'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.
-"As I Walked Out One Evening" by W.H. Auden
Hermione was doing something peculiar.
She was waiting for class to end.
“I expect nothing less than a robust, lengthy report on what we’ve been discussing in class for the past two weeks. Application of the subject as well as the theory. Due Monday, as you’ve known for some time now. No N.E.W.T. given in my subject will gloss over the magical properties of enchanted metals and woods, I can assure you,” Professor McGonagall peered over her glasses, letting the silence hang over everyone before giving a small nod. “Class dismissed.”
Hermione hoisted her bag on her shoulder as everybody else packed their things. She kept her parchment rolled in her hand. She had perfected her paper two nights ago in the glow of the Gryffindor common room’s fireplace, a gaggle of third years whispering and glancing at her from their perches. She had ignored them. The past year had taught Hermione a few things — how to live at Hogwarts without Harry and Ron, how to eat most of her meals in the kitchens away from her staring classmates, and how to cast silencing spells with increasing precision.
A Transfiguration assignment wasn’t difficult, especially when Hermione had spent months in the wild running from the darkest wizard to ever walk the earth. Especially when said months were spent with limited resources, two teenage boys, and a constant feeling of dread. And especially when the only way to make tea during that time had been with a kettle that Hermione had transformed from a few scraps of metal somewhere between London and Gloucestershire.
Yes, writing a seventh-year paper on the Transfiguration was certainly not the hardest thing she had done in the past twelve months. She kept this in mind as she approached McGonagall’s desk.
"Professor, I wanted to hand this in today," Hermione said briskly, holding out her report.
McGonagall eyed the parchment. She looked slowly back up at Hermione.
"The paper is due tomorrow, Miss Granger.”
"Yes, but I have it now, so—"
“You may hand it in tomorrow with the rest of your classmates.”
“Yes, but I was hoping—”
"If you have something to say to me, why go through all of this trouble?"
Hermione stared. “Sorry?”
"Miss Granger, I had half a mind to hex you to your seat while teaching my class today. I have never seen a student so fidgety," McGonagall continued, a wry smirk on her face. "I have little reason to doubt you. I have almost no reason not to trust you — and despite the fact that you missed a full year of school, I cannot believe that you are here to ask me for academic advice."
Hermione did not speak.
"So I shall ask you again: Why are you coming up to my desk after a double session of seventh-year Transfiguration class?"
Hermione took a deep breath. This was not going as planned. “Well...I had a question about the N.E.W.T.s.”
McGonagall didn’t say anything, only bore her stare into Hermione.
“I was wondering if I could take them a little early. I believe,” she realized with annoyance her voice was climbing in pitch, “that I can be of help with the upcoming judicial processes at the Ministry. I’ve been talking to Minister Shacklebolt, and he says I can shadow the proceedings.”
“Typically, we do not allow such things. I do not issue the exams, Miss Granger,” she said airily.
Hermione’s heart fell. “I understand if you can’t accommodate me.” In truth, she didn’t want to wait until next year to take the N.E.W.T.s, but she could wait, couldn’t she? It had been some time, after all, since she had last taken a serious exam. The O.W.L.s of her fifth year were now three years ago.
McGonagall held up a hand. “But you are in luck. There has been an exception made for another student this year.”
“An exception?” she squeaked, trying not to give her excitement away. McGonagall had been the only professor at Hogwarts to treat her exactly the same as any other student since she had returned. In fact, she suspected McGonagall was somewhat overcompensating for the way the other professors treated her. Whereas Professor Flitwick had welled up with tears when she had sat down for her first class with him at the beginning of the year, McGonagall had immediately given her orders to corale the class’s summer homework. She had appreciated this, oddly. She didn’t want special treatment.
Well, until today, she thought sheepishly.
“A Ministry matter,” McGonagall continued. “The early exam will be issued during the last week of this month and into May. Do you feel equipped to take them early?”
“It will take place over several days, and one examination will overlap with the beginning of the Memorial Feast,” McGonagall peered at her through her glasses. “But I am sure you will be able to attend dessert, at least. Is that of terribly great importance to you?”
Hermione tried to read McGonagall’s tone. Was she expressing sympathy? She knew there were expectations for her to be at the feast. Ron and Harry would be there, as would the entire Weasley family. Neville would be making the trip and she knew the remaining members of the Order and her old classmates who had already graduated would attend. But instead of feeling reluctant, she felt relieved to be given an excuse to miss part of it.
She yearned to be like her peers at Hogwarts. Though she liked most of her classmates, there were entire conversations she couldn’t take part in anymore. Any reference to the academic year before was usually lost on her. Younger students could barely look her in the eye, making social events awkward. Even simple talk of romance would turn into a discussion about how lucky she was to be with the Ron Weasley. Where once she had been asked about what subjects she liked the most and where she would like to work after school, people now liked to ask her if she missed her boyfriend.
“I can miss the beginning of the feast,” Hermione said quickly.
“So I will notify them of your intentions, and I will inform you of their answer.”
“Th-thank you, Professor.”
“And Miss Granger,” McGonagall said, “You needn’t be so apologetic. I have yet to compliment you.”
“I’m sure you’d like to join your friends who have decided to forgo their schooling,” McGonagall sniffed disapprovingly. She had written to Harry and Ron personally to attempt to persuade them to come back to Hogwarts. They had politely declined.
“It was important to me,” Hermione said quietly. She hadn’t seen Ron or Harry in several months now, though they exchanged letters when they could.
“You may leave your essay here,” McGonagall waved her hand, making herself busy with the notes on her desk. Hermione took this as her cue to leave. She placed her paper on the desk and made her way out of the classroom.
Reaching the door, she turned back to McGonagall. “Thank you again, Professor. I won’t allow this to impact my marks.”
McGonagall waved her hand. “Yes, yes. I seem to recall giving a certain girl a Time-Turner.”