For my Pseverus, with thanks for the trouble you took
Part One: Wannabe (September 1996)
If you want my future, forget my past
- Spice Girls
Diesel fumes and chip smells from Burger King; London voices and boot-heel clicks; girls in jeans and men in suits, men in jeans and girls in suits; her parents, waving.
Hermione Granger threw herself against a brick wall and made it all disappear.
Narrow, clean, coal-fire-smelling Platform 93/4, crowded with children in uniforms and coats and scarves, wrestling trunks and brooms and cat-carriers onto the Hogwarts Express. Hermione stood for a moment, gasping with relief that she was on time despite the London traffic her parents' car had crawled through, waiting for herself to change – the feeling in the pit of the stomach when a Transfiguration works – into her school-self. But then a whistle blew and she threw herself and her bags through the door of the nearest carriage, and she must have missed the moment, because as the train set off she was already balanced for its motion, already snatching a Hufflepuff scarf from the hands of a triumphantly-waving Ravenclaw second-year and returning it to its red-faced, tearful owner.
In the prefects' carriage, Fatima was in the middle of her head-girl speech. Hermione slid in, mouthing Sorry, found Ron and elbowed him and said Hi. Hi, Ron whispered back. Extra security, Fatima was saying, Ministry business, Death Eater resurgence, exercise vigilance, won't interfere with the running of the school. (Well, maybe: there's a first time for everything.) Slytherin short of prefects this term, Dumbledore hopes, inter-house co-operation. Hermione nudged Ron (what's that about?) and he shook his head (dunno). Only remains for me to say...
'Shall we go and find Harry?' asked Hermione as the meeting broke up into jostling and babble. 'Have you seen him yet?'
'No,' said Ron, 'he's back at Hogwarts already, didn't you know? He's been there most of the summer.'
'Oh,' said Hermione. 'No. I didn't know.' And what else has been happening this summer while I've been... Her mind stuttered, shuffling pictures from her summer in front of her. While I've been. Silence.
'Harry!' Hermione called. Harry looked over at her across the rows of tables and benches in the Great Hall: he smiled, but candlelight flashed off his glasses and made her blink.
'Hi,' she said, sliding in beside him, her five-years friend. There was something still about him, as if the rage that had driven him fast and hard through all of last year had gone into the darkness with Sirius and been lost; he looked bony and smudged and watchful. Seeing his face, she had her first news of the war in three months.
And there it was, the Transfiguration feeling.
She settled back into her bones, settling down on the bench beside him.
'How was your summer?' she asked.
Harry shrugged. 'Yours?'
Summer pictures shuffled, jammed, turned to black. Nothing. 'Nothing,' she said, then, recovering: 'I mean, nothing happened. Just – me among the Muggles for three months. I know how you must have felt last year, now. And I know the Prophet's come out on Dumbledore's side at last, after the Battle of the Ministry, but it's not like they can tell us anything, what with the Death Eater Act ... I wish you'd learn to write letters, Harry...'
'Wicked,' Ron interrupted, looking over at the Slytherin table. 'Malfoy's really not here. I had my hopes after what Fatima said, but I thought maybe he'd got a special train down or something. A special evil train... Hey, Crabbe and Goyle aren't here either. Nor's... Harry, where have all the Slytherins gone?'
'They're...', Harry started, then stopped, then said carefully: 'It's because of Voldemort. The Ministry's started... The Ministry thinks it's safer if the children of known Death Eaters are removed from Hogwarts.'
'They're really taking it seriously, then,' said Hermione, scanning the Slytherin table ('Oh, yes,' said Harry). It was half-empty: even a couple of faces she remembered from last year's first year were missing. What could twelve-year-olds be doing for Voldemort? she wondered, before she remembered how much she and Ron and Harry had done against Voldemort when they were twelve; and presumably the Dark Lord wouldn't have Dumbledore's scruples about protecting children (young people) from the worst of the war. She shivered slightly, wondering what Draco had really been, these past five years: more than a school bully and name-caller?
'So what's been happening?' she asked Harry, but by now all the new students had entered the hall and the Sorting Ceremony was beginning. Harry twisted his mouth apologetically and twisted his shoulders to watch.
The first student to be Sorted into Slytherin was Nerissa Lightsome, nearly halfway through the long line of children, and the applause from the Slytherin table was tentative, almost nervous. Hermione looked at Snape. He was clapping with his usual lack of enthusiasm, apparently not at all concerned about the decimation of his House; when the Hat pronounced the next student a Gryffindor, though, he laid his hands flat on the table beside his plate and lowered his gaze. It jolted Hermione when he looked up again and she saw that he was staring at Harry, his face at its most bitter. She went to nudge Harry, to alert him, but he knew; he was staring back at Snape, looking – something (angry? Hurt? Unguarded?); going slightly red. It only lasted a fraction of a second before Harry looked away. Hermione frowned at Harry – what was that about? – but he just rolled his eyes and shook his head, and she had to wait through the rest of the Sorting.
Snape only had to give his lukewarm welcome to Slytherin on two more occasions; the rest of the time his hands stayed flat on the table. But he didn't look in the direction of the Gryffindor table again.
And then the ceremony was over; food appeared, steaming and good-smelling, on their plates. Only the first-years gasped.
'So what's been going on?' Hermione demanded. Ron's mouth was full, but he nodded vigorously to indicate that he wanted to know too.
Harry thought for a moment. 'Mostly, the Ministry's taken over,' he said. 'As far as the Death Eaters go, anyway. The Ministry's leading a big investigation... the Wizengamot's been reconvened...'
'Harry,' Ron interrupted. 'We know all that from the Daily Prophet, even with the Death Eater Act. What's really going on? What's going on with—' he lowered his voice ostentatiously—'the Order of the Phoenix?'
'Oh,' Harry said. He went a bit red. 'I can't tell you.'
Hermione and Ron stared at him.
'What do you mean?' asked Ron. 'You always tell us!'
'Except when you don't,' said Hermione darkly, 'and that doesn't... well,' she added lamely, remembering Sirius, the chaos and the noise and the longer silence. 'You know.'
'Yeah, I do,' said Harry. 'But... there's a spell, when you join the Order. I mean I really can't tell you.'
'You've joined the Order?' Ron's voice went from a squawk to a whisper in the course of four words.
'Wow,' said Ron. 'You're not even of age yet, are you?'
'Um,' said Harry. 'Not really, but... the Ministry declared me of age this summer, so... It's, it was... Dumbledore thought it was safer.'
'Good,' said Hermione. She swallowed all her envy. 'It's about time Dumbledore accepted that you're in this whether you like it or not. I just—'
'What about us?' Ron interrupted/finished. 'What are we supposed to do while you're off hob-nobbing with the Order? Homework?'
'It wouldn't do you any harm, Ronald,' said Hermione automatically; Harry and Ron began to laugh, and it warmed the place in her that had taken cold from Harry's silences.
'It'll be okay,' said Harry, answering Ron's real question. 'I mean – You're still my best friends.'
'Shut up, you poof,' said Ron, pleased.
'Poof yourself,' said Harry.
All right Harry? All right Ron? All right Hermione?
Hermione and Ron and Harry were sitting in the very middle of the very back row of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom. Ron was tipped back in his chair, eating a Chocolate Frog; Harry was doodling inky ferns/clouds on the edge of his parchment with the feathery tip of a split quill. Everyone who came in was nodding and smiling at them, and Hermione was nodding and smiling back, and, if she was honest with herself, basking. Top of the school (nearly); no exams to keep her up at night; no Inquisitors making cracks about Mudbloods; no-one getting at Harry for being delusional or fame-crazy or ill-omened, or at her for being a swot or a star-fucker or just plain weird. The school-world was finally in synch with the war-world, and they were the kings and queen of it. And about bloody time, she thought, leaning back in her seat, just as Cho Chang arrived: she went past Harry and Ron and Hermione, ignoring them entirely and loudly, and sat down next to Lisa Turpin, who seemed to be doing best-friend duty (where was Marietta Edgecombe?). She put a solicitous arm round Cho's shoulder and glared at Harry while Cho hid under her hair. Hermione glanced at Harry curiously – she'd never quite understood what had gone on between him and Cho last year – but he was oblivious, peacefully doodling.
'Do you know who's teaching us this year, Harry?' Ernie MacMillan asked, twisting round to see him from the row in front/below. Harry smiled and pushed his glasses up his nose, leaving an ink-smudge, and didn't say anything. Hermione tutted happily, tapped the smudge with the tip of her wand and said 'Scourgify'; Ron yawned enormously.
'As it happens, he does,' came Dumbledore's voice from the door: 'and now you can share in his happy condition, Mr MacMillan.' He walked to the front of the class and leaned on the lectern, smiling beatifically and giving the whispery buzz time to die down.
'Dumbledore?' Hermione said excitedly. 'But he hasn't taught in forty years!'
'At least we know he's not in league with Voldemort,' said Ron. 'Or a bitch from the Ministry, or a...'
Dumbledore coughed politely, and Ron shut up.
'As you all know,' said Dumbledore, 'Lord Voldemort has returned.' He paused for a reaction, but there wasn't one; he smiled briefly, and continued. 'While we must be optimistic – and we all hope and pray most fervently that by the time you leave Hogwarts in two years, Voldemort will be just a memory – we must not be blindly so. Of course all your studies, and your whole life here at Hogwarts, of which your studies are just a part, are important. But I venture to suggest that this, the NEWTs Defence Against the Dark Arts class, is one of the most important things happening in Hogwarts this year: not just in terms of your academic success or your future careers, but perhaps in terms of our community's whole future.'
'So, no pressure then,' said Ron audibly. There was a ripple of laughter, and Dumbledore smiled.
'Indeed, Mr Weasley. Well! Let that be the last I say on the matter. Take your textbooks out, please, and turn to page five hundred and twenty-two, the chapter on "Counter-Jinxes". Mr Potter, would you come up here and demonstrate the first defence, please?'
Harry jumped and put his quill down in a little spreading pool of ink. Hermione watched him walk to the front of the class, pale and serious and remote. Dumbledore saluted him gravely with his wand, and Harry saluted back, before Dumbledore cast the jinx – Torqueo! – and Harry deflected it: Salus!
'Very good, Mr Potter,' said Dumbledore courteously. He put his wand away and addressed the class. 'In casting this counter, two things are important: firstly, the shape described by the tip of the wand, which is an abbreviated pentagram, as I'm sure you've noticed; and secondly, the visualization of the shield, which will vary from wizard to wizard – and from witch to witch too, of course. Please get into pairs and try the sequence for yourselves.'
After the first attempt, three students (Ernie, Ron, and Hannah) were left in twists and coils from the Torqueo jinx. 'Very good,' said Dumbledore again, then: 'Mr Potter, perhaps you would work with Mr MacMillan and Miss Abbot, while I take Mr Weasley through the counter-jinx once more time? Mr Weasley?'
Harry nodded briefly; Ron pulled an alarmed face at Hermione and went off down the steps to the platform at the front of the class. Hermione spent the rest of the lesson practising with Padma. From time to time she looked over at Harry at work with Ernie and Hannah, demonstrating the wand movement or explaining something, brows drawn. She smiled; it was like Dumbledore's Army again, but for real this time. At last, for real.
After that, her Arithmancy class was... well, it was boring.
And she loved Arithmancy: the complexity of it, the objectivity. Like Potions (but even more so), there were actual reasons why certain things had certain effects, and you got the feeling that – when you knew more – you'd be able to create new spells and discover new laws for yourself, out of the theories, not just look for them in ever-more-obscure books, like you had to with Charms. It was the only one of her subjects that had ever made her feel sure that she was clever, really clever, not just brainy (hard-working, familiar with the cataloguing system in the school library).
But now she listened to Madam Vector summarizing the formulae they'd learned for OWLs, and her brain itched with boredom. Maybe she'd lost momentum because of not reading over the summer?
Boredom was scary. There was no way of knowing where your mind was going to take you when it began to wander. Hermione found herself, at the end of the class, with a headful of summer sounds and smells and feelings (her mother's silence, Pulp's Common People, the chemical smells in Emily Green's bedroom, a boy's lips on hers), and only the vaguest of ideas what homework she had.
Their first Potions class was on Tuesday, after lunch. Hermione had been in a prefects' meeting at the other end of the building (Ron had been at Quidditch practice, which took precedence for some reason Hermione couldn't fathom), so she only just got to the dungeons on time. She fell into a seat beside Ron (where was Harry?) and nodded breathlessly in reply to his 'Hello', hurrying to get her hair tied back before Snape came in.
He stood for a second or two at the lectern, looking round the silent class.
'Congratulations to all of you,' he began unexpectedly, 'on fulfilling the conditions for remaining in my Potions class for NEWT level, and achieving impressive, if in some cases—' he looked at Ron, then at Neville—'apparently inexplicable, results in your OWLs. Since several of our students, despite attaining excellent grades, are unfortunately absent for the moment—'
'Poor old Snape,' whispered Ron. 'Lost the only student who could stand the sight of his greasy face.'
'—five points from Gryffindor, Mr Weasley, for inattention. As I was saying, since our class is sadly diminished this term, perhaps we might not huddle at the back of the classroom like cut-rate conspirators? Mr Weasley? Miss Granger? Would you move to the front row, please, where I can keep my eye on you? The rest of you may begin immediately. The ingredients and instructions for today's Fate-Speaking Potion are on the board.'
'Here we go again,' said Ron bitterly, gathering his stuff.
'Oh well,' said Hermione, 'at least we don't have to listen to Draco laughing at his... well, they're not really jokes... Where's Harry, anyway?'
'Dunno,' said Ron, 'I haven't seen him since Transfigurations this morning.'
They collected their ingredients and their wickedly-sharp, not-to-be-removed-from-the-Potions-classroom, never-to-be-used-except-under-Professor-Snape's-supervision knives, and started work. Not even Ron made conversation while using one of those knives since Seamus had lost a finger last year: for the whole month it had taken to regrow Seamus had wiggled the small, baby-looking thing, with its gradually-forming nail, at everyone who'd come near him.
Hermione was slicing her mallowsweet roots into thin, pale rounds and listening to the ten different rhythms of ten busy knives, all echoing off the stone walls and bouncing into each other. She thought of her mother's kitchen, of the two of them chopping vegetables on either side of the hob; of the continuous sound of the two knives in the silence, as if they were having the conversation that she and her mother couldn't have.
Someone came in; she looked gratefully away from the summer, towards the door. It was Harry. He started heading for their rightful place in the back row before he spotted her and Ron in the front. He changed direction, looking puzzled, and dropped onto the bench next to Ron, where he sat for a few moments staring at Snape and doing nothing at all.
Snape didn't say anything.
Harry dropped his gaze and went to get his ingredients, and Hermione went back to her mixture, stirring three times widdershins, three times deosil, until it was thick, even, smooth and purple and she was bored, again, and the smells of her summer were beginning to float towards her through the purple smell of the potion. Looking for something to banish them, she checked Ron's cauldron, but he seemed to have got it right for once ('I don't need minding, Hermione!'); then she looked past him, at Harry.
Harry was fidgeting. He chased a single mallowsweet root round his board with the tip of his knife, then stabbed it and chucked it whole into his cauldron with a flick of his wrist; he stared at Snape, who was writing something at his high desk and didn't react. Curiosity burned through Hermione's boredom. This had to be Order business; for five years Snape had sharpened his tongue on Harry whenever the whim took him, and today Harry had given him plenty of excuses and Snape was staying quiet. Did Harry have some kind of hold over Snape? Or was it just that Snape knew why Harry was late and distracted? She tried to decode the situation from Snape's face: he looked at Harry from time to time – though never when Harry was looking at him – but then he looked at everyone from time to time. Including her. She jumped and blushed and looked down at the creamy mixture in her cauldron: still perfectly purple, perfectly smooth, perfectly dull.
'Very well,' came Snape's voice, 'that should be ample time. Turn off the heat, label your samples, and clear up your benches.'
'Well, that could have been worse,' said Ron as they left. 'I think I'm going to like this no-Slytherin arrangement, you know. As long as it doesn't leave Snape with too much time on his hands,' he added thoughtfully. 'Being Head of an empty House.'
Hermione smiled, and looked over at Harry, but he had gone still and quiet again; all the restlessness seemed to have left his body. It made her wonder harder than ever.
It was about nine (after dinner, supervising the little ones' homework, working on her own in the library) by the time Hermione got to the common room. A few of the younger Gryffindors were there, reading, talking, playing card games; Parvati and Lavender were in a corner, inexplicably doing fluffy white knitting. Harry had the sofa nearest the fire all to himself. He was lying flat on his back on it with his legs hooked over one of its arms, looking at the ceiling and doing nothing at all.
'Budge up,' said Hermione, swatting at one of Harry's feet. He swung his legs down and sat up, pushing his hair out of his eyes, so she could sit down beside him.
'What was going on in Potions today?' Hermione asked.
'In Potions?' Harry said, sounding honestly puzzled. 'Um... nothing.'
'Seriously, Harry. You were fifteen minutes late, and I think this was the first Potions lesson we've ever had where Snape didn't have a go at you.'
'Oh,' said Harry. He didn't say anything else.
'Why were you late, anyway? I never got a chance to ask you.'
Harry opened his mouth and his face froze for a few seconds. He shut his mouth again, looking faintly surprised.
'Huh,' he said. 'That must be how it works.'
'How what—oh! Something to do with the Order?' Hermione lowered her voice.
Harry shrugged. 'I,' he said, then stopped again.
After that, Harry started getting quieter.
The constant low noise of Harry-and-Ron conferring and confabulating, on which Hermione's homework had floated for five years, broke up into occasional exchanges, stopped altogether. When people spoke to him, he seemed to have to bring himself back from a long way away to answer; or he gave an apologetic smile or a shrug, and said nothing; so people started speaking to him less and less.
Everyone wanted to talk about him, though.
'What's wrong with Harry?' Parvati asked Hermione one night in the dormitory. She'd finished drying her hair and was plaiting it, sitting cross-legged on her bed. Her voice was hushed, dripping with concern, greedy; it annoyed Hermione.
'Nothing's wrong with him,' she said.
'I didn't mean it like that,' Parvati said. 'I didn't mean anything bad. I just meant – well, is he still... grieving? For his godfather? Do you think?'
'Or is it something to do with the war?' Lavender put her magazine down and sat up in bed. She looked anxious. 'Has something gone wrong? Do you know?'
'Why don't you ask him yourself?' Hermione said.
'Sorry,' said Lavender. 'I just thought you might know. Seeing he's your GBF, and everything.'
'Gay Best Friend,' said Lavender, opening her eyes wide.
'Oh... honestly,' said Hermione crossly. She drew the curtains round her bed. Muffled laughter from Parvati and Lavender.
Nobody wanted to talk to Harry, but everyone wanted to talk about him.
Hermione ruled a line at the end of her Defence essay on collective shield charms. She tried to look out of the library window and caught her reflection's eye instead: it was dark outside. Probably Quidditch practice would be over, then. So Ginny and Ron would be back; she could go up to the common room and talk to them.
One way or the other, Harry wouldn't be there. He was more like a painting than a student in the common room these days: he might be sitting by the fire, watching his fingers or the flames or the ceiling, answering when she spoke to him but somehow not quite part of the three-dimensional world of bickering and passing sweets and admiring Lavender's knitting or Ron's latest Quidditch injury. Or he might simply be somewhere else, doing whatever it was that had frozen him silent when she'd asked where he'd been, so many times that she didn't ask any more.
She didn't get up. She rolled her Defence essay up and put it neatly next to the roll of her Arithmancy calculations; she tidied the corners of the sheaf of Gryffindor students' Hogsmeade permission slips; she folded the carefully-copied-out rota for homework supervisions (complicated, this year, because of having to cover for missing Slytherin prefects). Her head was empty with boredom. Her head was full of dead ends and silences.
No loose ends for her to catch at. Everything solved and finished and tidy. Nothing left for her to do. Nothing between her and her Muggle summer.
Hermione is lying on the bed in her bedroom in her parents' house, kicking at the light cord so that it swings up to the ceiling. If she kicks it hard enough, the plastic toggle at the end bites into the polystyrene tiles there and leaves a little semi-circular scar.
The room is narrow and quiet, its smells coming singly and dull after the chaos of Lavender's hairspray and Parvati's perfumes and Sibyl Trelawney's incense drifting down from the Divination tower. The posters on the wall that she hasn't bothered to change in five years – a unicorn, the structure of DNA – are trivial and flat. The books by the bed that she's opened and skimmed and put down again, ditto. Children's books; Muggle books: E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Jill Murphy. McGonagall refused to let her take any books out of the school library over the summer ('You're good enough at working, Miss Granger; what you need to learn is how to stop').
Kick. Swing. Bite.
She's barely seen McGonagall that year: she'd been jealous/she'd been almost jealous/she'd been jealous when Harry told her about McGonagall's outburst during his Careers interview with Umbridge: 'He'll be an Auror if I have to train him myself!' Harry's accent, wavering from Edinburgh to Newcastle. That would have been her, back in third year, before she'd had to give up Divination. Not that she cares about Divination, it was just... that was the last time McGonagall had paid any attention to her, really.
Kick. Swing. Bite.
She'd never seen the Time-Turner again after Dumbledore took it off her to give to Harry.
The Coronation Street theme started downstairs. Hermione stopped kicking the light cord and lay back on the little bed, staring at the little flowered curtains drawn across the window. They matched the wallpaper. Something swelled in her and she felt breathless and desperate and crazy, wanting to break something, wanting to break out. It was like being in a submarine; her room small and airless and fragile against the huge pressures outside, that would crush her if she opened the door.
'Hermione?' her mum called up, and she felt numb with anger (why can't she leave me alone?) for a second before she swung her legs down off the bed, heavy with guilt, and opened the door and went downstairs, and wasn't crushed, of course. She wasn't even locked in a cupboard.
An owl and a first-year Gryffindor girl arrived at Hermione's table at almost the same moment. The first dropped a parcel beside her plate; the second hovered beside her chair, shuffling anxiously through the Muggle post – a sheaf of variously-sized envelopes and parcels – until Hermione saw her name flashing from a silver envelope. She took it out of the girl's hand, and raised a sixth-year eyebrow; the girl scurried away.
'Hey,' said Ron, 'that parcel's from my mum. Why's she sending you things?'
'Because she is a very thoughtful person,' said Hermione, unwrapping a long red-and-yellow scarf with a pocket in one end containing red-and-yellow mittens.
'Because she is a person with a lot of time on her hands, more like,' said Ron. He picked up one end of the scarf and looked at the tassels on it. 'Honestly.'
'Happy birthday, Hermione,' said Harry, and Hermione jumped. He'd spoken quietly, but these days he spoke so rarely at breakfast-time that, quite often, she almost forgot he was there at all.
'Thanks,' she said quickly.
'I completely forgot,' said Ron, eating an egg. 'Sorry. But I don't have much gold anyway. Tell you what, I'll buy you a drink tonight, at the Three Broomsticks. You don't have prefect duty, do you?'
'No,' said Hermione cautiously. 'But Dumbledore set us that essay on possible methods of detecting the Imperius charm, and...'
'Harry'll come,' Ron interrupted, ignoring her, 'won't you?'
'What?' said Harry.
'To the pub. For Hermione's birthday. Tonight.'
'Um. Okay. I might have to leave early, though.'
Harry snorted. 'I've got an occlumency class with Snape.'
Ron burst out laughing: a moment later, so did Harry.
Hermione had put on a pretty cobwebby top, and a bit of lipstick. But when Lavender had asked her where she was going, she'd suddenly felt fed up and rolled her eyes at herself in the mirror. She'd pulled the fancy top off over her head even while she was answering – 'The Three Broomsticks. With Harry and Ron' – and put on a t-shirt and her comfortable fawn jacket with the stain on the pocket instead.
Now she was sitting watching Ron draw circles on the table-top in spilled beer, listening to the change the noisy pub made in the quality of Harry's silence: it was heavy in the air around them, like a cloak of invisibility (there was Padma in the corner, not looking at them, and Ernie over by the bar, and no-one saying hello). Or like snow falling, and she and Ron trying to clear it away as it fell.
If Molly Weasley really does have enough time on her hands to knit, does that mean things are under control? But Harry couldn't talk about Order business. That complaint Fatima got about Slytherins being treated unfairly by prefects from other houses. But Harry wasn't a prefect.
'That new counter-jinx Dumbledore taught us today is really hard,' she tried. 'I don't think it's even on the NEWTs syllabus.'
'You didn't seem to have any trouble with it, Harry,' said Ron.
'Mm,' said Harry. 'Albus—' He stopped, closed his mouth. Silence began to pile up around the three of them again.
How was your birthday? (But Harry hated talking about the Dursleys.) What's Tonks been up to? (But Harry couldn't talk about Order business.) That fight Lavender and Dean had in the Gryffindor common room last week. (But Harry hadn't been there.) How's Lupin? (But that would remind Harry of Sirius.)
And anyway Harry couldn't talk about Order business.
Ron asked, 'I don't suppose you got to see any Quidditch over the summer, did you, Harry?'
'No,' said Harry, 'not really.'
'Fred and George took me to see the Cannons,' said Ron, 'playing Puddlemere United – d'you remember Oliver Wood's their Keeper now?'
Harry smiled vaguely and nodded.
'He did this amazing save – it looked like the Cannons' Chaser was going to go through the centre hoop, right? So then – hang on, so if these beer mats are the hoops, and this crisp is the Chaser, and this, um, this broccoli-flavoured Bertie Botts Bean is Oliver Wood, and this thing, I don't know what this is, I wonder why it was in my pocket, this is the Quaffle...'
Hermione tuned out and looked round the pub. She wanted, suddenly, fiercely, to be one of the Ravenclaws hunched over a big piece of parchment, studying or gaming, at the next table: not here, close enough to Harry Potter to be enveloped in his silence, in the hush of the war, but not close enough, not any more, and anyway, not allowed, to be unequivocally on the other side of that line. To be on the front line.
Ron's story and Harry's quiet monosyllables ran out again, and Hermione started to wonder what to say: but 'What did you get for your birthday, Hermione?' Harry asked.
'Nothing much,' she said. 'That scarf from Molly, and Ginny gave me a Weird Sisters album...'
'And I bought you a beer,' said Ron.
'And you bought me a beer,' she agreed. 'And Harry got me a book.'
'What did you get from your parents?' asked Harry.
'Oh,' said Hermione. 'Money. They just put a few extra Galleons in when I went to Diagon Alley for school stuff. They always...' and she ran into a silence of her own.
'I wish mine would give me money,' said Ron gloomily. 'There's a limit to how many jumpers I can wear at a time, and if they try and get me anything good they always get it wrong,' but Harry was looking at Hermione with a new kind of attention, as if something was happening in the interaction of his silence with hers, as if he was about to ask her something. Hermione got up.
'Does anyone want another drink?'
'Yes,' said Ron.
'No,' said Harry, 'I have to go, really. Sorry. Happy birthday, Hermione.' He touched her on the arm and started struggling into his coat, while Hermione went to the bar.
Without Harry between her and Ron, there was a small awkwardness between them instead.
'So,' Ron said, lifting his bottle to clink it with hers. 'Here's to your coming-of-age.'
'Oh yes,' said Hermione, startled. 'Of course. I forgot.'
'Well. Seventeen's not really a big deal for Muggles.'
'When do Muggles come of age?'
'Sixteen,' said Hermione, 'and eighteen.'
'Blimey,' said Ron. 'I don't know if our house would still be standing if all my brothers had had two coming-of-age parties. What did you do for your sixteenth, then?'
'Nothing, really,' said Hermione. 'Don't you remember? That awful Umbridge woman was mutilating Harry, and you were spending every spare minute practicing Quidditch and... no-one was really in the mood.'
'Oh, right,' said Ron. He was quiet for a moment, pulling the label off his beer-bottle. 'Hermione,' he said at last.
'I'm sorry I forgot your birthday.'
'That's all right, Ron. I've got used to the idea that you're not really the cards-and-flowers type, funnily enough.'
'Do you really think I have the emotional range of a teaspoon?' He looked up at her from under his fringe, frowning a little. His face was suddenly without its usual elastic look, and she noticed for the first time that it wasn't round and babyish any more: it was long and cheekboned and quite good-looking, really.
'Something you said ages ago. Doesn't matter.' He hesitated, swallowed. 'Hermione – I really am sorry.'
'I know. It's really all right.'
'I mean—' He put his bottle down and swallowed again. 'I mean, I like you, Hermione.'
Something in Hermione froze.
'Hmm,' she said cautiously.
'Like, really like you,' Ron said, and although she felt frozen in her half-smile and listening eyes there must have been something in her face, because he winced. 'Never mind,' he said.
'Forget I said anything, Hermione, okay?' He took a long drink of his beer. 'What do you reckon to Ravenclaw's chances in the next match?'
Hermione smiled gratefully. 'You know I don't know anything about Quidditch, Ron.'
'Yeah,' said Ron, 'you've got about as much idea as a teaspoon.' He swallowed the rest of his beer. 'I'd better. I mean, I've got to, um.'
'It's all right, Ron,' said Hermione for what felt like the fiftieth time. 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
And then there she was on her own in the middle of the Three Broomsticks, with most of a bottle of beer to finish and a snowdrift of silence and invisibility around her.
What's going to happen to us? she thought. The three of us? And then: Some birthday this is. Some fucking birthday this is.
It was too early for there to be anyone else in the girls' dormitory when she got back, which was good, because one of the House Elves had left the silver envelope on her pillow and the sight of it made her burst into tears, and that made her hate herself, and between all of that it was quite a long time before she stopped sobbing.
When she did, she wiped her face, picked up the envelope, opened it and slid out the card inside. It had a pre-Raphaelite painting on the front: a tree in blossom, a woman in a see-through grey dress looking over her shoulder at a grey-faced, black-robed man lying on the grass. It had nothing to say to her. The kind of card you might send to someone you hardly knew.
She opened the card.
Darling Hermione, it said. Thinking about you on your birthday. Lots of love from Mum and Dad.
And with that she was crying again. No sixteenth party because wizards didn't celebrate it and she had no Muggle friends and she'd spent the summer before her sixteenth birthday clearing magical vermin out of Grimmauld Place; but no coming-of-age party, either, because her parents didn't know enough to send her more than fifteen empty words on a card and who else was there to organize it? Fifteen words, and a scarf, and her and her two – only two – friends making conversation in the local pub for an hour. She'd been to a better party in Muggle Clerkenwell that summer. (Drink and stars, and the heat and noise and crush of many people who knew each other, who were casual and easy with each other. And she'd had nothing to say to any of them: secret witch from a secret world in the middle of a secret war.)
She blew her nose. Really, it was ridiculous, the amount she was crying this week. She must be premenstrual. So it didn't matter, then, it was nothing. It was nothing, anyway: it was just fifteen empty words, and what else did she expect her parents to say? She'd been away at school for five years; she'd only spent one night at home in eighteen months until last summer; there was a war going on that they knew nothing about; and it was childish, anyway, it was just childish to want something more from her parents when she was seventeen years old. She wiped the tears away, but they kept coming.
She turned the card over, as if whatever it was she wanted might somehow be on the back of it. 'Edward Burne-Jones', it said. 'The Beguiling of Merlin.'
She stared at it.
So they were trying. And this was still the best they could do.
Hermione heard voices and footsteps on the stairs. People coming up to bed. She stuffed the card into the envelope and the envelope into her drawer, pulled her shoes and her t-shirt off, wrapped her dressing-gown around herself and picked up her sponge bag, so that the other girls would think she was going to the bathroom. And then she was out in the corridor, in jeans and a dressing-gown and carrying a sponge bag, and her mind ran her into another silence: she had no idea where she wanted to go. She wandered down towards the common room, and saw Ron coming out, and turned sharply round a corner, and found a staircase, and followed it; found a door, and opened it: and suddenly she was out on the roof, face to face with the moon, and something in her opened.
She shut the door and stepped forward, two steps, away from the solid bulk of the tower tall and dark behind her. She put her hands on the low stone balustrade and leaned forward, looking not down but out, into the dark sky, the hundreds and millions of stars, the ones she could name, the ones she couldn't.
'Sorry,' the voice added.
Moonlight flashed off his glasses as he came to stand beside her, his hands bigger and squarer next to hers on the stone.
I thought you had an Occlumency class: but it sounded wrong – polite or stupid or accusing – and suddenly she just couldn't be bothered to say it. She looked out at the moon and the blackness and the stars again. Harry was just a faint warmth beside her.
'You don't get stars like this in London,' she said. 'The sky's not even black: it's orange, sort of a dirty orange, from the street lights. Light pollution.'
Harry didn't say anything for a bit. Then he said: 'Were you looking for me?'
'No,' said Hermione. She couldn't think of a way of saying what she had been doing, how she'd got there, so she let it go. It felt light.
They stood there in the emptiness for what felt like a long time before Harry moved a little closer, so that his shoulder bumped hers. She turned to look at him. He looked back at her, frowning a little. Then he took off his glasses, folded them, and put them down on the balustrade. He was still frowning as he touched her cheek with a fingertip. He kept his finger there, waiting.
Hermione looked at his face, at its pale and serious lines. The emptiness of the roof, the silence and the moonlight and the cold, the five years that shimmered between her and Harry, fizzed in her. She leaned in ever so little and they were kissing, and something in the back of her mind, alarmed, shouted That wasn't what I meant! She didn't want it. She ignored it. She followed the kiss deeper and deeper until she was wrapped in noisy warmth – Harry's body warm against her body, Harry's breath and her own heart noisy in her ears – and the silence and the moonlight and the little voice were somewhere else. Harry kissed and licked and half-bit at her mouth and gasped; Hermione kissed back, pulled away to catch her breath, caught it and kept kissing and lost it and caught it again. Her hands went up into Harry's hair; his hands were on her back, pulling her closer and finding places to touch with cupped palms or fingertips. Then his right hand moved down to her hip, hesitated, and changed direction, getting awkwardly trapped between them as his fingers scuttled up her ribs and under the lapel of her dressing-gown. He stroked her breast through her bra. Her nipple got hard under his fingers and something else happened, something tightened like a fist in her belly, and all the warmth and noise that had been a flush on the whole surface of her skin suddenly drained away and reorganized itself into a single need with three points: nipple/nipple/clitoris. She made a sound into Harry's mouth and shivered and pushed against him; he took half a step back and looked at her.
'Hermione,' he said, then he hesitated. He looked worried.
Hermione suddenly saw herself: a girl on a roof in October, wearing a dressing-gown, pressing against her best friend's erection.
'I don't,' said Harry. 'I mean, I—' He stopped, took a breath, changed direction. 'Is this all right?'
'Yes,' said Hermione, because she didn't want to have the conversation that they would have to have otherwise, the one that was full of feelings and questions and reasons: she just wanted to get back to the noise and the heat and the feeling of being bigger than herself. And anyway it was all right. She moved towards Harry and he seemed to be hesitating again, but then he pulled off his fleece and dropped it onto the ground and pulled her down onto it with him. They lay on their sides and kissed and touched each other until they were in a tangle of dressing-gown and fleece, and Harry's t-shirt was up under his arms, and one of his legs was between Hermione's, and she was shoving against it. There was cold coming up from the ground and an awkwardness of elbows and noses; but Hermione felt limitless. Starry. Claustromanic. There was nothing but this echo chamber, her body with Harry's body, amplifying each other's desires and sensations back and forth, resonating on the same note. But it felt so huge. Not as if she was trapped in the smallness of her life, but as if her life was everything. As if she could be so much herself that she wasn't trapped in herself any more: she could drop the bad daughter, Mudblood, flat-chested bookworm, like dead skins, like so much clutter round her feet, and they would burn away to nothing in this heat.
Harry's hand was undoing the button on her jeans, undoing the zip, folding the two sides back to show her tummy and the top of her knickers; she was pulling her tummy in and spreading her legs a little to let his hand slide down under her knickers. She felt sprawled, scribbled, like an advert for perfume or sex. Harry's fingers prodded at her, trying to find their way around; stalled as his wrist got stuck in the crotch of her jeans; skidded in wetness, tangled in hair, stalled again. He looked at her. 'Can I—?'
She nodded, expecting the question (did someone pass out a script to boys telling them exactly when they had to ask permission?), and raised her hips as Harry pulled her jeans down to her knees.
'You might as well—' she said, and kicked her legs all the way out of her jeans and her knickers together. Her bare skin goosebumped instantly. Harry, kneeling over her, ran his thumb up the wet seam of her cunt, and down again. She watched him: he was frowning a little, looking intently at what he was doing as his fingers opened her to the cold air, to his warm touches.
It made her breathless and shy, and she squirmed and tugged at him, pulling him down on her, pulling his face closer to hers. He studied her face and –misinterpreting her, perhaps, or not, perhaps; she didn't know – asked: 'Are you sure?'
Was she sure? Too late now, she thought, whatever your script says. It wasn't a choice between fucking Harry and not fucking Harry any more; given that choice, she might have answered something else. But now it was a choice between going all the way and coming this far out of her everyday self only to turn back at the last moment. Trying to find out what this was by following it as far as she could go; or walking away from whatever had changed between them without even finding a name for it, going back into silence without even being able to say I fucked Harry.
The end of the story, some sort of answer to some sort of question; or awkward silence and clumsy buttoning-up.
She'd read somewhere about a Muggle suicide note from the eighteenth century which only said: all that buttoning and unbuttoning. If it was a good enough reason for killing yourself, it was a good enough reason for fucking Harry.
'Yes,' she said, and waited, feeling the cold come and go on her skin, as Harry got his jeans off and manoeuvred himself round so that he was kneeling between her legs. He leaned over her knee and reached into his jeans pocket, then knelt back; she didn't quite know where to look (was she supposed to be watching?) as he tore the packet and put the condom on. His cock looked slightly squashed through the latex, and it gleamed a little.
Hermione bent her legs, feet flat on the ground, and tipped her hips forwards; Harry shifted his weight, putting one hand on the ground beside her head and balancing awkwardly as he used his other hand to guide his cock. It butted at her a few times, seemingly randomly, and she tried to shift to help Harry, but then he found the right place, slid in, rebalanced himself on both elbows, and held still. They rocked their hips together with small movements to lock themselves together as closely as they could; the sore, strange feel of Harry's cock in her remapped the desire-lines that ran through Hermione's body.
He was looking into her eyes; she looked back at him, wondering what he meant by this, when he'd thought of it, whether he loved her, whether she loved him, what was waiting for them on the other side of this. But his face was silver and composed and told her nothing.
He began to thrust; it was an oddly blunt feeling. His hip-bones bumped against hers; his cock crashed, again and again, through the liquid feeling in her groin, sometimes stirring up pleasure, sometimes not. She caught his rhythm, pushed back against him, lost it and caught it and lost it again.
'Hermione,' he said suddenly; then there was a flurry of thrusts – she didn't even try to keep up – and a shout, and he'd come.
He rolled off her, puffing a bit, using his left hand to pull his cock gently out of her cunt. She felt a sudden anxiety and propped herself up on her elbow to check, but it was okay, the condom was still on. Harry teased it off carefully, tied a knot in it, and threw it over the battlements. Then he lowered himself down beside Hermione and rested his hand on her. His face was so close to hers that its features didn't really make any sense.
'Sorry,' he said.
'That's— don't worry about it,' said Hermione. She felt buzzy and strange and complicated in her body, in a way that an orgasm seemed too simplistic to be able to solve. Not that it wouldn't have been nice.
'Harry,' she said, and stuttered into silence, wanting to ask six impossible questions at once: but Harry took it as a complete sentence. 'Hermione,' he said back, and smiled at her, twining the fingers of one hand into her hair. And perhaps that was the answer to all her questions, anyway: Harry, Hermione.
She smiled back at him, and for a while they didn't say anything. Then Harry shifted slightly and asked: 'Hermione?'
'Was that your first time?'
'No,' she said. She could tell that he was about to say something else, so she added: 'Was it yours?'
'No,' he said absent-mindedly. Then he shook himself slightly, reached across her to where his blazer was lying on the ground and retrieved his glasses from its pocket. 'We should probably get back to the dorms,' he said.
'Oh,' said Hermione, then: 'Yes, probably.' She sat up and began untangling her knickers and her jeans: Harry was dressing efficiently, his back to her. Her mind was buzzing with half-finished sentences, her body was buzzing with half-finished wants. Also, she realized as she tied her dressing-gown cord, she was really hungry. So that when Harry tipped her chin up and kissed her goodbye at the bottom of the stairs, before turning left to the boys' dormitory and leaving her to turn right to the girls', she was thinking about the biscuits she had stashed in her tuck-box under the bed.
It wasn't until she was drifting off into sleep, crumbily and full of unfamiliar aches, that she remembered Ron's face in the Three Broomsticks. What's going to happen to us? she thought.
Five years of this shifting, triangular friendship. There was always something like love between each pair of them, but sometimes it was very simple, sometimes it was more complicated and prickly (two boys, one girl; two Muggle-raised, one pure-blood; two prefects, one Boy who Lived). Five years of the three of them, eavesdropping and blundering their way into more of Voldemort's unfinished business, always having to rely on each other. And then all of a sudden, on the day she came of age, she turned one of them down and fucked the other one. Poor Ron. Or poor Harry. Or poor her.
What's going to happen to us?
The rising-bell woke Hermione up four hours later. She felt horrible. She felt like a swelling.
She waited until she'd heard Lavender and Parvati go to the bathroom, come back, leave again, before she got out of bed: she was five minutes late to the Great Hall. The prefect on duty winked at her and let her in anyway, but by then all the cornflakes had gone.
She picked up a hot plate without enthusiasm – bright yellow scrambled eggs sitting in water, bacon starting to spot with congealed fat – and carried it over to the Gryffindor table, anxious, trying not to look at the food, wondering if she should sit with Ginny or Luna this morning; but Ginny wasn't there and Luna was reading and Ron and Harry had seen her already, so she sat down between the friend she'd turned down and the friend she'd fucked.
'Morning,' said Ron. Harry didn't say anything.
Hermione didn't dare look at him. She stared down at her plate, frozen (maybe he's waiting for me to say something, maybe he wants me to be his girlfriend, but he won't say so if I don't say anything; maybe he thinks I want to be his girlfriend and he doesn't want that, maybe I should keep quiet and wait for him to say something first), then speared two baked beans on her fork and put them in her mouth, but the taste got all mixed up with the strong smell of the bacon. She pushed the bacon to the side of her plate; it made her shudder. Ron noticed it.
'Typical,' he said loudly. 'Are you going vegetarian on us now, Hermione?'
Hermione opened her mouth to tell him to shut up, saw the strain on his face, remembered she had to be nice to him, shut it again.
'Free the House Elves! Free the pigs!' Ron was going on. 'What are you going to knit for them, Hermione? Ickle mittens for their trotters?'
Hermione tried to work out the rules for this; he was probably teasing her so clumsily because he wanted to make it clear that things were normal between them. So she should probably tell him to shut up, like she would if things were normal between them. But they weren't. So if she told him to shut up, he might think she was still pissed off with him about asking her out, if that was what he'd done, last night.
'Oh well,' said Ron, 'all the more for me.' He reached across the table, got Hermione's bacon onto his fork, and dunked it into the bright yolk of his fried egg. Hermione gagged; suddenly and shockingly there was nothing in her head but the need to disentangle her legs from the bench and get to the girls' toilets.
She was sick three times. Then she flushed the toilet and sat on the floor for a while, a bit shaky and clammy, leaning her head back into the sharp, cold corner and reading the graffiti on the door (Harry Potter is Gay [well, there's one controversy solved], DEAN THOMAS IS FIT, Virginity is like a balloon – one prick and its gone!!!, I hate this school,
LAURA FANCIES PROFESSOR FLITWICK, Angharad P is a slag) before getting up and rinsing her mouth at the sink. She watched the water run down the plughole and thought about going to see Madam Pomfrey, which would get her out of having to interact with Harry or Ron for the rest of the day, but... the thought made her vaguely uneasy. She didn't want to.
A couple of Hufflepuff third-years came in. Hermione turned the tap off and went to Potions.
Hermione scrambled clumsily into her place between Ron and Harry in the front row. She got her legs tangled in her skirt as she swung them over the narrow bench; accidentally leaned her left hand on Ron's leg as she tried to straighten up; twisted and pulled away embarrassedly, and fell to the right in such a way that her right breast brushed against Harry's shoulder. She looked at him, horrified (did he think she'd done that on purpose?), then quickly looked away again, before she'd really taken in the expression on his face.
'Are you all right?' asked Ron. She nodded and swallowed and rummaged in her bag. Ron tutted.
'Stayed in the pub a bit longer last night, did you? Drinking on your own? And you a prefect, as well.' He looked at her anxiously, and she managed to smile.
It must have been the first time she'd ever been relieved to see Snape come into a room. He wrote the day's instructions on the board and retired, in heavy, bad-tempered, warning silence, to the small desk at the front of the room where his own cauldron was already simmering.
Hermione concentrated hard on slicing and stirring and adjusting the heat under her cauldron, her hands working as if by remote-control. As the lesson went on, though, the times when she had to pause, head lowered, and wait until the nausea subsided began to get fewer and farther apart. She began to become conscious again of Harry working beside her, of the precise distance of her elbow from his, of the times when she had to make small, ungainly adjustments to her movements to keep from touching him. Had she touched him so often, so casually, before? She thought she must have done. So where had all that sex come from, last night? She felt herself blush, thinking about it: blushed, and felt her belly and cunt rearrange themselves as her body remembered. She hastily added the last ingredient – a handful of willow-bark – to her cauldron, checked the next item on the instructions (simmer for ten minutes), and turned the heat down.
'Time,' said Snape. 'Please take a sample.'
Hermione jumped. She stared in a small panic at her burn-healing potion (still grey-brown-green and full of unsoftened slices of mandrake root and slips of willow-bark), then at her watch. How had she got twenty minutes behind in a one-hour class?
'What is it, Miss Granger?'
Oh, fuck off. 'I – haven't finished, sir.'
'Dear, dear,' said Snape. 'What a catastrophe. What an unlikely consequence of spending half my lesson having a little rest. Nevertheless, please hand in a sample of your work and prepare yourself to deal with the cataclysmic blow to your neurotic little world that an E will doubtless represent.'
Hermione bit her lip. She felt Harry quivering indignantly beside her, but he didn't say anything. Tears, ridiculously, came into her eyes as she bottled a sample of her potion. She shoved her way past Ron, banged the little flask down on Snape's desk, turned round on still-shaky legs, staggered, and half-fell against Cho Chang, who was coming up to hand her flask in. Cho, taken by surprise, shrieked and overbalanced, put out a hand to save herself, and knocked over Snape's cauldron, spilling viscous grey-white liquid.
'Careful!' said Snape sharply. 'Don't touch it!'
Hermione and Cho backed away from the puddle spreading from desk to floor. Snape turned his back on them, deliberately, and walked into the cupboard in the corner of the room. Cho glared at Hermione. Snape returned, holding a paper packet, from which he scattered rust-red powder carefully over the spilled potion. It hissed, steamed, and dried up in an instant, leaving nothing of itself behind: only then did he turn his attention to the two girls.
'Miss Chang,' he said, 'you may sit down.'
Cho went gratefully back to her seat, and Snape carried on: 'Miss Granger, you are of age, and if you decide that the best use of a Potions class is to catch up on your sleep, you are, of course, free to do just that: however, you are not free to sabotage my work. Please return here at the end of afternoon school, for a detention.'
Hermione clenched her teeth and swallowed the lump in her throat. She nodded, to show she'd heard, and went back to her seat.
'And that will be ten points from Gryffindor,' Snape added from behind her.
'That's ridiculous,' Ron said angrily as they left the classroom. 'No-one ever gives detention to sixth-years. And all you did was fall over. Snape is such a wanker.'
Hermione knocked on the Potions classroom door.
'Come,' said Snape briefly, and she went in. Snape was in the middle of decanting another batch of the white/grey potion from his cauldron into a large jar. She stood awkwardly by his desk, waiting for him to finish.
'Miss Granger,' he said, straightening up. 'What an unusual experience this must be for you.'
Hermione didn't say anything.
'I will not be here to supervise you, alas, but I would advise you nonetheless not to use this period for further catching-up on your sleep. I will expect to see another cauldron full of burn-healing potion, correctly made, waiting on my desk when I return. There's no need for you to wait with it, though,' he added as he went out through the door in a billow of robes; 'rest assured that I have no particular desire to see you again today.'
It felt weird at first, being on her own in the classroom. The small sounds she made as she carefully chopped and mixed sounded very loud. The silence and the emptiness of the big room made her nervous, as if, alone with herself, she was in the presence of someone unpredictable and not quite safe.
She added the last ingredient to the mixture in her cauldron, and yawned, and suddenly and vividly remembered the feel of Harry's mouth on her breasts, and noticed that she was on her own for the first time since fucking Harry. More, she could count on being on her own for at least an hour: no having to keep an eye on the door, like in the dormitory or the prefects' bathroom; no pictures on the walls; none of the ghosts ever came in here. There was room, and time, for her to let her mind be naked, without fear of being caught. So instead of crossing out the thought, as she realized she'd done a hundred times that day, she went, still a little guiltily, further into it.
Harry. Suddenly it named, not her skinny, angry, helpless friend, not even the place where her life opened into The War, but this bodiliness: this good soreness between her legs, this warmth in her skin, sweat prickling at her hairline, breathlessness; this feeling of her pores opening and breathing out a vapour, mixing with the steam from her cauldron, filling the whole room with sex.
She thought about fucking Harry and she wanted to do it again.
It startled her. He was her friend; she'd known him since she was eleven. Last night had been fast and half-dark and unplanned; surely, in the light of day, it would just be embarrassing to be naked and sweaty in front of Harry? To take all her fierce but vague late-night desires and put them into his hands? To come, in front of Harry? And then, what about Ron? What about their friendship? It was complicated, it was messy, it was impossible. But there it was, very clear and inescapable: she wanted to do it again. She wanted to do it more, in every way: longer, and in more ways, and less cautiously. She wanted to touch him in places she hadn't touched him last night; she wanted to put her mouth on his nipples, to run her hands over the curve of his arse, to push up against him as he pushed her back against a wall, to see his eyes widen and hear him shout.
Her potion boiled over.
She jumped and swore and went red. It was like someone had walked in on her after all. She felt oddly split, as though her body that moved quickly and deftly to take the cauldron off the heat and mop up was trailing another body, one still humming and dreaming and heavy with sex, like the viscous trail of colour and light that her wand made when she drew the protective circle for a shield charm.
Snape had left out enough of the ingredients for her to start again. She tipped the ruined potion away and, crossly, began chopping and stirring for the third time that day; then, when the ingredients were all added and the cauldron was simmering on a severely low heat, she took out her Arithmancy textbook and started working through some of the problems in the next chapter, making sure she looked up between problems to check the cauldron. She worked fiercely and doggedly, ignoring the ache in her belly and the sore, stretched muscles in her thighs; ignoring, harder and more severely, the little flashes of memory they made in her. Harry on the roof. Temporal skew equals the occulted product of the spatial distance and the magical intensity, expressed as numbers. The night of Emma's party, last summer, lying under the trees in the garden, the stars above, the distant music. Let magical intensity = m. Harry taking his glasses off and looking at her with a little frown.
The door creaked. She looked up, and there was Harry, real and present and now, with his glasses on. Her heart jumped.
'Hello,' she said, cautiously.
'What...' Harry began, then started again. 'I thought you'd be finished by now? It's been two hours.'
'So you came to find me?'
'Um... yeah,' said Harry. He was hovering in the doorway, half in the room, half out of it.
'I nearly have finished. Snape said I had to do that burn-healing potion again, and it boiled over the first time... You can come in,' she added. 'He's gone.'
Harry sat down on the desk beside her cauldron. 'Are you sure? Where?'
'He didn't say. He just went off. He told me just to leave this for him, so I don't think he's coming back here.' Hermione watched her hands fiddling with the mixing spoon, feeling shy. Harry's nearness prickled all up and down her arm.
'Anyway, it's done,' she said, and turned the heat off. 'So...' She had the words Do you love me? stuck in her head, like a stubborn pop song. She didn't even know why – the things she wanted to know were more complicated than that – but while the question was there, she couldn't think of anything else to say. She looked sideways at Harry. He was swinging his legs and looking thoughtful. She felt irritated: you came to find me; you can do the work.
He looked at her and took a breath and she thought he was going to say something, but instead he leaned across and kissed her on the mouth.
Oh, she thought. Okay.
Hermione stepped out of the shower and into her dressing-gown. The warmth on her skin, the drops of water running shiveringly down her spine from her wet hair, the daze of steam around her, reminded her of Harry's fingers on her, his mouth on hers. She drifted back to the dormitory, rubbing her hair with a towel, smiling; dropped the dressing-gown round her feet to celebrate having the room to herself for five minutes; then got hastily into her pyjamas, said 'Siccatum' to her hair, climbed into her bed, and pulled the curtains round it.
She turned the pages of her book (Wizard-Centaur Relations since the Middle Ages) back and forth – forward as her eyes reached the bottom of the right-hand page, back again as she looked at the next page and realized she hadn't taken anything in. She was thinking (or not really thinking, just buzzing in her body and humming in her mind) about sex, about Harry. And then Parvati and Lavender came in, bumping and giggling, turning their voices abruptly down to a stage whisper when they saw her curtains drawn: 'Hermione? Are you awake?'
'Mm,' said Hermione reluctantly.
'We just saw your GBF going down into the dungeons,' said Lavender.
'Snape'll eat him if he catches him,' said Parvati.
'But maybe that's the idea,' said Lavender, and they started giggling again.
'Oh for heaven's sake,' Hermione said. She stuck her head out through the crack in the curtains. 'Will you give it a rest, you two?'
'Oo,' said Parvati. 'Touched a nerve?'
'No,' said Hermione crossly. 'It's just childish, that's all. And anyway, not that it even matters, but actually Harry is not gay. Okay?'
'Oh really,' said Lavender, her face brightening. 'And how would you know, Hermione?'
Hermione, alarmed, felt herself going red. It's none of your business would give it away, and so would Because I just do and so would...
... and so had her silence, it seemed.
'So are you going out now?' asked Lavender, and 'When did this happen?' asked Parvati. They were sitting together on the edge of Lavender's bed, leaning forward eagerly, staring.
She'd fought thirteen adult Death Eaters last June at the Department of Mysteries; how could she feel surrounded by two sixteen-year-old girls?
'Nothing happened,' she said. 'Just because... Harry's just not gay, okay? That doesn't necessarily mean he's my boyfriend, you know.'
'Oh, absolutely,' said Lavender, nodding vigorously. 'Absolutely,' agreed Parvati. They pulled exaggerated we're-sorry faces and climbed, with noisy exaggerated silence, into bed, and pulled their curtains, and two minutes into the silent dark Parvati said 'Lavender?' and Lavender said 'What?' and Parvati said 'Have you heard, Harry Potter's going out with Hermione Granger?' and they both exploded with giggles and Hermione was astonished by just how angry it made her.
She turned over and thumped her pillow into place and stared open-eyed into the dark. I hate the girls' dormitory, she thought. I hate the way girls—and Lavender and Parvati's laughter shaded into Emma's, and she was back again in her Muggle summer.
That Emma Green, her mother had said. She went to boarding-school too, you know. I saw her mum in Sainsbury's today and she's home for the summer, too. You used to like her, didn't you? Why don't you give her a ring? I bet she'd be pleased to hear from you. And so here Hermione is, stiff and upright on the too-small chair in the corner of Emma Green's bedroom, trying to nod and smile and say yes and no in the right places, while her mind keeps sliding off the slick surface of the conversation, trying to pull her back to that morning's brief, not-very-informative Daily Prophet article on the Forty-Third Amendment to the Statute of Secrecy, what they're calling the Death Eater Act. And it is such hard work, anyway, to follow the conversation, to try and piece together the unfamiliar words and names with what she has gathered in two weeks of her parents' conversation, with the names and words on the posters on Emma's walls.
Maybe I should have done Muggle Studies after all, she thinks, remembering the textbook she'd read when she was picking her OWLs subjects. Across the parchment in her mind a quill writes sentences like: Muggle teenagers are passionately invested in music, clothing, anything that changes rapidly according to fashion. Time passes faster for Muggles. Five years for Muggles is a lifetime. Five years away is forever.
Emma, sprawled on the bed, sighs and rolls her eyes and throws a pillow at Hermione, on the chair; Nina and Fizzy, sitting/lying on the floor or against walls, giggle.
'What?' says Hermione. 'I'm sorry, I wasn't—'
'Omigod,' says Emma, 'you are sooooo dozy.'
She speaks, somehow, quickly and drawlingly all at once. Her English rises and falls and lilts like a foreign language, the sing-song tones of it closer to what Hermione hears drifting into her room from the television in the front room than to anything she hears at Hogwarts.
'I was listening to the music,' Hermione lies. The quill in her mind writes: Muggles compensate for the lack of the magical dimension in their sensory experience of the world by overstimulating their other senses; for example, they insist on carrying on conversations against ambient noise or what they call 'background music'.
'Pulp,' says Emma, 'aren't they brilliant?'
'Mmmm,' says Hermione, wondering whether it's the name of a band or of a genre. 'What were you saying?'
'I was asking you to my party, you dozy mare,' she says. 'On the last day of the holidays – your mum says you go back the same day as us, and she thinks it's a great idea, so you don't have any excuses!' She waves a finger mock-sternly at Hermione.
Oh, great. Hermione smiles weakly and falls back into silence, while Nina begins to tell a long story about an eighteenth birthday party she went to at Easter and just exactly how drunk she got.
Lavender and Parvati plonked their trays down on opposite sides of the table, sat down on opposite benches, and swept their long, straight, shiny hair back over opposite shoulders, mirroring each other; they smiled identically at Harry, winked identically at Hermione.
'Good morning, lovebirds!' said Lavender.
'What?' said Ron.
'Oh, romance has bloomed, Ron,' said Parvati, shaking salt onto her egg, looking sideways at Hermione.
'What are you girls on about?' Ron was looking at Harry, not smiling.
'Oh, sorry,' said Lavender, mock-solicitous. 'Have we got the wrong end of the stick after all? Only Hermione was saying she knew for a fact that those rumours about you and Harry weren't true, and when we asked her how she could be so sure, well...'
She pulled a pleasurably-shocked face; Parvati mirrored it, giggling. Ron was staring at Harry. Harry was staring at Hermione. Hermione felt sick.
'Are you two,' said Ron. His voice was shaking. He took a deep breath. 'Did you two,' he said.
We did, thought Hermione, cold inside. Are we?
'Ron,' said Harry, and then he was silent. Ron looked at him, at Lavender's joyfully aghast face, and went white.
'You,' he said to Hermione. 'And after I – you said... you let me think... why didn't you tell me?'
'Ron,' said Hermione, and then she ran out of what to say.
'I don't believe this,' Ron said. He shoved his plate away and started to scramble to his feet.
'Ron,' said Hermione again. 'Don't go. I—'
Harry put his hand on her arm and shook his head. 'Leave it,' he said quietly.
'Piss off,' said Ron. He turned his back on them and went down between the long lines of tables; by the time he got to the door, he was almost running, and the enjoyment had gone out of Lavender's face.
'I'm sorry,' she said, biting her lip. 'Hermione, I didn't realize...'
'Shut up,' said Hermione, and got up from the table, and went to the girls' toilets, and threw up.
Ron didn't speak to either of them all that day. He paired up with Ernie in Defense Against the Dark Arts; Neville covered for him on prefect patrol that evening; and when Hermione got back and came into the Gryffindor common room, he went out.
A little curious quiver went round the room, a hush and a tightening in the air. Hermione sat down, trying to look as if she wasn't being looked at, and pulled a book down at random from the shelf above the sofa. It was Magical Me; Gilderoy Lockhart smiled and pouted on the cover as if he weren't blank and lost in the mental ward at St Mungo's. She opened it anyway, then looked up as she registered that someone was hovering beside her, half-sitting on the sofa next to her. It was Parvati.
'Hermione,' said Parvati tentatively, 'we're really sorry. Honestly. Lavender was crying, before. We didn't mean to cause trouble between you and Ron and Harry, we were just...'
'Well, maybe you'll think before you start stirring it up next time,' Hermione snapped. 'I don't know why you and Lavender have to be so...'
'I know,' said Parvati, 'I'm sorry. But we really did think Harry was gay, and—'
'And that would make it all right, would it? And what is your problem with Harry, anyway? Just because he's got half a brain, and he's not going out with a new girl every week like Dean Thomas... what earthly reason do you have for thinking he's gay?'
'Cho Chang says he is,' said Parvati. 'Honestly, Hermione, I'm surprised no-one's told you. It's because everyone knows you're his friend. But last year, she says she kissed him once and he really freaked out and backed off straightaway, and...'
'She's got some fucking opinion of herself if she thinks someone has to be gay to not want to go out with her!' Hermione shouted. Heads turned and she went red. Parvati fidgeted.
'It's not just that, though... there's all sorts of things. He's always hanging round with Snape, and everyone knows Snape's definitely gay, and...'
'Parvati,' said Hermione as quietly as she could, 'you know perfectly well why Harry spends so much time with Snape. Your twin's in Ravenclaw, for God's sake! I can't believe you've got so little going on in your head that you have to make this stuff up.'
'And she says, she had a crush on him for years so she watched him a lot, and he was always looking at boys. Not just – you know, looking at them. And you know he never talks about fancying girls, and Ron's never gone out with anyone properly either, and...'
'Nor have I,' said Hermione.
'Well,' said Parvati, defiantly. 'Cho said she thought that was probably why the three of you were all friends, and nothing ever happened between the three of you. Because...'
'Because we're all gay?' said Hermione furiously. 'Well, now something has happened between the three of us. And if you must know, the reason Ron's so upset about me and Harry is because he asked me out last week, and I said no. Okay? So congratulations, now you know the truth, and all you had to do to find out was fuck up my life. Because God forbid you just ask.' She slammed the book shut and got to her feet. She was shaking.
'I'm sorry!' Parvati wailed.
'I don't care,' Hermione spat over her shoulder as she walked out of the room, away from Parvati, away from ten more faces all agog at the drama, and bumped into Harry on his way in.
He took hold of her shoulders, perhaps to look at her more closely, perhaps just to move her gently out of his way, but she burst into tears at the touch.
'I wouldn't go in there if I were you,' she said loudly. 'There's too many kids in there tonight.'
Harry pulled her out into the corridor and started walking somewhere, somewhere away from the common room; she followed him. 'What's going on?' he asked.
'Oh,' she said, sagging. 'Nothing. I just had a fight with Parvati. It's not that big a deal. I just – I was sort of storming out when you came in, so I don't want to go back in there.'
Harry laughed. 'Yeah,' he said, 'that's the problem with storming out. You have no idea how much time I spent last year hanging around in corridors feeling stupid.'
Hermione laughed and hiccupped and wiped her eyes; Harry smiled and put his arm around her and said, 'Hermione, look—' and she thought here it comes and then, just as they were passing the door to the prefects' bathroom, out came Ron, wet-haired, in a dressing-gown.
He stared at them. Harry's loose, comfortable arm around her shoulders suddenly turned tense and awkward, but he didn't take it away.
'I don't believe you two,' was all he said. 'Excuse me,' and he pushed past them and away.
Harry took his arm down. 'I'm going to go after him,' he said. 'Will you be...?' And he was gone.
I hate this school, thought Hermione, unexpectedly and very clearly.
Hermione woke up and rolled onto her back. She stared at the canopied ceiling above her and tried to imagine sitting up, opening the curtains, saying good morning icily to Lavender and Parvati or icily ignoring them, walking down to breakfast, sitting with Harry or Ron or Harry and Ron, then walking down to double Potions with them. She couldn't imagine any of it, so she rolled over and went back to sleep for half an hour.
When she got to the Potions classroom Harry was already there. She sat down beside him, and asked: 'Did you talk to Ron?'
Harry nodded, his mouth set.
'Oh,' said Hermione. 'Oh dear.'
Harry didn't say anything. Hermione fiddled with her quill, her textbooks, lining them up and rearranging them nervously on the desk, feeling the strange gap that Ron's absence left between her and Harry.
Ron arrived with thirty seconds to spare. He looked straight through Harry and Hermione, walked straight past them, went to sit half-way up the classroom next to Cho Chang. Harry was half-turned-round in his seat, glaring at Ron, opening his mouth to say something, when the bell rang and Snape blew in through the door in a gust of wind and a swirl of robes, and Harry shut up.
They started preparing the ingredients for a Draught of Living Death. Hermione was off-balance between Harry's silent anger and the emptiness where Ron usually sat. A bitter taste kept rising in her mouth, and she kept swallowing it down as she stirred and chopped and stirred.
Laughter coming from Ron and Cho distracted her, then bothered her, then made her look round. They were whispering together, looking slyly at Harry: beside Hermione, Harry tensed and turned and stared openly back at them. Ron opened his eyes wide and mouthed something at Harry that Hermione couldn't follow. Harry scowled and reached over, very deliberately, to take Hermione's hand. She winced and wondered what to do and looked down at the bench to see their hands linked like a fist on the bench and looked up to see Snape standing over the two of them, one eyebrow raised.
'How very touching,' he said. Harry jumped and turned his face up to Snape's. He didn't let go of Hermione's hand, and Hermione could feel him trembling slightly, his fingers tightening around hers.
'Are congratulations in order, Miss Granger? Mr Potter?'
'Yes, sir,' Ron and Cho chorused from the right-hand side of the classroom; 'It's none of your business, sir,' said Harry loudly over them.
'On the contrary,' said Snape sharply, 'if you choose to bring your adolescent flirtations—' Harry's mouth tightened— 'into my classes, I'd say that you are making it very much my business. Now perhaps you might be good enough, both of you, to abandon the attempt to concoct this very complicated draught one-handed? The Potions classroom is not the place for carrying on your love affairs.'
'I'll remember that, sir,' said Harry, and an unreadable look passed between them before Harry let go of Hermione's hand and went back to his potion, and Snape turned on his heel and billowed away to his own desk. Hermione felt jolted in his wake, like someone standing on the edge of a platform as a fast train passes on its way to somewhere else.
And then Hermione was going out with Harry. They walked to class together; they went into Hogsmeade together; they held hands in the common room sometimes; and sometimes, when Harry didn't have Order commitments and Hermione didn't have prefect duties, they went up onto the roofs, or found somewhere warm enough and private enough inside the school building, and they kissed and touched and did whatever the weather and the hardness of the floors and risk of passing ghosts or prefects or lost first-years would let them do.
It wasn't what Hermione had expected. It felt inevitable and notquiteright all at the same time, as if she had fallen out of her life into the school-world on the outside of it, the world where Hermione-and-Harry-and-Ron had made so little sense to anyone that the rumours which tried to explain them away had got more outlandish every year. And this couple-and-alienated-best-friend arrangement, she'd admit, made more sense, even to her, than the tricky balance of the last five years, the way the three of them had had to work to keep their triangle equilateral against the pull of Cho Chang and Viktor Krum, Rita Skeeter and the Daily Prophet, prefect badges, Quidditch teams, Voldemort. It simplified things, simplified them right down to the block capitals HP+HG written on the inside of the cubicle door in the girls' toilets by the Great Hall. She couldn't work out, though, if it was like Arithmancy, where simplifying an equation gave you a more elegant, more soluble version of the same thing; or if it was like the Muggle Studies textbook that had made her decide to drop the class before OWLs, where the Simplified Diagram of Muggle Class Structures on page 14 had simplified her working-class dentist mother right out of existence.
'What?' Since she and Harry had become an official couple, Lavender and Parvati had become officially friendly, including Hermione in their jokes, telling her bits of pointless gossip, offering to teach her to knit. It irritated Hermione, for some reason she couldn't quite define.
'Have you got a tampon?' Lavender mouthed it, as if it was thrillingly all-girls-together.
'Oh, bum,' said Parvati, 'that means I'm going to come on tomorrow, probably. Thanks a lot, Lavender.' She shoved her in a friendly way.
'Don't blame me,' said Lavender, shoving back. 'It's a deep feminine mystery, remember?' She put on a strange, strangled voice which was presumably supposed to be an imitation of Professor Trelawney, the day she'd talked about the cycles of the earth and the cycles of divination. Parvati dissolved into giggles.
Hermione rolled her eyes, her face safely hidden; she was rummaging in her bedside drawer. No tampons, though. She must have left them in her trunk (had she really not had a period since they got back to school? How many weeks ago)?
Maybe she'd just used them all and forgotten. 'Hang on,' she said, and lugged her trunk out from under the bed; but the box was there, all right, among all the other detritus she hadn't needed yet.
'There,' she said, throwing it to Lavender.
'Thanks,' said Lavender, looking at the box doubtfully. 'Is this a Muggle brand?'
'Oh, for God's sake,' said Hermione. 'They're tampons. They're made of cotton wool. They absorb blood. They obey the laws of physics. They don't need to be fucking magical.'
It was about ten o'clock. Harry and Hermione were in a small room off the north-west corridor on the third floor which Hermione had discovered the night before, wandering off-course on a late-night patrol of the empty school, drawing patterns on the walls with the light from her wand, thinking about Harry. Neither of them had any idea what the room was meant to be used for, but it wasn't on any of the direct routes between dormitories and bathrooms, and it was warm and empty, and the stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling only alarmed Hermione when, from time to time, in the flicker of a candle, its shadow seemed to quaver and detach itself from the wall and come rushing towards them.
Harry was on his back in a rumpled nest of both their duvets, looking up at Hermione. Hermione was kneeling astride him, enjoying the feeling of his cock hardening against her through his jeans and her knickers; she was leaning forward over him, balanced with one hand on the curve of his shoulder, the other drawing patterns on his jawline, his throat, his lips. He caught her fingertip between his teeth and bit it gently. He was breathing hard, looking up at her, his face blind and empty with what could have been lust, or anger, or anything else: something about his expression caught at her.
'Harry,' she heard herself say suddenly. 'What is it? Are you all right? Do you—'
'I don't want to talk,' he said impatiently, wriggling his narrow shoulders to shrug her words away and to tip her off-balance so that, half-falling, she lay more solidly against and on him, her bra scratchy against his naked chest: his clever, thin fingers undid the catch and pulled impatiently at the fabric till she managed to slip it off her shoulders and drop it into the pile of their clothes. And then Harry's mouth, under hers, was inviting her teeth and her tongue to move in and on and between his lips, and his thin body was pushing up hard against hers, and that was enough of a conversation.
Harry gulped a mouthful of air and wrapped his arms close around her and carefully rocked his hips sideways, meaning get off me so I can get my jeans off; she swung her leg over him and knelt beside him as he pulled his trousers and pants and socks off all together in a tangle. She watched intently, breathlessly, loving the intimacy of the sight, as he dressed his cock in a condom, his fingers smoothing the latex over his own shaft; he looked up at her and smiled as if he knew what she was thinking. She stood up and thumbed her knickers down and there she was, naked in front of her best friend, but the nervousness was just another part of the excitement.
'Beautiful,' said Harry, then 'Come here.' He held his arms out and she lay down in them, on him. He held her close and gentle for a little while, stroking her back as if he was learning the contour of her shoulderblades, waist, hips, as if she wasn't to notice the head of his cock butting against her stomach; then she threw her legs around his hips and sat up, and felt suddenly scared in case she'd got it wrong, in case she was going to do something too big, too sexy, too desperate, too honest – something obscene – and scare him away. 'Like this?' she asked.
'Mm,' said Harry. 'Please.' He propped himself up on his elbows and frowned down at the complicated place where their hips met, as Hermione rose up and tried to sink down, got the angle wrong, tried again, got it wrong again, blushed and reached for Harry's cock. She steadied it, locking a fist around it, matched its tip to the opening of her cunt, then matched the angle of its shaft with the angle of her hips and settled down onto it until she was opened and stretched and filled and Harry was sweating and biting his lip under her.
'Is that...' she said and Harry nodded violently. The crocodile was throwing unpredictable patterns of shadow at him, so that his face was light, then dark, then light again. 'I'm just – I'm just trying not to move,' he said. 'You do it. I want you to do it.'
Hermione started moving, forward and back, concentrating. It wasn't quite like it sounded in the dog-eared books she'd read along with everyone else in the second year when they were being passed around all the girls' dorms in all the Houses: it wasn't instinctive, she wasn't being swept away on a mighty river of desire... Or part of it was instinctive, part of it swept her away and overwhelmed her: that was the part that gasped with Harry, struggled with him to keep the rhythm going when they found one that worked for both of them. That was the urgent part, the enormous hunger that just wanted to fling her limbs at Harry and grind and push and struggle and bite until it was satisfied; but that shapeless, furious demand could only be assuaged by movements that were precisely right. It – sex – was, startlingly, one of the most physically tricky things she'd done since she left primary school and regular gym classes. Keeping her balance; trying to find a comfortable position for her knees; working out what to do with her elbows while she rocked on Harry's cock, trying to ride out the times when he lost control and began to buck his hips under her, without losing the angle or the rhythm. And so, when she felt an orgasm beginning to build at the base of her stomach, there was something doubly satisfying about it: she smiled fiercely at Harry, baring her teeth, and he smiled back; and it meant We did it! We worked it out! and it echoed all the way back to their first year, to finding the way to the Philosopher's Stone together.
She shouted and lost her vision and came, and collapsed forward onto Harry's chest while he held her hips steady and thrust up into her, faster and faster and then three long, deliberate strokes and a whimper in her ear and all the tension leaving his body under her. They lay together for a few seconds, then Harry said 'Sorry – I have to...' and she said, 'Oh, yes...' and her legs made room for Harry's fingers to tug his softened cock out of her, keeping it in its condom. He turned his back on her for a moment, then lay back down and pressed against her, condomless and sticky, while she rummaged and found a corner of the duvets to pull over them.
She felt him smile against her neck. 'That's better,' he said.
'Mm,' she agreed.
He kissed her shoulder, then sighed, sat up, and started finding his clothes on the floor. She snuggled deeper into the duvet and watched him dress, feeling peacefully blank, rather wanting to be on her own with this feeling.
When he was dressed he leant over to kiss her forehead. 'I'll see you tomorrow, Hermione,' he said, and went out.
She pulled the covers more firmly over her and spent a few minutes enjoyably thinking about nothing at all; then, suddenly, she felt the duvet being tugged out from under her. She jumped and shrieked, then realized that Harry must be accio-ing it back to his dormitory, and got out of its way; it sailed self-importantly to the door, misted, and blurred through the wood and out.
Probably she'd better try and get back to her own dormitory before Lavender and Parvati, so she could accio her own duvet in privacy. She pulled her clothes on quickly, shivering, and hurried round the mazy staircases to her room.
Too late. Parvati was already in bed, reading, and Lavender was sitting on the windowsill painting her toenails. Hermione sat on her own bed with her back to both of them, swallowed her pride, and said 'Accio duvet.'
'Have you been out with Harry?' Parvati asked as the duvet bobbed into existence over Hermione's bed, shook itself out and laid itself softly down. Hermione glared at Parvati, trying to see what was behind the question, but she couldn't work it out. 'Yes,' she said crossly.
'How is he?' Lavender raised her head and Hermione saw that she was pink around the eyes and nose, as if she'd been crying.
'Fine,' said Hermione cautiously.
'Really?' said Lavender and Parvati together.
'Did he say anything about...' said Parvati, and trailed off.
'Only I got a letter from my mum today,' Lavender took over, 'and she said I wasn't to worry, but my dad's had to go away for a while. He's an Auror, and I wondered—'
Probably just doesn't know how to tell you that she's kicked him out, thought Hermione meanly. 'He didn't say anything,' she said, and Lavender's mouth trembled. 'I'm sorry, Lavender,' she added. 'I'm sure your dad's all right.'
'Really?' asked Lavender eagerly. As if Hermione knew.
'Really,' she said. Lavender smiled, her eyes filling with tears, and Hermione felt like a liar.
'I'm really tired,' she said, 'I'm sorry.' And she pulled the curtains around her bed and listened to the hushed, reverent voices of Lavender and Parvati wishing her goodnight, and thought back over Harry's words and touches – the way he'd looked at her, the tone of his voice, the distribution of his silences – to see if she could somehow divine from all those things whether Lavender's dad was going to be all right.
She might be fucking Harry, she realized, but really, she was just like everyone else: she was still watching him. Still in the dark, on the outside, waiting and watching, while the real story went on somewhere else.
And she'd thought – all summer, she'd thought – that when she got back to Hogwarts she'd be on the inside again, at last.
Hermione is the only person in the garden. Music and voices collide in the chilly end-of-August air. She shivers and sips her vodka-and-coke and watches the people in the front room. Through the big French windows, they look as if they're on the telly. She might as well have stayed in.
She didn't want to stay in, but she didn't want to come to the party, either. This is her compromise. She said hello to Emma Green, who was in the kitchen, busily laughing up at a floppy-haired blonde boy; got herself a drink (watching the girl in front of her to see how much vodka and how much Coke to put in what sort of plastic beaker); and came out here, where the incomprehensible Muggle mess of the party is reduced to a lit, moving backdrop, a semi-musical hubbub. Background music.
She finishes her drink, lies back and looks at the sky. She feels cold and a little drunk. She feels small and romantic and powerful: secret, lonely witch under the stars, keeping her distance, waiting for news of the secret war going on in the real world, in her real life; keeping her distance, keeping her silence, to protect all the laughing people behind the glass.
'I've brought you another drink,' says a voice.
'Oh,' says Hermione. She sits up and pulls a twig out of her hair.
'Here,' says the boy. He is squatting beside her, holding out another plastic beaker full of black fizz.
'Thanks.' Hermione looks at the boy consideringly, still feeling removed and spectatorish. (The stars. The trees in the lights from the house. The boy.) He is handsome in a way that reminds Hermione of an old-fashioned ventriloquist's dummy: black hair, thick, black eyebrows, red cheeks.
'Emma told me you were out here.'
'I know how you feel,' he says.
It jolts Hermione, even though it can't be true. Do you? she catches herself thinking, almost desperately. Do you?
He waves at the French-window-screen. 'All those people. I don't like parties, either. Having to have the same bullshit conversation fifteen times an hour...' He interrupts himself. 'Are you drunk?'
'No,' says Hermione.
'That's a shame. I think I am, rather.' He pulls a face, then extends his fingertips, oddly limp, for her to shake. 'I'm Derek. I go to school with Emma's brother. You're Hermione. You go to school in Scotland – Gordonstoun, is it?'
'No,' says Hermione.
'Quite right,' he says. 'No point having the same bullshit conversation with you, when you've obviously come out here to avoid it.' He fumbles a cigarette out of a packet and offers her one.
'No,' says Hermione, again. He lights his own cigarette and stretches back on the grass, smoking. Hermione watches him; he turns his head to the side to look back at her.
And then, five minutes later, they are kissing. It makes Hermione feel small and powerful: small beside the largeness of the feelings it sets off in her; powerful because she is the place where all those feelings are happening. (That was the first time she'd felt it, she realized, now, remembering: the feeling that she could step out of her life, out of herself, into a place without words or thoughts. A place where she didn't have to second-guess herself, or know all the answers; a place where she could just want something, and get it. The feeling she was chasing all the time with Harry.)
Back on the grass, under the tree, with Derek, the whole surface of her skin is hot and not-exactly-itchy, as if she has just climbed out of the bath: and, as if she has just climbed out of the bath, there are paths over and through her body like silver drops of water gathering into trickles over her skin; paths that lead to her nipples, her armpits, the pit of her belly, the small of her back, between her legs. Derek's fingers follow the trails, make the feelings stronger, and she pulls him closer, cheers him on, kisses him harder, fumbles under his t-shirt for the heat and the smoothness of his skin. She helps him undo her trousers and follow the not-itching down to where it is most intense; he brushes the tips of his fingers through her pubic hair, over her clitoris, a little way inside her.
It feels brilliant. She didn't know. It is like discovering magic was: discovering that the odd things that happened to her weren't random disaster, but something she could control. Something she could do. It was like sailing a ship might be, making her as powerful as the forces the sails and the rudder control, as powerful as the sea and the wind; magic put her in control of something bigger than herself, something that was in control of her, at the same time. This is the same. This is a whole new capability, a whole new reality, and she wants to see what it is.
'Is this all right?' Derek asks. She nods, impatiently, and wriggles out of her jeans while Derek undoes his. The cold air prickles on her skin for a moment, and then he is back, kneeling between her legs, kissing her, putting her hand on his hard penis. She runs a finger up and down it, then curls her whole hand round it; feels the strange warmth, the boneless hardness, the aliveness of it. And then he is pulling it out of her hand, rocking back on his heels, unwrapping a condom and putting it on.
I'm going to have sex, she thinks incredulously. I thought you had to agonize for months over whether you were ready first.
Derek spends a little while manoeuvring, using his fingers and the head of his penis to find the right place, then pushes in, pauses, pushes in again (it hurts, but no more than any other unaccustomed use of her body's abilities), and starts moving inside her, fast and definite, in a way that rubs up against places she's never really been aware of before. That part doesn't last very long; he says 'Jesus!' and holds himself still for a moment and then pulls out out of her, a little awkwardly, and says 'Oh. Um...'
She raises her head to look at him, feeling heavy, as if her blood was thick. 'What?'
He shakes his head quickly, smiled, and said: 'In a minute.'
Then the pad of his finger is against her clitoris, shoving at it, working it in small circles, while her belly clenches tighter and tighter, like a fist, until, soon, something sharp and fierce happens to her. It washes over the garden, her body, the difference between them, washing them away, receding, leaving her surprised and shiny on the grass.
Morag MacDougal came over to her table and whispered 'Hermione?'
She jumped out of her thoughts, turning over the parchment she'd been scribbling dates and sums on (31 August + 266 days = 23 May: Taurus/Gemini cusp), sliding the Astrology textbook out of sight.
'Could you cover for me in the prefects' room tonight? I thought I'd be able to finish this thing for Professor Vector, but I got distracted reading Fractal Curses for Dumbledore's essay, so now I know more than anyone needs to about the construction of viral jinxes and nothing at all about trigonometric scrying.' She gave Hermione a rueful smile: you know how it is.
Hermione stared down at her own unfinished homework. 'Of course,' she said: she might as well. Another hour wasn't going to make the difference she needed, between these vague doodles and real, finished work; between this mess in her head, in her body, and her real mind, her real life.
'Thanks,' said Morag and disappeared gratefully back to her desk.
Hermione slid the lid off her inkwell, dipped her quill, shook the excess ink off it, and stared into space. She found herself looking at the tower of books that walled Morag off from the rest of the library.
I wonder what would have happened to me if I'd told the Sorting Hat I wanted to be in Ravenclaw, she thought. If I'd met Cho or Anthony or Morag on the train on my first day, and liked the look of them, instead of getting some sort of crush on Angelina Johnson and a red-headed boy at the same time, and shouting 'Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor' at the Hat.
I could have had a different life.
'Thanks, Hermione', said Mary Creevy, to whom Hermione had just explained the rules about practising Transfigurations on school property. She still sounded a bit tearful, but she managed to smile over her shoulder as she left the room, clutching the pillow which had been a marshmallow when she came in; and then, as soon as the door had shut, there was a knock on it.
'Come in,' said Hermione crossly, shutting her Arithmancy textbook for the fifth time in the last ten minutes.
The door opened ever-so-slightly, just enough for Nerissa Lightsome's head to appear round its edge.
'Oh,' she said, taken aback. 'I thought—' then, recovering her manners, 'Do you know where Morag McDonald is, please?'
'She's busy tonight,' said Hermione. 'What did you want her for? I'm covering for her tonight, so whatever it was, I'm sure I can help.'
'Oh...' Nerissa said. She was looking around the room as if still hoping that Morag would appear. 'No, it was...' Then she seemed to make her mind up. 'No. It wasn't anything, it doesn't matter.' And she turned to go.
'Nerissa,' said Hermione, puzzled, 'what's the matter? If you're in any trouble, you know you can tell me just as well as Morag, don't you?'
'But you're—' said Nerissa, and then she actually clapped a hand over her mouth.
Hermione got up. 'Come on,' she said, and took Nerissa gently by the arm to pull her into the room. 'Come and sit here.' She steered Nerissa into the billowy cushions of the sofa nearest the fire, put a (prefectly, chocolate) biscuit into her hand, and said: 'What is it, Nerissa?'
'Nothing,' said Nerissa fiercely, putting the biscuit down. 'It doesn't matter. Can I go now?'
'I can see you can't tell me,' said Hermione, 'but can you at least tell me why you can't tell me?'
Nerissa glared at her. 'Because you're a Gryffindor. And you're going out with Harry Potter.'
She hadn't heard Harry's name spoken with such venom since Dolores Umbridge had left. 'That doesn't mean—' she said, helplessly. 'I mean, do you think I won't help you because you're in Slytherin? What have people been saying to you? I mean, I know Harry and Draco had a feud – and I suppose I did punch Draco in the face that time, but—'
'Harry got Draco put in Azkaban,' said Nerissa furiously. 'Not just Draco. Gregory, and Vincent, and Pansy, and... everyone. Half the house.'
'What are you talking about?'
'Everyone knows,' said Nerissa. 'It's not safe to cross Harry Potter.'
Hermione got a grip on herself. 'Nerissa,' she said in her most prefectly voice, 'this is pure fiction. You must know that. Harry is not leading a conspiracy against the Slytherins. If Draco is in Azkaban – and I highly doubt that, for a start – then it's not because he called Harry names! Do you honestly think the Wizengamot would put a seventeen-year-old in prison if he wasn't involved in something really serious?'
Nerissa shrugged. Yes, she clearly meant. And Hermione suddenly went cold, remembering the weeks Hagrid had spent in Azkaban, without trial, for something he hadn't done... and Sirius, who couldn't have been more than twenty-one when Pettigrew had killed those people, and...
But that had been before, she told herself. When things had been out-of-control, when Fudge had been trying to cover things up or when the whole wizarding world was upside-down and crazy, just after Voldemort died, when no-one knew what was happening. Now that Dumbledore was in charge, now that it was all out in the open (well, apart from the Death Eater Act), they wouldn't... and anyway, Harry certainly couldn't have had anything to do with it.
She stared at Nerissa, whose face was going paler and paler as the anger drained out of it. She looked terrified. 'I shouldn't have—' she said. 'Really, Hermione, I'm sorry, I—'
She really thinks I'm going to get her put in that awful place, thought Hermione, horrified, for bad-mouthing my boyfriend. Not even my... my sort-of boyfriend. As if school feuds were the same as the War. What the fuck is going on?
'All right,' she said, 'you can go, if you want. But honestly, you don't have to—'
But Nerissa had already scrambled out of the sofa and out of the room, and someone else – Nick Jenkins, a third-year Hufflepuff – was already pushing through the door after her, complaining loudly.
'... and the thing is, I can't do my homework unless he puts the book back in the library, and it's not fair, because...'
Hermione took a deep breath and tried to listen, but inside her head Draco and Vincent and Daphne and Pansy and Millicent were looking out at her from separate small boxes, and it wasn't like seeing them get their come-uppance at all. They were as grey and desperate as Harry on the train in third year, and as silent as her in the kitchen in the summer, sitting across the table from her mum.
Harry pulled Hermione in tight against him, gave a wriggle-and-flip to get the duvet up over their shoulders, and started kissing her mouth, her jaw, her earlobe. He slid a hand down between their stomachs, working awkwardly to undo her belt buckle.
'Harry,' said Hermione, 'is Draco in Azkaban?'
Harry blinked and went still.
'All the Slytherins are saying he is. And that – and that you put him there.'
Harry rolled away a little and collected his glasses. He sat up, polishing them on a corner of the duvet cover.
'Do you think I'd do that?' he asked evenly.
'I don't know,' said Hermione. She sat up so that their eyes were on a level, but then she couldn't look at him anyway. 'I don't know, Harry. You haven't talked to me all year. I mean, we—' she gestured at the rumpled duvet, her shirt on the floor in a peaceable tangle with Harry's t-shirt – 'but I don't know what's going on, anything that's going on. Last year I was – I was in Dumbledore's Army and—' She ran out of words that she could say out loud. Last year I was important. Last year I was real. I left it all behind for one summer with the Muggles and when I came back I was – I wasn't...
Harry put his glasses back on. His hand lay empty on the duvet for a moment, then curled into a fist.
'You know I can't tell you,' he said. 'You know why. I can't, Hermione. So stop it. Just stop it.'
'That's not it,' said Hermione. It was hard to breathe and the words wouldn't come properly. 'It's not just Draco, or the Order, or... You haven't told me anything for a year. Longer. I mean, you – you fuck me, but are we even still friends, Harry?'
'Christ, Hermione,' said Harry. He was furious. 'Don't be so childish. It's not about being friends,' and there was so much scorn in his voice on that word. 'You're talking like I'm not letting you sit next to me in Herbology, or something! It's a spell! There's a war on!'
'Fine! Tell me something else. Tell me something that has nothing to do with the Order. Tell me...'
'Go on!' shouted Harry. 'Ask me! I'd love it. I'd love to see you think of something to ask me that has nothing to do with the war. It'd be the first time in five years, Hermione.'
Hermione's mind went blank.
'Go on,' Harry said again.
Do you love me? she thought. Do you love me? But she couldn't ask it. She opened her mouth, and closed it again, and the only thing she could find in her head when she looked at Harry, white and blazing, was Lavender's voice, and –
'Are you gay?' she asked suddenly.
It sounded ridiculous. For a split second she hoped that Harry would laugh, and they could step back from this edge they were balanced on. But he didn't laugh. He gasped, and said, almost in a whisper: 'What?'
Lavender said that Cho Chang said that... 'You heard me.'
'What – why?'
Hermione shrugged. 'It's got nothing to do with the Order, has it? So you can tell me.'
She stared at him, feeling suddenly afraid. He was white and scared, and she reached across to touch his face, but he flinched away.
'Yes,' he said, viciously. 'Okay? Yes. I am.'
'Oh,' she whispered, then: 'But—'
'So this is a waste of both our times, really, isn't it?' He grabbed his t-shirt up from the floor and pulled it on.
'But why...' said Hermione. Then she pulled at her hair, and said: 'Fine. Fuck off then. Just fuck off.' If this hadn't been real, either.
The next day was a Saturday. Hermione had spent most of it in the library, trying to do homework, and now it was nearly dinner time, and she'd barely got anything done: her mind was too noisy. Harry had been gone all day and all evening, doing... something, Order business, Hermione guessed, learning how to block his mind from Voldemort as strongly as he blocked it from everyone else, maybe. (Was she jealous of Voldemort, for being able to walk in and out of her boyfriend's mind? For being closer to Harry than she was? God, her life was fucked up.) She frowned and wiped the nib of her quill and shuffled through the pile of assignments in front of her: Arithmancy smelt of dust and Defence Against the Dark Arts smelt of loneliness and Potions smelt of the stinkweed they'd used this morning, a bitter nauseating smell that had seemed to fill the whole room, until she couldn't breathe, she couldn't see, she couldn't think. And suddenly now she felt sweat prickle at her hairline, and thought But what if... and thought But I really could be...
Back in the garden, under the stars, she pushes her hair out of her face and says: 'Thanks.'
Derek is zipping his jeans up, tucking his shirt in, combing his hair with his fingers. 'Any time,' he says; then, after a minute, 'Look, I need to tell you... The condom, it – I think it broke.'
Hermione, pulling the strap of her top back up, goes cold. 'Shit,' she says.
'Are you – using anything?'
'Oh,' says Hermione. 'No.'
'Ah,' says Derek. 'Perhaps you'd better see about getting the morning-after pill, then, when you get back to school?' He looks at her enquiringly. 'My friends,' he adds, 'my friends who are girls, that is, say it's just a question of popping in to the matron.'
'Right,' says Hermione absently. She pulls her jeans up and buttons them, as if that closed the matter.
All the next day, her mind kept circling it. Pregnant.
Pictures of herself: walking through Camberwell with a baby in a sling (a bit taller than she really was, her hair a bit neater than it usually was); sitting in the bookshop in Diagon Alley with the baby in a high chair beside her; reading with one hand, spooning baby-food with the other. Standing in a vague, messy kitchen which looked more like Molly Weasley's than her own mother's, holding the baby on one hip, drinking tea and talking to... (who? Not Derek, not Harry...)
I could call it something that both Muggles and wizards recognized, she thought. Something old-fashioned, like Ronald or Sibyl - some of those names are nice - but not downright odd, like Minerva or Albus.
If it doesn't have any magic, she thought, I could go back to the Muggle world. Go to university - there isn't one for wizards... I wonder how soon I could find out?
Everyone would say a baby would be the end of any choices for her. She knew that. But it felt like the beginning. She could feel her futures endlessly multiplying like the cells in an embryo dividing in two, four, eight, sixteen, on and on.
The next morning she was sitting on the floor in her usual cubicle in the girls' toilets nearest the Great Hall, exhausted, a bitter taste in her mouth, reading the graffiti: I hate this school, Cho Chang Is A Fag Hag!!, DT + LB 4EVA IDT INDT, McGonagall is a bitch, HERMIONE GRANGER IS PREGNANT.
For some reason, that was what finally made it real.
That whole day, Hermione panicked. It turned out that when there wasn't a battle or an exam to use the fear up on, she could go on being afraid indefinitely, in just the same sick, disembodied, precarious way that she had always thought was only endurable because it couldn't go on forever.
The day carried her forward despite herself. Transfigurations, Arithmancy. She worked carefully and precariously, and every now and again she noticed that she hadn't thought about the pregnancy for a while – a couple of minutes, five, ten – and noticing it dropped her back into the place outside school, outside time, outside this bright place where her hands kept on working. And now there weren't any pictures of a pretty actress playing Adult Hermione with a pretty baby, there were just the words writing themselves over and over in her mind: HERMIONE GRANGER IS PREGNANT. No more futures multiplying in her belly: just her, trapped in the vehicle of her stupid, stupid body, dawdling through these jammed streets while her future, whistling and shiny, left without her.
At lunch, she was a bit trembly with what must have been hunger, but she didn't feel hungry, and she couldn't eat. She watched her hands tearing a bread roll into crumbs, and watched Lavender and Parvati whispering together, their busy little round eyes going from her to Harry, magnificently sullen at Luna Lovegood's end of the table, to Ron, talking Quidditch with Neville at the other end.
'Are you all right?' they asked her. 'Hermione?'
'I'm fine,' she said – I'm pregnant. I really am. I'm pregnant – and they nodded understandingly and carried on talking together. They didn't seem to notice that she was barely there. No-one seemed to notice, that whole day. Astronomy, Charms, dinner (Harry not there, Ron over at the Ravenclaw table with Cho), common room, bed, and then at two in the morning Hermione got out of bed and went down to the library.
'Hmm?' said the painting on the library door, sleepily and disapprovingly. 'What are you – oh, it's you, Miss Granger. Well, you know where everything...' The end of the sentence disappeared in a yawn, and Miss Weatherstoke fell back to sleep.
'Lumos,' said Hermione, and followed the tiny lit circle cast by the tip of her wand through the thick, dusty library darkness, round the Charms section, the Potions section, the Muggle Studies case, the Care of Magical Creatures section, to Wizard Biology and Health. She knelt down, trailing her wand along the shelf, and reached a trembling hand towards the fat pink spine of Your Body, Your Baby, then paused. Something was tingling through her fingertip. She stuck the finger into her mouth and tasted it: the faint aluminium taste rang some sort of bell – something Dumbledore had said last week? The lesson on detecting Dark booby-traps – but it had been more specific than that...
A message-spell, she realized. Touching the book would trigger a message, probably to Madam Pomfrey. She waved her wand angrily at it, sketching out the figure for the most general cancel-spell, then advanced her finger towards its spine again, but her heart was throbbing so hard in her fingertip she had no idea whether she could feel the spell-field or not.
How dare they? she thought, and grabbed the book angrily off the shelf anyway.
'Congratulations, dear!' it said. She jumped, and dropped it. 'I see you're going to have a baby!' it went on. Its voice was warm and female. It sounded like Molly Weasley or Valerie Singleton. She supposed it was supposed to be motherly; it didn't sound in the slightest like her own mother.
'Shut up,' she muttered, stabbing at the pages randomly with her wand, trying to remember another cancel-spell; but the book seemed to have said all it wanted to say now (she only hoped it hadn't said it to Madam Pomfrey), so she fished it back up off the floor and took it to the nearest carrel. She hunched over it as jealously as if it were broad daylight and the Ravenclaws were queuing up for the only book in the library on Phoenician numerology the day before an Arithmancy exam.
... inch long... fingernails... Prenatal Squib Test ... unfortunate event... qualified healer... she slowed down... application to Ministry of Magic...
But there it was.
In the unfortunate event that the foetus tests positive as Squib or can be proved to have other serious blood defects, an application must be made to the Ministry of Magic for permission to terminate the pregnancy. The application must be supported by two qualified healers with certification from St Mungo's, and with all appropriate documentation.
'Indexicorum,' Hermione whispered, and watched the words stand upright from the page and jostle a little, impatiently, waiting for an order-word. 'Hogwarts,' she said. The words began to seethe, then began to flow in ant-columns off the page until only two passages were left on the double spread. The word Hogwarts was printed in red in each.
'Married or betrothed Hogwarts students can expect the very best prenatal care from the excellent staff on the Hospital Wing'; then, below, in tiny letters, 'Applications to the Ministry of Magic may not be made directly by expectant mothers who are not yet of age or who are students at a wizarding school covered by the Convention for Wizard Parenting (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons or St Geraint's); such applications must be filed by someone who is both of full Witch or Wizard status and in loco parentis to the expectant mother (a parent, guardian or headmaster)'.
Hermione read it twice more in disbelief.
Dumbledore? she thought incredulously. I can only get an abortion if my baby's a Squib and if Dumbledore agrees to it?
'Accio Regulations,' she said, putting her hand up: the book made a satisfying thonk as it landed in the hollow of her palm. She leafed through it half-heartedly, on the off-chance that a new section on student pregnancies had appeared since she'd last read it (last year, five times, trying to find ways to stop Dolores Umbridge from cutting up Harry's arm)...
Regulations Section CCLI, it said: This Section Visible Only To Students Who Have Come Of Age.
She skimmed the fine print – misuse of recreational herbs, expulsion; misuse of other proscribed herbs, expulsion; pregnancy in unmarried and unbetrothed students, immediate report to Madam Pomfrey, range of possible penalties including punitive expulsion (punitive expulsion?) ... then something about the juxtaposition (proscribed herbs/pregnant students) clicked in her mind.
'Magnificari,' she said, tapping the list of miscellaneous proscribed herbs. Gillyweed. Well, she knew what that was. Mandrake. Ditto. Mugwort.
'Accio Gerard's Herbal.'
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). Used in anti-fatigue Potions and certain Dark spells, primarily by witches past maidenhood.
Well, that sounded hopeful. Hermione made a note.
At the end of half an hour she had a list of the five most likely-sounding herbs. She sent Gerard's, the Regulations and Your Body, Your Baby back to their shelves and set off for the Potions classroom. She felt ill with tiredness and rage; but if she hadn't managed to cancel the message-spell on that evil pink book, this might be her only chance to get to Snape's restricted stores before Madam Pomfrey found out about the pregnancy.
She stumbled a little on the uneven flagstones of the classroom and dropped her wand. It rolled away under a desk, making leggy shadows leap and flicker all round the room, then came to a stop facing into a corner, so that the line of light around the door to Snape's office stood out bright and clear.
Hermione stared at it stupidly. No, she thought. It's not fair. She had only this one chance, and Snape had to be pulling an all-nighter?
She went to retrieve her wand, to give herself a minute to think, and stuffed herself into the corner under the desk, whispering 'Nox!' in sudden fear, as she heard Snape's voice coming from his office, a low rumble; she couldn't make out the words. There was a brief silence, then another voice answered him.
It was Harry's.
'Amplificare,' she said, fumbling her wand up, and the voices became audible.
'Oh?' said Snape's voice, polite, bored. 'What a pity. I thought you made a lovely couple.'
'She's so terribly... suitable. A Gryffindor; a girl' (he breathed the word out, and in the silky sound of his voice Hermione could hear the rise of his eyebrow and the twist of his mouth); 'a teenager – she's a little older than you, of course—'
'—but really, very much your level. Such a lovely couple. An arrogant young Potter with a bright, headstrong, Muggle-born girlfriend. It quite took me back.'
'Back, sir?' said Harry. 'Wouldn't that mean you'd gone somewhere else first?'
The voices stopped then for a minute, and when Snape spoke again it was in quite a different tone.
'I assume you haven't come to me for relationship counselling, Potter. Shall we get on with it?'
There was the sound of a long, shaky breath, and neither of them spoke for a little while. Occlumency was a mainly silent magic, of course. Hermione looked at her watch: three-fifteen. While she was wondering whether she should wait them out, or just give up and go to bed and hope for the best, and what that crack about her being a girl had meant, and what on earth business it was of Snape's anyway, Harry's amplified gasp suddenly sounded in her ear.
She might have mistaken it for pain or shock, if she hadn't had sex with him the night before.
Hermione struggled up out of thick black sleep.
'Hermione, dear? Can you hear me?'
It was Madam Pomfrey's voice. Hermione blinked and swallowed and wondered why she felt so strongly that she didn't want to talk to Madam Pomfrey.
'Yes,' she said reluctantly, and opened her eyes, and remembered all of it at once, and Madam Pomfrey's kind, smiling face in the sunshine was the end of the world.
But all she said was: 'Lavender couldn't wake you. She was worried about you. How are you feeling?'
'All right,' said Hermione cautiously.
'There doesn't seem to be much wrong with you,' Madam Pomfrey went on, laying her hand on Hermione's forehead. 'Have you been over-working again? I thought you'd learned your lesson back in third year... Well, along to the hospital wing with you, and I'll keep an eye on you for the day.'
Madam Pomfrey sighed. 'Miss Granger, one day off work is not going to do you any harm. Now come along.'
'Please,' said Hermione desperately. 'I'm not ill, honestly. It's just that...' she groped for an excuse. '... with all the Slytherins away, I've had a lot of extra prefect duties lately, and we have so much homework this year, and, well, and... I've just been getting to bed late.'
'And...?' Madam Pomfrey said, smiling indulgent disapproval. 'Honestly, you children. You think teachers don't notice anything, do you?'
Hermione stared at her.
'I do know about you and Harry, you know!'
Do you indeed, thought Hermione morbidly. Well, I wish you'd tell me, because I don't know a bloody thing about me or about Harry, let alone about me-and-Harry.
'A few late nights are normal at your age,' Madam Pomfrey was going on, 'but teenagers are very prone to fatigue, so do try not to overdo it, won't you?'
'I will,' promised Hermione, brightening, 'but perhaps an anti-fatigue Potion would help, too?' With extra Mugwort.
'Oh, no. I don't approve of those for young people. Just rest, plain and simple, that's what you need. Now you needn't come to the hospital wing if you don't want to, but you're to stay in bed until lunchtime, do you hear me?'
'I do,' said Hermione, settling back onto the pillows with exaggerated obedience. 'I will. I promise.'
The door closed behind Madam Pomfrey. Hermione closed her eyes in relief, and didn't wake till noon.
'I said widdershins, Longbottom, and... Miss Granger?'
'Yes? Yes, sir?'
'Is there any reason why you should be paying more attention to my conversation with Mr Longbottom than to your own work?'
Snape pinned her with his gaze. She stared back at him, almost curiously: his baggy skin, the tired circles under his eyes, his messy hair, the actually-sort-of-sexy line of his mouth that she'd never really noticed before. He blinked in her silence, and lifted his hand to his hair as he turned away from her, snapping: 'Five points from Gryffindor, Miss Granger, and be assured that it will be ten if your Potion is not of a higher standard than I have seen from you so far this term.'
That rust-and-feathers voice. Hermione stared into her cauldron, hearing it as it had been last night, in rags and monosyllables: Yes. Like that. Harry. Harder. Fuck. Fuck me.
And Harry. Familiar sounds mixed with unfamiliar ones. Please. Oh, God. Now. Now. Severus, Severus, Severus...
She stirred her potion (widdershins) as her mind jumped and skipped from one image to the next, trying them out, trying them on, against the soundtrack from last night. Snape's stained, dextrous fingers (she risked a look up at his desk, where he was fiddling with a quill) on Harry's unwrapped cock. Harry's pale, smooth skin shining against the dull blackness of Snape's robes, against the dull, sallow tones of Snape's naked chest. Fire and bone and darkness swallowing up pale, pretty Harry, blotting him out. Snape bent over, Harry behind him? Or Snape standing, and Harry in front of him, kneeling? She remembered the precise, careful feel of Harry's mouth sucking on her clitoris, on her nipples, imagined him opening his mouth wider. Something stirred in the pit of her belly.
She bit her lip and stirred her potion and asked herself: What's wrong with you? Last week you were jealous of Voldemort; this week you're wishing you were Snape, so you could fuck your own boyfriend?
She frowned up at Snape behind his desk, trying to make sense of it, trying to fit him (bone and hair and sarcasm) together with Harry (silence and shine and fury). She stripped Snape in her mind, bent him over his own desk, put Harry behind him, sweating and gasping, but it didn't answer any of her questions. She stared at Snape's fingers, his mouth, the nine buttons leading down from his high collar to the place where his robes split away above his waist. Somewhere behind those buttons, under those robes, were the answers to the questions that she'd thought she'd find by fucking Harry, when all this started.
'Really, Miss Granger,' Snape drawled, 'if you have nothing better to look at than me then I can only offer my commiserations. Perhaps if you had come to class earlier, you would have been able to find a seat next to someone more ornamental than Miss Abbott?'
There was a ripple of uneasy laughter, and a scuffle a couple of rows behind her. She looked over her shoulder. Harry was on his feet, staring angrily at Snape.
'Leave her alone,' he said.
Snape turned towards him with elaborate slowness and raised an eyebrow. 'Mr Potter! How very chivalrous. However, I think I told you a week or so ago that the Potions classroom is not the place to conduct your love affairs – however much,' he added, sweeping his gaze across the distance between Harry and Hermione, 'they might be in need of remedial action.'
Harry opened his mouth angrily. Then he shut it again and sat back down. Snape swung back to Hermione.
'Ten points from Gryffindor for mannerless staring, Miss Granger, and if I find you gawping again it will be a detention. I know you sixth years think you are too old to be treated like schoolchildren—' he was looking at Harry, over her shoulder – 'but believe me, in many cases it is no less than entirely appropriate.'
Hermione was curled up on a sofa in the common room, looking into the fire. She'd politely declined Lavender's hushed, solicitous offer of a Butterbeer truffle, and now all the other girls were watching her sadly from a respectful distance. When Harry came in, the whole room hushed.
He looked at the faces looking at him, looked at Hermione, looked back at Lavender and Parvati, and said loudly: 'God, how do you people know?'
Lavender sniffed disapprovingly and went back to her knitting. Harry stalked past her, dropped into the empty sofa opposite Hermione, and opened a Transfigurations textbook. Hermione stopped breathing and wanted, hard, to be somewhere else, or to break this heavy silence. That made her furious with herself. She bit her lip and told herself fiercely that she wasn't going to move out of her comfortable huddle, and that she certainly didn't have anything to say to this strange, secretive boy with Harry's face.
Neville put his head round the door. 'Harry?' he said.
'Hmm?' Harry looked startled. Hermione looked away from him, back into the fire.
'You're wanted in Dumbledore's study,' Neville said. 'I think it's...' and he trailed off delicately.
'Oh,' said Harry. 'Okay.' Hermione heard him getting up and leaving. The door creaked shut behind him, and a split second later the whole common room was boiling with questions (Neville, did you see...? Wasn't that Professor Lupin's carriage out the front earlier, when...? Was it Dumbledore who...?)
She rolled over and watched the others for a moment. There was Lavender at the front of the crowd, her hand on Neville's arm, her voice higher and sharper than the rest. There was Colin Creevey, talking away to Romilda Vane. And there was Ron, sitting glumly and haughtily apart on the steps up to the boys' dormitory. Their eyes met and he looked quickly away, then quickly back, giving her a rueful grin: but she wasn't sure she was ready for what it might mean if she grinned back, and while she was thinking about it anger drained into his face and he got up and walked off.
On Wednesday, Hermione was covering Slytherin homework duty, counting the pre-OWLs students in and out of the room they used for prep. It was the first time she'd done it that term. Two fifth years, five fourth years, six third years, three second years, three first years... She'd almost got used to it over the term, but the sight of the nineteen children, scattered in twos and threes throughout the big, empty room, made her go cold. All those empty spaces.
'All right,' she said at half-past eight, 'time's up,' and the Slytherins filed past her. She tried to catch Nerissa Lightsome's eye as she went out – Nerissa, I've crossed Harry Potter too – but she just marched determinedly past Hermione, leaving her alone and flat and as invisible as ever. She packed up her own homework and drifted down the corridors, feeling like a ghost – a ghost in a Muggle house, she amended, seeing Nearly Headless Nick holding forth on his plan to defeat Voldemort to a gaggle of breathless Gryffindor first-years.
'Get along to bed,' she said to them as she passed, 'and you, Sir Nick, don't encourage them,' but he paid no attention to her.
Ignored by a ghost. Great.
She slammed into the Gryffindor common-room, and the first person she saw – of course – was Harry. She glared at him and he met her eyes for the first time that week.
She paused, startled, on the threshold. Harry half-stood up, holding out a hand towards her, and opened his mouth to speak; but he didn't say anything. He just frowned, and looked away, and sat back down.
'Well, fuck you too, then, Harry Potter,' she said, and the common room stirred and rustled and gasped. She marched straight through and up the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
That night was the first chance she'd had to get back to the Potions classroom, and there was a light under the door again. She sighed, hid under the desk, and cast the Amplifying charm.
'... absolutely no idea why you are talking to me about it.' There was a snap to Snape's voice that sounded like genuine anger, not the ornate, world-weary version of it he affected in class. 'Albus—'
'Oh, God, Severus, that's not the point! Don't you understand anything?'
A sigh. 'Potter, since, as you keep reminding me, I am not in fact in loco parentis to you, I don't really feel obligated to participate in this particular scene. Shall we take it as read that no-one understands you and—'
'Shut up, Severus. I mean it.'
A pause, then Harry's voice again.
'I know you can't do anything about it, okay? But I'm fucked off and – who else am I going to talk to, Severus? Tell me that. Who else? Lupin's in London and Hagrid's in Rumania and there are so many things Albus can't tell me, and if I want to—'
Harry's voice was hoarse and scared. 'I can't say it. You try it, Severus. Tell me what we talked about today.'
Silence, then Snape's voice, like a rusty gate shutting. 'You're right.'
Hermione went cold.
'There's someone here,' said Harry, then 'Immobilitso auditorem!' and she was paralyzed, watching, as the office door blazed open and Harry and Snape were framed in the doorway, back-to-back, wands out, a still from a film that she had no place in. Snape was in loose black trousers and a white shirt, half-unbuttoned; Harry was in jeans and a khaki t-shirt that Hermione had helped him choose in Hogsmeade market the previous weekend. He was nearly as tall as Snape now, Hermione noticed miserably.
'Who's there?' Harry shouted. Hermione looked up at him and stuttered and couldn't answer.
Carefully, still looking around him, Harry took a tiny silver ball out of his pocket and threw it into the air. 'Inveni auditorem,' he said, and the ball hovered for a moment then sailed, bobbing gracefully like a soap bubble on the air, straight towards Hermione. Snape followed its path with his wand. His face was cold and expressionless.
The bubble reached Hermione's knees and expanded into a trembling sphere of bright silver light. And there she was, illuminated, immobilized, sitting under a desk in the Potions classroom with Snape pointing his wand straight at her.
She saw him recognize her. His lip curled and he lowered his wand, which made it worse: teacher-and-pupil now, not a member of the Order of the Phoenix confronting a Death Eater spy.
'Hermione?' said Harry disbelievingly. He shoved his wand back into his jeans pocket, put his hand up to push his hair back.
She tried to nod, couldn't. 'Yes,' she said, then, idiotically, 'Hello.'
'What are you doing here?'
'Could you take this spell off me, Harry, please?'
'Sorry,' said Harry automatically, and retrieved his wand. 'Finite incantantem.'
'Could you answer Mr Potter's question, please?' Snape said over him.
Stealing Restricted herbs for an illegal abortion.
'I – I was following Harry,' she whispered. She looked at Harry and said: 'This afternoon – in the common-room – I thought you wanted to tell me something. And then—'
'Oh, do come out of there, you silly girl,' Snape interrupted her irritably.
She crawled out awkwardly from under the desk and stood up, feeling about twelve. 'I couldn't sleep,' she said to Harry. 'I was wandering about, and I saw you, and I followed you.'
'I did want to tell you something,' said Harry.
Oh, yeah? she thought. Was it about who else you'd been fucking all the time we were... but Harry was going on: 'But it's Order business, and...'
She stared at him, utterly surprised. Order business? He'd turned to Snape and, with an urgent hand laid on Snape's arm, was saying: 'Severus, I have to tell her.'
Snape glared at Harry's hand. Harry didn't take it away.
'Once again,' he said coldly, 'I have to ask you what you expect me to do about it. I am bound by the rules of the Order just as you are.'
'Exactly,' said Harry. 'So the two of us can enrol her.'
'Enrol—?' Snape stared at Harry in frank astonishment.
'It only takes two members of the Order to create another, right? And then I can tell her.'
'Don't be ridiculous, Potter.'
'Don't talk to me like that, Severus,' said Harry, and if the first name had ever been a mark of intimacy, it wasn't now.
Snape's mouth twisted. 'I appreciate,' he said with mock patience, 'that you may have reason to feel you have treated Miss Granger shabbily. But enrolling her in the Order of the Phoenix is not the way to make amends for a less-than-idyllic outcome to a schoolboy – and -girl,' he added, nodding with ironic courtesy to Hermione – 'dalliance.'
'I said don't talk to me like that,' said Harry. 'Either I'm an adult or I'm not. You can't have it both ways.' He dropped his hand from Snape's arm, took a step back, took a deep breath. 'I'm telling you that I have to do this. I owe it to Hermione. And I need your help, as another member of the Order, to do what I have to do. So it's up to you. You can help me, or you can send me to bed. But this is it. If you won't help me, if you make me do what you say because you're my teacher and I'm a schoolboy, then okay, that's your decision, that's what we'll be.'
Snape's eyes flicked to Hermione's, to see how much she knew, but she kept her face deadpan (Well, this is fucked-up). He looked back at Harry, and nodded.
And there was Hermione, in Snape's private office/secret lair behind the Potions classroom, touching the tip of her wand to Harry's and Snape's and swearing to be bound by the laws and oaths of the Order of the Phoenix.
'Coniuro,' they said all together, and lowered their wands. A strange, shivery feeling went through Hermione, prickling at the tips of her fingers and toes, and for some reason she tasted—
'Cherryade?' said Harry.
'I'll make you some tea.' Harry went off to the far side of the room, where four or five cauldrons were lined up tidily on a bench, each over a burner. Leaving her, alarmingly, with Snape.
'Do sit down, Miss Granger,' he said. (Was that Snape being polite? It sounded exactly like Snape being sarcastic.) He indicated a narrow, shabby armchair near the fire, and Hermione sat down, tentatively. It was very uncomfortable.
'So... was that it?' she asked. 'I'm a member of the Order now?'
Snape nodded briefly. He wasn't looking at her, but at a patch of wall behind her right shoulder: she looked round the room, uneasily. A cupboard which she could tell from here was locked more fiercely than a simple Alohamora would be able to deal with. A desk, covered in piles of parchment. A couch with a tangle of blankets. Was that where they—? She looked away hurriedly, and saw – thank God – Harry pouring water from one of the cauldrons into a mug.
He came back over and handed the mug to Hermione, then perched on the edge of the couch.
'Okay,' said Hermione. 'What's all this about?'
Harry looked at Snape (whose face became, if anything, more closed), then back at Hermione. His eyes were serious.
'Albus told me today that you're going to be the key to the final battle.'
Hermione had thought she had no idea what to expect, but now she knew that at least it hadn't been that.
'Me?' Her voice squeaked. 'Why?'
Harry shrugged. 'Albus hasn't said.'
'What's going to happen?'
'He hasn't said that, either.'
'But – well, then, why didn't he want me to know about it?'
'Hasn't said,' said Harry.
'What has he said? Exactly, Harry.'
Harry frowned, remembering, and pushed the hair out of his eyes. 'He said he had information – no, Hermione, he didn't say what – reliable information, though, that led him to believe that you were going to be the key to the final battle.' He shrugged. 'That's all. Then he said you'd always been a good friend to me and I should, um, cherish your friendship.'
Snape raised an eyebrow. Harry glared at him.
'But,' said Hermione helplessly. 'Does he mean I'm going to be in the final battle? Or am I going to find something out? Or—' And what business is it of his if Harry and I split up?
'Albus is not the most forthcoming of leaders,' said Snape drily. 'I assure you, Miss Granger, you now know everything that we know.' He got up from where he was sitting and dusted his hands together. 'Now, since it is two in the morning, perhaps I might not be accused of abusing my teacherly authority if I suggest that we all go to bed, and any further questions can wait until the Order meeting tomorrow?'
'All right,' said Harry around a yawn. 'Come on, Hermione.' He held out a hand to help her up.
'Welcome to the Order, Miss Granger,' said Snape, 'and good night,' and the door of his office closed before she had to think of anything to say in reply.
Hermione was waiting in the corridor outside Dumbledore's study. There were an unknown number of the most powerful wizards in England on the other side of the door and she didn't dare cast the Amplifying Charm, so she was listening anxiously to the buzz and rumble of voices, to the pattern of speech and silence, and trying to read the tone of the meeting out of it.
Silence. Footsteps. The creak of the door.
He rolled his eyes, gave her a half-smile, and said: 'It's okay, Hermione. Come in.'
And Hermione stepped into Dumbledore's study, into a meeting of the Order of the Phoenix.
There were only six wizards and witches already there: McGonagall, Dumbledore, Snape, Lupin, and two others she recognized from Grimmauld Place – Kingsley Shacklebolt and Hestia Jones. They were seated round a long, low table, cluttered with mugs and glasses, pieces of parchment and big grimoires, small artefact-looking things and – in front of Hestia Jones – a sleek, grey thing shaped like an opened book. Hermione blinked. She'd seen one of those before, that summer, at Emma's house: a laptop computer.
Hestia saw her looking and winked; Hermione smiled back, a bit shyly. She was standing at the foot of the table, not quite sure what to do, fidgeting from foot to foot, as Harry slid into his place beside Lupin.
'Do sit down,' said Dumbledore, and she fumbled her way onto a chair. Dumbledore cleared his throat, and said: 'And so we must welcome our newest member to the Order of the Phoenix: I believe you all know Hermione Granger, one of our ablest students here at Hogwarts, and formerly a tireless member of –' he twinkled – 'the organization known, I believe, as "Dumbledore's Army."'
Everyone smiled at her. She felt like an idiot.
'Hermione,' Dumbledore was going on, 'I owe you an apology. Two, in fact. I understand Severus and Harry have told you that it seems you are to play a crucial part in the coming confrontation with Lord Voldemort?'
'Then I must apologize for not having told you this myself; but I must also apologize that I will not, for the moment, give you any specific information on the matter. Please don't take it personally; I assure you that no-one in the Order, apart from myself, knows exactly what the pr—that is, exactly what I am basing this on. I do hope you will trust me when I say that I honestly believe that this is the safest way.'
Hermione nodded, and Dumbledore smiled at her. 'Well!' he said. 'That's that. Perhaps we might pass on to...'
And the rest of the meeting was more-or-less unintelligible. At first, Lupin made an effort to fill in the gaps in his courteous way (Charlie and Hagrid are in Romania, Hermione, tracking the Dementors together with the wizarding government there; Tonks is investigating a possible prophecy in Ireland), but he got drawn into an involved discussion of an arithmantic sequence that McGonagall had derived since the last meeting. Hermione concentrated and scribbled notes (Goblins? A'mantic sequence suggests full moon. Sthg about BLOOD [centaurs] [whose???] ) and tried to make sense of the situation from bits and pieces of information, casual references, implications, looks, tones of voice. After a while she gave up, and sat watching, doodling zig-zags on the corner of her parchment.
Dumbledore, at the head of the table, and Kingsley, half-way down the side opposite Hermione, were doing most of the talking; when the others said something it was as though they were intercepting the energy flowing between the two men. Lupin seemed to be mostly listening, asking questions to give someone a chance to clarify or expand on a point they'd made, which was about what Hermione would have expected from him; McGonagall, just as characteristically, kept quiet except when she had some fact to contribute or error to correct, which she did quickly and drily. Snape and Harry – well, she tried not to look at Snape and Harry too much, and in any case they didn't have much to say.
Hestia Jones, though, was the odd one out. She looked like a Muggle. There was a green streak in her short black hair, but it didn't look witchy; it looked like it had been bleached and dyed. She was wearing a green-and-orange t-shirt saying 'PULP'. And there was the laptop, which seemed to have her notes on it; she consulted it a few times in the course of the meeting, answering Dumbledore's questions.
'Right,' said Kingsley in a brisk, wrapping-up voice. Hermione stopped doodling. 'I have an appointment this evening, so I'm going to have to get back to London. Is there any other business? ... Very well then. You all know how to summon me.' He pushed his chair back, got up. 'Goodbye, Albus, all,' and swept out of the room.
'Indeed,' said Dumbledore, looking – for a moment – very slightly disconcerted. 'We all have work to do, and time is short, so perhaps – unless there are any questions—' his eyes went round the table, impersonal, impassive, meeting Hermione's only for a second – 'we might all do best to follow Kingsley's example. Hermione, do you have any questions about your task for this week?'
Shit. Hermione had no idea what he was talking about. She swallowed nervously and shook her head, thinking: it's okay, I can ask Harry. But as everyone began getting up from the table, Dumbledore beckoned to Harry: 'Mr Potter, if I might have a word with you in private?' And she had to leave the study with all her questions unanswered.
She paused in the corridor, fussing with her bag and wondering what to do next.
'Hello,' said someone from beside her. She looked up into Hestia Jones's pink and friendly face.
'You looked a bit lost there,' she said. 'Do you want to go for a coffee and talk about it?'
Hestia was standing on one foot on the narrow step at the front door of a narrow house in the middle of a terrace on the Hogwarts side of Hogsmeade, trying to unlock the door and talk to Hermione over her shoulder at the same time.
'It's really messy,' she said apologetically. 'I'd take you for a coffee – it's such a tiny house, I basically use Madam Puddifoot's as my front room, which has the added advantage that I don't have to tidy it up – but obviously I wouldn't be able to talk to you about Order business with other people there. Sorry.' She was through the door by now.
Hermione went carefully up the steps and in. The front door opened straight onto a small, square, bright-blue-painted living-room, just big enough for a sofa, an armchair, a fireplace (the fire was lit, and a cauldron was bubbling quietly on it), a little coffee-table, a couple of bookshelves and a television.
'Sit down,' said Hestia, shifting a pile of papers off the chair and onto the sofa. 'I'll make you a cup of tea.' She disappeared through a door; Hermione got a glimpse of a tiny kitchen and a big pile of washing-up.
'Do you want a hand?' she asked politely.
'No room,' Hestia shouted back. 'I won't be a second.'
Hermione hung over the arm of the sofa, looking at the books in the bookshelf: fat Muggle paperbacks next to Moste Potente Potions and Gerard's Herbal; Daniel Deronda next to a tatty-looking book with an animated, wizardly spine, called My Name Is Mud.
'Here you go,' said Hestia, passing her a mug of milky tea. 'Do you want sugar? I don't think I've got any,' she added.
'That's okay,' said Hermione, then, politely, 'I like your books.'
'Thanks.' Hestia smiled at her. She put her own mug down on the floor by the other chair and shifted the pile of papers off it onto the floor under the coffee table.
'Okay,' she said. 'Do you have any questions, or do you want me to start at the beginning?'
'Start at the beginning,' said Hermione, trying not to sound too desperate.
'Okay,' said Hestia again. She thought for a moment. 'The main thing, I guess, is that the Ministry's mostly taken over the stuff about the Death Eaters, and that's a whole nother story,' she added furiously, 'but I won't get into it now – though I could; the Order is exempt from the Secrecy Decree. So the Ministry's tracking down Death Eaters, and passing Extraordinary Imprisonment Decrees so they can imprison all kinds of people without even charging them...' – Draco? thought Hermione – 'which is real stable-door stuff, really, given that they let Lucius Bloody Malfoy escape in July and no-one has the first idea where he is. What we're mostly doing is collecting information about the magical side of things... you know, they say the Dark Arts, but Voldemort's not really an artist. He's sort of crude – I mean, everything he does leaves etheric tracks about a mile wide, and scatters prophecies and signs and portents and visions and whatnot all over the place. But he knows that, so he takes care to spread a lot of false information too – that's what all that stuff was about, last year, when he got into Harry Potter's dreams?'
Hermione nodded, to show she remembered.
'Anyway, so the biggest deal at the moment is that it looks like there's going to be a major confrontation, for real, on Hallowe'en. That's what we were mostly talking about today. We think that Voldemort is going to try and summon Harry to a village called Godric's Hollow – you know that's where Harry's parents...?' Hermione nodded again. 'Okay. It looks like this is going to be the next twist in the Voldemort-and-Harry story – their magic is still somehow all tangled up together.' Hestia talked with her hands; she was drawing complicated tangles in the air. 'So Voldemort needs to do one last something to Harry before he can come into his full powers.'
Hestia shrugged apologetically. 'We don't know. I think probably not, but that's just because it's not like he hasn't had a good few chances to kill Harry before now. I haven't been studying the prophecies or anything. Albus and Kingsley are the experts on Divination and prophetic magics, so this is mostly based on what they say.'
'So – what are we doing?'
'Getting ready,' said Hestia. 'Albus and Kingsley and Remus are working on the prophecies. Severus—' she stumbled slightly over the name, and Hermione looked up, but all she went on to say was '...is working with Harry on Occlumency, at least I bloody hope he is, after that unforgivable stuff-up last year. And Minerva and I are trying to track Voldemort's future echoes – it's mostly Arithmancy. That's what Albus was on about this afternoon?'
'Um,' said Hermione.
'Your task for the week?'
'I think I missed that bit,' Hermione confessed.
'Yeah, I thought you might have. Well, you're supposed to be working with me this week – Minerva says you're the top student in your year at Arithmancy?'
'Um,' said Hermione again.
'Cool. Have you done temporal calculus yet?'
'Well, you will now,' said Hestia cheerfully. She leaned over towards the bookcases and rummaged through them, then threw a book to Hermione ('Nice catch!') Arithmancy For Divination, Hermione read.
'Borrow that,' she said, 'and come back tomorrow after school. Chapter Three's the one you want.'
Hermione leafed through the book for a moment, watching unintelligibly complicated diagrams draw themselves on the pages as she looked at them.
This was going to be fun.
Twenty-four hours, a crash course in temporal calculus, and a missed Potions class later, Hermione was back in Hestia's living-room. They were sitting next to each other on the sofa, frowning at the scribbled-over parchment that Hestia was holding.
'Okay,' said Hestia. She put her pen down and ruffled up her hair. 'I totally think that's it. Or - do you want to check it one more time?'
Hermione shook her head tiredly. 'Even if I did, I wouldn't be able to tell if it was right or not,' she said.
'We'd better not cast tonight, then. Can you come over tomorrow?'
'Yes,' said Hermione immediately. Then she remembered the three-foot essay she owed Dumbledore, and the prefect meeting, and her Transfigurations project; but she didn't take it back.
'Wicked.' Hestia got up and stretched. 'Do you want a cup of tea?'
Hermione sat where she was, listening to Hestia clanking about in the kitchen and enjoying the numbness in her brain, the tingling in her limbs. It was a familiar, unfamiliar feeling. She'd worked herself to the point of exhaustion before, of course, many times – even before OWLs revision last year, there was the year the Time-Turner had given her an extra four hours in the working day but no more time for food or sleep, and her body's clock had been so definitively screwed up that she'd been exhausted all the time except for the strange, disembodied highs that descended on her once or twice a day.
This didn't feel like that, though. There was something new in it: this certainty that she'd come to the end of something, that she couldn't have worked any harder or longer or better. It was a nice feeling. Maybe, she thought, it was because this was a real thing that she was doing; not like a school essay on a made-up question taking a random slice out of an indefinite subject.
Or maybe, she thought as Hestia came back in with mugs, it was just because she didn't have any friends at school any more and she thought she might really like Hestia.
They drank tea in tired silence together for a minute or so, then: 'Shit,' said Hestia suddenly, looking at her watch. 'Is that – Hang on, I just need to put a tape in.' She rummaged among the stuff under the coffee table until she found the remote, then turned the TV on, muted, while she put in a tape and set the timer. Bluish-white light from the grainy image on the screen spilt over the piles of grimoires on the floor.
'Sorry about this,' she said over her shoulder. 'It's Brookside – I'm sort of addicted to it.'
'How do you—' Hermione stalled, and tried again. 'You're the only witch I know who has a telly.'
Hestia rolled her eyes. 'I know. It's fucking ridiculous, isn't it? Oh, Merlin, I can make sparks shoot out of a stick, clearly this means that I must never again know what is happening on EastEnders. And the reception here is terrible,' she added.
'So were you – are you—'
'Yeah,' said Hestia, 'I'm a Muggle.'
'Oh, okay,' said Hestia. She put her cup down and flapped her hands. 'Muggle-born. But that sounds so... Oh, I don't know. So grudging,' she added immediately, as if she did know. 'You know? I was born a Muggle but now I am a witch. I usually call myself a Mud, actually. I've got a badge which... Oh, it's on this t-shirt.' She pulled at the fabric of her top, showing Hermione the badge: MUD PRIDE, it said.
'Like in Mudblood, obviously. But also, like, my name is mud' – Hermione remembered the book she'd seen on Hestia's shelf – 'and like muddying the waters – you know, like it's not so simple – and also like earth. Because, you know, nothing grows without mud. And – I mean, haven't you noticed how fucked-up this is? There's what, about one in five Mud kids at Hogwarts? That's about the usual number. And how many adult wizards do you see who don't dress up like some kind of cross between BBC Shakespeare and the fifties and talk like they'd never even heard of...' she spluttered – 'I don't know, e-mail or Star Trek or – or Morrissey? And – I'm sorry,' she interrupted herself. 'You shouldn't get me started on this. Because of the rage.'
'Go on,' said Hermione. Something in this torrent of anger and sarcasm almost reminded her of Snape: Snape on fast-forward and with his switch turned from COLD to HOT, so that instead of chilling her, it gave her a warm, shiny, breathless feeling.
Hestia did a double-take. 'Really? Because I can, you know. For pretty much ever. There's the fertility laws and the Memory charms and the way they withhold medical magic from Muggles, and the way they never let Muds have any positions dealing with Muggles – it's calculated isolationism. I mean, who have they put in the Muggle Artefacts Department? Arthur Weasley!' She threw up her hands. 'He's been working there for thirty years and he still can't pronounce electricity! He can't work a fucking telephone! And he's one of the less rabidly separatist pure-bloods! It makes me despair, honestly.'
'But then – why do you live in the only all-wizard settlement in Britain?'
Hestia rubbed the back of her neck, looking a bit abashed. 'It's a long story,' she said. 'But, you know, nothing's that far away from anywhere else if you're a witch. As long as I walk out past the Hogsmeade boundary, I can Apparate to Edinburgh without much effort, if I need videotapes or anything. It's not like I'm completely cut off. Can you Apparate yet?' she added.
Hermione nodded, carefully, because her head was fizzing with all the things Hestia had said.
She was still feeling exhilarated when she got back to the common room. She threw herself down in a chair and opened her bag; looked at all her undone homework, looked at Harry, across the room; thought fuck it, and didn't drop her eyes again the way she usually did when she caught Harry's eye in the common room or Potions class or at breakfast. Instead, she closed her bag again and said 'Harry, I need to talk to you. Not here,' she added unnecessarily in the sudden hush.
'Okay,' said Harry.
They went up to the roofs. It was cold and clear, and the sky was distant and starry, with a half-moon caught in the clouds and the battlements of the Astronomy Tower.
Hermione looked at Harry, at the pale and serious lines of his moonlit face, then down at their hands side by side on the parapet. There was half an inch between her right little finger and his left little finger, and the distance between them was as vast and uncrossable as ever. It made her feel melancholy and wild.
'What did you want to talk about?' Harry asked.
Hermione's head was full. How could you fuck me and Snape at the same time? How could you fuck Snape? Do you love me even a little bit? What do you think of Hestia Jones? Isn't there anything you miss, about being a Muggle?
But what she said, for some reason, was 'Is Draco in Azkaban?'
'Yes,' said Harry.
'And the others? All of them?'
'But that's terrible!'
'Oh, great,' said Harry angrily. 'Are you going to start knitting socks for Death Eaters, too?'
'They're not Death Eaters, for God's sake! Half the house? Most of them aren't even of age!'
'What, so they'll have to get a Portkey instead of Apparating when they want to kill me? Okay, fine, they must be harmless, then.'
'How do you know they're not?' Hermione shouted. 'Have they even been tried?'
'There's a war on,' said Harry. 'There's emergency legislation. Lucius Malfoy is on the run, and Draco might be able to—'
'Honestly, Harry, I'd have thought you had more sense than that! Don't you remember anything? What about Hagrid? What about Sirius?'
'Exactly,' said Harry viciously. 'Sirius is dead. That's what I remember. I remember watching Draco's father and all his friends killing my only – killing my godfather. How dare you? With your parents safe and sound in your nice house in Camberwell... How dare you tell me it's more important that everything gets done by the book than that— Who have you lost, Hermione?'
You, thought Hermione. I've lost you.
But she couldn't say it. They stared at each other for a moment before Harry turned and left.
Hermione, in a dip between two overgrown, heathery hummocks, ten yards from the Hogwarts road on the far side of Hogsmeade, took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
London. Trafalgar Square, where no-one would notice one more person appearing in the crowds, and she could walk up to the library on Charing Cross Road. She summoned it up carefully: the lions, the pigeons, the London noises, the London smells.
She couldn't believe it had never occurred to her before. Prefects had extended bounds, so there was nothing to stop her walking out past Hogsmeade town limits and Apparating to anywhere she liked.
The lions wobbled and dissolved, and suddenly she was seeing her parents' living-room, the fat sofa with the threadbare arm, the dreadful old lampshade dripping with fringe that her mum had been going to throw out, just as soon as she had time to get a new one, for the last ten years. No fireplace. Clean-laundry smell and central-heating warmth.
She blinked it away and tried to concentrate again, but she couldn't do it: every time she got Trafalgar Square clear enough, just as she was about to Step out into the blackness Between, Camberwell came swimming through. She'd never Apparated so far, or without supervision, and if she couldn't concentrate...
She bit her lip and remembered Hestia saying Edinburgh, not much effort, and summoned up the one clear memory she had of a family trip to Scotland, her last year of primary school, and Stepped before she could think about it any more. And there she was, in the noise and busyness and petrol-stink of a Muggle city, on the grass in the gardens beside the great, pointed, blackened, almost-wizardly, Scott monument.
And now all she had to do was figure out where to go to get an abortion.
She squared her shoulders, swallowed, and went up to a youngish woman in a woolly hat who was throwing a ball for a collie dog.
'Excuse me,' she said. 'Do you know where the library is?'
The smell of the waiting room made Hermione nervous and small and ten years old. She looked down at the three-years-old magazine on her lap, leafing through it, trying to find someone she'd heard of, or an article with more text than pictures on the page. There didn't seem to be anything to read in it. She should have brought a book.
Three years ago. Brandon Lee had just died during filming of The Crow, and Lenny Kravitz's marriage was on the rocks, and she had been... she had been nowhere, non-existent, Petrified. Lying on a bed in the hospital wing for the three black and dreamless weeks that were still a hole in her memory, that had made her so hungry for time and daylight that she'd jumped at the chance to live most of her days twice over the following year.
Schindler's List had won the Oscar for Best Picture. Oprah Winfrey had interviewed Michael Jackson, who had denied having any plastic surgery despite being a dead ringer for Voldemort.
Not that it said that. This whole big, busy, teeming world going on as if the Dark Lord hadn't risen again, as if she weren't going to be scrying for prophecies with Hestia next week, as if she were just a stupid pregnant teenager waiting in a dingy, doctor-smelling room with five other stupid pregnant teenagers. (And that boy over there.)
Which she supposed she was. She shut the magazine and stared at the wall.
'Hermione Granger,' said a distorted, electronic voice, and she thought for a wild moment about leaving, going back to Hogwarts, to her real life, letting all this happen. (Herself on a hillside, her hair whipped by the wind, facing an army of Death Eaters. Harry beside her, a wand in her hand, a baby in a sling on her back.)
Then she swung open the green door to the private rooms and went through it.
The thing she hadn't expected was that she wouldn't have to lie. There in the little green-painted room, sitting on the low, supposed-to-be-comfortable chair, watching the smiles and frowns on the nice, no-nonsense face of the woman, listening to the constant, familiar-unfamiliar hum of the electric lights, she told the truth about Derek, about her age, about wanting to do well at school, not wanting her parents to know, being sure she didn't want to have a baby, not having anyone to talk to about it.
It was just everything else she had to lie about; all the questions the woman asked to put her at her ease.
Latin, Maths, History.
Yes, I hope so. Cambridge, but I don't know if I'll get in. Durham. Edinburgh. UCL.
I don't know yet. The civil service?
They were so nice to her, it made her want to cry.
All that week, back at school, the world was inside-out. She felt like she had at Emma's party, in the summer; like an emissary from the real world, full of secrets and knowledge. All these well-scrubbed children, uniformed and neat, streaming past her in the corridors: her prefectly voice slowing them down or changing their direction ('Don't run, Mildred Hubble. Eric! Eric Chant! Where's your tie?') while no-one had the slightest idea that next Monday she'd be swallowing two Mifepristone, and then next Wednesday, she'd be in a Muggle health clinic, having the pessary administered that would make her miscarry. In the privacy of your own home, they said, which made her laugh.
'Ready?' said Hestia.
Hermione nodded. They'd piled the furniture against one wall or shoved it into the kitchen; they'd nailed down a sheet of some tough black stuff that would take the inscription better, Hestia said, than her uneven floorboards, and need less cleaning-up afterwards.
'Okay, then,' said Hestia. 'Let's go.'
It was a different kind of casting from anything Hermione had done before. They'd devised the diagram the previous day, using the formulae they'd worked out before; if it worked, it should create a sort of acoustic dish, channeling the traces of Voldemort's fateline back from the future and trapping them in a tiny crystal sphere at the centre of the dish.
But it didn't work. Not properly.
By the time Hermione was halfway through drawing her half of the diagram, squatting on aching legs and barely daring to breathe in case her hand trembled as she painted the lines onto the tarpaulin, time was beginning to warp and to change. Voices muttered on the edge of her hearing, and she kept seeing things out of the corner of her eye. She found herself finishing the final line of her half while Hestia, visible on the other side of the room as if through thick, blurry glass, was getting up from hammering the last nail into place; then she was back at the beginning, nervously touching brush to floor for the very first time, while Hestia, more in focus and only a few seconds out of synch, set the crystal into position.
And then the crystal was shattering, and the room was a chaos of light and noise and smoke and faces and flying glass, and Hermione had no idea which were real and now and which were bits of Voldemort's future, escaping from the trap.
Father and son, said a cold, precise voice that Hermione had never heard before. Father and son. She saw Snape's face twisted with grief, felt a sharp, hot cut on her arm, heard Lucius Malfoy's voice say He is dead, and now nothing stands in our way, saw Harry raise his wand in a trembling hand...
Then it was over. She was in a huddle in the corner of the room; Hestia was laid out on the floor, her eyes closed.
It was a small room, so it only took one big step and then Hermione was there beside her, scared and hurting and shaking. But Hestia opened her eyes when she reached her, and gave a wobbly smile.
Hermione burst into tears.
'Oh, don't!' said Hestia, her voice wobbling. She struggled to sit up. 'You'll start me off, and then...' She put her hand over her mouth, took a deep breath.
'Whisky,' she said, and went off into the kitchen. Her left leg was bleeding. 'Whisky, chocolate, and a first-aid kit.'
The chocolate turned out to be hot and liquid, with a slug of whisky in it. By the time Hermione was halfway through the mug, she had nearly stopped shaking. She sat, wrapped in a too-big jumper, on a cushion that Hestia had retrieved from the pile of furniture, on the ragged, scorched remains of the tarpaulin, pressing a cloth to the cut on her arm; Hestia sat beside her, dabbing disinfectant onto her leg and saying 'Ow!' loudly from time to time.
She put the bottle of disinfectant down, took a long, heavy breath, and announced: 'Fuck.'
'That was bad. I'm really sorry.' Hestia glanced at Hermione nervously.
'I'm okay,' said Hermione.
'Yeah,' said Hestia consideringly. 'You will be. But still, fuck. We don't get a second chance with this. That was it. That's all we're getting. Oh, I'm not going to enjoy telling Albus about this in the morning.'
'What happened?' said Hermione. Was it my fault? she meant. Was it because I'm worried about Monday?
Hestia shrugged. 'It just didn't work. It was always a bit risky, just two of us, and pretty young, trying to capture the future resonances of one of the most powerful wizards in the world. Even if he is an idiot... I would have liked Minerva to come in with us, but she's working on something else this week. Oh well. I got some bits and pieces, I suppose. Did you?'
'I saw,' said Hermione. Her voice broke, and she took a couple more swigs of chocolate before starting again. 'I saw Harry – he was raising his wand. And I heard Lucius Malfoy saying He's dead.'
'Tit,' said Hestia. 'Sorry. Go on. I got that too. And someone saying Father and son?'
'And I saw Severus. That was it.'
Hermione nodded again.
Something in her face must have worried Hestia. 'Listen,' she said urgently, 'honestly, Hermione, don't worry about it. This stuff is always misleading. Really. Even if we'd got all of it, there's no sure way of reading future tracks, and if you've only got fragments, it's really dangerous to try and make guesses. I'm only going to tell Albus because he knows so much stuff that he hasn't told anyone else, and it might fit together with something he's got. But you mustn't worry. He could be anybody. There's no reason on earth to think it's Harry – that's what you think, isn't it?'
'Who else could it be?' Hermione burst out. 'Nothing stands in our way now, he said. Who else is there?'
Hestia shrugged. 'Dumbledore. Severus. Kingsley. Any of us, really. Well,' she added, 'any of the men.'
'But Snape looked—' Hermione bit her lip. 'Hestia,' she said urgently, 'what's going to happen on the thirty-first?'
'I don't know, love,' said Hestia.
'No, I didn't mean – I meant, what are we going to do, the Order? To protect Harry? Where's Harry going to be?'
Hestia looked steadily at her. 'He's going to be at Godric's Hollow,' she said.
'What? But – I thought you said that's where Voldemort was going to try and get him?'
Hestia nodded. 'Not alone,' she said quickly. 'He'll have back-up – the strongest wizards in the Order, as many as can be there.'
Hestia held up her hands. 'Albus says there's no way round it – the prophecies are very clear, and there's no point trying to get out of them, so we might as well be there and ready. And after the Battle of the Ministry, no-one's going to cross Albus. And,' she hesitated, then went on: 'the thing is, Hermione, Harry really, really wants to do it. And – I mean, what's the alternative? We could just try and keep him out of the way, so Voldemort never gets his hands on him – but frankly our record on that front sucks. I mean, that's how his mum and dad died. You can see why he might be a bit keen to get to the confrontation.'
It kept repeating in Hermione's head all the way home, all the long night, every time she woke when she rolled onto her injured arm or when the covers dragged on it; what Hestia had said without knowing what she was saying.
That's where... that's how his mum and dad died. You can see why he might be a bit keen.
Harry in first year, pale and silent from sleepless night after sleepless night staring into the Mirror of Erised; his dead parents, his heart's desire, waving to him, talking to him, from just the other side of the glass. Harry in third year, watching himself surrounded by Dementors, watching himself dying, and still waiting for his dead father to come and save him. Harry at the Battle of the Ministry, throwing himself after Sirius, fighting Lupin to get away, to get through the ragged curtains in the archway. Harry, who was only happy when he was flying, high and fast and fearless.
Harry at Godric's Hollow, facing a seven-foot-tall, snake-faced horror; fluttering rags and tendrils of black mist reaching out, surrounding pale, pretty Harry, closing over him; Harry drowning at last in the silence he'd swum in all term, and glad to go. Harry smiling in the last glimmer of light before the darkness took him away.
She hadn't seen any of those things, but she didn't need to. She knew they were true, all of them.
'Harry,' she said at breakfast.
He glared at her. 'What?'
Don't go to Godric's Hollow. But of course it was Order business, and she couldn't say it; her tongue stuck in her mouth. More secrets. She coughed and swallowed, and Harry slammed to his feet and away from the Gryffindor table. She watched him walk away from her.
He's not mine, she thought. He's Snape's, he's Voldemort's, he's Dumbledore's, he's his dead parents'. He's not mine.
She'd told Professor Sinistra (knowing that Sinistra wouldn't check) that she had a prefects' meeting, and then she'd simply walked out of the school, down past Hogsmeade to the edge of open country, to the point where you could almost-see the shimmer of the great Disillusionment that protected Hogwarts on the far horizon, and Apparated into the carefully-memorized space behind the bins in the alley beside the clinic.
And then there she was, stepping up onto the couch, looking at the ceiling and floating out of her body. Fingers pushed briefly and impersonally into her vagina, feeling very strange, then 'All done,' said the doctor, smiling, and Hermione swung her legs down and sat up, trembly and disbelieving, wondering how she felt, how she would feel.
She felt the bleeding start, together with a crampy, gnawing feeling in her belly, as she was walking back to school from Hogsmeade.
Oh, she heard herself think almost before she realized what was happening, thank God.
Hermione was tucked up in her bed, with the curtains drawn, with a hot-water-bottle in the small of her back.
She hurt, and she was a bit dizzy and a bit sick, but it felt, somehow, like her body being on her side again. As if the pregnancy had been about to sweep her off into a future that she had no say over. Because, however pretty the pictures of her-with-a-baby had been (her in the market, at the library, at war, her baby always clean and cute and sleeping), they had all been, really, about cutting herself out of her own life.
Whereas this, this messy, painful, mistake and its messy, painful solution, this was hers. Hers in a way that a baby would never really have been; and that was what she'd really wanted, what her daydreams had been about. Not a baby, not really, but this feeling; not power, that was a Slytherin word (Lucius Malfoy and Voldemort, dark robes and Dark Arts, Bellatrix Lestrange's mad laughter), but... competence. Capability.
This was something secret that was all her own. Something that she had decided and done, all on her own, and no-one even knew about it. Working in Edinburgh Central library, the old, high rooms like Hogwarts, the shiny books and leaflets, doing research that wasn't for Harry, for once, that had nothing to do with the Dark Lord, with the war, the war, the war. Going to the clinic, where they had listened to her talk, all in one go, for longer than she could remember talking to anyone for years, and treated her like a grown-up. The difference between You have a legal right to confidentiality and the spell that choked her whenever she began to talk about anything that was Order business.
She shifted in the bed, moving the hot-water-bottle to her front.
That was all very well, but on the other hand, the co-codamol she'd taken was starting to wear off, and Lavender and Parvati would be back from afternoon school at any minute. Time for a quick trip to the hospital wing, then a long bath in the prefects' bathroom.
Madam Pomfrey looked up when Hermione knocked. Her white-winged hat, the thick parchment ledger on the candlelit desk where a computer would have been, looked suddenly anachronistic and strange.
She smiled at Hermione, shutting the ledger. 'Yes, dear?' she said. 'What can I do for you?'
'Period pain,' said Hermione. 'Could I get a—' but she trailed off, because Madam Pomfrey's face had frozen, and she was rising to her feet, trembling.
'What did you say?'
'Period pain,' said Hermione again, stammering a little over the words, and suddenly she remembered the message-spell on the little pink book that she might not have been able to cancel, and the words punitive expulsion and application for permission to terminate, and she went cold all over.
'Albus,' said Madam Pomfrey, turning towards the fire, and suddenly there was Dumbledore's head, in the flames. He blinked benignly.
'You asked me to tell you if there any problems arose with Miss Granger's pregnancy—'
'What?' said Hermione. 'That's none of your business!'
'We are in loco parentis to you, Miss Granger,' said Dumbledore.
'No, you're not! I'm of age! I have a legal right to—'
'Under Muggle law, perhaps.' His voice was very cold. 'While you remain a student at Hogwarts, however, you do not have full adult status under wizarding law. We remain responsible for you. So I think that this is very much our business, don't you?'
'No, I don't!' shouted Hermione, but Dumbledore was carrying on over her: 'Poppy, is there a problem?'
'Quite a serious one, I'd say,' said Madam Pomfrey. 'Miss Granger is no longer pregnant.'
A long silence. Dumbledore's face in the fire was very white and suddenly old.
'Are you quite sure?'
Madam Pomfrey came out from behind the desk and, unexpectedly, laid the flat of her hand against Hermione's tummy. Hermione twisted away, shaking, but Madam Pomfrey was already saying: 'I'm afraid so.'
In the fire, Dumbledore closed his eyes and lowered his head briefly. Then: 'Go to your dormitory, Miss Granger,' he said hoarsely. 'You will remain there or in the common room until the morning, when you will be taken to the Ministry of Magic for a legal hearing.'
There must have been a magical obligation in there, because Hermione went.
In the morning, Madam Pomfrey came to take her down to the great door, where there was a school carriage waiting for her.
'Are they going to tell my parents?' asked Hermione as they went down the staircase. Madam Pomfrey shook her head, and Hermione felt her heart drop, felt her whole body go heavy and stiff with misery. She blinked, surprised at herself, and a tear spilt out of her eye.
I want my mum, she thought. It was the first time she could remember thinking it since first year, and it hit her hard. I want my mum at the hearing. Her mum's straight back, her fierceness, her unembarrassable persistence. Even though she didn't know anything about wizarding law, and she'd be livid with Hermione for getting herself pregnant... or would she? Hermione couldn't really imagine it, she realized. She hadn't even started her period when she'd left home for Hogwarts, and since then there had never been room between herself and her parents, in the narrow space of Christmas fortnight or Easter week or the six weeks of summer – even when she'd gone home for the holidays, and she usually hadn't – for anger or hurt or unhappiness. All those things had had to go into silence, feeding it until now there was almost nothing else between her and her parents. She saw herself and her mother again, chopping vegetables in the kitchen, connected by nothing but the rhythm of their knives.
She was so far away that she stumbled on the last step. As she saved herself, she heard Harry's voice, saying her name. She turned to look at him.
He stood at the foot of the staircase opposite, breathing hard, his narrow shoulders rising and falling. The light coming through the front doors, which stood half-open onto the cold, clear morning, left half his face in shadow until he stepped forward, furious, and raised his wand.
'Petrificus Totalus,' he said, and Madam Pomfrey fell all-of-a-piece to the floor.
'Harry, what are you doing? There's going to be a hearing! I can't just go on the run—'
He shook his head impatiently, shaking her off. 'That's not it,' he said. 'I want you to go to that hearing. I just wanted to talk to you first.' He pointed his wand at the doors, which boomed shut, and put it back in his pocket. He was still standing some distance away from her.
'I can't believe you would do this to me,' he said, 'you bitch.' He squeaked at the end, as if the word bore a physical weight too great for his voice to carry. Hermione gasped.
'Albus told me. There's a prophecy about Godric's Hollow, about father and son being there together. He didn't know what it meant until you touched that book and it told Madam Pomfrey that you were – you were pregnant. That's why you were crucial – you were going to be crucial in the battle. Because you were carrying my baby, my son. And you didn't tell me!'
He was crying.
Father and son, thought Hermione, going cold. But there was no way that...
'You didn't tell me, Hermione! I don't care about... about Godric's Hollow, I'm not going to... I don't care about that. But there could have been – my parents are dead, Sirius is dead, so many people are dead or going to die, and there could have been a baby. And now there's nothing. There'll be nothing left of me.'
'Harry,' whispered Hermione. 'You're not going to die.'
'Shut up, Hermione!' His face twisted; he turned and punched the wall, and sobbed: 'I hope they put you in Azkaban for this.'
'Harry,' said Hermione. 'It wasn't me.'
'What do you mean?'
'It can't have been me, in that prophecy. Because it wasn't your baby, Harry.'
'Don't be fucking stupid. Whose else's was it?'
'Derek Antrip's,' Hermione said defiantly.
'Who is Derek Antrip?'
'Someone I know. Someone I met in the summer. Someone you don't know anything about, Harry, because you don't know anything about my life!' Hermione was crying too now. We must look ridiculous, she thought, but when she looked at Harry, his eyes streaming, his nose pink, his mouth slack with weeping, she didn't feel mocking at all; she just felt pain.
'When did all this happen?'
'At...' Then Hermione interrupted herself. 'You know what, Harry? It is none of your business. At least I wasn't fucking Snape all the time we were supposed to be going out!'
Saying it ripped something open inside her, as if she hadn't realized till now how much it had hurt her. Harry was staring at her, open-mouthed, shocked out of tears but still pink-faced. He sniffed and wiped his sleeve across his nose and mouth.
'Why did you even... I don't understand, Harry,' she wailed. 'Did you fancy me even a little bit? Did you love me even a little bit? Because I love you so much, and you...'
'Finite Incantantem,' said Harry, and as Poppy Pomfrey rose to her feet, dazed and wondering, he ran out of the entrance hall.
Hermione didn't see him again until Hallowe'en.
The hearing was brief and formal; Hermione didn't recognize the three members of the Department of Blood and Heritage who heard the case. There was no-one there to represent Hermione; the evidence against her had been submitted in advance by Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey.
She sat in the centre of the room, a Ministry wizard standing quietly behind her, while the three men from the Blood Department, sitting behind a table on a raised platform at the far end of the room, grave and formal in red-and-black robes, leafed through parchments and conferred quietly amongst themselves. Every now and again they would look over at her; once they nodded to the Ministry wizard, and he stepped forward to put a drop of Veritaserum on her tongue.
'Did you end your pregnancy deliberately, Miss Granger?' asked the oldest of the three.
'Yes,' said Hermione. 'I—'
'Thank you,' he said, and leaned back in his chair to talk to his colleagues again. Hermione fell silent. She could feel herself still bleeding.
Eventually, the same man cleared his throat, and she looked up.
'Miss Granger,' he said, 'you are guilty of terminating a pregnancy without permission, in contravention of the 1833 Statute for the Protection of Wizarding Heritage, and you will spend the next six months in Azkaban.'
'As you are doubtless aware,' he went on, 'since your Headmaster tells us that you are an intelligent and well-informed young woman,' (his voice went dry and nasty on intelligent and well-informed, as though they were bad things to be), 'the maximum sentence laid down in wizarding law for a breach of the blood laws of this type is six weeks. You would in any case be receiving the maximum sentence, since this is a very serious offence at a time when falling birthrates are rendering the wizarding population ever more vulnerable. However, under the so-called Death Eater Act of 1996, it is possible to extend sentences where there are deemed to be implications in relation to the ongoing struggle against Lord Voldemort and his followers. The evidence we have received from Professor Dumbledore, which is not for discussion in open court under the Forty-Third Amendment to the Statute of Secrecy, has made it clear that there is indeed such a connection, and that in fact you have jeopardized the life of the Boy Who Lived.'
'I haven't,' said Hermione. 'It's not—'
'However,' the wizard continued as if Hermione weren't even there, 'because of your age, and your otherwise impeccable record, we have decided that it would not be appropriate to invoke the other possible punishment, and so the Sterilitas Potion will not be administered.' He waved his hand to the Ministry wizard, who took Hermione's elbow, and politely tugged at it until she stood up, thinking nothing. Thinking: I knew there'd be a potion.
The black-robed guards released Hermione and pushed her into the cell, still without speaking. They hadn't said anything all the way over; not when the boat had rocked and pitched like a comfortless child; not when she had stumbled over the rocks on the path from the shore, stumbled and toppled and they'd had to catch her because her hands were cuffed behind her back.
And there was Hermione in Azkaban.
The door shut behind them, and their footsteps diminishing down the corridor were the only sound. Hermione sat down on the narrow bed, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light. There was a toilet, a basin, a small window, barred and too high to see out of. Cold struck up at her from the floor. Despair settled softly over her.
Next, nothing happened. For days.
It was boring.
Not the boredom of the start of term, the falling-away of her busy thoughts to let in memories and noise and fear; this was a long, empty boredom. Its featurelessness ground away at her mind. At first she tried to keep it at bay with small determined pastimes – history dates, lists of famous wizards, arithmantic formulae, exercises in the tiny cell – but the patient vastness of the boredom made everything else tiny and pointless.
She tried to tell herself that it was just Azkaban, taking away her happiness and her hope, but she couldn't shake the feeling that this was real and everything else – work, sex, children, war – was fake: a tinny, cartoon denial of the huge meaninglessness which was all that was left when you got right down to it.
After the first wakeful night, she slept a lot, but her dreams were as monotonous as her daytimes; she dreamed about standing in endless queues, taking endless exams, writing meaningless scribbles on endless scrolls of parchment, supervising endless prep. And in the daytimes nothing happened. She went on bleeding, and then she stopped. Meals appeared in the cell of their own accord, three times a day; scraps and plate vanished of their own accord, three times a day, and in between the food tasted of nothing. Even the tiny scrap of sky in the window remained an even, neutral grey.
And then one day – she thought she must have been there about five days –her door suddenly swung open.
She looked out into the corridor, cautiously. An arrow on the wall pointed to SHOWERS. She thought of warm water and suds and clean feelings, and followed the arrow down twisty passages and through the door marked WOMEN into a small locker-room full of thin, exhausted girls.
Girls she knew. Slytherin girls.
They raised tired heads as she entered, and all the faces that had been missing from Hogwarts for the past two months stared at her from blank and shadowed eyes. Hermione swallowed nervously, but one by one, the faces looked away indifferently, and the girls went back to what they were doing. They moved so slowly and so dully that there was near-total silence in the room. More than that, though, the air in the room felt as dull and dead as Hermione's solitary cell. It was as if the sad, grey boredom of Azkaban had simply wiped out the warm-and-cold currents of feeling and watching that a room full of people usually made. It felt like an empty room.
Hermione took a deep breath, but before she could open her mouth to scream her way out of the silence, it suddenly seemed overwhelmingly pointless. She breathed out quietly and quietly got undressed, watching the others to see where to put her clothes before padding naked into the shower room.
The room was stone and square. Cold, soapy, hairy water clogged the drain. The shower was lukewarm and feeble, and every part of Hermione that wasn't directly under the water instantly became freezing cold. She gave up on trying to rinse her tangled hair through and followed Daphne Greengrass out through the door at the far end.
It was another small locker-room, cold and quiet. Hermione hurried to pick up the little grey towel that materialized on a bench in front of her; she was trying to rub warmth into her limbs, looking at nothing-in-particular, at the patterns of shadow that the high, barred windows threw over walls, floor, benches, bodies, when her gaze snagged on something sharp and inhuman: a pattern of bars and hollows like the shadow of the windows, but not. Jutting ribs. A spine, diagramming each of its vertebrae separately and meticulously through stretched skin. Hollow thighs, hollow calves, knees like knots.
The girl half-turned towards Hermione, and Hermione saw her face, cheekbones and eye sockets outlined in shadow like a Death Eater mask. Recognition struck through the heavy armour of pointlessness and made her stagger: it was Marietta Edgcombe. Hermione sat down hard on the bench, seeing Marietta round and curly-haired and weeping in the Great Hall, pimples spelling out SNEAK across her face, red as a brand. I did that. She remembered the fear in Nerissa Lightsome's face, remembered Nerissa scrambling to get away from her, saw Marietta now, skin and bone, barely moving. I did this.
She climbed damply into the clean clothes that had appeared on the bench beside her and trudged out of the room, heavy as a wet towel with guilt, not crying. A new sign had appeared on the walls: VISITORS' ROOM, with an arrow.
She followed the arrows down more narrow passages, down a narrow flight of stairs, to a vaulted, torch-lit room. Guards were standing around the walls, their faces hidden behind veils. Columns divided the room into little join-the-dots cells, each with a few high-backed chairs in it, some empty, some occupied. A few people were still coming in through the doors at each corner of the room; they shuffled through the silence, found chairs to sit in, sat. Whatever the signs had said, there were no visitors here. Everyone was in grey Azkaban robes: Hermione recognized Lestrange from the Department of Mysteries, and Macnair sitting next to him, in a silent row with three older wizards she didn't know, all staring forward, like Muggles at a bus-stop. Their eyes went over her indifferently as she went past them; and then she crossed some invisible line into the far side of the room, and she was in a sluggish black-and-white photograph of the Slytherin common room. Draco Malfoy, Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, grey-skinned, grey-clothed, motionless apart from Vincent picking at a thread in his right sleeve, Draco biting a fingernail. Blaise Zabini, nearly as thin as Marietta, rocking backwards and forwards in his chair. Millicent Bulstrode, eyes wide open, tears pouring silently down her cheeks.
She felt cold and shaky. She looked at Malcolm Braddock, a second-year Slytherin, barely bigger than Nerissa Lightsome, and tried to think of twelve-year-old Ron fighting life-sized chess pieces, and twelve-year-old Harry fighting a basilisk, and all the times she'd had to sit and wait and hope that Harry wasn't dead. But Malcolm still just looked like a child.
She sat down in the nearest chair she could find with no-one next to it, and looked at the floor.
And then nothing happened. No-one came. Hours passed, silently, and then the guards began to herd them back to their cells, and they went.
The second week, misery and boredom worked together.
She stared at the wall, following every thought to its logical conclusion: the narrow limits of her knowledge were at the end of every list, the ways she'd failed were at the end of every memory. The deep-down knowledge that she wasn't good enough.
What was surprising about the feeling, though, was its familiarity. She frowned slightly, and wondered why an absence of happy feelings was supposed to stop people from doing any magic.
She was deep and numb and far away one day when the door opened and the SHOWERS sign appeared.
She walked to the showers, hefting her own body like an awkward parcel at every step; stood in blank gazes and lukewarm water; went heavily to the Visitors' Room, and sat, thinking of nothing, while nothing happened.
And then, for no reason that she could see, something happened. Voices. 'That girl,' Hermione heard, and 'Gryffindor'; 'Harry Potter' and 'Mudblood' and 'Muggle-born'. And then Draco was limping his old swagger over towards her.
'Hello, Granger,' he said, and she blinked at him, wondering. 'What are you doing here?'
The cold rim of the water glass against her teeth as she took the first two tablets. Harry's face in the Great Hall. Blood washing down the drain in the showers. The judge, in his scarlet robes, looking at her with calm disgust. She clenched and froze and stammered, but Draco hadn't even paused for an answer: 'I mean, you're a little out of place, don't you think? Now that Dumbledore is just using Azkaban to get all the real wizards out of his way, so that he and the Order of the Mudbloods can go on running things from behind a Fidelius Charm, you must be feeling even more out of place than usual.' He put on a sad face. 'Expecting any visitors, are you? Your mother, perhaps? If only it weren't that Muggles weren't allowed within five miles of Azkaban, you could get to see—'
Pictures of her mother in Hermione's mind: watching Coronation Street, rapt; opening the front door with her elbow while she talked on the phone in the hall; looking at Hermione, almost-speaking, turning away, silent.
She said, loudly, interrupting them: 'And what about your father, then? Now that he's got himself out, when's he coming for you?'
'Someone from the same species as you,' Draco spat, drowning her out. 'Phineas Black had it right. You people aren't even creatures, you should be classified as beasts. And people like your parents are the worst of the lot – Muggles with wizard offspring. They're mutants. They shouldn't exist. People like them are the reason pure-bloods are dying out.'
And so on, until the guards decided that visiting hours were over.
They'd taken her wand, but Arithmancy was wandless magic.
Hermione breathed in sadness, breathed out sadness, and began to draw the first line of the diagram on the stone floor of her cell, concentrating hard on not dropping the tiny, sharp metal shard she'd managed to twist off her plate and hide from the Disapparition spell. She hoped she'd remembered the formulae right. She hoped she'd kept track of the date all right – it had been harder than she'd thought, given that she'd only been in there for two weeks – and worked out correctly how to tell the time from the darkening shadows that fell in silent swags and cobwebs from her window.
She drew the last line, joining it neatly to the complicated central knot of the pattern, and sat back on her heels as the lines on the floor began to glow. The pattern rose into the air, spun itself into three dimensions, spun faster, spun into a silvery, oval blur, then cleared, like the car window when her mum put the heating on and chased the condensation away.
There it was. There was Godric's Hollow, tiny and silent and distant, hovering in the centre of her cell in Azkaban fortress. She'd done it.
There was no happiness in it. It was just that it seemed right that, in the end, her role in the final battle should be to watch.
What she saw was a little grey house, sharp and clear in the centre of the port, with trees and scrub and other houses blurring into the distance around it. In front of the house, tiny, black-robed, masked figures were forming into a line. They raised their wands and the colour drained out of half the scene, and Hermione realized that the port wasn't silent after all; what she'd thought was the silence of Azkaban roaring in her ears was the sound of the Death Eaters chanting. The Dark Mark drew itself in the sky with a crack and a flare, like lightning.
Opposite the Death Eaters was a small huddle of wizards: Dumbledore, Sturgis Podmore, McGonagall, Mad-Eye, Lupin, Snape, Hestia, Tonks, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Harry. Their chanting made a soft counterpoint to the rumble of the Death Eaters. The darkness in the sky didn't quite reach their side of the hollow, and the sun touched their robes with colour and light.
Voldemort – tall, maskless, with a terribly smooth, skull-like face – stepped forward out of the Death Eater line. 'Give him to me,' he said, and Harry stepped forward into the darkness.
'Give him to me,' said Voldemort again, and behind him his Death Eaters hissed. He raised his wand, pointing it at Harry's face. Harry shouted in pain and dropped to his knees; Snape made a move forward, and Lupin held him back, whispering something that Hermione couldn't hear.
Harry's scar began to blaze, and then to drip with light. The light pooled in the air beside him, beginning to take on a shape.
'James?' It was a ragged chorus from Dumbledore's line, Snape's voice the loudest.
'James Potter,' breathed Voldemort.
Harry and James wavered beside one another, almost identical in appearance except that James was translucent; Hermione could see bricks through his face.
'Father and son,' said Voldemort, transfixed. He raised his voice. 'I must admit, Albus, that when you first invoked the ancient magic of blood, I could not see my way past it. But I knew my way lay past it. Past Harry. And once I thought, I saw it all. You have made it all so easy for me, Albus.' He bowed mockingly to Dumbledore.
'Mysteries and light-tricks might impress Muggles, Tom,' said Dumbledore, 'but I'm a harder target.'
Voldemort ignored him. 'Your father was just as arrogant as you, boy,' he said conversationally. He was speaking to Harry, his eyes flickering urgently from Harry to the shadow beside him. Hermione, horrified, saw that Harry was beginning to fade as James took on more substance. She saw Dumbledore notice it too. The Order line began to chant faster, louder, lower.
'And so, when I killed him, when I defeated him, he simply couldn't accept it. Couldn't believe it. No-one had ever mentioned that possibility to him, that the golden James Potter might fail. So he stayed close to this plane. Just the other side of the curtain. And then Albus's blood-spell anchored him to you even more tightly.'
Hermione saw Lupin take out his wand. Voldemort paid no attention, but there was a little flutter in the Order line.
'Then,' Voldemort went on, 'he took care to surround you with people who had loved James – who saw James in you. And because there was plenty for your father to feed on – love, admiration, everything he'd fed on all his life – you see, there was no need for him ever to go further away.'
Harry was half-transparent now, and James half-solid, blinking and young in the sunlight: of course, he'd been only a little older than Harry was now when he'd died. Hermione could barely tell the difference between them.
Lupin stepped forward. Go on, thought Hermione desperately; but suddenly there was a black billowing and a hoarse shout (Expelliarmus!), and Lupin's wand was on the ground and he was staring at Snape. The chanting from the Order wizards stuttered, halted, started again, broke up into rags and fragments.
'And now there is no need for me to break the protection,' Voldemort said softly. 'Because, Harry, it will be your own father who destroys you. After sixteen years, there's barely enough of you left to resist him, even if you wanted to. And there are no prophecies about Lord Voldemort and James Potter, I think, Albus?' He smiled, and a snake-like tongue flicked from between his lips.
Hermione didn't see Dumbledore's reaction: she was watching Snape as he bent swiftly and picked up Lupin's wand.
'Severus?' Lupin whispered. 'What are you—'
All this time, Hermione thought, cold. All these years, and he saved Harry's life so many times, and – her mind skipped and flickered over all those nights in the Potions classroom – and he was just waiting for the right time.
'Don't be a fool, Remus,' Snape was saying. 'You loved James. Don't you see, anything you do will just—'
Lupin shook his head violently and stepped towards Snape.
'This is the place!' shouted Voldemort. 'This is the time!' He aimed his wand at James and took a breath.
And then three things happened at once.
Three figures broke the Death Eater line and closed round Voldemort from behind. Hermione heard him shout wildly as he vanished into a bulging knot of black robes and blue light.
Harry's silhouette, which was now barely more than a warping of the air in front of the house, began to flicker wildly, as James blinked and looked around, puzzled, pushing his hair back from his face.
And Snape threw Lupin's wand as far as he could into the shadow on the Death Eater side of the valley, and side-stepped Lupin neatly, and came to stand opposite the flicker that was Harry and the careless, beautiful boy that was James. He looked at the flicker and said: 'I love you, Harry Potter.'
Then he pointed his wand at the beautiful boy and said: 'Avada Kedavra, you bastard.'
There was a crack, a scream, and then a moment of absolute silence and absolute stillness. Then the three Death Eaters retreated slowly back to their line, leaving Voldemort's body stark and twisted on the ground.
'Lord Voldemort is dead,' someone said.
'He is dead,' Lucius Malfoy's voice responded from behind one of the masks, 'and now nothing stands in our way.'
The Death Eaters blurred into dirty mist and were gone. The sky lightened, and the sun poured down on Voldemort's ghastly white body, on the little huddle of wizards watching Harry, on Harry, solid again in the sunlight, staring at Snape. Between them, where James had fallen, there was nothing at all, not even a warping of the air or a stain on the grass.
Two days later, the guards came for Hermione. She assumed it was a trick all the time she was dressing, all the time the guards were leading her out of the fortress and down the rocky path and into the boat. It wasn't until they touched down on the Scottish coast, on the far side of the narrow channel, that she began hoping tentatively. When they took her to the Ministry, she began to believe it.
In Cornelius Fudge's office she sat on a farting leather seat and took the FREE PARDON scroll he handed her, ceremonially, together with her wand. She stuck them in her pocket and phased in and out of his apologies, picking out names (the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter, Lucius Malfoy, Professor Dumbledore) then losing the thread again, and then Fudge was standing up beside her chair, waiting, expecting something from her. She looked at him, trying to remember what he'd said.
'I don't mean to rush you,' said Fudge, smoothing the impatient look on his face into a fake-concerned, oh-poor-child expression, 'but the train will be leaving very soon, and... Ah, Kingsley,' he interrupted himself, as the door to his office opened and Kingsley Shacklebolt looked round it.
'Sorry to interrupt, Minister,' he said. 'The first convoys have all gone through. We're just waiting for you now, so that Madam Edgecombe can shut down the emergency Floo connection to Kings Cross.'
'Just so, just so,' said Fudge, fussing past Hermione. At the door he turned back towards her.
'Am I - where are we going?'
'Hogsmeade,' said Kingsley. 'For the celebrations.'
Hogsmeade was dark and crowded and crazy, and the sky kept lighting up. Hurrying through the back streets with Kingsley and Fudge, dodging other people hurrying in all directions, the noise of it, the shrieks and squeals when the sky cracked and blazed, reminded Hermione of nothing so much as the Death Eater invasion of the World Cup. She kept her head down, scurrying blindly after Kingsley.
The main square was thronged with rows and rows of people on all four sides, wands sparking and trailing light, House flags (for some reason) waving. There was an almighty crash and the sky lit up again, and everyone turned their faces up, sighing and laughing, as Hermione watched them. The light from the sky turned all the faces ashen and ghastly and dead, and by the time Hermione (shocky and stupid and slow) looked up, the fireworks had faded into a smudgy, smoky ghost, and by the time she looked down again, Kingsley and Fudge were taking Dumbledore's hand and climbing onto the small raised platform in the centre of the square, and she was on her own in the crowd.
Dumbledore stepped forward and raised his wand to speak, but he was drowned out by a huge wave of cheering from the crowd. He motioned gracefully for silence, and the cheers redoubled, and Hermione turned round and started pushing through the crowd to get away.
'Hermione?' said someone. Parvati, wrapped in her coat and her Gryffindor scarf, her wand in her left hand sending an exuberant stream of scarlet and golden bubbles into the air. And there was Padma beside her, and Lavender and Cho and Hannah, a whole gaggle of sixth-year girls, rosy and bouncing and joyful in the cold night.
'What are you...?' Parvati was going on, but Hermione had already elbowed her way past and through and away, into another part of the yelling, joyful crowd. She reached the lane which led from the main square towards the station and turned into it. It was empty, apart from a small group of wizards hurrying, hunched against the cold, towards the main square: she felt herself relax, striding out on the empty pavement, as the noise of the crowd began to become distant and quiet.
'Hermione?' said someone, again, suddenly. A man's voice. Familiar. She looked over nervously at the little cluster of wizards on the other side of the road and - oh fuck - saw that it was Arthur Weasley. With Molly and Charlie and Fred and George and Ron and Ginny.
'You're going the wrong way!' Arthur called, and she hesitated, and then all of a sudden she was caught up in a gang of Weasleys heading back to the main square, the boys whooping and bellowing and jostling one another, Ginny walking small and self-contained on the other side of her parents, not looking at Hermione, and Arthur taking Hermione's arm and chatting on to her as they walked. So glad to see you back and never believed it for a moment and Harry and –
'Is Harry all right?' Hermione interrupted, and there was a little pause, a little catch, before Arthur went on, determinedly cheerful: 'Of course! He's in the hospital wing at the moment, because he was... well, the battle wasn't an easy one for him, let's say... but Madam Pomfrey says he'll be as good as new, very soon. Don't you worry, Hermione,' and Ginny made a small indefinable noise, and then they were in the busy hush of the main square and Molly was shushing them to listen to Dumbledore.
'... one man who had the courage to defy the Dark Lord, the true hero of Godric's Hollow,' said Dumbledore, and stepped back, and there in the centre of Hogsmeade, the centre of the breathless crowd's attention, was Lucius Malfoy, smooth and perfect as ever.
'Thank you, Headmaster,' he said, 'but I can hardly take so much credit for an act which, in truth, barely makes amends for my former... mistakes. Let us rejoice indeed that Voldemort is dead, once and for all' (pause for cheering), 'but let us also remember that this is just the beginning. I hope that I showed this Hallowe'en night where my true loyalties lie. But let me say plainly, here and now, that here and now I reject, and I always will reject, any suggestion of a general amnesty for those Death Eaters who remain loyal to Voldemort, no matter who they are. Let them remain in Azkaban for ever.'
Draco. Hermione felt sick.
'Where's Snape?' she said to Arthur suddenly, raising her voice to be heard above the roar of cheers as Lucius stepped back and Cornelius Fudge came forward. 'Didn't he - I mean, wasn't he at Godric's Hollow too?'
'Yes,' said Arthur briefly, and Hermione felt something in him close off. He didn't tell her where Snape was now, and she didn't ask again.
Hogwarts was a shock: its shadowy instability, its massive unchangedness. The ceiling in the entrance hall out-of-sight high, the moving shadows opening and closing the space around her as the staircases, far above, turned through their complicated dances. The great solid door, the great solid stones, not caring at all whether Hermione Granger was there or gone or in Azkaban, or whether the war was over, or whether it was Harry or Voldemort who had won it.
She went slowly up the shifting staircases to the Gryffindor dormitories. The school must have been empty, with everyone still in Hogsmeade, but after Azkaban it was a chaos of noise: the thunks of the staircases meeting the walls, the Fat Lady snoring as they passed the Gryffindor tower, the newly-unfamiliar creaks and rattles of the pipes. And there she was in the sixth-year girls' dormitory, opening the curtains around her bed, climbing in, falling into blackness.
She woke up wholly and suddenly, to the sound of Parvati's noisy shushing.
'But she's—!' Lavender was saying.
Hermione huddled down in the fat, Hogwarts-smelling duvet and squeezed her eyes shut.
'Shhh,' Parvati said again, crossly.
'But shouldn't we—?'
'No. Shhh,' and there were scuffling footsteps and the sound of the door opening and closing.
Hermione waited a minute, then stirred cautiously and opened her eyes: they were really gone. She sat up, pushing her hair back, and there she was, at the very top of Gryffindor tower, in a small, quiet, half-dark, curtain-muffled room at the margin of the great noisy school. Rain made white noise on the windows, and outside the door forty kids jostled and called to each other on their way down to breakfast.
She waited. When the noise had died down and she could be pretty sure that everyone was in the Great Hall, she got out of bed and went down the corridor to the showers. She stayed under the hot water for a long time, not really thinking about anything, and when she came out her skin was warm and rosy and she smelt of apples and lime, and Azkaban was still cold and grey and silent in her.
Back in the dormitory, it took her a second to remember which set of drawers was hers. She was already out of the habit of sharing space, and the thought of it exhausted her: all the little rules, all the walls and curtains and invisible lines, all the silent agreements not to see and not to hear, that divided the castle into three hundred fragile, overlapping, only-ever-half-private spaces. She took out her clothes – sensible bra, sensible knickers, uniform shirt, Gryffindor tie, uniform jumper, uniform tights, uniform skirt – but she was too tired to put them on. She sat down on the bed, looking at nothing in particular, and mechanically started combing her wet hair.
When, eventually, she managed to leave the room, she found Nearly Headless Nick hovering in the corridor outside.
'Ah!' he said genially. 'There you are. Welcome back!'
'Thanks,' she said, and started to walk past him, but he said 'Er—' and she turned back.
'The Headmaster wants to see you,' he said.
'Rhubarb and custard,' said Hermione, and the door to Dumbledore's study irised open. She stepped in, feeling unreal, and there she was, and there was Dumbledore, behind his desk. He put down his quill and regarded her.
'Miss Granger,' he said.
She didn't say anything, and after a moment's pause he went on:
'I'm sure you are keen to get back to your lessons and your friends. I won't keep you long: I am leaving in a few minutes, to accept the official surrender of the Death Eaters on behalf of the Wizengamot. But before that I felt I owed you an explanation – and,' he looked away, his eyes full of pain, then straight at her, 'an apology.'
Something in Dumbledore's gaze made her very much not want to be there. White noise started in her ears. She forced herself to stand still, against the impulse to squirm, to run out of the room.
'Of course you know by now,' he said, 'that Voldemort is defeated. That the war is over. That Harry is safe – that we are all safe, for the first time since you became one of us.'
One of who? Hermione wondered carefully, not thinking about the war being over, about Lucius stepping forward, the Death Eaters closing in on the body knotted and suddenly small on the ground, the greasy stain on the air that was James, Harry's eyes meeting Snape's. The Order of the Phoenix? Gryffindor? Adults?
'This is a joyful day for the wizarding world.'
'And yet,' he said in a low voice, almost to himself, 'that victory came in a way – and at a price – I had not anticipated. You see, I made a terrible mistake, Miss Granger. I was misled by prophecy. I believed that at Godric's Hollow, history would repeat itself; that Voldemort would be defeated by the love of a parent for his child – by Harry's love for his child.'
That got through. The noise in her ears turned itself off and suddenly Hermione was right there, in the study, cold and sick and listening to every word.
But – for history to repeat itself, Harry would have to die.
'All the signs pointed to it. Yet I couldn't see how it could be so, until Madam Pomfrey told me that you had been looking at – well, at certain books in the Restricted Section – and that you and Harry were... involved. And then I thought I understood. I thought that you would be the key to Voldemort's downfall. How could I have known that...?'
Dumbledore faltered, rubbing his forehead, then gave a little shake of his head. 'Well, no matter. Voldemort is defeated, and you have returned to us. And I am deeply, deeply sorry for all that you have suffered from this tragic misunderstanding. I blame myself entirely for your ordeal.'
Entirely, thought Hermione, and then she stopped thinking.
'Go to your class now,' he said. 'And welcome back to Hogwarts, to the people who care about you.'
That seemed to be it. Hermione nodded carefully. 'Thank you, Headmaster,' she mumbled, and started to walk carefully towards the door.
'Oh – and Miss Granger?'
She turned back.
'Welcome back.' Dumbledore was smiling; his fingers twinkled, and a blur of silver at Hermione's left breast shaped itself into a prefect badge, neatly pinned to the blazer she had been wearing the morning she left for the Ministry and for Azkaban. She stared at it, not quite believing it.
'Thank you,' she said, again, numbly, and walked away.
Rain on the windows. The sound of wind in the Forest, and the nearer whish and thump of the Whomping Willow: pipes creaking, a door closing. Then, suddenly, footsteps and voices began again and Hermione jumped: breakfast must be over. And Lavender and Parvati were bound to need to just-pop-back to the dormitory to pick up something they'd forgotten before morning school.
She scrambled into her clothes and walked out of the room into the corridors, turning right and left as each seemed to take her further away from the sound of footsteps, grateful for the way the building opened up its hidden desert places for her, as if it knew what she needed. She kept walking until not only the audible noises, but the tingly feeling of habitation on the edge of her senses, had faded, and the corridors were empty and dead and peaceful as Azkaban.
She'd have to go to class in the end, probably. She wondered what day it was.
It was six minutes into second lesson: late enough to miss most of the settling-down, chatty start of class, but not so late that she'd draw too much attention to herself.
Hermione was walking towards the Arithmancy classroom when she saw someone coming towards her. Someone who might have been Ron. Her heart thumped at her and she ducked into the girls' toilets.
Sitting in the end cubicle, waiting, she fiddled with her shoelace and read the graffiti.
Harry Potter = The Boy Who Lived... to Suck Snape's Cock!! ← GROSS i know.
I hate this school,
DT + LB 4EVA IDT INDT, Dean Thomas is a Mudblood bastard, WHO IS A BIGGER SLAG PLZ VOTE HERE: HERMIONE GRANGER IIIIIIII HARRY POTTER IIIIII boys can't be slags you idiot! ← SEXIST, Severus Snape is a peadophile, McGonagall 4 Cho Chang HA HA, HERMIONE GRANGER IS PREGNANT A BABY-KILLER.
Hermione slipped into the Arithmancy classroom and took a seat in the front row.
'Sorry I'm late, Professor,' she said when Professor Vector cast a sideways look at her from the blackboard.
Vector took a breath, frowned, hesitated, then said: 'Page 533, Miss Granger.'
'I don't have my textbook,' Hermione said. 'Sorry, Professor.'
Vector lifted her eyes past Hermione, to the raked benches where the rest of the class was sitting. 'Can any of you lend Miss Granger a textbook?'
There was silence.
'Anyone? Miss Chang, can you share with your neighbour, perhaps?'
'No,' said Cho distinctly. 'Sorry, Professor.'
'Very well,' said Professor Vector. There was a note of exasperation in her voice. 'Luckily, I have a spare, Miss Granger.' She took a battered copy of Mathemagics! from her own desk and put it in front of Hermione.
'Work through the problems entitled Fifth-dimensional geometry and Portkey trajectories, please. Hand them in to me at the end of the class.'
'I don't have a pen, either,' said Hermione. She felt a rustle behind her as the rest of the class prepared to refuse her again, but Professor Vector took a slim, dove's-feather quill from the pocket of her gown and handed it to her, saying: 'There's parchment at the front of the room if you want to accio it.'
'Thank you,' said Hermione. She opened her book, accio'd the parchment, and began to work through the examples.
They were easy.
At lunch, she went to sit with Luna Lovegood on the Ravenclaw table. Luna acknowledged her with a glance and an absent-minded smile, then went on reading the Quibbler ('Muggle Mind-Control Device Behind Malfoy's Change of Heart, Claims Source').
The food didn't taste of anything, which made eating hard work. Hermione quartered her plate and sliced, chewed, swallowed, one mouthful at a time, till most of it was gone.
Luna put down her newspaper and gave a sudden, tiny, yawn. She turned her disconcerting grey eyes on Hermione. 'How was Azkaban?' she asked.
'Cold,' said Hermione before she thought. She got up from the table and left the room, past Cho Chang's raised eyebrows, Lavender and Parvati's hopeful smiles from the Gryffindor table, the purple-and-golden names scrolling on the air behind the solemn, floating bowl of witch-fire (Bartemius Crouch 1920-1995, Cedric Diggory 1977- 1995, Broderick Bode, 1946-1996, Sirius Black, 1960-1996), out into the nowhere of the corridors.
Left, then right, up a staircase, through a door, until all of a sudden she was out in the cold air, on the roofs, face to face with the grey November sky, and for a moment it was as if she could just step out into that vast blankness and disappear. Then she blinked and staggered and stepped back, pressing her back against the stone of the tower.
'Hello,' said someone to her right. His voice was tentative.
She turned and saw him. There he was.
Thin and pale. Wrapped up warm, in a thick duffel coat, a scarf, a woolly hat. Older and younger than the last time she'd seen him. He looked at her and pushed his glasses up his nose.
The world came to life again. Her heart started to beat, and then to hurt. She started to cry.
'Hermione,' said Harry. He came towards her and tried to put his arms around her, but she pushed him away.
'Hermione,' he said again. He stood back. His arms were by his sides, empty.
'Are you all right?' she asked, crying harder. 'After... are you all right?'
He nodded. 'Yeah,' he said. 'I'm all right.'
She sniffed and rubbed her face and reached out for him with her other hand, laying her palm against his cheek. He put his hand over hers and held on to her fingers.
'I'm sorry,' he said.
Hermione sniffed again.
'I missed you,' he said. 'I wished you'd been there. I'm really sorry, Hermione. I'm an idiot.'
'I saw it,' she said. 'The battle. I opened a portal.'
'In... ?' But he couldn't say it. 'I thought...'
'In Azkaban, yes,' said Hermione. 'It's Arithmancy, you don't need a wand.'
'You saw it?'
'Yeah,' said Hermione.
Harry gave a bleak little smile. 'The last glorious struggle between Lord Voldemort and the Boy Who Lived.'
Hermione smiled back at him.
And there they were, on the top of the school, the grey vastness of the sky opening around them, the wind tugging at them, the tower at their backs, and Harry was all the warmth and all the colour in the world, and everything unsaid between them was just part of this bubble that joined them.
Harry had gone back to the hospital wing, and Hermione was going to the last class of the day.
She slipped into the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, sat down, and felt eighteen pairs of eyes on her back. She'd mistimed it: Dumbledore wasn't there yet. She stared down at the work surface in front of her.
'Welcome back, Hermione,' someone – Lavender? – said cautiously. Someone else giggled.
'Did you—' began a third voice, and then the door opened and there was not Dumbledore, but Snape. Snape, robed and buttoned and the same as ever.
There was a rustle and a murmur and a collective intake of breath, and then Ernie's voice raised itself out of the noise and declared: 'When I turn to the subject of Harry— ←'
He was singing. Other voices joined in, ragged at first, then strengthening as Snape did nothing but stand in the doorway:
'That's a horse from a different safari. He can box like a fox, he's as dumb as an ox, but it's Harry I'm planning to marry.'
Snape stalked to the front of the room and stood there, in the centre of the platform, looking steadily at the class with his very blankest face. And they kept singing, through two more verses, louder and louder.
When he flexes his muscles I flutter
Like a butterfly caught in a shutter
When he calls me his mate
I just disintegrate
Since the world first began
Never been such a man
As the Harry I'm planning to marry.
Snape lifted an eyebrow and waited a beat, to make sure they had finished; then, 'How very heartwarming,' he drawled. 'I'm... delighted that my marital happiness means so much to you all. Now please open your textbooks to page three hundred and twenty-nine—'
'Where are you going on your honeymoon, sir?' called Ernie from the back. Snape didn't seem to raise his voice, but it was clearly audible above the laughter and the wolf-whistles that followed.
'—five points from Hufflepuff, Mr MacMillan, don't think I am not grateful for your good wishes but this is a NEWTs class, not a hen party – page three hundred and twenty-nine, and be ready to explain what these Counter-Jinxes all have in common.'
That seemed to be all it took. The class sighed and rustled pages and coughed and settled down, and Hermione was still staring at Snape.
'Is it true?' she said.
Snape looked at her for the first time since he'd entered the room, and seemed to stammer. Then: 'Yes,' he said.
When, thought Hermione, and How, and Why? She stared down at her hands on the bench while Snape hesitated on the platform, and kept staring at them until he turned and went to his own desk. She didn't catch anyone's eye for the whole lesson, and when the bell rang she was ready: she picked up her bag and walked to the door.
'Ah,' said Snape, 'Miss Granger, you have not been dismissed. Perhaps you have forgotten the rules of this school during your absence?'
She turned and stared at him, not believing it.
'Please wait behind until the rest of the class has gone.'
She walked back to her place and stared at the bench until everyone had whispered-and-giggled their way past her out of the door. And then there she was, and there was Snape, uncharacteristically ill-at-ease, his fingers playing with the edge of his gown's wide sleeves.
'Welcome back,' he said at last.
'Thank you,' Hermione muttered.
Snape took a breath. 'I... thought you would have seen Harry by now.'
'I have,' she said. Her voice was still muttery and low – she sounded like a first-year, sullen with terror – but there didn't seem to be anything she could do about that. 'He didn't say anything about...'
'I see,' said Snape. 'Well, we are getting married next week.'
She didn't say anything.
'It was felt that that would be the best way to... regularize the situation.' Snape hesitated, then added: 'The only way, if Harry and I were both to be able to remain at Hogwarts.'
Stop calling him Harry, she thought painfully. Potter. You call him Potter.
'Okay,' she said idiotically. 'I mean – I see. Thanks,' she added.
He lifted an eyebrow – whatever for? – and lifted a shoulder, turning half-away from her, back to his desk, turning into her sardonic, remote teacher again.
'You may go now, if you like,' he said politely, and she scrambled her bag up from the seat beside her and went.
Hogwarts in November was as cold as Azkaban, but in a more painful, alive way. Breezes and ghosts scattered little shocks and patches of cold through the corridors in the uninhabited parts of the school, and outside, the wind took Hermione's breath away and filled her eyes with tears.
It was nearly midnight and she was chilled to the bone by the time she turned the final corner to the dormitory, but there was still a light under the door. Her heart sank.
You hadn't really expected Lavender and Parvati to go to bed, had you? On the night that you come back from Azkaban (baby-killer)?
She pushed the door open and blanked her face. Lavender and Parvati, sitting toe-to-toe on Parvati's bed like inverted bookends, looked up eagerly.
'Hermione!' said Lavender, then rearranged her face into seriousness. 'How are you?'
Short and sharp as a slap, unexpectedly, Hermione was hit by the wish that someone who actually cared about the answer would ask her that question, with so much warmth, with so much seriousness. It made her feel like crying. She swallowed and clenched a fist behind her back.
'Really tired, actually,' she said politely. 'I think I just need to crash, if you don't mind.'
'Oh,' said Lavender. 'But—'
'Oh, we don't mind,' said Parvati. There was something slightly nasty in her voice, and Hermione felt her stomach tighten and shield. But 'Goodnight, then,' was all that Parvati said, as Hermione slid in between the curtains of her bed and let herself rock into sleep on the becoming-familiar-again meaningless murmurs of the wind outside the window and of the muffled girl voices on the other side of the curtain.
And so Hermione was back at Hogwarts and the war was over and Voldemort was defeated and she wasn't pregnant any more, and if that didn't make her happy, what would?
That first week, she went to classes, she did prefect duty, she slept; in between she walked the corridors if it was sleeting or the grounds if it wasn't, or took long baths in the prefects' bathroom, or worked in the library. Sometimes she visited Harry in the hospital wing, and that was the best. In the dormitory and the common room there was a strange, watching, waiting silence around her.
The graffiti in the ground-floor girls' toilets came and went, but BABYKILLER stayed, and Hermione wondered if that was what was giving shape and weight to the silence in the dormitory and the common room.
Once she came into the dormitory and Parvati was saying sharply: 'I don't care, Lavender, I just don't think it's right.' She knew what they had been talking about from the tone of Lavender's sh! and the peculiar, defiant, uneasy look Parvati gave her. Once she'd been at lunch, sitting with Luna Lovegood at the Ravenclaw table, when a couple of fourth-year girls – girls she didn't even know – had started a conversation about Muggle teenage pregnancy statistics and Muggle-versus-wizard culture, never quite saying Mudblood girls are whores, keeping one delighted eye on her all the time. She'd been about to say something that time: she looked them in the eye, opened her mouth, and then suddenly something in the sight of those round and rosy schoolgirls, cheeks plump and eyes bright with malice, had summoned a flash-image of Marietta Edgecombe's bone-thin, ash-grey body. Hermione had choked on damp Azkaban air, and said nothing. It didn't matter anyway. Schoolgirls.
But the war was over now, so what was there that did matter?
And once she'd been sitting at the edge of a prefects' meeting, waiting for Fatima to arrive from her appointment with McGonagall, who was acting as head while Dumbledore was away, with the lists and numbers of students in school societies so they could start working out timetables for choir rehearsals/Quidditch practice/ Duelling Club/ Kitchen Witches, when Mandy Brocklehurst – who had never liked her anyway – leaned towards her and said, eyes wide and helpful: 'Hermione, is it true that in Muggle schools they have to have special classes explaining that sex can get you pregnant?'
'I don't know,' said Hermione. 'I haven't been in a Muggle school since I was ten.'
'Dean Thomas swears it's true, and his sister's in a Muggle school.'
'Oh, yes?' said Hermione, feeling the room begin to tense up around her.
'Do you think it would help our Muggle-born students to have classes like that? To explain to them? Seeing as apparently they don't know?'
Hermione took a deep breath, but before she could answer: 'Shut up, Mandy,' said Ron, tipping dangerously far back in his chair from the row in front to glare at her over his shoulder.
'I was only asking,' she said, injured.
'You were only being a bitch,' said Ron. 'Leave Hermione alone, all right? It's none of your business.'
'Sor-ry,' she muttered, and flounced to the other side of the room, with much scraping of chairs and casting of glances from under her long, straight, honey-blonde hair (did you see what he said to me?)
'Thanks,' said Hermione to Ron quietly.
'That's all right,' he said, tipping forward in his chair again, not looking at her.
'Does this mean—'
He turned around. 'No,' he said. 'We're not okay, Hermione.'
So that was that.
Hestia had sent a polite little card saying welcome back and you must come over, but it had none of the sharpness or the crackle of Hestia in person, and Hermione put it in a drawer and forgot about it. The only thing that was sharp or crackly or real was being with Harry, playing gin rummy on the end of his bed in the hospital wing, talking about nothing but knowing that they both felt it, the extra dimension, The War, which seemed for everyone else to have folded itself up like a theatre backdrop, to have packed itself away into History, leaving her and Harry there in the empty building like litter, like scraps so small as to have been overlooked.
So when he asked her to be a witness at his wedding to Snape, she said yes.