have to promise not to speak of it outside of these four walls,” she said, voice low, “You can’t tell anyone.”

Parvati looked startled, and even Lavender seemed reluctantly curious. They nodded. “Deal.”

She took a deep breath, “I’m dating Blaise Zabini.”

There was a beat of silence.

What?” Parvati hissed.

“How in Merlin’s name did that happen?” Lavender asked.

Hermione fidgeted with her watch, spinning it around her wrist. “Well it’s only been a couple of months. We started talking after Slughorn’s Christmas party — he helped me get away from Cormac, actually — and then it just sort of…built from there.”

“That’s strange,” Lavender said, and there was still a bite to her words, “I didn’t peg him for someone who would go for Muggle-borns.”

“Yes, well he has,” Hermione snapped back, annoyed both by Lavender’s phrasing and her misreading of Blaise’s character.

“He has seemed a lot less surly lately,” Parvati offered, clearly trying to keep the peace. “I never would have guessed…wow Hermione, he’s really attractive.”

Hermione flushed, “Yes — I mean, I’ve noticed.”

“So you’re keeping it a secret?” Lavender asked, and Hermione could tell she didn’t fully believe her. She didn’t care much, as long as she didn’t repeat it to anyone else.

“We have to,” she said, desperate to impress upon the two of them how serious this was. “You’ve seen how the Slytherins are. It could be dangerous for the both of us.”

“Not even Harry and Ron know?” Parvati asked, shooting a cautious glance at Lavender at the mention of Ron.

Hermione shook her head vigorously, “No. You can imagine their response. No one knows.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Hermione tried to remind herself that Lavender was freshly heartbroken, and forced herself not to huff in impatience at the hostility still infused into her voice. “I mean, you don’t think he’s using you, do you?”

“What on earth would he be using me for?”

“I don’t know…” Lavender shrugged, “You’re not exactly good for his image. Maybe he just likes sneaking around.”

“Lavender!” Parvati exclaimed, looking scandalized. Hermione’s stomach dropped.

“I don’t mean it like that!” she insisted, and for the first time since the beginning of their conversation, she sounded sincere. She bit her lip, looking down at her hands. “I just…I know what it’s like…” Hermione felt a surge of pity, thinking of how desperate Lavender had been to keep Ron’s interest.

“That’s not happening at all,” she said emphatically. She thought about the way Blaise always felt the need to hold her hand, about his smile, which felt special if only because he saved it for her. “I mean, sometimes it’s hard but it’s worth it. We can really be ourselves with each other, you know?”

Both Lavender and Parvati fell silent then, and when Hermione looked up she saw them looking at each other, an entire conversation passing through them in the space of a glance.

“What?”

“Nothing, just…” Lavender looked at her, her eyes very serious, “Are you in love with him?”

“What?” Hermione was shocked by the question. She could feel her face heat up, her heart begin to race. 

“You heard what she said,” Parvati looked just as convinced, her eyebrows raised in question.

She should’ve expected this, she realized, given who she was talking to. Perhaps the suddenness of it all was why she felt so flustered. “Honestly,” she said, “this isn’t a romance scenario in Witch Weekly.”

Lavender rolled her eyes as Parvati groaned.

“She can’t even admit it to herself,” Parvati said.

“Tragic,” sighed Lavender.

“Anyway,” Hermione said quickly, wanting to nip this conversation right in the bud. “I’ve just remembered I left something downstairs.”

And she hurried to the door, all thoughts of getting a book, of even waiting for Harry or Slughorn’s memory, gone from her mind.

Part Seven