Part of the walls are still a mess of rubble.
They all have magic right there at their fingertips, and yet… part of the walls are still just… piles of rubble. Concrete dust collects on Hermione’s boot as she and Ginny walk with their trunks up to the castle gates. Crookshanks sneezes from somewhere behind her.
“It’s not fixed yet,” Ginny says, staring up in confusion.
“It will be,” Hermione says, straightening her shoulders. “They just haven’t gotten to it yet.”
“But, we’ve been gone for months,” Ginny protests. “We had a real summer. Well… kind of.”
“It’ll be fine,” Hermione insists, and walks into the front hall.
Harry and Ron refuse to come back. Hermione stresses the importance of completing their N.E.W.T.S. all summer long, she prods Harry about the prospects of someone without the equivalent of a full high school education. But, Harry just looks at her with that slightly half-dead tinge to his eyes, and Hermione keeps flashing back to the image of him limp in Hagrid’s arms—even though it hadn’t been real.
Not all the way, at least.
So, Hermione stops pestering him and helps him find a flat with Ron, Dean, and Seamus instead. She still makes a comment here or there, because she can’t really help herself and he knows it.
He hugs her tighter than ever the night before start of term.
“Proud of you,” he mumbles into her shoulder. When he pulls back, he looks her straight in the eye. “Give ‘em hell.”
The sorting is the strangest that Hermione has ever sat through.
There are only eleven first years—total. Five go for Hufflepuff. One for Ravenclaw. Two new Gryffindors, and three for Slytherin; a little girl with shockingly bright blue socks and a stunning afro immediately bursts into tears at the pronouncement. A lithe blonde stands up from the sparse Slytherin table and walks over, ignoring every eye in the room that watches, she crouches down in front of the girl and brushes her tears away.
“Astoria,” Ginny whispers. “She’s… we became friends, last year.” Hermione watches her gently help the crying girl down and wrap an arm around her, back at the table. The other two first years, another girl and a boy, have clasped hands and won’t look at anyone. Hermione doesn’t count, but there are definitely less than twenty returning students altogether at the Slytherin table—far less than any other house by at least half. The empty bits seem to stretch out for miles. “She’s a good person,” Ginny says, firm. “You’ll like her.”
Hermione rather doubts it, but, Ginny is a good judge of character. She wouldn’t befriend a Slytherin if she didn’t feel like it wasn’t worth it. Probably. Hermione doesn’t have the energy to argue.
The meal takes ages for them to get through. It’s so strange to look up and not only see McGonagall in Dumbledore’s place, but no Snape scowling down at them all. There’s no Harry or Ron beside her. No Dean, Seamus, Parvati, Lavender… The rest of the professors look nearly as shell-shocked to be back as Hermione feels.
McGonagall goes over the plans for the reconstruction, apologizes for the bits that are off limits until the finishing touches take place, assures them this will all be a year that is a return to normalcy, to focus on their studies, to work hard, and to do her and the school proud—just as they have year after year. She doesn’t look at the Slytherin table as she says this last part.
Hermione doesn’t realize that she’s been balling her hand into such a tight fist until she moves to stand up and notices some blood on her palm. Neville gives her a pained look, makes a grab for her hand but Hermione quickly pulls it away, shaking her head.
“I’m fine,” she says, strained. “It’s nothing.”
She can feel Neville’s eyes on her as they trudge back up to the dormitory.
The dorms are chaotic. Half of the students are gone, the second years have no idea what they’re supposed to do, and Hermione catches the two new first years sitting on a couch by the fireplace quietly, their hands in their laps, waiting for someone older to tell them.
She climbs up to her room, pinching the bridge of her nose.
A gnarled scream rings around in Hermione’s head, remnants of that night. Of the sound of him eating—
Hermione shakes her head and drops her rucksack down on top of the bed that has been hers for the last seven years and determinedly does not look over at the empty two by the window. Parvati isn’t coming back either, nor Padma. So, Hermione’s dorm is empty. They always annoyed her before, but now the prospect of sleeping alone terrifies her.
Ginny comes clopping up the stairs and lets herself inside without notice or permission. “A third year that I’ve never seen before asked me if they’re still supposed to do four to a room if there aren’t enough in their year.”
Hermione sighs. She is still a Prefect. This is probably her responsibility, McGonagall has enough on her plate.
“Is there anyone in yours?”
Ginny shrugs. “They aren’t coming back. We were never all that close.”
“Is Luna back?”
“Nah,” Ginny picks at the door frame with her nail. “She’s with her dad. They went through a lot last year, so…” she trails off. Unable to finish the sentence. Everyone went through a lot last year.
“Right then, you’re in with me. Go get your stuff. Tell them all that they can sleep wherever they want, as long as it isn’t more than the rooms can handle.”
Ginny nods, happy to have something to do that’s useful. It’s probably better that she tells them anyway, she was actually here last year. She knows them all better than Hermione does.
When she finishes unpacking and heads back down to the common room, the faces are a bit livelier. The first and second years have pushed beds together and are sleeping like a pack of puppies when Hermione moves to check. A fifth year that Hermione recognizes by face but not name says that the third and fourth years are basically doing the same. She says it like it’s a question.
Hermione only shrugs at her in response. “I don’t think anyone will care as long as you don’t damage anything.”
“Like this place isn’t already damaged,” Ginny bites, walking past.
“It is,” she says, but quiets and follows Hermione back up the stairs. “There is no way that this is a normal year. McGonagall’s off her rocker.”
“Probably not,” Hermione agrees. “But, it’ll be better than last year.”
“That’s something,” Ginny says sardonically, but then she sags, a bit, and nods. “That’s good.”
Crookshanks jumps up onto her bed and Hermione pets him for a moment before shoving him off and laying down. “It is good,” she says. “It will be fine.”
It is not fine.
Everything seems to make Hermione furious. A Slytherin boy who looks like he might be a fourth year cuts her off on her way to breakfast and Hermione nearly whips out her wand and curses him right there in the hall. Ron sends her a letter saying that he got a job in a pub near Diagon Alley and she actually sets it on fire. Professor Flitwick asks her to re-read a passage that she completed three years ago and she almost screams in his face. Ginny asks if she’s eaten anything, a worried look on her face and Hermione imagines clawing the look off with nothing but her nails. She thinks about life after Hogwarts, a big yawning chasm that she is somehow supposed to fill with herself, and for the first time in ages, she has no idea at all with what.
Her skin feels too tight, her body thrums with magic, as if it’s right there underneath the surface in a way that she has never felt it before.
She wakes nearly every night from a nightmare—Ginny does too. Tonight, it’s of the snake chasing her and Ron down the steps. Her hand feels heavy when she wakes, as if Ron’s should still be there, but it’s not. Ron is in a flat somewhere in London.
It’s nearly October already and Hermione feels like she has only been back here for an hour, at most. Time is moving far too slowly.
She’s angry about that, too.
A Ravenclaw girl called Taylor answers a Potions question before Hermione can, and Slughorn looks surprised, then pleased. Hermione nearly rips the skin on her palms off when she unfurls her fists.
Neville corners her during dinner. “Can I show you something?”
She’s going to say no, but when she looks up, there’s a set of determination to Neville’s jaw, his shoulders. He carries himself like Harry does now, in a way. Hermione remembers him slicing at the snake with the sword of Gryffindor—he’s changed just as much as she has.
The scar on her arm screams, but she nods at him anyway, grabs her rucksack and follows him.
“The beds are all gone,” he says, ducking into the Room of Requirement. “But some of our stuff is still in here.”
“Not mine,” Hermione says, stilted. “I wasn’t here.” Her things from last year are all still in her rucksack. Still ready to grab and go at a moment’s notice. She knows, that he’s dead. She saw his body fall to the pavement, a limp grey thing that the professors and aurors and ministers all warded off and ushered them all away from.
He was dead before, and he still came back. The rucksack is staying underneath Hermione’s bed.
Neville leans against a trunk, picking up what looks like a rubber ball and chucking it at the wall. It bounces back to his hand and he throws it again.
“You were, though,” he counters, a beat later. “You, and Harry, and Ron, and everyone who wasn’t actually here.” He meets Hermione’s eye and holds her gaze. He never used to do that before, it’s unnerving and comforting at the same time. He doesn’t bother to explain this statement any further, and Hermione decides that she doesn’t need him too.
“Ginny said that you two are friends with Astoria, now,” she says, like it’s a question.
Neville throws the ball at the wall again, nodding.
“Are you alone?” she asks, changing the subject. “In your dorm?” she clarifies after he frowns.
He nods again.
“Well, you’re welcome to come and hang out in mine with Ginny and me,” she offers.
Neville smirks now, chucking the ball with some force and angling it so that it bounces back near Hermione. She has to act quickly in order to dodge it. He chuckles, moving to retrieve the ball. “You’re meant to catch it.”
“I’m not really one for sports.”
“It’s not sports,” he says, throwing the ball for her again.
This time Hermione does jump to try and catch it—Neville won’t tease her if she misses. Which, she does. Like everything else these days, it makes her unconscionably annoyed. Before she is even thinking about it, her wand is in her hand and she lights the ball on fire. Embarrassed, now that it’s flaming, a burnt rubber smell filling up the room, Hermione quickly shoves her wand back into her robes.
Neville shrugs. “It’s just a ball.”
“How are you so…”
“What?” he asks, gentle.
“Normal,” Hermione finally gasps. “Better, even.”
Neville sort of jerks backwards from her and then a horrible gasp sucks out of him. “Hermione—”
She turns on her heel, and flees.
Except that she slams directly into Ginny, surprised and blocking her path as Hermione tries to leave the room. And Ginny, ridiculous, annoying, impossible Ginny, gets her arms around Hermione and holds on to her with a vice grip. “What’s going on?” she demands. “Neville, what’d you do?”
“Is she alright?” a voice that Hermione doesn’t recognize asks from somewhere off behind Ginny and now, Hermione is very much not.
“Let go,” she says, but it barely comes out above a whisper.
“I didn’t do anything!” Neville insists. “I was trying to—”
“Is she alright?” the voice asks again. Hermione finally sees Astoria Greengrass come into her line of sight. The silver and green of her tie is what finally gives Hermione enough anger and strength to shove herself at Ginny. Except Hermione is crap at sports, and Ginny is brilliant, so Ginny just holds on to her tighter and glares back.
“Hermione,” she says, like she’s scolding. It is such the perfect imitation of her mother that Hermione sags in her arms, guilty.
“I’m fine,” she says, it barely sounds convincing, even to herself. She keeps saying it, though, in the hopes that if she says it enough then it will just… become true. “I invited Neville to come up to our dorm whenever he wants,” she announces.
Ginny grins, crooked. “Oh lovely, I’ve told Astoria the same.”
Hermione’s anger comes right back then, eyes flashing, and she manages to shove her way out of Ginny’s arms at that. “She’s a Slytherin,” snarls Hermione.
Ginny’s face falls, and beside her, Astoria hangs her head, looking about a foot smaller than her tall frame in an instant. Ginny steps over and slides her hand into Astoria’s and shoots a deep disapproving glare Hermione’s way. “I told you, she’s our friend.”
“Well, it’s my dorm,” Hermione spits. “Move back into your own if you want her in there.” She shoves past them both roughly, Neville calling her name, pleading, and Ginny cursing at her back, furious.
Hermione runs into the hall, screams at the portrait of the Fat Lady, then bursts into the common room. The minute that she shuts the door of her dorm, she bursts into hot, angry tears.
Ginny moves her things out and doesn’t talk to Hermione for weeks.
Neville gives her sympathetic looks that surge guilt deep in Hermione’s gut, but she squares her shoulders, gathers up her books and spends all of her time in the library. The only reason that she is even here in the first place is to finish her studies anyhow, it’s what she should be focusing on.
Harry sends her a letter a week after the… Not Quite Fight. Ginny must’ve told Ron something, and he must have told Harry. It’s strangely contrite for someone who spent the better part of the last seven years muttering about Draco Malfoy being near evil incarnate. Hermione tells him so when she answers back.
Touché. Is all that comes back with Harry’s new owl—a loaner. He hasn’t gotten a new pet since Hedwig. Hermione reaches for Crookshanks as she reads it and for once, he crawls onto her lap and stays there, allowing her to pet him. When Hermione flips the scroll over, she sees that he’s written more on the other end, the ‘touché’ on its own was merely for dramatic effect.
After all of it, I guess I’m just… sick of being angry. That, and from the sounds of it, Astoria actually seems alright. I’m not throwing the Slytherins a party or anything, but, apparently, she took a bunch of punishments from the Carrows on Gryffindor first years’ behalf. According to Neville.
Hermione sighs, shoving Crookshanks off her lap and reaching for a quill and some paper.
I’m not angry at fucking Astoria Greengrass, she writes. I’m angry at everything else.
Yeah, the response comes back a day later. Me too. D’you want to grab a butterbeer at Hogsmeade this weekend?
She goes, because she misses him—and she’s already completed all of her homework for the entire term. Winter holidays are only three weeks off, now, and Hermione’s been done with everything for two. She has been going out of her mind.
Harry shows up in a pair of jeans and a pea coat, looking almost like a muggle if not for the wand sticking out of his pocket and the Gryffindor scarf wrapped loosely around his neck. Hermione runs up and throws her body at his, clutching him tight. He responds in kind and some of the anger that she has been carrying around for the last two months dissipates, just a bit.
They go inside and order butterbeers and hot sandwiches. Hermione sits in a booth with her best friend and she forgets how starved for this she used to be until suddenly she’s got it back again. If she hadn’t been such a jerk, she wouldn’t be lonely right now in the first place. There really isn’t anyone to blame but herself.
“I hollered at Ron yesterday,” Harry tells her, after they’ve been eating quietly for a few minutes. Hermione looks up at him in surprise. “For no reason,” he runs a palm through his unruly hair. “He took the last of the coffee and didn’t make more,” Harry chuckles, bitterly. “And I tore into him for like, ten minutes.”
“I nearly cursed a twelve-year-old boy last week,” Hermione offers.
Harry grins at her, crooked. “What’d he do?”
“Bumped into me.”
“Jesus,” Harry shakes his head, leaning back against the booth. “We sure are a pair, huh?”
“It’s possible that I need therapy,” Hermione declares. “You have needed it since you were eleven, at least.”
“Do wizards have therapy?” Harry asks, with a laugh. He’s not taking it seriously. Hermione is, though.
Harry shrugs and Hermione finds herself sitting up straighter, no sound outside of the blood rushing in her ears, and something about how she might start filling that yawning chasm clicks.
“I’m applying for muggle university.”
Harry gapes at her. “What?”
Hermione begins to nod furiously. “If I go apologize to Ginny, will you think about coming with me?”
“Hermione…” he says, tone full of pity and something else vile that makes Hermione reach out and gulp down the rest of her butterbeer. “I’m not getting into muggle uni, and you know it.”
Hermione huffs, and then reaches over and gulps down the rest of Harry’s, too, for good measure. He squawks at her in protest, pinching her arm and Hermione cannot believe that this is something she has missed these last few months.
“If I apologize to Ginny, will you consider muggle therapy?” she asks, serious.
Harry pauses, the last bite of his sandwich hovering near his mouth. He looks like he wants to say no, to insist that he’s fine, except that he’s not and he knows it. Just like Hermione’s not and she knows it. They’re screaming at people for no reason, angry for things they’re unable—or unwilling—to name out loud.
“I’ll consider it,” he promises.
“That’s all I asked,” Hermione grins, pinching him back. Harry swings his arm around her shoulders as they walk out of the shop, he chats about Ron’s job, about Dean and Seamus’ antics, and how living with the three of them without Neville feels strange. Molly keeps sending them food by owl. The last one fell over before it made it to the flat, bogged down by too much weight.
“Come ‘round during the holidays?” he asks her, biting at his lower lip.
She nods. Christmas Eve, she’ll spend with her parents, like always. It will be easy to slip out and avoid them after the fact, though. It’s gotten easier with each year, and especially after—
They still don’t remember most things right, nowadays. Hermione is too afraid to muck things up even further by trying to fix it again. Obliviate does its job well, and reversing it completely is far more difficult than Hermione ever imagined.
“I’ll be there,” she promises.
“Give Ginny a hug from me?”
“Are you two…”
He shrugs. “Dunno. We haven’t really talked about it. I think at the moment, no,” he kicks at the snow instead of looking her in the eye. “Are you and Ron…”
“We haven’t really talked about it,” she parrots. “I think at the moment, no.”
“We’re a mess,” Harry grins, hugging her.
“A bit, yes, but I think there’s room for improvement.”
Harry’s laugh rings in her ears, long after she’s walked back through the castle’s gates. It helps.
Hermione plops down beside Ginny and Neville, slamming her books with a bit more force than is necessary. “Professor Flitwick is driving me crazy,” she declares, as a greeting. Ginny glares at her. “I’m sorry that I was a prat,” Hermione says, then, turning from Ginny, she sticks her hand out towards Astoria, sat across from them. “I’m especially sorry that I was so rude to you. I’m Hermione Granger, I’d like to start over, if we could?”
Astoria locks eyes with Ginny who only dramatically rolls her own. Astoria smiles then and takes Hermione’s hand. “Astoria Greengrass, it’s nice to finally meet you. Ginny and Neville talk about you a lot.”
“Yes, well… not all of it’s true.”
“Yes, it is,” Ginny says, and starts looking through Hermione’s things. “What’s this?”
Hermione snatches the papers back. “University applications.”
Ginny scrunches up her face, confused, but Neville lets out a surprised laugh. “Of course, it is,” he says. “Good on you. Which ones?”
“Which ones what?” Ginny asks.
“LSE, Manchester, Cambridge, and Harvard.”
“Those are good schools,” Astoria says, surprising Hermione. “I took Muggle Studies the year before… well… before. Daphne and my mother were furious, of course, but I found it rather interesting. I looked up a bit more on my own.”
“Wait, muggle school?” Ginny asks.
“It’s a far more comprehensive education than Hogwarts,” Hermione bites. “I’ve been keeping up with my studies over the summer breaks. My high school thinks I’m homeschooled. My A Levels are quite good.”
“Seriously? On top of your O.W.L.S. and N.E.W.T.S?” Neville gapes. “Blimey Hermione, you really are amazing.”
”Wait, Harvard as in America?” Astoria asks.
Hermione nods. It’s a long shot. She doesn't even know if she wants to go to America, she just... applied.
Ginny looks at her a bit funny, and it’s clear that this distraction and apology aren’t completely working in Hermione’s favor. It’s always hard to gauge when Ginny is going to hold a grudge or be the first to let something go.
“I am sorry,” she repeats.
“I know,” Ginny answers simply. “But, I want you to go and sneak me some ice cream from the kitchens, and then I will forgive you.”
Her eyebrows raise, a dare, and Hermione’s shoulders square on their own accord. She was sorted into Gryffindor, after all.
It takes two tries, but Hermione gets past the house elves without notice, three pints and four spoons hidden in her robes. They camp out in the Room of Requirement, almost as a cleansing, and pass them all back and forth until the cartons are empty and Ginny’s hugging Hermione’s side.
There is still too much anger thrumming inside of Hermione’s chest, but it loosens, just a bit more.
There is a gala thrown at the Ministry over the holidays in celebration of the “Heroes from the War.”
Trials are still going on for some of the Death Eaters. Hermione has been reading the papers every morning. Just before the break, two Slytherins left after their parents were sent to Azkaban. Hermione doubts that they will be back for the next term.
Christmas Eve is awful.
Her parents are still furious, when they remember properly what she’s done. Who she is to them. It took ages to get their licenses back, to explain their year-long absence, to placate the neighbors and their friends. Part of Hermione wishes that she left them oblivious and happy in Australia. She gets in another fight with her mum over breakfast the night before the holiday, a horrible screaming row that leaves them both in tears, and it’s a relief to grab her bag and truck over to Harry’s the day afterwards.
Ron greets her with an awkward but excited hug and cannot take his eyes off of her when she comes out of the bathroom in her dress for the gala. Dean and Seamus whistle and laugh, shoving at him and high-fiving her as she rolls her eyes.
It’s horribly awkward to have all eyes on the three of them as they walk into the ballroom with their arms linked. Clapping rings out and Hermione’s stomach flips, threatening to burst. Harry looks just as green but Ron juts out his chest proudly, grinning at the pair of them.
There are endless speeches. Hermione is starving by the third of eleven planned and Ron passes her a bit of roll that he snagged from underneath the table, the two of them nibbling on it when no one is looking over at them. Neville manages to escape his grandmother and comes over to sit with them when they are finally allowed to eat. No other students have been invited to the gala, though personal letters of thanks have been extended to everyone who was at the Battle of Hogwarts that night.
A memorial plays out partway through the evening and at the sight of Lavender’s face, Ron and Hermione both freeze up. His fingers find her own underneath the table and he squeezes tightly once before letting her go.
Fred is next.
Hermione and Harry both grab for Ron, but he quickly shoves himself away from the table. “Gonna get some water,” he croaks. “I’ll be right back.”
“Want me to come?” Harry asks.
“No,” Ron says, clearing his throat. “I just need a minute. I’ll be back.”
He takes considerably longer than a minute, and Hermione is itching to go after him just as much as Harry, she’s just better at hiding it. Finally, Harry pushes himself up and jams his hand out toward her face. “I can’t keep sitting here, let’s at least dance. If he’s not back after one, we go look for him.”
Hermione takes his hand.
“How was your Christmas?” he asks, once they get into position and sort of just sway with the music.
“Not bad actually,” he smiles. “I mean… it was also horrible in moments. Mrs. Weasley sort of burst into tears at random intervals when things reminded her of Fred… but,” he shrugs. “It was still nice to be there. And when people weren’t sad, they were really happy.”
“Hum,” Hermione looks around Harry’s shoulder for Ron.
“Why was yours horrible?”
“My parents are… it’s just been hard. To be back.”
Harry’s grip on her tightens and he pulls her closer, hugging her in the middle of the dance floor. Rumors about their dating life are going to start up like fourth year all over again, but Hermione doesn’t care anymore.
Ron shows up. He doesn’t say anything, just wraps himself around them both. “Can we leave?” he asks.
“God yes,” Harry says, and they grab their coats, ignoring the cameras and the journalists as they push their way into the street.
Ron says something about the pub he works at being open and suddenly they’re in a sort of dodgy tavern in tuxedo’s and a gown, far overdressed for this crowd. They shuffle their way into a booth, Ron gets them drinks at half-price and they spend the majority of the night leaning on each other in various combinations, laughing about all of the times they’ve nearly all died in the last seven years.
“Harry told me you’re abandoning us next year for muggle uni,” Ron says, sometime after midnight.
“Yes, well, one of us has got to make something of themselves.”
“Oi, I saved the wizarding world,” Harry protests, he’s just shy of legless, and Ron and Hermione burst into another fit of laughter.
“What do you want to study?” Astoria asks, looking up from her Herbology notes and glancing at Hermione’s pamphlet.
“Law, I think.”
“Sort of like the ministry?”
Her friendship with Astoria is still a bit tenuous and awkward, mainly on Hermione’s end. Astoria is actually lovely. She looks like a delicate little thing, all legs and blonde hair that goes on for miles, but she’s fiercer than Ginny when she wants to be. Her temper is just far more controlled. It runs cold, rather than hot. Slytherin, rather than Gryffindor.
Hermione is growing to appreciate it, strangely. Astoria thinks things over in a similar way as Hermione, she doesn’t know if that makes Astoria more like her, or her more like Astoria, but she’s decided it doesn’t matter. Most Slytherins are still arseholes, Astoria is just a good one.
Speaking of arseholes Slytherins.
“Pansy Parkinson?” she asks, her attention drawn away from the uni pamphlets.
“Yeah,” Astoria actually smiles. “She and Daph went to America. She said for a road trip. I think Theo’s going along as well. I’m intensely jealous. I’ve always wanted to see New York.”
“She tried to have my best friend killed,” Hermione snaps.
Astoria’s face falls, it’s like kicking a puppy. It’s extremely irritating how quickly she can get under your skin, Hermione already likes her almost the same as Ginny—and she’s known Ginny since she was thirteen.
“I know that Pans can be… look, she shouldn’t have said that. She panicked. I mean, it was one person for the lives of hundreds, you know?”
“No, I don’t,” Hermione snaps again.
“Look,” Astoria straightens up, cold. “You don’t have to like Pansy, but she’s practically my other sister, so I can’t just sit here and listen to you shit on her either. Let’s just not talk about her.”
“Fine with me.”
Astoria is quiet for a few moments, scribbling at her notes. Finally, she sighs and looks up. “So, which school do you really want?”
Hermione’s shoulders release the tension she had been holding. “I’d be thrilled with any of them,” she says, “but Oxford or Cambridge would be wonderful. London would be closer to Harry and Ron,” she shrugs. “They’re all really good.”
Astoria pushes her notes on top of the pamphlets. “Please help me, I’m never going to pass this test.”
“Why don’t you ask Neville? He’s brilliant at Herbology.”
“He’s not here and you are.”
Neville fills their dorm with plants.
He can’t actually go up there until Hermione figures out the wards that sends anyone assigned male at birth flying down the stairs—a heteronormative, transphobic old spell that she has a word with McGonagall about near the end of February.
Astoria spends the majority of her time in their dorm as well. So much so, that Hermione wakes from a nightmare in the middle of March and rolls over, realizing that she is sound asleep in the bed near the window and half of her things have been in that dresser for weeks.
It was a problem, the first time Ginny pulled Astoria through the common room door. Any of the students who hadn’t been at Hogwarts during the Lost Year scowled and went on the defensive and the ones who had, who had seen Astoria go to bat for them drew their wands. Hermione petrified the entire room before anyone could come to blows. She lectured them all while they were frozen, barely pausing to draw a breath. No one has made a stink about Astoria being in the common room or shuffling down from their doom half-asleep since. The Slytherin first years also frequent the common room, they trail along behind Astoria like ducklings.
It’s by far the strangest year that Hermione has ever spent at Hogwarts.
“Want some toast?” Ginny asks, pushing it in front of Hermione’s face.
“Are you sick?” Ginny jams her palm against Hermione’s forehead without ceremony, frowning. Neville looks up from his eggs.
“I’m not sick,” Hermione pushes Ginny’s hand away. “I have a headache.”
“D’you want some tea?” Astoria asks, moving to go get some.
“No,” Hermione grabs her back. “I’m fine, everyone stop fretting.”
Not a single one of them look convinced.
She doesn’t get into Harvard.
It’s not like she could have afforded it anyway; she doesn’t even know if she would want to be in the United States.
She throws the letter into the trash.
She’s not really sleeping much. The nightmares have lessened, a bit, but now she seems struck by insomnia.
Hermione gives up and moves down into the common room so as not to wake Ginny or Astoria, grabbing books as she goes. The fire is going, the chill of February still going strong. Hermione takes a chance, and sends a floo message to Harry’s.
He doesn’t answer for two hours. Hermione’s eyes are drooping, but her brain won’t shut off, and she’s curled up on the couch, sort of skimming the book in her lap when Harry’s face appears in the flames.
“Hermione?” he asks, still sleepy but concerned. “Is everything okay?”
“Oh, Harry,” the book falls off her lap. “Yes, sorry. I just couldn’t sleep.”
“Ah, yeah, me neither. I went to make tea.”
“Tea sounds lovely.”
“The kitchens are too far away.”
“Couple more months and you’ll have your own kettle in a muggle dorm,” he says, grinning at her.
“Did you ever go to muggle therapy?” she asks, suddenly. He looks sheepish, guilty. There’s her answer, then. “Me neither,” she admits. “I meant to…”
“Hermione,” he says, soft. “Are you okay?”
“No,” she says simply. “Are you?”
“Not really. But… I think I’m getting better. I think not being at Hogwarts is helping, actually. Even though I miss it.”
Hermione laughs, a bitter crack to it. “I think being here isn’t helping me at all.”
“I don’t think that’s altogether true.”
“You should ask Madame Pomfrey for a sleeping draught,” he prompts, gentle. “I bought some in the market the other week. It’s helping me. Takes away dreams altogether.”
“Alright,” she promises. “I will.”
The sixth-year Gryffindors—Ginny’s year, technically their seventh, but not anymore—get into a physical fight with the fifth, sixth, and seventh year Slytherins. There are hexes and fists swinging, and the first and second years are all caught up in the middle of it.
Ginny tackles a boy who looks at a second year called Fiona and spits in her face, and it takes Astoria, Hermione, and Neville to haul her off. The second they pull her away, still kicking and screaming, Astoria slaps the boy—hard.
It shocks everyone into silence, and Hermione quickly removes everyone of their wands—Ginny included.
“ENOUGH,” Astoria hollers. “I’m so sick of this. Didn’t we go through enough of it last year?”
The boy is spitting mad, but a majority of the rest of her house looks shameful. Ginny rounds on the Gryffindors.
“If any of you do anything to them again,” she points to the three Slytherin first years, “I’ll hex you so bad you’ll wish you’d died in the Battle.”
Astoria spends more time than ever in their dorm, but she leaves at night more than she used to, not wanting to leave the first years alone to have their minds poisoned against the rest of the school. She comes ‘round hoarse sometimes now, after screaming rows with her whole house.
She plops down for breakfast looking as exhausted as Hermione feels, recently. Ginny starts. “You don’t have to be the one who—”
“—Someone does,” Astoria snaps.
Hermione passes her some tea, Ginny passes her some toast, and Neville gives her a small flower from somewhere in his bag.
No one messes with any first years—of any house—for the rest of the year. It doesn’t completely change everyone’s attitudes. The boy Astoria slapped leaves the next week and doesn’t come back, but, for everyone else, it’s a strange sort of releasing of tension.
Hermione’s insomnia gets worse.
When she does manage to sleep, the nightmares are unbearable. Now they’re of things that never even happened. Harry and Ron, being murdered in front of her. Her parents as Death Eaters. Astoria stabbing her with a knife and cackling as Pansy Parkinson and Daphne Greengrass cheer her on.
Hermione bundles up and starts going for walks at night. Nothing that is out in the forest is more frightening than the things inside her head, anymore.
Astoria is the one who drags her to Madame Pomfrey. Only because Neville is trying to coax a dead plant back to life and Ginny has Quidditch practice.
She won’t leave when Madame Pomfrey says that she can. Astoria plants herself on the foot of Hermione’s bed and glares until Madame Pomfrey gives up. Hermione suspects it only works because she is a Slytherin. They can get away with quite a lot. Or, they could.
Hermione’s eyes start fluttering a few seconds after she finishes the potion, she can feel herself fighting it, worried about the nightmares to come. Astoria shuffles until suddenly she is lying beside Hermione, her arms snake around her middle.
“It’ll be okay,” she promises.
Hermione wakes up and her body feels like lead. It takes her a moment to realize why. The twin bed designed to fit one person is currently housing three—Astoria is still there, Ginny has joined her, curled into Hermione’s other side. Neville has contorted his body into the small chair beside the bed. Hermione smacks her lips, her mouth bone dry, and Neville jumps.
“Hey,” he whispers. “How do you feel?”
He laughs and passes her a cup of water. She has to prop her chin on top of Ginny’s head in order to drink it. The girls begin to stir.
“How do you feel?” Astoria asks.
“Do we have to do this again?” asks Ginny.
“You weren’t supposed to do it in the first place,” Madame Pomfrey scolds, walking over towards them. Ginny and Neville look sheepish, but Astoria only sits up straight and glares. “Hermione, dear, how do you feel?”
“Much better,” she says, truthfully. She doesn’t remember if she had nightmares, and this is the most rested that she’s felt in months.
Madame Pomfrey nods, and sends her back to the dorms with a bottle of the drought, ordering her to come back in a month and see if she needs a different dosage.
McGonagall calls her up into the headmistress’ office at the end of March.
“Ah, Miss Granger,” she pushes some papers away and smiles. “Have a seat.”
“Have I done something wrong Professor?” Hermione asks, pressing her palms against her thighs. She’s been a ball of anxiety for the last half hour.
“On the contrary Miss Granger, I’ve spoken to the staff and everyone says that you are well beyond the current schedule in each of your classes. If you’d like, you make take your N.E.W.T.S. early, right after you come back for your spring break. You would then spend your final two months on an independent study of your choosing, in a sort of preparation for an internship, if you wish.”
Hermione breathes out heavily. “I—”
“You don’t have to decide right this moment. There are two days until break, let me know by then,” she waves her hand, dismissing Hermione with an air of finality and kindness that Hermione doesn’t think she will ever master. She rises and shuffles out of the office in almost a daze. Ginny and Astoria corner her the second she makes it down the staircase.
“I can take my exams early.”
Ginny frowns. “What, that’s all?”
“Oh god, I’m not ready to take my exams in a week!” Hermione feels like vomiting. She starts pacing the length of the hallway, panic rising in her throat as she lists all of the reasons why she is not ready for this, Ginny and Astoria look equal parts amused and concerned.
Finally, Ginny sits on the ground. “Hermione, she said you can take them early. Not that you have to. Relax!”
“Relax!” Hermione shrieks.
“Ginny, that’s not helpful,” Astoria scolds.
Ginny throws her hands up in the air and Hermione bends over to try and catch her breath.
She spends the week at Harry and Ron’s flat. She doesn’t even go home, just sends a letter.
Hermione forces all of the boys to quiz her for the entire week. Ron looks like he might want to smack her and also, like he’s intensely proud all at once by the time Friday rolls around. Harry’s making them all a fry-up Sunday morning before she goes back, spouting questions over his shoulder as Dean and Seamus hold flash cards and do a victory dance for every question that Hermione gets correct.
Which is all of them.
Ron bends down and kisses her right before she Apparates back to Hogsmeade. It surprises them both. “You’ll ace it, Hermione,” he says, quickly covering. “You know it all, solid.”
“I’ll see you later?”
She gets into Manchester.
She doesn’t know if she wants to go that far from London. That’s where Harry and Ron are, and she already misses them. But, the acceptance letter feels wonderful all the same, and, she might. It’s still in her bag as she walks in to the classroom to take her N.E.W.T.S. confidence skyrocketing.
“Boost me up,” Ginny demands.
Hermione frowns up at the tree branch. “Ginny it’s still cold.”
“It’s not yet, technically.”
“It’s warm enough to be outside.”
“No, it’s not,” Astoria protests, shivering beside Hermione in the grass. “Can’t we go to Hogsmeade or something?”
“We’ve been cooped up all winter,” Ginny groans loudly. “Boost me up!”
Hermione sighs and she and Astoria nearly kill themselves shoving Ginny up high enough to get her feet around the branch and swing herself up. She laughs, loud and bright and sounds like a seventeen-year-old girl who didn’t spend this time last year worrying for her life. Hermione lies down in the grass, even though it’s a bit damp and cold and watches the clouds.
She aces her N.E.W.T.S.
Letters from LSE and Cambridge arrive by owl, along with a note from her parents.
She got in.
Astoria screams and starts jumping up and down. Ginny shakes Hermione and then climbs on top of the table, announcing to the whole school while Hermione just stares down at the letters in her hand. She can go to any of the three that she wants. Cambridge and Manchester would mean thousands of pounds that she doesn’t have to move away… and much further from her friends than she wants to be, but then again, so will all of them, in a way. The point is, she got in.
A few of the professors clap, a few of the students holler, “who cares?” McGonagall catches her eye, a bright grin on her face, and nods to Hermione.
She’s going to uni in the fall, and she aced all of her exams.
Neville gives her a jade plant.
“They’re meant to represent new beginnings. And luck. Also, they can survive for years and years. Like a whole lifetime of a person.”
“Thank you, Neville,” she says, moving to hug him.
“It’s just a plant,” he begins to protest. She squeezes him tighter, and he quiets down. “Don’t over water it.”
Somehow, Hermione is doing more studying now that she’s technically done with her Hogwarts education in most respects.
Her independent study consists of reading through every book on the ministry and wizard and muggle relations that the library has to offer. McGonagall gives her a permission slip for a few books from the Restricted section, so long as she doesn’t take them out.
She helps Neville study for his upcoming N.E.W.T.S. and even ends up corralling the fifth years into the common room, forming them into studying groups for the O.W.L.S. Astoria and Ginny slag off and Hermione hollers at them for distracting people who are panicking for exams.
Her parents send her another letter—they miss Australia. They’re going back. To stay.
Hermione collapses in the Prefect’s bathroom, pressing the soles of her feet down into the floor and breathing through her nose slowly. It takes a good twenty minutes to calm herself down and pull herself back together. Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe she’s fucked it all up beyond repair, and this is just one more thing that the war took away from her.
It doesn’t make it hurt any less, though.
Ginny clocks her pink eyes the minute that she walks into the dining hall and she jumps out of her seat. “Who do I need to punch?”
“Sit down,” Hermione orders. “You’re not punching my parents, they’ve been through enough.”
Ginny deflates instantly and Astoria looks up at her with a strained expression that Hermione can’t figure out. “Oh, shit,” Ginny says. “What happened?”
Hermione doesn’t have the energy to get into it, so she just passes the letter over for them to read. For a letter from her parents informing her that they’re moving to a different country, it’s strangely impersonal. Maybe Hermione should be embarrassed about that, but she’s just tired.
And starving. She reaches over and takes a piece of buttered toast off Neville’s plate and bites it.
“Fuck,” Ginny breathes. Hermione doesn’t know how to explain to her that this is different. This isn’t like her family. The Weasleys are a unit in a different way than the Grangers ever were, even before all of this nonsense. It hurts, but it mostly hurts because Hermione knows that it’s her own fault. She’s not sure what that says about her, but she doubts that it’s anything good.
“It’s fine. I’ll be at uni in the fall anyway. I can stay at Harry’s flat for the summer.”
“Ron’s flat?” Ginny asks. “On his couch? Do you know how small that shithole is?”
“At least come to the Burrow,” Ginny says, almost throwing the letter down onto the table. “Mum won’t mind.”
“I don’t want to put anyone out.”
Ginny scoffs. “You’re not.”
“I’ll think about it.”
Neville passes his N.E.W.T.S. by the skin of his teeth.
Hermione and the girls shower him with praise. They sneak into the kitchens with the help of a Hufflepuff sixth year and climb up to the towers, eating biscuits and ice cream.
“It’s going to be weird next year without you two,” Ginny complains.
“It was weird here with us,” Hermione counters.
“Yah, but a good weird, in the end.”
“In the end,” Hermione agrees, she snags the biscuit that Ginny was about to put into her mouth and quickly slips it into her own. Ginny hollers in protest, tackling Hermione into the floor and demanding to have it back. Astoria and Neville are laughing, and Hermione is breathless, giggling and trying her level best not to choke on the stolen treat.
It’s not how she ever pictured her final night at Hogwarts to be. It’s strange, not to be with Harry or Ron. To walk back into this place after everything that happened and come out of it almost normal again.
Hermione looks out at the castle grounds, listening to her friends bickering laughter, and smiles.