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The Eighth Year

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Fred Weasley was buried late on a Wednesday afternoon in the orchard at the Burrow, in the grove where the siblings often played pick-up games of Quidditch when their holidays permitted. It was early May and the apple trees were in full bloom, white blossoms stained pink on the undersides and freckled with golden pollen. The heat of the sun on thousands of petals filled the air with an dizzyingly sweet fragrance. But the silence of the mourners was deafening. For the longest time, all that could be heard was the sound of fat, lazy bees humming around the flowers and Mrs. Weasley sobbing.

After assembling in the garden behind the house, the crowd had filed into the grove single-file, led by Fred’s immediate family, followed by Harry, Hermione, Oliver Wood, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, and Lee Jordan. Behind them came scores upon scores of red-haired and freckled relatives, other school friends, several professors, and a number of Ministry employees who worked with Arthur and Percy. Many came bearing small mementos that reminded them of Fred, and Hermione herself clutched the Daydream Charm that Fred had once given her. It was still in its original packaging. None of them had had time for daydreams in the past two years.

The Weasleys had not hired an officiant for the ceremony, and at first the group stood by the graveside, crowded tight together in silence. Hermione heard Molly start to weep, and Ginny joined her, pulling away from Harry to bury her face in her mother’s shoulder.. Ron gripped Hermione’s hand so tight it hurt, and when she looked up at him, his ears were scarlet, his eyes rimmed with red and full of unshed tears.

After several long minutes, Arthur Weasley spoke up from the front, his voice raised so that it would carry. In a voice thick with grief, he thanked everyone for coming and expressed how much their support meant to the family.

“The family would like to honor Fred by sharing our memories of him. He was always — always so lively,” said Mr. Weasley, “so full of good spirits, always quick to cheer up his brothers or sister if they should need it. Even when he was small. Of course, Fred being Fred, his methods of cheering you up were just as bad as what was troubling you, often as not…. In any case, if anyone feels led to speak, feel welcome to.”

George interjected that everyone should consider sitting down, since they were undoubtedly going to be there a while; amid strained laughter, the crowd settled into the soft green grass, heedless of their fine robes, to share their stories. It was an odd thing to see Professor McGonagall sitting cross-legged next to Hagrid and Flitwick.

Over the course of the next hour and a half, friends and family shared so many memories of Fred that by the end of it Hermione didn’t know whether she was laughing or crying anymore. Eventually the crowd began to split into small groups who shared the stories behind the items they had brought, or reminisced at length. Hermione re-told the story about warning the twins from attempting to put their names in the Goblet of Fire with an Ageing Potion, and her description of how they had both been blasted away from it by the Age Line was so perfectly timed that even Molly Weasley laughed.

At long last, as the sun began to set, George leapt up and jogged up to the front of the grove.

“Now, no more of this blubbering,” he ordered, sounding congested but determined. “Fred would be ashamed of you lot; he’d feel his very raison d’être undermined!” George was drawing his wand.

“George Weasley,” Molly began in a dangerously low tone that set Hermione on edge — but George ignored her completely.

“Well, ladies and gents, I have the privilege of knowing exactly what he’d do if he were here. And I’ve the feeling most of you probably know, too. What do you think, Ron? What would Fred do?”

“Sneak you a Canary Cream,” Ron said,, wiping his nose on a rather tatty old handkerchief.

“Good place to start,” said George, nodding. “Lee, what do you think? What would Fred do?”

“Put U-No-Poo in the treacle tart,” suggested Lee Jordan.

“What a joker, that Fred! Angelina! You probably know the answer to the question I’m about to ask…”

“Replace all the treacle tart with self-propelling custard pies,” she said promptly, raising an eyebrow at Lee.

Classic Fred,” George agreed. “Professor McGonagall! What do you think? What would Fred do?”

“I’m sure I haven’t the foggiest, Mr. Weasley,” said the Transfiguration teacher, sounding a bit froggy, but then she cracked a watery smile and said, “but I believe it would involve comestibles hexed to facilitate skiving.”

There was a ripple of amusement throughout the crowd, reverberating particularly through the group of students at the front. George regarded his erstwhile professor and declared in a gallant tone, “Minnie, you were always Fred’s favorite professor.”

She leveled a Look at him over the rim of her spectacles. “Gonnae nae do that, wee man,” she said in her sternest brogue, sending her students, past and present — which meant all of the Brits present — into stitches.

George picked up his patter once more, turning to Oliver, who was rather cozy next to Angelina and Alicia, “Internationally acclaimed keeper Oliver Wood, care to weigh in?”

“Right, George, in my professional opinion I think he’d uncork some Weather in a Bottle.”

“Right, ‘cause it’s much too lovely a day for a funeral. Which means this must be a party. And what’s a party without WEASLEYS’ WILDFIRE WHIZ-BANGS?

At that instant, from the open grave burst a veritable conflagration of pyrotechnics: an entire herd of brilliant silver Thestral Thrashers came thundering forth, followed by a phalanx of Feathery Flamingo Flame Fuzzers that flashed upward into the darkening sky on violently pink wings of fire.

The crowd’s shrieks of surprise were nearly drowned out by the drumroll racket of Exploding Whizz Poppers, the particolored Voodoo Fountain that blasted upward and out over the assembled mourners with the sound of a full New Orleans jazz band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and the cackling of the cartoonish Diabolic Dare Devils that romped overhead, shedding a thick red smoke that smelled like cinnamon.

Hermione realized that every single one of the Weasley children were busily lighting sparklers that, when released, instantly leaped into the air and started drawing what appeared to be terrible portraits of Fred Weasley.  Bill seized a handful from a box that Percy had been holding — Percy ! — and tossed them out to the crowd with an invitation to help.

“I should probably have mentioned there would be pyrotechnics at this gathering,” George shouted over the din. “Please make your way back to the house and start in on the nosh. Don’t mind the Demon Dung Crackers; the smell fades in a snap!”

Molly Weasley had buried her face in her hands, her shoulders shaking, but when she raised her head Hermione could tell she was shaking with laughter, not grief. As the crowd began to rise and disperse, she marched up to George and captured him in a hug so tight that she was like to break his arms. But George did not complain; he returned the embrace, and of his face Hermione only saw his eyebrows, deeply contorted in pain.

She looked away out of consideration and jogged to catch up with Ron. The sparklers followed, and with them bobbed along the images of Fred’s laughing face sketched out in fizzy white light.

 

The gnomes had thoroughly repopulated the garden, Hermione noticed as she picked her way through the crowd with a serviette filled with edibles. All things considered, the Burrow had fared well during its period of abandonment after the Ministry fell to the Death Eaters. But details such as the crew of gnomes building a rickety structure in the middle of the garden out of Mrs. Weasley’s tomato stakes and chicken wire reminded her how recently they had returned, which made her think of the crooked old house forlorn and empty, chickens loose on the lawn, the garden gone to seed in the absence of its keepers. It was impossible not to be constantly reminded of how close they had all come to never seeing the place again.

It was hard for her to think outside of euphemisms. Even at a funeral, despite how intimately acquainted she had become with death. The scene was similar enough to the night of Bill and Fleur’s wedding, that last night she’d been at the Burrow, that the two nights were blurring in her mind. The tents — charmed a deep blue, Hermione noted — enclosed dining tables, lit by tiny hovering strings of lanterns that cast a golden glow over the proceedings now that the sun had set. From the dark corner where she’d taken refuge from the crowd, Hermione observed the garden bursting with people delivering their condolences to the family. At one point she saw Aunt Muriel demanding Bill Weasley vacate his chair for her, and suddenly she found herself gasping, her chest expanding painfully as if she had forgotten to keep breathing and was just now remembering how to do it. Her free hand leapt to her chest and she focused on slowing down her respiration, willing the cramping feeling to go away.

“Miss Granger, are you quite all right?”

It was Professor McGonagall, who had come up beside her quietly, leaning on a blackthorn cane. The older woman was not prone to tender expressions of concern, but there was something calculating in her eyes that made Hermione feel cared for nonetheless.

“I’m fine, thank you.” Hermione gave a weary smile. “Just tired.”

“Small wonder,” said McGonagall. “I imagine Molly had you all out in force this morning.”

“What? — Oh, to prepare for — yes, but it wasn’t so bad.” She shrugged. Housework wasn’t much compared to months of scavenging for food and fighting for their lives. But it had been tiring. She changed the subject quickly: “What is the state of things at Hogwarts? Will the school open on time in September?”

McGonagall’s lips thinned. “It’s impossible to say at this juncture. The damages are monumental, not only to the physical building but, as I’m sure you’re aware, to the general morale of the country.”

“But surely the parents know their children’s safety can be assured now,” said Hermione.

“Even if such a public relations miracle were possible, I would hardly advise it. It’s patently untrue — I cannot assure anyone’s safety in the current climate. A fifth of our staff needs to be replaced, and I refuse to vouch for anyone I don’t trust with my life; and furthermore, there are enough of Voldemort’s supporters still at large after the final battle that I fully expect there to be retaliation in the weeks and months to come. And Hogwarts’ defenses were severely breached. I cannot say whether or not they can be repaired.”

Hermione felt a shock of cold steal over her. “But surely — there are plenty of powerful witches and wizards available to rebuild the wards! You, for example, and Professor Flitwick, and — and Kingsley Shacklebolt could come help…. Professor, do you really think the remaining Death Eaters pose such a th-threat?”

Her professor looked at a long moment. “I only have my instincts at this point, Miss Granger.”

“That has to count for something.”

McGonagall smiled wryly. “To this date I have always landed on my feet, but even a cat has only nine lives.”

Hermione smiled, sensing her professor meant to cheer her up, but the thought of McGonagall on her last life was even more sobering.

“Enough,” McGonagall said. “I beg your pardon, Miss Granger; we’ve all had a surfeit of grief. Enlighten me: what are your plans now? Something tells me that you have already started making arrangements.”

Hermione blinked. “Arrangements —? I’m not sure I follow your meaning.”

“For your career, lass, your future. Perhaps it is too soon to be asking….”

Oh. Those arrangements. Hermione bit her lip and felt suddenly shy and hesitant. “Well, actually….”

McGonagall raised an eyebrow, her expression half-smug, half-fond.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Hermione, “and what I’d like best, if it can be managed at all, is to return to Hogwarts. To finish out my seventh year good and proper, you know. Whatever career I go into, I want to be fully prepared.”

McGonagall’s expression was unreadable. “You should know that if you should want to go into the Aurory, you could easily pass their entrance exams.”

“What about my N.E.W.T.s?”

“We would, of course, allow you to sit the relevant exams, but I have the utmost confidence in your ability to pass them.”

Hermione bit her lip. “What if I don’t want to go into the Aurory?”

McGonagall’s eyebrows disappeared beneath the deep brim of her pointed hat. “I don’t say this about all of my pupils, but, Miss Granger, I believe you can do anything you put your mind to. If you want to return to Hogwarts, I will do everything I can to make that happen.”

“Oh — you needn’t go to trouble on my account,” Hermione began.

“It’s more than just the matter of whether the school will open again in time, however,” said McGonagall, caution coloring her tone. “The terms of the Wockenfuss Fund allow for a student to draw from it for seven consecutive years; the bursar is an absolute devil about those details.” Noticing how Hermione blanched, McGonagall was quick to continue. “However, the Wockenfuss Fund is hardly our only means of student support. There’s the Pendygraft Fund and the Royal Rexwinkle Endowment at the very least; they’re usually used only for instructional supplies and pedagogy promotion respectively, but we could allocate ten to fifteen galleons for your supplies, I think. And we could also solicit support from the Patronage; ordinarily I don’t have much faith in that system, but you are a special case, considering that your name is almost as well-known as Mr. Potter’s. I am confident that, should it come to that, you would find plenty of support from private citizens, especially since the term of support is only a single year.”

“That’s good to know,” said Hermione, but she did not feel completely reassured. Her tuition had been almost completely covered by the Jasper Wockenfuss Muggleborn Support Fund since her first year. She had emptied her savings for their hunting year and knew that she should never be able to afford to pay the fees herself. “I hate to be a nuisance, Professor—“

“Whist,” her professor interrupted.

There was an awkward pause before Hermione, tucking her hair behind her ear, asked, “So… which staff members won’t be returning? Aside from the Carrows, of course.”

Her professor grimaced. “Obviously we need to fill the positions for Muggle Studies and Defense,” she said. “Professor Babbage, too, was lost in the battle, so we’ll need to find another Ancient Runes instructor. Professor Sinistra is taking a sabbatical to recover from a melting hex. And Madame Pince is threatening to retire. It’s nothing new; she threatens every year — but this time she seems to mean it.”

Hermione, whose face had fallen at the mention of Bathsheda Babbage, perked up. “If she needs an assistant….”

McGonagall chuckled. “We’ve been trying to force an assistant on Irma for decades, but she’s adamantly refused.”

“I see. ”

“And then, of course, there’s Severus,” McGonagall said quietly. At the mention of the professor, Hermione felt an unpleasant electric buzz ruffle her senses.

“He… he doesn’t want to come back, I suppose,” Hermione said.

McGonagall blinked at her. “I haven’t a clue as to what he wants, Miss Granger; I haven’t talked to him since… well….”

Since before the battle. Hermione mentally finished the sentence for her. Since before Harry revealed to everyone that Snape was a hero, that he’d been working for the Order all along as a double-agent, that he was Dumbledore’s man to the end.

But it hadn’t been the end. Hermione had made sure of that.

The silence that came down between them stank of guilt, and Hermione felt a wash of nausea roll up in her stomach.

Of all things, what Severus Snape wanted should’ve been the last thing on her mind, and indeed, the question was swept away by a dozen others that burned to be spoken — almost literally. But wild horses couldn’t have dragged them out of her. Speech, in fact, was a faculty beyond her capabilities at the moment. All she could do was sink her teeth into her lower lip and try to keep breathing.

He’d survived, and at least she wouldn’t have his death on her conscience.

 

That was Hermione’s final exchange with McGonagall before the professor was pulled into a discussion with another guest. Hermione didn’t get the opportunity to pause and think, though, for as soon as her professor left her side, one of Mr. Weasley’s colleagues caught her up in conversation. He was a thirty-something dark-haired man with a smile full of bright white teeth that he flashed between intrusive and enthusiastic questions about her time hunting Horcruxes. “Your year abroad,” he called it, as if it were a gap year, Hermione thought. Apparently unimpressed with her dull answers — for how interesting could she make months of rooting around in the woods sound?— he began to regale her with stories of his own encounters with cursed artifacts.

When she finally managed to tactfully extricate herself from his company, Hermione started for a group of familiar faces on the other side of the crowd, but again she was accosted by a stranger. It was another man, this one rather older but no less enthusiastic. He had greying hair combed straight back so it straggled down his collar, and his round eyes crossed slightly over a prominent beaky nose so Hermione had the distinct impression she was being sized up by an elderly crow. This one insisted on shaking her hand and then held onto her while he interrogated her about the diadem of Ravenclaw.

Hermione got the sinking feeling that this was what Harry experienced every time he went out in public. Where was Harry, anyway? She craned her neck to scan the crowd, and the older man finally let her hand go, harrumphing that one’s status as a war heroine didn’t give one license to disrespect one’s elders. Hermione kept her eyes on a distant part of the crowd, and when another man tried to intercept her, she pretended that she was so focused on her distant goal that she didn’t notice the bid for her attention. That seemed to work, although she felt a little guilty for slipping past him without so much as a nod, but she finally made it over to Fleur and Gabrielle Delacour.

“‘Ermione,” Gabrielle exclaimed, and threw her arms around Hermione’s waist. The girl had demonstrated an attachment to Hermione since the Triwizard Tournament, in which they’d both been “captives” of the Mer-people for the Second Task.

Fleur’s greeting was a bit more circumspect. “I see you ‘ave your fair share of admirers now, ‘Ermione,” she said with a soft smile. “And ‘ow are you enjoying ze fruit of your success?”

“You mean those men?” Hermione said, content to keep an arm around Gabrielle’s shoulders as the girl hung onto her waist. “I don’t know them from Adam….”

““I see you are less than impressed with their attentions,” said Fleur.

“Perfect strangers!” Hermione exclaimed. “And they keep asking me about Horcruxes, as if hoping I brought one back as a souvenir.”

Fleur performed a delicate shudder. “‘Ideous dark magic,” she murmured. “I will never understand ze English and ze cavalier manner in which zey discuss such practices. In public! At a funérailles ! It is ze quintessence of vulgarity.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” said Hermione, somewhat surprised by the strength of Fleur’s reaction.

Maman says grandmother would eat vulgar people,” Gabrielle piped up. Fleur swatted her younger sister.

Tais-toi! Zat is very rude to say, Gabrielle,” Fleur scolded.

“It is true, ” Gabrielle insisted with a scowl.

“Personally I wouldn’t go so far,” Hermione said, and Fleur laughed, her voice clear and bell-like. “But I hope it blows over soon. I don’t relish being the center of attention whenever I try to cross the street.”

“Do not resent zem for ze attention,” said Fleur. “Zey cannot help it — love comes in at ze eye, said one of your poets.”

“Technically, Yeats was Irish,” said Hermione, a bit self-conscious as she pitched her voice louder so she could be heard over the din of the party.

Fleur laughed again. “Speak your mind and zey will soon lose interest. It is a blessing and a curse, I’m afraid, but you will be ‘appier in ze long run.”

Hermione was certain Fleur had had her share of unwanted attention. But still, there was a difference between the sort of, well, romantic attention that men paid to the Delacour women, and the excessive curiosity people displayed around Harry. “When Harry spoke his mind, people usually paid more attention,” said Hermione doubtfully. “Of course, that was usually because they thought he was going mad….”

Fleur waved a dismissive hand. “Zat is a different case entirely. ‘Arry is a man of whom many ‘ave great expectations; ‘e ‘as been ze apple of ze English eye since ‘e was a tiny baby. You? You are a Muggle-born witch. No matter zat you ‘elped defeat ze Dark Lord, zey will expect little of you, and when you surprise zem, when you show zat you are a powerful and clever witch, as powerful and clever as any, ze English blood purists, ze beastly aristocracy will not be ‘appy.” Fleur’s mouth, usually a softly curved bow, was compressed in a flat line. “Be careful, ‘Ermione — zat is what I want to say to you: be careful, because we ‘ave left ze battlefield, but ze war is not yet over.”

Hermione glanced down at Gabrielle, who was looking up at her — though not too far up; she was going to be tall, like her older sister — with great grey eyes. What kind of world was Gabrielle inheriting? For that matter, what kind of world would she inherit? When she had received her Hogwarts letter at age eleven, she had felt as if a distant relative had died and left her an untold fortune. Now that she was of age, it felt like she had received a dilapidated estate that might end up costing more to maintain than it was worth.

Hermione thanked Fleur for her advice and then with a small start said, “Speaking of Harry — have you seen him? Do you know where he is?”

Fleur glanced around. “I ‘aven’t seen him in quite some time. Or Ginevra.” Her smile was sly and Gabrielle’s giggle was positively fiendish, as the eleven-year-old was apparently all too aware of Fleur’s meaning.

Hermione blushed brightly and muttered something about going to find Ron.


Hermione drifted along with a handful of Fred’s old school friends in an exodus to the orchard for a match against Ron and the rest of their cohort. She settled into the grass next to Luna Lovegood, watching the young witches and wizards in their funeral finery whooping and loop-the-looping on the Weasleys’ old brooms above the treetops. The moon was a shock of silver plate behind the teetering towers and crenellated chimneys of the Burrow, and she felt torn between two times and places, as if the intervening year had never happened and she was somehow existing simultaneously in this moment and in another, long distant one in which there was no bitterness to the summer heat. She felt dizzily disoriented, as if she’d had too much nettle wine to drink, and for a while it was easy to pretend it was just her head spinning, not the world, and that they could remain frozen in this moment for as long as they needed to catch up to it.