Hermione’s headache went from slightly pounding to barely manageable as the eighth year students in the great hall continued to roar their displeasure. She was starting to question Headmistress McGonagall’s sanity after she made the blasted announcement, but now she had a bone to pick with her for subjecting her to this nonsense. Why must people scream and rage when they are told something that they don’t want to hear?
She rarely got her sleep after her return to the cursed grounds of Hogwarts, and it was showing in her pale complexion. It wasn’t helping that the entire great hall sounded as if a herd of Hippogriffs decided to storm through. Or maybe it was just in her head. Yes, definitely in her head, she thought as she rubbed at the throbbing of her temples.
“You okay, ‘Mione?” Harry asked from his seat in front of her. She wanted to scream ‘No!’, but that wouldn’t do any good, so she kept her mouth shut and offered a tight smile. It did nothing to erase the worried furrow of his brow. She made a mental note to practice her fake facial expressions.
“I’m fine, Harry.”
She was fine. Just fine. Maybe if she kept repeating it to herself it would become true.
“Attention!” McGonagall boomed, “This is not up for debate! After the war, the ministry officials decided that the seventh and eighth year students will spend their last month of school in the Muggle World. You’re all adult witches and wizards, and it’s about time you act like it. This war has taken enough from our society, and these prejudices cannot last any longer. I fear that if we don’t learn to evolve and overcome our ignorance, the same cycle of hatred will continue.”
The great hall went silent, and Hermione would have sunk down in her seat in relief if she didn’t have to listen to such drivel.
“Each Muggle-born or Half-blood with a connection in the Muggle World will be given the responsibility of helping Pure-blood students assimilate to Muggle culture. It will be your responsibility to make sure each of your charges will come back to Hogwarts with the needed understanding of basic living without magic.”
Hermione wanted to scoff, but she held herself back. She couldn’t believe the Headmistress had the gall to sound so approving of this entire project. Was she forgetting the devastation some of these Pure-blood's wreaked on the Muggle World? What about the atrocities that some of them committed to the Muggle-born families?
While some of them hadn’t so much as lifted their wands against a Muggle, their words dripping with prejudice acid were enough to prove what they thought of them.
Ever since her return to Hogwarts for her eighth year, the students would keep quiet on their beliefs, but that didn’t mean that they weren’t there. There was no way that she’d forgive and forget what some of the Slytherin students have done to her. If the way the younger students scurried past the Slytherin’s were any indicator, it wasn’t pleasant for them when they were stuck inside the school with the Death Eaters during the war.
If Hermione’s family was still alive, she wouldn’t feel comfortable with subjecting them with these Pure-blood elitists. Some of the Pure-blood students maintain that the war had proved them wrong or that they ‘changed their ways’, but she had a hard time believing it.
No matter how many times a snake sheds its skin, it will always be a snake, her father once told her with a hard glint in his eyes.
By the time war was over, Hermione wanted to run far, far away from the Wizarding World and never look back. Harry had pleaded with her to stay by his side until they finished school, and she was now regretting it. She supposed that he thought returning to Hogwarts would change her mind about running away from Wizarding Britain, but she had her own motives.
Her only consolation was that she was able to go back to the Muggle World and take care of her parents business while dealing with whatever stuck up Pure-blood's she got stuck with.
“Each of you will be receiving a sum of galleons that will be traded for Muggle currency. It will be up to you to learn how to use this money, whether it be by card or coins. You will use this money to shop for clothes that will help you fit in, and it will be up to you to buy food, lodgings, transportation or entertainment. Keep in mind that once you run out, you will not be receiving any more. If you have your own personal funds, you are free to bring that with you as long as you get it converted to Muggle money as well.”
The Headmistress looked around at the rapidly paling faces and Hermione couldn’t help but think that she was getting her own sort of pleasure out of watching them panic at the thought of experiencing something completely foreign to them. It serves them right, Hermione thought with a sick sort of vengeance. Let them flounder in her territory, just like her and her fellow Muggle-born's had to when they found out they had magic.
“Now since all of you have reached the age of adults, it is expected that you find your own place to stay. You will have enough money to rent a flat for the next month, but not so much as to afford a luxury inn. Once you are packed and ready to depart, you will all be taking the Hogwarts Express to the platform. Where you go from there is entirely up to you and your groups.”
Hermione could tell that by the looks everyone was sending each other that they were getting more apprehensive. Even Ron was looking pale and uncomfortable with the responsibility that was getting laid on his shoulders. This wasn’t surprising in the least. Hermione has been friends with Ron for almost a decade, and he’s only seen the Muggle World in small doses. He’s probably close to fainting at the idea of being thrown to the wolves.
“Most importantly,” McGonagall paused, making the tension in the room build, “Wands will be prohibited.”
Chaos ensued. Hermione liked to think it had nothing on the chaos currently flowing through her head, pounding in tandem with the beat of her heart, but she’d be lying. The noise of protest reached to the highest decibel that it had all night. Send the wizards and witches off to the Muggle World? Alright, they’ll be a little apprehensive. Take their magic away while your at it? The world is ending. She could practically taste the fear rolling off of the students in waves.
Cries of ‘No!’ and ‘You can’t do that!’ permeated the air.
What utter rubbish. She couldn’t find a sympathetic bone in her body to spare.
If Hermione was in a poetic mood, she would have thought this would give her a sick sense of justice. Throw those Pureblood brats into a completely new and foreign world and see how they handle it.
“You can’t take away our magic!” Pansy Parkinson screeched like a banshee, “That’s not fair!”
“I can,” McGonagall responded calmly, “And I most definitely will. This is about learning how to live without magic, which you very well wouldn’t do if you had your wands.”
Hermione could see the point of it, but at this moment she couldn’t help but disagree. To take away their wands so soon after the war would be like losing a limb. Hermione herself still slept with her wand clutched in her hand.
She wasn’t enjoying the thought of being helpless. Maybe not so helpless if she were to buy Muggle protection, but with Death Eaters still on the loose, she couldn’t believe the Ministry would send them out into the world like a bunch of sheep waiting for slaughter.
The old Hermione would have raged and asked a million questions, perhaps even point out all the things wrong with their logic, but she knew the ministry would do as they pleased. There was no fighting this.
Without all the old families influence in the Wizengamot, the Ministry is trying to figure out the new pecking order in the high courts. Even though Hermione was planning on saying goodbye to Wizarding Britain, she couldn’t deny being eager to see how the ministry will be ran without violence and bribes.
McGonagall eyed them with stern disapproval. “One more outburst and I’ll assign every one two months instead of one. I know that this isn’t an ideal solution, but in order to graduate, you must complete the entire month.”
“What about our N.E.W.T.s?” One of the eighth year Ravenclaw’s asked, “By the time we get back, we should already be graduated.”
“Yeah!” One of her seatmates agreed, “How are we supposed to complete graduation requirements without taking our N.E.W.T.s?”
Ron’s face scrunched up unattractively before he scoffed. “Had to bring it up didn’t they? Could have left well enough alone.”
“Some of us are focused on getting out of here with a full education,” Hermione said as she spared him a dismissive look, “There’s no need to be an arse about it.”
Ron has been a constant thorn in her side ever since the end of the war. Especially with their time at Hogwarts. Snog a guy once and he assumes your ready to get married and be a housewife. Not that there's anything wrong with being a stay at home mum, but if Ronald was expecting her to mother him, he should have stayed at home.
He especially liked to remind her about their kiss in the Chamber of Secrets.
As if she was going to hand her life away for one measly - if not sloppy - kiss.
Sure there was passion, but she liked to blame that on the adrenaline of war. Hermione wasn’t sure if she was going to survive at the time, so she put all her worth into that kiss, and it was terrible. There was no chemistry between them outside of the adrenaline induced high.
She liked to think that she dodged an Avada with that one.
“That’s our ‘Mione.” Ron gives her patronizing look, “Always worrying about her education before anything else.”
Hermione grit her teeth in order to keep in the barrage of curses and insults she wanted to yell at the obnoxious redhead. She absently wondered when things had gotten this bad. She didn’t understand what was happening with their friendship. Had he always been such a prat to her and she was just now starting to realize it?
Maybe him leaving her and Harry in the middle of the Forest of Dean made her finally realize that he was a git and he only valued friendship when it benefited him in some way. Okay, maybe that’s a bit harsh, she conceded. Hermione needed to find a way to get rid of this bitter feeling before it swallowed her up whole.
“No need to be a git, Ron.” Harry says exasperatingly while smacking Ron on the back of the head.
If there was one thing you had to know about Hermione, it was that Harry was one of her favorite people. After everything he has been through, Harry managed to keep hold of his innocent actions. Sometimes she just wanted to pinch his cheeks and coo at him. This was one of those moments. Harry still viewed Ron with rose colored glasses. Bless him for that.
Ron was one of the few people that Harry had left after the war, and she would never willingly take that away from him, so she would keep her opinions to herself.
Ronald grumbles before he looks towards the Headmistress, but not before sending Hermione a scathing look.
“You’ll be required to take your N.E.W.T.s upon your return,” McGonagall announces. “If you don’t see the benefits of this, just think about the month break you will get to either study or take time to relax before your exams.”
It was as if half the room sighed in relief, while the other half tensed up in anxiousness.
Crazily enough, Hermione was looking forward to the time she will get to relax. Before the war, Hermione would have gone crazy and spent that month cramming in study sessions, but she felt comfortable enough now to pass the exams. She didn’t need to pass with top marks. She didn’t even care if she passed with an inch of certainty. Her goals only called for passing marks.
She supposed people expected her to pass with record breaking marks, but Hermione wasn’t wanting to make history all over again.
She was comfortable with her role in this world and her own intelligence, she didn’t need to prove to others that she held the ridiculous title of ‘The Brightest Witch of Her Age’.
By the time the month was over, none of it would matter anymore.
She wouldn’t be here to be judged and revered for her cleverness.
She wanted to be more. She was going to be more.
“Now that we have cleared that up,” McGonagall started while pulling out some parchment, “We’ll start assigning the groups.”
Everyone in the hall sat up to pay attention while she and Harry shared apprehensive looks. They weren’t looking forward to being split up.
“Daphne Greengrass, Astoria Greengrass, and Pansy Parkinson will be assigned to Justin Finch-Fletchley.”
Hermione was beginning to feel terrible for Justin. The poor bloke was going to have to deal with the screeching that she was hearing from the opposite side of the Great Hall.
“Ronald Weasley, Ginevra Weasley, and Luna Lovegood are going to be with Harry Potter.”
Hermione looked over to Harry - who looked mighty pleased with his arrangement - and smiled. At least he’s got people he already knows.
“Dean Thomas will be grouped with Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom and Susan Bones.”
The list went on for several long minutes until most of the Half-blood’s and Muggle-born’s were assigned with groups of other students. It was either fortunate or unfortunate - depending on how you looked at it - that so many of the students in seventh and eight year never came back. Hermione was just proud that most of the Muggle-born’s came back and never ran. It was a big ‘sod off’ to the Ministry that tried so hard to chase them away.
“Now the last group will consist of Draco Malfoy, Blaise Zabini, and Theodore Nott. You three will be assigned to Hermione Granger.”
Of coarse. Only her luck would land her with the three Slytherin’s who tried so hard to make her life a living hell. She thought that she was doing a great job of ignoring - avoiding, her conscious whispered - the snakes, but it seems her success has ran out.
Harry let out a groan of dismay, “Hurry ‘Mione, we’ll cover for you while you run away.”
Hermione snorted, “Fat chance of that happening. When have I ever been the one to turn tail?”
“Never,” he replied while sending her a secretive smile, “I don’t want you alone with them, though.”
“If I get my way, there’s a chance none of us will have to separate.”
Dean Thomas gave her a sly smile from his spot next to her. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“You bet it.”
“Brilliant, Hermione. Let me know if you need any help,” he whispers to her with a conspiratorial wink.
She would have replied to him with some sense of reassurance if it wasn’t for Ronald’s face turning several different shades of red. The Weasley temper was crawling slowly but steadily, and she knew that she was going to be on the receiving side of it.
“Don’t even start with me, Ronald!” Hermione growled in irritation, “I don’t want to hear anything from you. You have a problem with the assignments? Take it to Headmistress McGonagall.”
“You’re not staying with those snakes!” Ron finally exploded, “I’m not going to allow you to run off with them. It’s too dangerous!”
“Go ahead and try to stop me,” she seethed back, “I can take care of myself, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
This was another reason her and Ron would never work together. Both of their tempers made it so their personalities mixed together like oil and water. They were always repelling against one another. She wasn’t some damned china doll that needed to be constantly protected. He will never view her as an equal, even if she’s way ahead of him in every way that matters. Merlin only knows how she’s never noticed it before.
“Oh, yeah? You’ll come running back for our help when those Death Eater's decide to turn you into their little play toy.”
Hermione stood up quickly and slammed her hands down on the table with a loud thud. The students and teachers quieted down quickly, turning to see what the commotion was, only to see Hermione with her hair crackling and a furious look upon her face. Some of the students who had seen Hermione this mad before quickly cringed away, knowing the look in her eyes meant there was hell to pay.
“You know what, Ronald?” His face was rapidly paling at the way she sneered his name. She spoke his name as if he was something disgusting and not worth the time it took to roll off her tongue. “I’m getting so sick and tired of you’re shite. You think I’m going to stand back and let you push me around? No. Absolutely not. Here’s your warning right now - if you keep treating me the way you have, I’ll make what happened to Umbridge look tame in comparison to what I’ll do to you.”
She leaned down so they were eye to eye.
“Do I make myself clear?”
Ron’s eyes seemed to widen to the size of dinner plates and his Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. His cheeks turned a furious shade of red when he realized that people were watching the entire spectacle. If it were any other day she might have been the slightest bit embarrassed, but her skull was pounding, and her emotions were running at an all time high due to the news of their impending adventure, so she couldn’t find it within herself to give a damn.
There was no time to sit there and listen to Ronald bitch about who she got paired up with. Sure, she wasn’t happy about who she got assigned with, but she wouldn’t have Ronald taking out his own problems on her.
“That’s enough, the both of you,” Harry jumped in, playing mediator, “You can talk this out in private, there are people watching.”
“As long as he knows to back the fuck off.”
Harry’s face appeared to be concerned, and he leaned in before putting a hand to her forehead. Pulling his hand back, he looked at her with understanding.
“You’re burning up, ‘Mione.” Harry spoke to her in a soothing tone, “You need to make stop by the hospital wing before we leave.”
“What the hell’s going on?” Ron asked, apparently having come down from his temper induced tantrum.
“Nothing,” Hermione responded quietly, “Just got a headache.”
“Bloody hell, ‘Mione.” Ron asked exasperatedly, “Why didn’t you just say so? Now I know why you’re all moody.”
Harry sighs while rubbing his hands down his face, making his glasses go askew.
“No more. I’m serious, Ron. Go stand by Ginny and wait for the rest of us. We’ll head to the train together.”
Ron walks away in a huff, leaving behind a fuming Hermione and a sympathetic Dean, who was rubbing his hand over her back in an offer of comfort.
“You’ll be fine, love.” Dean crooned, “I’ll go tell Justin to meet us at the train station, and we’ll let them in on the plan.”
“Only the best for my favorite witch.” Dean says before walking away, leaving her with a wink and bright smile.
“What’s all that about?” Harry asks while standing next to her.
“That’s just Dean being Dean.” Hermione replies before looking at him with a serious expression, “I’m sorry about that, by the way. I don’t mean for you to stand between me and the git.”
Harry shifts uncomfortably, looking a little guilty. “No, don’t say sorry. It’s partially my fault. I’ve been trying to push you and Ron together all year, even if I knew that you weren’t into it. I can see how you two barely get along, and I guess I’ve just been trying to hold onto how things used to be that I haven’t noticed when he’s crossed a line.”
“Don’t worry about that, Harry. Things will work out if they’re meant to.”
Harry gasps playfully while throwing a hand over his heart. “Is the Hermione Granger spouting things about fate? What has the world come to?”
“Oh shove off,” Hermione smiles before becoming more serious, “If there’s anything you need to worry about, it’s me maiming those three Slytherin’s before the end of the month.”
Harry’s smile fell, and the light in his eyes dimmed. “You’re completely right, of coarse. But if anyone is able to handle those guys, it would be you. You sure you’ll be alright?”
In all honesty, she didn’t quite know the answer to that. She’d like to say that she’d be brave, but it was more complex than that. Those three guys are part of the reason that she hated herself so much growing up. It would take some time to view them with anything other than casual indifference. She’s moved past the anger and hatred she held towards them because of their bullying, she just wasn’t sure what type of people they were ever since the war. She’d have to wait and see if they proved her wrong.
“Yeah.” she replied with a sigh, “I’ll be just fine.”
“Then why have you avoided looking at them this entire time?” Harry asks with a playful smile that never quite reached his eyes.
“There’s nothing wrong with waiting for them to approach me is there?” Hermione asks with a casual shrug.
She wasn't going to look over there only to see them sneering at her. It was better to ignore their presence completely. She just hoped that they could make it out of Hogwarts before tearing at each other's throats.