Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry
Daphne was in their room when Hermione finally crept in. At Hermione’s entrance, she looked up from the length of parchment spanning her desk. “How’d detention go?”
Hermione crossed to her own side of the room and flopped onto the bed. “It figures he’d tell you.”
In its infinite wisdom, the Ministry had decided the eighth years should drop the divisive house system and become ‘integrated’, which was to say that Slytherins and Gryffindors had been rooming together in relative peace for the entire year. Well, you could take the student out of the house, but you couldn’t take the house out of the student. Like called to like, as evidenced by the fact that, at the end of the day, Ravenclaws still flocked together, Gryffindors lounged as a pride, Hufflepuffs banded into their cete, and the Slytherins hissed the school’s secrets amongst themselves -– Daphne and Malfoy especially.
“In his defense, I asked.”
She studied her roommate silently. Daphne was okay in a neutral sort of way; she was pleasant, unopinionated, and so quiet and tidy that sometimes Hermione forgot she was even there.
Daphne looked up again. “Do you want the Reconciliation homework?” And then, when Hermione raised incredulous eyebrows, she snickered.
No; as far as roommate assignments went, she could have done far worse. “Thanks, but no.”
“But your Resolution points — you must be hundreds short.”
She reached for her pillow, curling into its comforting form. “It doesn’t matter; I’m not graduating.”
“What?” Daphne turned in her chair.
“I didn’t pass Reconciliation. According to the Ministry agreement we all signed, that means I can’t graduate.”
“But,” Daphne argued as she stood and approached Hermione’s bed, “your job-”
“The offer is only valid pending my graduation, and I have to retake Reconciliation for that to happen.”
“But you’re delivering the address!”
“Not any more. Five Galleons says Susan gets asked; she’s the poster child for Reconciliation.” She snorted. “She’s so well-adjusted it’s nauseating.”
Daphne paused in the act of sitting down beside her. “I think Susan’s nice,” she said in an odd tone. She returned to her desk. “I really am sorry for your bad news.”
“Thanks.” Hermione blinked. If she wasn’t mistaken, Daphne had just disagreed with her for the first time ever. Over Susan Bones. There was another long silence as she considered this. “I should have seen it coming,” she admitted. “I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened before now.”
Daphne glanced over her shoulder, an indecipherable expression on her lovely face. “It’s because of your war status. Anybody else would’ve been sent home months ago.”
Those words struck without warning against the dam holding back her emotions, sending a tiny yet ominous fracture skittering over its surface, and all at once the dormitory room was far too small. “I think I’ll go for a walk.” She smoothed her coverlet and righted her pillow with measured movements, focusing on the ebb and flow of her hands, and if she slammed the door on her way out, it was because her focus had already turned elsewhere.
* * *
Hermione Granger has detention for the rest of the year.
There’s something wrong with Granger.
No one’s seen her do magic in months.
I heard she’s protesting the Rec requirement.
I heard she had a mental breakdown.
She’s probably just getting private Rec lessons.
It figures she’d get special treatment.
News of her detention status had spread like Fiendfyre through the student body, and the only reason it didn’t bother Hermione more was that not one person seemed to know the extent of her disgrace. Still, it smarted. Whispers and stares still persisted three weeks after the news of her defeat at the headmistress’s hand, and when her defiant glares only heightened the general air of awkwardness, she began finding reasons to skip meals and classes. She avoided the eighth year common room from that point onward, passing through it only when she was sure it would be empty.
The faculty gave her a wide berth. If she attended lessons, she was no longer called upon to answer the questions that stymied her classmates. If she skived, no one hunted her down. Sometimes she turned in the assignments she’d completed so long ago; often she didn’t, and the pile of ungraded parchments now spilled over the sides of her desk onto the floor of her bedroom. It didn’t seem to affect her marks, which were already so far ahead of most of her peers it was ludicrous. The sudden freedom might have been exhilarating but for its price –- for the first time in her life, Hermione was without the set of weights and measures by which she’d determined her self-worth for so long: academia.
Days and nights began to blur together in a repetitive loop of time spent hiding in her favorite spot by the lake, followed by reading in the farthest corners of the library and, when the library was closed and the castle locked down each night, hours upon hours of sleep -– more sleep than she’d ever had in her life. The result was a narcotic numbness that dulled every nerve, every thought. She welcomed it.
That Friday she fled detention even faster than usual, pausing at the bottom of the stairs to the headmistress’s office to consider her options for an inconspicuous exit. At this time of day Hogwarts was like a ticking social time bomb; at any moment, students would burst forth from its every corner -– dormitories, classrooms, the Quidditch pitch –- and flock to dinner in boisterous groups, but today held an additional element to avoid. The seventh years, whose graduation would be a week earlier than that of the eighths, were practicing commencement exercises before dinner in the Great Hall, and soon the corridor to her immediate left would be crowded as they tromped enthusiastically through. Her lip curled at the thought.
Here was another change wrought by the advent of Reconciliation: ceremonies for the graduating classes. Never before had Hogwarts opened its gates to the masses, but now parents, press, and prominent Ministry members were welcomed to celebrate what was being billed as the rebirth of the Wizarding world. Even Muggle parents. A few weeks ago, she’d accepted the idea without hesitation, but that had been when she’d had a place in it all: at the head of her class.
Hermione forced her attention back to the problem at hand. She could attempt to make it all the way back to her room, but the chances of that happening with minimal contact with her peers was slim. The same was true of the library, the clock tower, the courtyard . . . But there’d be no one coming from the north end of the castle at this time of day, and so she scuttled out the nearest outer exit and over the viaduct, heading to the one place she knew would be relatively void of people: greenhouse six.
*** *** *** *** *** *** ***
She must have dozed off at some point because when Hermione next became aware of her surroundings, the sanctuary of the greenhouse had been invaded by big, deep, booming voices that echoed off every surface.
She opened her mouth to tell them to go someplace else but closed it when she realized it was Nev. After all, he had more right to be in the greenhouses than anyone -– he who headed up the teams of Herbology students in their efforts to repair the buildings and their broken plants. She peered around the base of a potted palm to find her old friend working at a nearby table, packing a tiny plant into a container with tender care.
“You’d better do it, then,” said another familiar voice. “You know I’m all thumbs.”
Ugh. The Goon was with him. Years ago she’d have said otherwise, but Hermione had no real beef with Greg Goyle other than the fact that he was dumber than a box of rocks; how he’d ever landed the gig as the best mate of Draco Malfoy –- who was no slouch intellectually, were she being honest — eluded her.
“But it’s fingers that count in gardening, eh?” Nev joked. “Provided they’re green.” He topped up the pot with soil. “Go ahead; you repot the last dittany.”
And for some reason Nev had taken The Goon into his care this past year like some kind of rare seedling; the two of them spent countless hours working together in the greenhouses, whether for Herbology projects or repairing the war-ravaged buildings outside of class time.
Usually Hermione just ignored them when she visited the quiet space, Nev’s friendly nod and smile invitation enough for her, but on this late afternoon there was such an air of camaraderie between the two she felt like an interloper, and so she simply watched from her hiding spot with a restless sort of resentment.
The Goon regarded Nev for a moment and then returned to his work, dumping more soil on the table and the floor than in the pot. “This is the last of the lot?” he asked. He gestured with his head to the row of filled containers on the long table.
It was all Hermione could do not to break cover and go clean up the mess, but she managed to stay where she was.
“Yep. Now they’re all out of the ground, and I can begin righting the floor properly and adding some of those improvements I’ve been sketching.” Nev waved to the large drafting table not far from them. “Come fall you won’t recognize this place.”
The Goon followed Nev’s gesture with his eyes and then surveyed the crumbling disaster all around them. “It won’t be done before graduation.”
“Yeah, but I have . . .” Nev looked upward and moved his mouth rapidly without making a sound for a second or two, “seventy-three straight days after that. Or something close.” He shrugged. “It’s plants I like, not numbers.”
“You’re staying here,” The Goon deduced with a frown.
“That I am; I applied for one of the summer residencies and got it two weeks ago.” At The Goon’s bewildered expression, Nev added, “I guess they knew there’d be a few kids without . . . well, there were bound to be difficulties for some.”
Hermione knew nothing of a summer residency program for students. She listened more closely.
The Goon seemed to be attempting to think. “But your Gran.”
Nev ducked his head and fiddled with a pot. “She’s, uh . . . she’s been in care these past few months.” He looked up with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “S’nice – she has her own room and nurse, and there’s a big garden. Quiet place down in Feltwell.”
Augusta Longbottom, the formidable head of the Longbottom family, in care -– another thing Hermione hadn’t known. Then again, she hadn’t spoken to Nev outside of token pleasantries for . . . well, for months, really.
The Goon gave a deep hum of what could have been sympathy.
“So I’m here,” Nev continued, “and my plan is to stay. If Hogwarts’ll have me, I’d like to be the next Herbology professor when Professor Sprout retires. Now what I want to know,” he said in an obvious effort to steer the conversation elsewhere, “is how things are with Susan.”
Hermione watched with detached fascination as Greg Goyle slowly but steadily turned the deepest shade of red she’d ever seen on a human face.
Nev’s smile became genuine, and his eyes lit up. “So you asked her.”
It was The Goon’s turn to turn his attention elsewhere. He stooped and fiddled with his shoelace under the cover of the table, and while his broad grin was hidden from Nev, it was clearly visible to Hermione. Ugh. “Yep.”
The Goon stood up, shoulders squared and smile still in place. “Said she forgave me a long time ago and she’d like to be friends.” And then he blushed again, adding, “We studied together last night.”
There followed a bout of comfortable silence between the two in which they moved the potted plants to a different area of the greenhouse, and Hermione was just thinking about slipping away when they stopped just on the other side of her hiding spot, effectively pinning her there.
“I wouldn’t change anything, y’know,” The Goon rumbled in his deep, rough voice. He reached for a nearby broom and began sweeping up his mess. “Couldn’t.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Need a dustpan.”
“‘S’just soil, Greg. Leave it be.” Nev walked back to the table and leaned over it, hands splayed on its worn surface. “What did you mean?”
The Goon looked almost defiant; he squared his shoulders and stood tall, towering over Nev, and he was glaring. “If I could go back, I’d be his friend again and I’d do whatever he said.”
Neville straightened to his full height; tall as he was, he was still dwarfed by the sheer mass of The Goon. “Draco.”
The Goon nodded, his huge hands balled into white-knuckled fists. “We did bad things. Wrong things.” But he wasn’t angry with Nev –- no, it was clear he was fighting the memory of something or someone else.
“Yeah, you did.” Nev stared back. “You really did.”
“But sometimes it comes down to the why.” Now The Goon’s tone was of a pleading nature; his fists loosened, his shoulders slumped, and his head hung down until his thick dark hair hid his face.
“Then why, Greg?” Nev implored as if he’d been seeking this particular answer for a long time. “What was the reason for all those things?”
She held her breath, suddenly aware that her presence was completely inappropriate. But where was there to go without popping up and explaining she’d been –- what, sleeping? She wasn’t that good of an actress. They’d know immediately she’d been snooping on their private conversation, and while she didn’t give a lick what The Goon thought, the idea of betraying Neville Longbottom’s trust made her feel a bit ill.
“Because he’s a brother to me,” Greg growled.
“What about his reason?”
Greg looked strangely discomfited. He looked down and shuffled his feet, but when he looked back up he wore that same challenging expression. “He’d have done anything to keep her safe.”
The atmosphere crackled with latent magic as the two wizards faced each other until Nev sighed. It was a heavy, sad sound that echoed as a lament around the greenhouse. “Stay here this summer.”
Greg –- for Hermione had difficulty thinking of him as The Goon after his impassioned speech -– shuffled his feet again. “That’d be nice.”
“There were still openings when I applied; they can’t all be taken.” Nev tapped his fingertips against the tabletop with quiet finality. “Come on; There’s just time to get the forms before dinner. I’ll go with you to McGonagall’s office.”
And then they were gone, leaving Hermione alone with her thoughts once more.