(1) Thanks to my alpha-reader, my daughter Julia, aged 8, who was
willing to suspend her shipping prejudices for long enough to hear this
story. (2) Extra thanks to my beta-reader,
Katinka, for picking up all the stylistic errors and ineptitudes, and for
encouraging me to submit this story despite its controversial subject
matter. I didn’t realise American
culture was so different from British in this respect.
Professor Trelawney broke into hysterical sobs during Divination and
announced to the startled class, and a very disapproving Umbridge, that Harry
was not going
to suffer an early death after all, but would live to a ripe old age, become
Minister for Magic and have twelve children.
[Order of the Phoenix, p. 513.]
Hermione placed her quill on top of her
parchment and quietly pushed aside her chair.
Nobody was looking. Indeed,
nobody was in sight in the far end of the library, except Justin, who was
scribbling furiously at the next table, and Padma, whose nose was stuck firmly
in a leather volume across the aisle.
With her permission slip clutched in her hand, Hermione swallowed her
nerves and stepped across to the Restricted Section.
He was there. A seventeen-year-old boy with bushy hair
that tangled down to his glasses was perched on top of a library stepladder, a
huge book opened across his knees. He
had one hand inside the nearest shelf, stroking a second book, which suggested
he was not reading the first with much concentration. As soon as he heard Hermione’s voice, he
snapped the book shut, shoved it back into the shelf, and sprang from the
ladder - snap, scrape, thud.
“Harry, they’ll hear
us!” she whispered.
“Doesn’t matter,” he
replied, pecking her on the cheek. “As
long as it’s book noises, there’s
nothing to hide. I’ve been with the
jolly books for half an hour – what kept you?”
“Well, I did have that
essay to finish for Binns. And another
to research for Snape. And I really did
go through the rigmarole of convincing Madam Pince that I have permission to be
here.” She showed her slip, signed by
Professor Sprout, which granted her permission to research Naturally Occurring
Poisons in the Restricted Section.
“Which is okay, truly, Harry, because I do have to research some
poisons. But the real reason I’m late is ... Ron.”
Harry frowned. “What about Ron?”
“Ron suspects us.”
Harry was only mildly
concerned. “Well, I suppose he has to
know sometime.” His arms slid along
hers and tightened around her waist. “Don’t
we have better things to do than talk about Ron?”
But Hermione resisted his
embrace, her hands on his shoulders preventing him from pulling her any closer,
her bright brown eyes limpid with concern.
“Harry, I know Ron has to know eventually, but not yet - we agreed not
yet. He’s so jealous, he’d have a tantrum,
he might tell my parents, or tell McGonagall - it would then take about
twenty-four hours for everyone to
know. I’d like us to finish our NEWTs
before we have to face all those arguments.”
“Yes, yes, we agreed to that.” She could see that he was less worried than
she was. “But Ron’s bound to be
suspicious if we shut him out. I don’t
like lying to him, and our excuses aren’t going to convince him for much
Hermione. “My excuses did not convince
him today. I told him I had to go to
the library to write essays and he said, ‘Sneaking off to the Restricted
Section to meet Harry, more likely!’ I
tried to laugh it off, but he just said I couldn’t wait to be gone.”
“You should have told him
the essays were urgent.”
“Oh, I did. But I had to loiter for nearly twenty
minutes, trying to give Ron the impression that I wasn’t really in a hurry to
be off. And even then, his last words
as I climbed through the Fat Lady’s portrait were, ‘Are you in love with Harry
or something?’ I didn’t reply, but I
really don’t think we’ll be able to fool Ron for a day longer.”
“Fool me about what?”
Harry and Hermione sprang
apart as a tall, red-headed boy stepped into the Restricted Section, his blue
“Well?” he demanded.
“Why should I be fooled? What’s
going on here?”
“Keep your voice
down!” hissed Harry. “This is a library, you know!”
“Hermione.” Ron’s voice was hardly a decibel lower. “If you are fooling around in here - ”
“Ron, mind your own business!” cut
“Anything that concerns
Hermione is my business, so if you
have laid a hand on her - ”
“If you think I would lay
a hand on any girl – especially in a
public place – ”
Hermione pulled out her
wand and whispered, “Silencio!” Ron and Harry were left mouthing soundlessly
at one another. But Hermione had been
too late to save them. It was at that
moment that a new voice interrupted.
Not the indignant, injured tones of Madam Pince, who might have had just
cause, but the icy threat of another person, whose business it was not.
Come out and explain this maniac behaviour!”
With dull resignation, Ron
and Harry obeyed. Professor Snape did
not seem to have noticed Hermione, but it did not occur to her to do anything
except glide silently after the boys.
Harry and Ron mouthed like
goldfish for a moment, but Hermione recognised that they had nothing redeeming
to say. Leaving them in silence might
be the pathway of least trouble.
“Nothing excuses this kind of racket in the library.” Snape’s soft hiss was like the thunder of
mighty oceans. “Weasley, you have
pushed the limits once too often this week.
Potter, you have been crossing boundaries all year – like your father and grandfather before you. You will both accompany me to the Head’s
The boys lowered their eyes and set off a
pace behind Professor Snape. Hermione
followed three paces behind Harry and Ron.
She knew that going to the Head’s would mean a fair hearing, but it made
the situation very serious, and justice was not likely to work in their favour
today. What, after all, were their
excuses for the din? Harry had been
hiding out in the Restricted Section, without permission to touch the books, in
order to meet his girlfriend, and Ron had been spying on Harry. Their best hope was to admit frankly that
they had taken the moral low ground, accept whatever punishment was meted out,
and hope this did not result in being forced to confess their secrets.
“Red herring!” The stone gargoyles sprang apart as Snape
spoke the password, and they all stepped onto the moving staircase. Hermione hoped the boys would have the sense
to keep quiet, and then remembered they had no choice. She was surprised at her own calmness as
they entered the round office.
Professor McGonagall looked up politely from her desk and asked, “Well,
“I caught Potter and
Weasley brawling in the library. They
have none of their usual pack of excuses – and as they have taken no notice of
me all year, I decided that you might deal with them in person, Professor.”
“Is this true, boys?” If Professor McGonagall was irritated at
being disturbed by this trivial matter, she betrayed no sign of it. “Did Professor Snape hear you quarrelling in
Harry and Ron nodded, eyes
still downcast, while Snape added, “In the Restricted
declared Professor McGonagall. “Twenty
points from Gryffindor. Twenty points each!”
Professor Snape looked as
if he wanted to protest the leniency of this sentence; however, before he could say anything,
Professor McGonagall spoke again.
“Potter, Weasley, you may
leave, and be glad that you are not in worse trouble. But after you have taken them away, Severus,
I would like a few words alone with Miss – ”
But she was already
speaking to empty air. Harry and Ron had
been ushered out of the office in an angry flap of Snape’s cloak, and the snap
of the door ended Professor McGonagall’s words. Hermione was alone with the Headmistress.
“So, explain this.” Professor McGonagall sounded a very little
less chilly. “I could see that you had
hexed the boys somehow, so you obviously know all about it. What was that very loud discussion in that
very unsuitable place?”
Hermione was not an experienced
liar. She wrestled with plausible
alternatives for a moment, then gave up and confessed. “Ron was accusing Harry of being my
“How interesting. And is he?”
One could not tell the
Headmistress to mind her own business, so Hermione nodded. “Yes.
And Ron is jealous. Harry has
always been his friend. And my parents will be so upset when they
find out – after all, my father is Minister for Magic ...” She trailed off, sweeping her untidy black
hair out of her eyes.
“Oh, do calm down.” Despite the impatient words, there was now a
kindly tone to the Headmistress’s voice.
“Miss Potter, I am perfectly well aware of your father’s position, and
that Mr Weasley is your first cousin.
But that hardly amounts to a scandal that will bring down the Ministry.”
startled. “But, Professor ... everyone
says ... well, it’s not really allowed ... not when you’re cousins.”
“Miss Potter, there is no
formal rule against it. Your parents
may be less than delighted by your news, but worse things have happened to
them. Your aunt and namesake will
probably take less than ten minutes to calculate the exact percentage of
genetic risk. I think your mother will
be far more distressed to learn that you were deceitfully sneaking around in
corners with a boy than to hear that the boy in question was Harry Weasley.”
Hermione digested this,
while Professor McGonagall waved her wand for the office door to swing open.
“So remember, Miss Potter
– no more sneaking around. Face
reality, and tell the truth!”
Recollecting that she
still had to un-hex her cousin and her brother, Hermione hurried down the
spiral stairs. In the corridor she
passed Justin Macmillan, arm in arm with Frances Longbottom. They
had nothing to hide. On the stairs that Muggle-born Slytherin,
Dudley Polkiss, was teasing Padma Goldstein.
She considered intervening, but Padma was clearly managing to handle
Dudley by herself.
Hermione could brave Ron’s
fury by herself, and by tomorrow she
would not be hiding anything either.
She reached Gryffindor Tower at a bolt, impatient to find Harry ...