Hermione told Blaise about her conversation with Lavender and Parvati during the next morning’s break (conveniently leaving out their last question, which Hermione couldn’t even think about without immediately spiraling).
“It just sort of came out,” she said nervously. They stood together in the Owlery, Blaise attaching a letter to his mother to Adonis’s leg.
“So that’s why Patil kept shooting looks at me all through Defense,” he said idly. When he glanced at her, it was with an amused expression on his face.
Hermione groaned, “I made them swear not to say anything, but I didn’t think about how unsubtle they are.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Blaise said as they walked over to the nearest window. “From what you said, Brown is dealing with her own heartbreak. I’m sure they don’t want to make life harder for you.”
“I just feel bad,” she muttered, “I should never have said it, and if I had even been considering it — which I wasn’t — I should have told you first.”
Blaise shook his head, throwing his arm around her shoulders and pulling her closer to him. She was really surprised by how relaxed he was at the news. “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” he said before pressing his lips to her hair, “There’s worse things that could happen than it getting out that I’m dating the prettiest and smartest girl in school.”
Hermione looked up at him, shocked by his words. But Blaise wasn’t paying attention, watching as Adonis took off from his perch, spreading his wings and flying off over the grounds.
He must not mean it, Hermione thought as she exited the Owlery first, getting lost in the crowd and letting people put space between her and Blaise as they both made their way to Flitwick’s classroom. Everything was so tense, so dangerous. There was no way he would want to mess up the chance he had at security.
She didn’t get much more time to wonder about Blaise’s motives before she found Harry and Ron in the back of the Charms classroom, flasks of vinegar set on the table before them. Once Flitwick started class and set them on their task — turning the vinegar to wine — Harry cast the Muffliato spell and turned to them.
“So what happened?” Ron asked, his voice still low. Harry hadn’t come back to the common room until much later than he and Hermione had expected, and they’d ended up calling it a night long before he arrived.
“Well I…I got the memory,” Harry said, “And then I went to Dumbledore’s office…”
He launched into his tale from there, starting with Aragog’s funeral, including Slughorn’s teary-eyed drunken confession, and Harry and Dumbledore’s trip into his true memory, with details of what Horcruxes were. Hermione was already having trouble processing all of the information Harry had given them when he shared the last bit.
“Dumbledore wants me to come with him when he, you know, finds another one.”
There was a long silence. Hermione and Ron gaped at Harry, who looked both excited and nervous.
“Wow,” said Ron eventually, “Wow. You’re actually going to go with Dumbledore…and try and destroy…wow.”
Hermione didn’t know what to say. She had known that whatever Harry and Dumbledore were working on was big, but this all made it feel very real and unavoidable, a train coming for them whether they were ready or not.
“Ron, you’re making it snow,” she said instead, grabbing his wrist and tugging it down to stop the flakes starting to fall from the ceiling.
“Oh yeah, sorry,” Ron said, though he still looked in shock.
“What about you two?” Harry asked, “How did the night go otherwise?”
“Well Hermione disappeared for a while after you left,” Ron said, causing Hermione to tense up. Luckily, he sped past it to the real thing he wanted to tell Harry, “Lavender and I split up.”
Harry didn’t look all that surprised, glancing at a red-eyed Lavender across the room. “Ah,” he said.
Their conversation turned to Ron and Lavender, and then to Ginny and Dean, whose break up Hermione informed Harry of, in part to keep the conversation from veering too near where she had been last night, but also because she knew he would care, even as he tried to keep a straight face.
Spring was fully here, which meant that exams were just around the corner. While most people were only just starting to begin planning their study schedules, Hermione had drafted hers weeks ago, creating separate ones for Harry, Ron, and Blaise as well. Only Blaise had even looked at it, thanking her but telling her he had his own studying process already.
Surprisingly, Ginny began to join her, Ron, and Harry in the Great Hall at mealtimes. One day at breakfast, she slid onto the bench next to Ron as if she did this every day.
“I was up all night working on McGonagall’s practice test,” she said as she spooned porridge into her bowl, “I don’t think I’ll be able to think about anything but Transfiguration for months.”
“Well your O.W.L.s are quickly approaching,” Hermione said reasonably, exchanging a glance with Harry, who promptly looked away, his cheeks turning pink.
“Exactly!” Ginny exclaimed, “I have about six other subjects to study for! I wish McGonagall would be a bit more considerate.”
Harry and Ron offered her more sympathy than Hermione could muster, largely because they had barely gotten by for their own O.W.L.s the year before.
The school was buzzing with excitement, not only because of the return of Katie Bell, but also the final Quidditch match, Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw, was right around the corner. Harry and Ron seemed singularly focused on that, even as homework piled up and more threats of Voldemort lingered outside the walls.
Hermione was glad for a reason to distract herself, both from the looming decisions she knew she would soon have to make and her feelings for Blaise, which only seemed to be growing even stronger. She was sure he felt the same but was too afraid to outright ask, and was committed to making sure they kept their secret after her slip up.
She sat in the common room one evening, creating flashcards for Ancient Runes when Harry came sprinting through the portrait hole, taking the staircase to the boys’ dormitories two steps at a time, his footprints leaving water on the carpet. Hermione frowned as she watched him disappear and then clamber back down the steps and out of the common room once more. Ron came down a few moments later, looking confused.
“What was that about?” she asked as he sat down next to her.
“Dunno,” Ron said, “He just came up shouting at me about my Potions book and then took off.”
A bad feeling came over Hermione but she didn’t voice it. By the time she had gone down to the Great Hall with Ron for dinner, it was buzzing with news. Seamus and Dean hailed them as they approached the Gryffindor table.
“Is it true?” Seamus asked.
“Is what true?” Hermione asked.
“Seamus was in the bathroom earlier,” Dean said, his voice lowered, “Moaning Myrtle was flying around, wailing that Harry attacked Malfoy.”
“What?” Ron spluttered. The bad feeling settled firmly in Hermione’s stomach. As they sat and listened to Seamus’s account of Myrtle’s account, Hermione was sure it was about as close to the truth as they would get until they saw Harry, who still hadn’t turned up for dinner.
Once they returned to the common room, they found him sitting in a far corner, surrounded by stricken-looking members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team.
“What’s going on?” Ron demanded as they approached.
“Harry can’t play in the game Saturday,” Ginny told them as the rest of the team drifted away, a few of them shaking their heads in disappointment, “Snape’s given him detention.”
“What?” Ron shouted. Ginny shushed him, and he continued with a lower voice, “Harry, what happened mate?”
“I, er,” Harry looked shaken, his eyes wide behind his round glasses, “I cursed Malfoy.”
Ron relaxed, “Good one.”
“No, Ron,” Hermione shook her head. Her intuition was telling her this wasn’t just a regular duel between school enemies, “Harry what did you do?”
He told the three of them, his voice fighting hard to stay steady. About how he had been on his way to dinner, but had seen on the Marauder’s Map that Malfoy was in the bathroom with Myrtle. How he had made a detour to see what he was up to. How Malfoy had attacked him the minute he saw him. And how he had used a curse called Sectumsempra, one he had found in the Half-Blood Prince’s copy of Advanced Potion-Making, which had cut Malfoy like a knife.
“If Snape hadn’t have—” Harry gulped, “I think he might have…”
Ginny was watching Harry with a soft kind of sympathy on her face. Ron looked as if he had been hit over the head with a Beater’s bat. Hermione felt a strange sort of vindication, mixed in with her horror.
“I won’t say ‘I told you so,’” she said, sitting in the armchair across from him.
“Leave it, Hermione,” Ron said angrily, snapping out of his shock.
But she couldn’t help herself, “I told you there was something wrong with that Prince person. And I was right, wasn’t I?”
“No, I don’t think you were,” said Harry stubbornly.
Hermione gaped at him, “Harry, how can you still stick up for that book when that spell—”
“Will you stop harping on about the book!” Harry shouted, “The Prince only copied it out! It’s not like he was advising anyone to use it! For all we know, he was making note of something that could be used against him!”
She couldn’t believe he actually believed that. There was no way a person who wrote a spell like that could not be intending to use it. But whether he believed it or not, Harry wasn’t backing down, his jaw was set, even as his eyes were filled with remorse.
“Are you telling me that you’re going to go back—”
“And get the book? Yeah I am,” said Harry, “Listen, without the Prince I’d never have won the Felix Felicis. I’d never have known how to save Ron from poisoning, I’d never have—”
“—got a reputation for Potions brilliance you don’t deserve,” this wasn’t the point, and it wasn’t why Hermione was angry, but it added to her disgust of her best friend, who had done something so horrible and was being incredibly defensive about it.
“Give it a rest, Hermione!” Ginny cut in. Harry looked up at her, astonished. “By the sound of it Malfoy was trying to use an Unforgivable Curse, you should be glad Harry had something good up his sleeve!”
“Well, of course I’m glad Harry wasn’t cursed!” Hermione was hurt that she would even imply that, “But you can’t call that Sectumsempra spell good, Ginny, look where it’s landed him! And I’d have thought, seeing what this has done to your chances in the match—”
“Oh, don’t start acting as though you understand Quidditch,” Ginny interrupted, rolling her eyes, “You’ll only embarrass yourself.”
Hermione could feel her anger reaching a boiling point, as Harry and Ron gaped at the two of them. She pushed herself up, readjusting her bag on her shoulder and turning away from them. She looked down at her watch as she marched through the portrait hole and back into the large castle. She needed to meet Blaise in a few minutes anyway.
She could feel her anger bubbling even as she got further from Gryffindor Tower. All of them were on her last nerve: Harry for defending actions that were clearly reprehensible, Ron for not seeing any problem, and Ginny for coddling Harry when he should be held accountable for his actions.
She found Blaise at the Clock Tower, looking out from the balcony overlooking the Great Lake. She could feel her anger simmer at the sight of his back, and she hurried over, sidling up next to him and leaning on the banister, touching her shoulder to his.
“Hi,” she said.
“How are you?”
“A little annoyed, to be honest,” Hermione said. She paused a moment, biting her lip. “Have you heard about Malfoy?”
Blaise’s jaw tightened for a moment before he nodded, “Pansy’s real cut up about it. She went up to the hospital wing after dinner.”
There was something in his voice, an accusatory tone, that made Hermione’s irritation suddenly rise.
“Harry was just trying to defend himself,” she found herself saying.
Blaise looked down at her in disbelief, “You aren’t serious. Hermione, he cut him open.”
“I know that!” Hermione’s voice echoed over the grounds. She lowered her voice, not wanting to alert the entire school to their conversation, “It’s just, you’re biased against Harry and—”
“And you’re not biased?” Blaise shook his head, “Wrong is wrong.”
She crossed her arms, “So what Malfoy’s doing isn’t wrong?”
“I never said that,” he responded, annoyance flashing through his face, “You’re putting words in my mouth.”
Hermione stopped. She hadn’t come here to defend Harry, and the last thing she wanted was to get into another argument with Blaise.
She sighed, “I’m sorry, you’re right. I don’t know what I’m doing, I just had a row with Ginny because she was defending him. I’m just frustrated.”
He seemed to relax a bit, though still he looked cautious, “What’s frustrating you?”
“I don’t know, just Ginny has been popping up a lot since she broke up with Dean. Which is fine, she’s my friend, but…” Hermione hadn’t been able to fully articulate the resentment she felt when Ginny stepped in for Harry, but suddenly the answer came to her, her foggy feelings becoming clearer as she said them out loud. “Harry and Ginny clearly have feelings for each other. They’re only friends right now, but honestly it’s only a matter of time, and I think I’m frustrated because they can express that openly.”
Hermione stared at Blaise’s shoes, afraid of what he would say to that. They’d had an agreement, one Hermione had thought she was okay with. He shifted his weight a bit.
“I, er, actually wanted to talk to you about that,” he said.
Hermione’s head shot up, “What do you mean?”
Blaise glanced out at the sky. He reached up to scratch his nose and Hermione suddenly realized that he was nervous. “Well…what if we stopped hiding?”
Her mouth dropped open, but then she shut it, scrutinizing him. He was still fidgeting, his hands now clasped together behind his back, lips pursed as he waited for her response.
Blaise shrugged, but the look in his deep brown eyes was intense, the same soft look she had seen during their date in the Astronomy Tower. “I don’t really like that other people are dictating how and when I see you.”
Hermione forced back the hope she could feel building. She had to stay realistic. “Are you absolutely sure? I mean, have you really looked at all of the risks—?”
Blaise took a step closer to her, determination in his eyes. “‘Course I have,” he said. “You think I would suggest anything this big without thinking it through?”
“No, of course not,” she said, and her hope began to steadily rise.
“Good,” he said with a smirk, and he took her face in his hands. “Because I care about you a lot. I wouldn’t risk anything like this if I didn’t.”
At those words, happiness spread through her entire body, burning out any frustration or anger she had left. “I care about you a lot too,” she whispered.
Blaise’s smile was soft and tender, and his hands tightened around her face as he leaned in, kissing her gently. Hermione’s eyes fluttered closed and she grabbed a fistful of his robes, pulling him closer. But then Blaise pulled back a moment, sliding his fingers along the back of her neck and pressing his forehead to hers. “That’s a relief,” he murmured, and Hermione felt her mouth spread into a wide grin, her mind calming and her worries falling away.
Hermione sat in the Great Hall that Saturday across from Ron and Ginny, her stomach in knots. As Ginny tried her best to force Ron to get something in his stomach before the big Quidditch match, Hermione broke the scone on her plate into smaller and smaller pieces, until only a pile of crumbs sat before her.
“Maybe we should just go and change,” Ginny suggested to her brother, glancing at Hermione as if she would have any suggestions, “Might help to get you in the right mindset.”
“Change, yeah,” Ron muttered, his face a pale shade of green. Hermione felt just as nauseous.
“I’ll go up to the stands in a bit,” she told them as they pushed themselves up from the table. She tried to keep her voice steady, hopefully even cheerful, “Good luck!”
Ginny smiled, though it seemed more like a grimace as she pushed Ron ahead of her and the two disappeared from the Hall.
Soon the rest of the school began to file out of the Great Hall and onto the sunny grounds. Hermione forced herself up, telling herself she was being silly, that there was nothing to be nervous about.
There were only a few people milling about the entrance hall, waiting for friends to arrive from breakfast or their common rooms. Hermione stood to the left of the door, turning the watch around her wrist and trying to convince herself not to bolt up to Gryffindor Tower and forget the entire thing.
Blaise appeared at the doorway to the Great Hall, tall and lanky, a small Ravenclaw flag held tightly in his hand. His jaw was clenched as his eyes scanned the entrance hall, but it relaxed once his eyes fell on her. A soft smile spread across his lips.
The knots in Hermione’s stomach loosened then, and she grinned back as he approached, forgetting about the people around them.
“Are you ready?” she asked him as he reached out, lacing his fingers through hers.
Blaise nodded, “Let’s do it.”
He pulled her out onto the sunny grounds, ignoring the rising whispers surrounding them. Even as they got closer to the stands and more people began to notice, Hermione felt fortified with Blaise’s hand in hers. She glanced down at the flag in his other hand.
“What’s that for?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at the blue and bronze floating in the gentle breeze.
Blaise smiled slyly, “Just because I’m with you doesn’t mean I want Gryffindor to win.”
His grin widened at Hermione’s scowl and he tightened his grasp around her hand, pulling her around clusters of students, more than a few of which did double-takes as they passed.
They made it to the top of the stairs without a hitch, though Hermione had to admit all of the eyes were starting to get to her. Parvati and Lavender were sitting a few rows down from where Hermione and Blaise eventually sat themselves, the two glancing back at them with knowing grins before huddling together to discuss. Neville’s eyes were wide as saucers at the sight of Blaise sliding his arm around Hermione’s shoulders. Even Ernie Macmillan and Susan Bones were craning their necks to get a better look.
Hermione’s eyes found Pansy Parkinson’s. The girl was surrounded by Slytherin girls up at the very top of the stands, her face twisted in disgust.
“You okay?” Blaise murmured as more people found seats around them.
Hermione nodded, tearing her eyes away from Pansy and her gang. She rested her head on Blaise’s shoulder. “It’s just…more than I thought it would be,” she said quietly.
Blaise rubbed her arm, “The game’s about to start. They’ll all be distracted in a minute.”
As he spoke, the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw teams began to file onto the field to the rambunctious cheers of the school. Hermione sat up straighter, eyes scanning the field as the players took off, headed to their positions. Ginny, standing in for Harry as Captain, shook hands with the Ravenclaw Quidditch Captain. Blaise shook his Ravenclaw flag in Hermione’s face, snickering when she slapped it away.
Harry and Ron had always assumed Hermione didn’t care about Quidditch because she was abysmal on a broomstick, but she had always found the sport quite exciting. Even without their (unfortunately) fearless leader, the Gryffindor team was clearly on top of their game.
“There’s Katie Bell with the Quaffle,” Luna’s dreamy voice floated across the pitch, “She’s been gone for quite a long time. I’m sure her recovery is due to the Fluttering Flashbanger, which has been known to reverse the effects of curses and also grant it’s recipient the ability to sing. I wonder if she would be willing to perform for us—”
“—Ten-zero to Gryffindor!” Professor McGonagall cut in, after Katie chucked the Quaffle past the Ravenclaw Keeper and through the left hoop. The stands erupted with excitement.
Katie’s return to the team was seamless, she, Dean, and Demelza flowing in perfect sync. Even Ron, bolstered by Gryffindor’s early lead, was doing well, executing a brilliant save after Michael Corner attempted a feint. Ginny zoomed around the pitch, her eyes watching Ravenclaw Seeker Cho Chang and searching for the Snitch.
Hermione spent the last half of the match on her feet, pulled into the excitement of the stands. She kept her hand wrapped tightly around Blaise’s, who watched sitting down, much less invested in the outcome, but occasionally taunting her whenever Ravenclaw made a good play.
“Oh, it looks like Chang has spotted the Snitch! I do hope she gets it, Ravenclaw hasn’t gotten to win the Quidditch Cup in quite some time — oh, I don’t think I’m allowed to say that, sorry Professor.”
Cho was zig-zagging through the Gryffindor players, skirting around Peakes and ducking under Dean, the tiny winged ball glittering just ahead of her. Hermione watched with bated breath, searching the field for Ginny, her hand squeezing the life out of Blaise’s.
Just when it looked as if Cho might take the game for Ravenclaw, Ginny shot up from below, snatching the Snitch out of the air.
“Goodness!” Luna said, “Ginny Weasley has caught the Snitch!”
Hermione’s voice was lost in the roar rising from the stands. She turned to Blaise, a grin across her face. She half-expected him to at least pretend to glare at Ravenclaw’s loss, but he smiled back, pulling her into him and wrapping his arms tight around her. “Congrats,” he said under the noise, before sneaking a quick kiss on her cheek.
By the time Hermione got to Gryffindor Tower, after reluctantly leaving Blaise in the entrance hall, the party was in full swing. Ron was running around the common room, the silver Quidditch Cup clutched in his hands, while Ginny and Demelza danced in the center of the room, arms raised above their heads. Parvati and Lavender intercepted Hermione at the table laden with food and butterbeer that Seamus had managed to procure from the kitchens.
“You didn’t tell us you and Zabini were going public!” Parvati said, sounding betrayed.
“Oh…” Hermione didn’t know what to say. It had genuinely never crossed Hermione’s mind to tell them.
“You two are so adorable,” Lavender fawned, though Hermione sensed a hint of jealousy in her voice.
“Er, thanks?” Hermione said, her eyes darting around the room for a reason to leave the conversation. Her gaze fell on Ron, who had just finished posing for Colin Creevey’s camera. His eyes found hers in that same moment and seemed to harden with determination. Hermione’s stomach turned as he shook the Creevey brothers off, making his way towards her, the silver cup still clutched in his hand.
Lavender let out a high squeak as she noticed his approach, and pulled Parvati away before they could further interrogate Hermione about Blaise.
“Congratulations,” Hermione said, trying not to sound nervous as Ron came nearer, reaching past her to grab a custard cream and stuffing it in his mouth.
“Fanks,” he said through the food. He swallowed and then frowned at her. “I heard something funny after the match.”
“Oh?” Hermione was sure her voice was higher than normal, and knew she was giving herself away. She told herself to calm down; she had prepared for this.
“Yeah, you—” he was cut off by another roar of excitement, and both he and Hermione looked to the portrait hole, where Harry was being pulled into the room, surrounded by celebrating Gryffindors. The seriousness in Ron’s eyes were gone, and he bounded over to Harry quickly, brandishing the cup in his face.
“We won!” he shouted at his best friend, who looked stunned, “We won! Four hundred and fifty to a hundred and forty! We won!”
Hermione hung back, wary of joining in and resparking Ron’s memory, but she grinned at the glee on Harry’s face. His eyes scanned the room, and for a moment she worried that he too had heard something about her and Blaise on his way back up to the tower from Snape’s detention, but his eyes fell instead on Ginny, who was running towards him, red hair flying behind her. She threw her arms around him and without hesitation Harry kissed her.
The room suddenly turned quiet. Hermione grinned as a few whistles flew across the room. Ron’s face dropped in shock, but after a long moment he seemed to come to, nodding in acceptance. As Harry and Ginny left the common room, Hermione turned to slip up to her room, hoping that people would find what had just happened more interesting than her own relationship.