On the morning of graduation day, Hermione stayed in bed far later than usual, hiding from Daphne’s astute gaze under the pretense of sleep. So methodical, so predictable was her roommate that Hermione could track her movements sightlessly. First was the hushed exit to the girls’ lavatory, then the return and preparation for the day at her small, organized dressing table; then, finally, there was the rustle of bed linens being righted and Daphne’s soft voice calling, “It’s time to wake up.”
But Hermione ignored her because there was no reason to face this particular day, and so she continued her false slumber until finally – finally – the door shut on Daphne’s heels, and she was alone. Then she rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling, caught between the desire to remain under the shield of her coverlet and the increasingly urgent demands of her full bladder. When she could ignore it no longer, she heaved herself up.
In the lavatory mirror, after she’d showered under scalding water until her fingers pruned up, she attempted to stare down her reflection. The girl in the mirror was a disappointing opponent, all peaked skin stretched tight over sharp bones with bruise-colored circles under angry eyes, but she won in the end; Hermione had to look away when the mirror-girl’s expression began to feel all too familiar.
Back in her room she straightened her bed with a half-hearted flick of her wand and then retrieved a blue dress from her wardrobe. It was the sort of finery purchased with a significant event in mind, the cut and cloth of which hinted at significant cost. Hermione stroked a finger over the textured silk. It had come by Owl Post several months ago accompanied by a note from her mother that simply said, ‘Just because I was thinking of you’, although it had obviously been meant for her graduation day – for her turn at the dais to speak as class representative and then take her rightful place at the head of the queue of graduates.
But somebody else was speaking for the class today, was leading the procession across the dais, while she watched alongside her parents from the audience because she wasn’t even graduating. She was tempted to wear something else entirely, but the thought of adding yet one more shameful disappointment to the pile growing at the feet of her parents caused her to don the lovely dress.
They’d been their usual progressive selves since hearing the news. ‘Can’t wait to see you on Saturday’, her mother had written earlier in the week. ‘Professor McGonagall has promised an open Floo between here and school so you can visit regularly until you’ve finished up. We’re bringing you a mobile!’
‘I video-recorded the Oxford-Cambridge boat race so we can watch it together,’ her father had promised in a recent note. And then, when she hadn’t responded to any of their letters, he’d sent one final Owl during dinner last night: ‘Courage, dear heart*.’
Those words had sent her storming from the Great Hall to the relative peace of the ruined greenhouses, where she hid under the sickly palms and tried not to think of anything in particular. Had she not shown enough courage already? Such easy advice from someone who’d never run or fought for his life or faced monsters all by himself!
Her reflection was regarding her from her dressing table mirror, staring out in gaunt-faced challenge with chin high and eyes blazing. “Go away,” Hermione ordered, “or I’ll make you.” Then, to prove her point, she plied her wet hair with Sleakeazy’s, wand-dried it into order, and hid the truth of the mirror-girl behind a heavy Glamour Charm, right down to the word carved into her right forearm.
But still the girl in the mirror mocked her, because no Charm could hide the agony in her expression. Hermione stood abruptly, knocking over her chair, and crossed the room. At the door she whipped back to the dressing table, wand raised. “Bombarda!” The mirror exploded under the force of the Hex.
The act had been building up within her for months, suppressed by the incentive of graduation, but now . . . Now there was no need to hold in the anger that seethed just beneath her skin at all times. It was a heady thought. She eyed the mirror of Daphne’s dressing table for a long moment, but any further catharsis was prevented by a knock at the door.
It was Susan Bones. Of course it was Susan; she’d probably sensed an emotional disturbance halfway across the castle and practically flown here to save the day, the sanctimonious cow. “What do you want?” Unable even to look at her, Hermione studied the wall to the right of the half-opened door.
“When you weren’t at breakfast, I asked Daphne; she said you were running late. I thought you might like something to eat.” Susan lifted the covered tray in her hands.
Hermione forced herself to meet Susan’s eyes. They were full of kind concern, the way they always were. She wanted to poke them out. “I’m not hungry.”
As if she’d anticipated such an answer Susan nodded with a smile. “I’ll just leave it in here in the hall, then. In case you change your mind.” She turned as if to do just that, then paused. “I wish things could have been different today, Hermione.”
“Let’s not fool ourselves, Susan,” she mocked in false sincerity. “The only world in which you place ahead of me is one where Reconciliation is the only standard of measure.” It occurred to her she’d said it aloud and, much like the destruction of the mirror, it pleased her.
But Susan didn’t so much as flinch. “Reconciliation does have a lot to do with the circumstances, but it has nothing to do with competition.”
“Don’t try to lie; you’re no good at it. You’ve been working toward this the entire year with your undying caring and loyalty. Gods, you’re such a Hufflepuff! It’s so easy, though, helping people and working for good — for points in the safety of an Unplottable castle!
The satisfaction gained from her initial jab was wearing off and with it the thin veneer of her control. “Where were you when some of us were being tortured!” she demanded through clenched teeth. “Where are your scars!”
Susan stood unwavering. If anything, she looked even more understanding. “You have every right to be angry, Hermione.”
But Susan’s compassion was driving Hermione closer and closer to the edge of something too terrifying even for her brand of courage. “You should go,” she said as she shut the door in Susan’s face. Then she folded to the floor into a pile of angular limbs and bunched up silk, and she stared at nothing in particular for a long time.
In the end, responsibility and fear of disappointing her mother and father got her to her feet. She Charmed the wrinkles from her dress and repaired her mirror, careful to avoid her reflection, and turned to the door. Hide the scars, smooth the wrinkles – that was all magic was for, now: keeping up appearances.
She became aware of the faintest hint of bacon in the air. Susan’s tray. With a disgusted huff she cracked open the door, admitting more of the glorious smell. Her stomach grumbled. Surely there’d be food at the reception, but that was hours from now. Setting aside her repugnance, she pulled the tray inside her room and shut the door again.
There, underneath the cover, was a carefully prepared plate of Hermione’s favorite breakfast foods — fruit and a bacon sandwich — that delivered a twinge of what could only be described as guilt. But she was hungry, and Susan need never know she’d accepted the gesture.
She groaned at the first mouthful of butter and bacon even as she recoiled at the realization that Susan Bones knew her so well. But the thought faded when she popped a piece of pineapple into her mouth and its juice washed away the bitterness at the back of her throat. She devoured the contents of the plate and drank the tea, prepared exactly to her liking, and when she was done she felt . . . not better, perhaps, but fortified.
A tiny internal voice whispered that perhaps it was the result of Susan’s kindness; Hermione gave an inward sneer at the suggestion, arguing that it was simply a matter of protein and carbohydrates performing their natural role in regulating blood sugar. Everyone felt better after eating bacon, for Godric’s sake!
When she’d scoured the plate of every last crumb, she looked at the wall clock and sighed. It was time. She left her room, hurrying through the common room in a determined swoosh of silk. Just outside the entrance to the eighth years’ tower, she tripped over an unexpected obstacle and would have fallen on her knees had not a hand caught hers at just the right moment.
A young man with spectacles scrambled to his feet and grinned down at her. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?”
“Harry?” And because Harry was the one person whose wellbeing was more essential to her than her own, she became happy. For him. “Harry!” she shrieked, throwing her arms about him and squeezing him nearly to death. “What on earth are you doing here?!”
He gave a happy laugh. “What d’you think, ‘Mione? I’m here to see you!” Then he added in what could only be described as loving rebuke, “I missed you last weekend, by the way.”
Ignoring the pointed comment — no, she hadn’t attended the seventh year graduation, because it would have meant hours of pretending to be someone she no longer was — she let go of him and stepped back to examine him closely in the torchlight. “You look well. Hang on.” She prodded his middle with a curious finger. “Have you put on weight?”
Harry gaped at her for a few seconds before making a sound of outrage. “No!” At her incredulous expression he amended, “Maybe.” Then he shrugged. “Fine! I’ve gained a little weight, but it’s all muscle.”
She couldn’t help but snort. “Especially that wobbly bit under your chin.”
“Hey!” But he couldn’t keep a straight face. “Sirius’s cookery lessons are going really well.”
“So he’s progressed beyond burnt toast and spoilt milk,” she teased.
Harry’s letters, infrequent though they tended to be, kept her informed of far more than his work as a junior Auror and his relationship with Ginny. They brimmed with details of life at Grimmauld Place — of Sirius’s forays into various hobbies, his turbulent dating life, and of his devotion to Harry’s welfare. He’d taken over the kitchen the moment the two had returned to the house after the battle of Hogwarts and, but for Harry’s early birthday present of cookery lessons in Diagon Alley, would surely have poisoned them both.
Harry beamed at her. “Ask him yourself; he’s here.”
“He- What?” Until that point her happiness had felt almost genuine; with those words the emotion threatened to pop with all the fragility of a soap bubble. “Does he know?!”
He looked puzzled. “I didn’t know it was a secret.”
Hermione wrestled her composure back into place and managed a small smile. “Of course it’s not. I just- Never mind.” She hooked an arm through Harry’s and took a step into the corridor. “Come on; let’s get this day over with.”
He balked. “Everything okay, ‘Mione?”
There was love and concern in every line of his face, and it tugged at her heart because it was right and acceptable. For a split second she was tempted to tell him that no, everything was not okay – but at that moment Harry unconsciously ran a hand through his hair, revealing the scar on his forehead. “You know you can tell me anything,” he said quietly.
She let go of his arm and hugged him once more, using the opportunity to hide from his gaze while she tucked her emotions back into place. “Everything’s fine, Harry. Promise.” And when he pulled back with a skeptical look she added, “I’m not happy with the way things . . . worked out. Believe me when I say that Reconciliation is even stupider than Divination.”
“I think it’s done a lot of good,” he contended.
She tried not to bristle, but her body stepped out of their embrace of its own volition. “Yes, well of course you like the idea; you got out of it on a technicality! I’d have considered dropping out of school, too, if I’d known what a dog and pony show this year would turn out to be.”
“I took the class privately,” he replied, slipping his hands into his trouser pockets and studying his shoes, “with Sirius. He wanted me to be free of the past once and for all.”
The revelation left Hermione speechless for the span of several seconds. “What? Why didn’t you tell me!”
Harry shrugged. “Didn’t seem like something you’d want to talk about. I mean, you’ve been pretty vocal in your opinions of it.”
“If I’d known you’d become a mindless puppet of the Ministry, I’d have kept them to myself.” She couched the words in a bantering tone. “Tell me – has it changed your life?”
“It’s been difficult, but in a good way.” He regarded her for a long moment. “You’re sure you’re okay?”
Suddenly Hermione felt very exposed, and she wished the cover of the Glamour Charm extended to her emotions. “Absolutely.” The focus needed to be shifted elsewhere. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
He relaxed somewhat. “I’m always here for you.”
It wasn’t true, but that wasn’t his fault. Hermione linked arms with him once again. “We need to get going. Come on.”
They walked in silence along the corridor until they came to the first moving staircase. As they waited for it to shift in their direction, she offered, “I’ve written letters of official protest, you know.”
He gave a loud, genuine bark of laughter that immediately lightened the mood. “Of course you did!”
She devoured the surfeit of his happiness like a long-anticipated feast, and then it was far easier to grin up at him. “Of course I did,” she echoed, “And,” she pointed a stern finger at him, “I expect to be working in the Ministry by Wednesday at the very latest.”
The staircase slid into place. “Sounds like you have it all worked out.” Harry stepped onto it, pulling her along.
“You know me,” she parried. “Always five steps ahead of everyone else. Except when I’m not graduating.” Regretting those words at once she added, “Kidding.”
“Hermione,” Harry said gently, “what’s going on? This isn’t like you; you’re . . . you’re angry.”
“I have every right to be!” The outburst sounded shrill even to her own ears. She tried to unloop her arm from his but Harry resisted, taking her hand in a firm grip.
He stopped abruptly, causing her to fall against him gracelessly, and pulled her into his arms. Hermione made a fleeting attempt to resist, but here was shelter and comfort like she hadn’t felt in far too long, and there, halfway down the staircase, she sagged against him in temporary defeat. Finally he sighed against the top of her head. “Let me help you.”
‘Yes,’ part of her being replied, ‘help me!’ Another, much larger, part argued angrily, ‘It’s my job to take care of YOU!’ Aloud she sighed, “I can take care of myself, Harry.”
He released his hold but took her hand in his once more. “We should get going.”
She gave a reluctant nod and clung to his hand. “Stay with me today?”
Harry closed his eyes. He seemed to be having difficulty swallowing. “Until the very end,” he said. “We’re a part of each other.”
Two more staircases and three corridors later, he stopped them once more. “I should probably warn you that Sirius brought a date.”
If he was trying to distract her, it worked. “Good grief, Harry! There’s limited seating, you know! You can’t just bring a bunch of people when you aren’t even invited yourself!”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” he said, a mysterious expression on his face. “And there’s another thing.”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to know.”
They rounded the corner into the Entrance Hall to find it filled with visitors of all ages. Parents, grandparents, and other relatives stood in small groups, speaking with their graduates, and small children ran about. Hermione’s parents were easily found in the crowd; her mother’s smart trouser suit stood in stark contrast to the attire of the witches present, but her composure was that of a woman at home anywhere she was upsetting the status quo. Her father- Well. He was at home wherever her mother was. They stood with their backs to her, their bodies moving in the subtle rhythm of conversation, and once again Hermione hesitated, caught between the need to see them and the desire to run and hide.
Harry squeezed her hand. “Probably shouldn’t wait too much longer,” he said uncertainly. When she looked up at him with eyes narrowed in suspicion, he continued, “I left Sirius with them. He’s probably run out of polite conversation by now.”
She was all too well aware of Sirius’s reliance on bawdy humor in social situations, having spent the previous summer dodging his company at post-war celebration gatherings. And now he was with her parents. “What have you done, Harry!” she hissed.
He shifted in a distinctly uncomfortable way. “Errrrr, there’s something else you really should know.”
But Hermione had just caught sight of Sirius and a dark-haired woman, half-hidden as they were by her father’s significant height and broad shoulders. “Who’s that with Sirius?”
“His date – the one you didn’t want to hear about.”
“Is that-” She may have been stuck at school for the past eleven and a half months, but she read The Prophet regularly. She tugged at Harry’s hand and began moving forward. “That’s D.K. Finnegan.”
Now it was Harry who seemed reticent to join the group. He pulled back against her grip and slowed their advance to a crawl. “You can see why a few extra seats wasn’t a problem. Look, ‘Mione-”
She turned with a warning glare and yanked at his hand yet again. “Do not try to tell me Kingsley’s personal secretary is dating Sirius Black.” Apparently it was the case, though; Sirius threw his arm around the woman’s shoulders just then, pulling her closer to him, and she glanced up at him with a warm smile.
Harry still resisted. “Would you please listen to me? There’s something else!”
There was a note of warning in his voice that triggered Hermione’s guard, but she was distracted by a sudden awareness of the unique opportunity before her. “This is perfect.” She took a deep breath and straightened her posture, jutting out her chin in determination, “Talk about having the direct ear of the Minister!”
“Come on, Harry!” Her resolve galvanized by the idea, she chivvied him across the hall at top speed. But their forward progress revealed yet another participant in the conversation – an elegant woman who stood next to Sirius and yet, somehow, completely alone. “Why is she talking with my mother?”
Harry tugged at her hand yet again. “Because-“
She silenced him with an elbow jab to his stomach. “Shhhh!” Hackles raised, she slowed her approach until, by the time she was within earshot of the group, she was barely moving forward.
“It’s really no trouble, Mrs. Malfoy,” her mother was saying. “We’re quite pleased to offer Draco a place to stay for the summer.”
It was Narcissa Malfoy who saw her first, and while her reply was directed to her parents, her eyes were fixed on Hermione. “Thank you.”
*** *** *** *** *** ***
It took Narcissa some time to gather enough courage to steal a sideways glance at her cousin, only to find him doing the same to her. She dropped her eyes and blushed at having been caught.
“Cousin.” His voice was lower and rougher than she remembered.
Narcissa nodded as she tried unsuccessfully to swallow. As if by silent agreement, they turned slightly from the rest of their party, speaking quietly. Sirius shuffled his feet. “I understand he isn’t quite the little shit he once was.”
Even as a boy Sirius’ dark eyes had had a piercing quality; now they seemed to slip into her soul and read her deepest secrets. Had he mastered Legilimency since their shared childhood? The thought made her flinch violently despite her best efforts. As if he’d read her mind, he frowned. “I’d never . . . Narcissa, there are still honorable wizards in the world — or did he beat that belief out of you?”
She held his gaze again, willing him to see the strange new seeds of courage that had only recently begun sprouting within her. “Draco has always been a good boy,” she whispered, hiding her trembling hands in the folds of her gown. “To me, he’s always been good.”
His frown deepened. “We should speak later, just the two of us.”
“Why,” she demanded softly, “are you even speaking to me?”
He looked at her one more time before turning back to the others, and this time his dark eyes were bright with unshed tears. “You saved Harry. Let the bastard rot in hell, ‘Cissa, and try to remember the witch you once were.”
Special thanks to darling Palmetto Blue for the loan of her OC D.K. Finnegan. Love this character!!!
*the quote ‘Courage, dear heart’ is from C. S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which has been my favorite comfort book since childhood.