Hermione knew the boys would be waiting for her; they practically attacked her when she entered the Gryffindor common room to find them. Their concern was almost cute, if Ron’s face hadn’t been so ghostly white. Wow, he really does care about me, thought Hermione.
“I’m fine,” Hermione huffed before anyone even had a chance to ask the question. She knew what they were thinking.
“Like hell, you’re fine! You didn’t do your homework, Hermione! You can’t just brush that one off. Something isn’t right!” Ron accused.
Harrymade to restrain Ron by putting a hand on his shoulder to let him know he needed to back off a bit. Undoubtedly Hermione was distraught, and the last thing they needed to do was to push her over the edge. Harry even hated what he was about to ask, but he, like Ron, needed to know.
“You didn’t get a…detention…did you?” Harry tread carefully over these words and could hardly believe to whom he was directing them. Never would he have thought Hermione would do something intentionally that could warrant a detention.
“No. Not a single one. Not even when I told McGonagall I deserved it…” she spat angrily.
“You begged for a detention?” Ron asked incredulously.
“I broke a rule, Ronald! She’d have given anyone else a detention without blanching. Why should I be an exception to punishment?”
“There you go with the equal treatment. Hermione, despite what you think,everyone is not equal. You are the smartest, most dedicated student in the entire school—no, probably in the entire world—which makes you anything but like the rest of us. I think McGonagall knows that,” the redhead combated.
What Ron had said made a lot of sense to Hermione, but she still wasn’t prepared to let him win their row. In her mind, Hermione still thought she deserved at least some sort of punishment for what she did—or didn’t do, rather.
“Yeah, well Tom Riddle was a model student, too! Should we give him a break?”
“That’s completely different, ‘Mione! You don’t even—“
“I think what Ron means is,” Harry cut in, “McGonagall understands how much pressure you put on yourself to be perfect. She knows how many classes you take, that you have Head Girl duties, and that you have to be our mother as well.” Harry knew that last comment would elicit a smile from Hermione, and it did, even if just a small one. “Look, Hermione—it's obvious that the teachers are going to go easy on you because they know how hard you work, they know that you never shirk your responsibilities and they know you. Anyone with any sense would realise that there would have to be a really good reason for you to miss handing in your homework.”
Hermione had nothing to throw back at him, and Ron had no further comments, since Harry had just proven his point. The two stopped their row (though it was difficult for Hermione), much to Harry’s gratification. Actually, Hermione would have liked to have Harry clarify what he meant by “a really good reason” but felt the subject would best be discussed out of Ron’s earshot. She couldn’t know if Harry knew anything—he’d probably meant something else entirely—but this whole situation was really getting out of hand.The guilt from this morning’s encounter in the owlery didn’t make her feel much better, either.
“So, I guess since you don’t have detention tonight, you could help us with our Potions essays?” Ron asked hopefully.
“Can’t, Ron. Sorry. I’ve got to finish the homework I didn’t get done today, along with my Arithmancy and Runes for tomorrow,” she explained.
“McGonagall is still making you do that? Why couldn’t she just let you forget about—“
“She isn’t making me, Ron. I need to do it. This material is going to be on our NEWTs, you know.” Hermione rolled her eyes as if this should have been obvious. “I’m going to the library after dinner tonight to do it.
Ron threw up his hands in defeat, and as he turned his back, Hermione quickly mouthed to Harry, “Will you come with me?” He had to have her repeat herself and only barely understood what she was trying to say by the time Ron turned around.
“Don’t get upset, mate. We have Quidditch practice tonight, anyway, so it’ll be awfully late until we get to those essays. Hermione’s got too much to do, as it is.”
Hermione’s shoulders drooped. Damn Quidditch!
“But I think I’ll join you for a little while before I have to go to practice. I’d like to have you help me before it’s too late,” Harry added.
Ron considered the events that would be taking place later on, and it was clear when he shifted between playing Quidditch and the library, as his facial expressions changed from delight to disgust. “I guess I’ll, err…” Ron began, thinking if he actually wanted to endure the torture of the library just to be with Hermione.
“Hey, Ron!” came a voice from the girl’s stairwell. “Can you go to practice early with me? I want to train a bit extra tonight.”
Perfect timing, Ginny, thought Hermione.
The< redheaded girl bounced over to the trio’s side of the common room< and implored her brother with her big, brown eyes. Harry smirked to himself. No wonder she always gets her way. Used that trick on me a few times, too.
“Sure,” Ron relented, though clearly happy to have an excuse to stay as far from the library as he could. He’d find time with Hermione elsewhere.
“Ok well, I’ve got to get to Herbology,” Hermione said, as she gathered her things.
“Glad we dropped that one, eh mate?” Ron nudged Harry in the side, who answered with a chuckle.
“See that you two aren’t late for your next class.”
“Oh but we’re done—“
Hermione didn’t hear Ron finish his sentence because the portrait of the Fat Lady closed behind her.
Totally absorbed in the light scratching noises that her quill made, Hermione nearly forgot what it was she was supposed to be focusing on. She traced small doodles on her parchment (that had yet to have any words written on it) as she let her imagination wander.
The woods had been cold that night. So cold. But Charlie was with her, and that was all that mattered. He walked so close to her—as close as he dared—that she could feel the heat that radiated off his body. A rough hand brushed lightly against her arm and amplified the goosebumps that already dotted her skin. His bright blue eyes were fixated on her; she didn’t see them, but she felt them. “Just keep walking,” she told herself. “We’re almost there.”
“Hermione?” His deep whisper made her shudder and lose her resolve altogether. It was all she could do to keep her feet going, but she had to face him. Her brown eyes met his, and she wondered how eyes so chillingly blue could make her heart melt at a glance. Hermione opened her mouth to answer him but found no words. The only thing she found herself capable of doing was taking the hand that had taunted her and wrapping it with both of her own.
She wished, at that moment, that she owned an invisibility cloak. Oh, what she could do with the ability to disappear on a whim… Sneaking around would never be a problem. She could stand here, in the middle of the field, and allow herself to be snogged senseless by the man she loved. No worrying about who would see. All that would matter was that they were together.
Charlie lightly stroked her hand with his thumb, sending a new wave of shivers up her arm and down her spine. They both kept walking, but their steps had slowed considerably, and every step covered less and less distance than the one before it. Now nearly at a standstill, the two might as well have quit trying altogether for all the progress they were making. Charlie took another slow, cautious step forward. He wasn’t looking where he was going because his face was now buried at Hermione’s temple, where her flowing hair tickled his closed eyelids. He tried to steady his breathing as he planted sof kisses up and down the side of her face, starting from her temple and moving to her upper jaw. When he doubled back to nibble her ear again, his efforts to control his breathing gave way as he sighed heavily into her ear.
It was this sound, and the electricity it created in her body, that brought her back from her dreamy state. Hermione reluctantly inched herself away from the man trying to seduce her, because she realized they were still in plain view of the house. The cold on her skin was agonizing. The side of her face where Charlie should have been now felt nothing but a crisp, unforgiving breeze.
Looking back now, Hermione would have gladly risked being seen if only she could feel Charlie next to her again. There was no way she could have known that that would be their last night together at Grimmauld Place, and she now flouted herself for being so edgy about it all. She had pushed him away, and now she wanted him back.
“I want you back,” Hermione pleaded to her parchment. “That’s all I want.”
Just then, a banging noise echoed through the library as Harry purposely stumbled over a chair and knocked into a desk. He was about five tables away from where Hermione sat, making sure he gave her enough room that she could pretend to be busy when he showed up. Hermione snapped her head up to see Harry leaning on a desk while rubbing his shin. She hated to smile and laugh at her friend’s pain, but it was kind of funny.
“All right there, Harry?” she asked with a suppressed chuckle.
Harry faked a wince and hobbled over to Hermione, being careful not to overdo it. “Fine, thanks. Chair just jumped right out at me.”
He took a seat opposite her and set his bag down on the table. When he didn’t open it to take out any books, Hermione ventured, “Something you want to talk about, then?”
“Not particularly,” he lied. “Just a bit concerned about the homework incident, and wondering if everything is really fine, like you said.”
Much as she wanted to change her mind and keep Harry in the dark, his compassionate request was hard to deny.
“Well, the homework thing really is fine,” Hermione answered, while ruffling some papers around. “Well, it will be once I get started.” She held up the parchment with the random doodles on it and explained, “This is what isn’t fine.”
Now Harry didn’t even have to pretend to be confused—he really was confused. What does Hermione doodling have to do with Charlie? Ohh… Harry thought, as it suddenly dawned on him.
“I didn’t do my homework, you see, because I had a lot of other stuff on my mind,” she said, trying to be vague.
Harry nodded his head and waited for her to continue.
“I… got a letter from Charlie this morning. Actually, I got it yesterday, but I couldn’t write him back until today. That’s why I was in the owlery this morning.”
“It was really early, Hermione,” Harry noted.
Yes, of course Harry would bring that up. “I know. I was, err…” Dammit, she thought. Just say it. “I was trying to avoid Ron. I didn’t want him to see me going to the owlery.”
Playing the ignorance act, Harry asked, “Why not? You’ve sent letters before.”
“But never to Charlie. I don’t know if Ron would take it so well if…well, you know, if he found out I was writing to his brother,” Hermione practically whispered, lest someone else overhear.
“Oh, I’m sure Ron would understand. He knows you two are friends, and besides, if you’re just writing…” Harry hated to toy with her like this, but she did need some encouragement in order to fess up.
Hermione took a deep breath and elaborated, “We’re not just writing, Harry. Well, I mean, right now we are, since he’s in Romania and all… That’s not what I meant. We, um… Charlie is kind of… my boyfriend.”
She winced while awaiting his reaction. There, she said it. She finally admitted it to Harry. But Harry didn’t react quite the way she’d imagined, though she really hadn’t thought so much about Harry’s reactions as she had Ron’s. She noticed his eyes grew rounder, but he didn’t gawk at her, and he didn’t yell and make a scene. At least he’d taken it well.
“I see… And I suppose you’re worried about Ron, then?”
Hermione let out the breath she’d been holding in and answered, “Yeah. Merlin, do I worry about Ron. I just don’t know how to do it.”
“Tell him about Charlie and me.”
“So I guess you and Charlie are pretty serious, then, if you’re going to tell Ron about it?”
“Very serious, Harry. I love Charlie… I love him so much. And while I haven’t received any ‘formal invitations’ as he calls them, he’s made it perfectly clear that this is ‘forever.’ Unless, of course, I do something between now and then to mess it up.”
“Oh, come now, that won’t happen. You could never mess anything up,” Harry assured.
“I could mess up a friendship,” she answered dejectedly.
“We won’t let that happen. I promise,” he said, reaching across the table to hold her hand.
Asingle tear slid down her cheek, and she nodded to her friend.
“I’ve got to go to practice. You going to be ok by yourself?”
Hermione reached up to wipe the tear away and nodded again, to Harry’s disbelief.
“I don’t think you should stay in the library tonight. Why don’t you just go back to your common room where it’s more comfortable? Or better yet, just go to bed. You’ve had a long day and I’m sure you could use the rest,” Harry insisted.
“No, I’m fine, really…”
“Please? For me?”
Harry had already started to gather her books and stacks of parchment and place them in her bag before she could protest.
“Come on, I’ll walk you back.”
Harry stopped outside the Heads’ common room entrance, handed Hermione her bag, and received a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Thank you, Harry.”
“Yeah. Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll get this all sorted out,” he said. “Promise.”
She smiled and said goodnight before turning to find Draco Malfoy kicked back in a poofy lounge chair, writing an essay.
“Little Potty come to walk the Head Girl home, did he? What’s Golden Boy going to do now? Save an old woman’s cat from being stranded in a tree?” Malfoy jeered.
“I’ve asked you not to make such derogatory comments about my friends, Malfoy,” she shot back.
“Ooh, touchy. Just like this morning. Is it just me, or have you been acting more psychotic than usual? That episode in Transfiguration today was quite unlike you,” he taunted.
“And why do you care?”
“I just don’t want you to land yourself in any detentions, Granger. I can’t very well have you incapacitated, because that creates more work for me.”
Of course, it’s always about him.
“Well, McGonagall didn’t give me detention, even though she should have, so don’t you worry about lifting a finger more than you have to. I’d hate for you to overload your duties and strain yourself.”
Malfoy glared at her as she rummaged through the book bag that was now situated at the foot of the chair she had chosen.
“Ready for our weekly meeting?” Malfoy grumbled.
Hermione fell back into her chair and let her limbs sprawl out every which way. Yet another thing to do.
“Now?” she asked, hoping to postpone it just one more day.
“Granger, you’re slacking. First it’s the meetings, then who knows what you’ll fall behind on? Remember what I said about ‘more work for me’?” Malfoy heckled her.
Hermione mentally punched Malfoy in his fat mouth, as she was too exhausted to cross the room and do it by hand.
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