A/N: Many thanks to TheGiantSquid for her beta work, which is always
wonderful. Reviews are welcome and appreciated!
A sigh, and the distinctive thud of a book closing.
Ron lifted grateful eyes from his own book and looked down the long wooden
table at Hermione. "Finished with that one?" he asked. He proffered another
from the large stack beside him, but Hermione didn’t take it; instead, she
shook her head and, without ever looking at him, backed her chair away from the
table and stood.
"I think I’m done for the day." She flicked her wand at her
clutter of parchment on the table and instantly it separated into neatly bound
scrolls, her quill and ink jar leaping into place beside them. "Good
Ron frowned and glanced at the clock that ticked noisily over the old stove.
"It’s only nine," he said. They’d been staying up far later than that
since arriving at Grimmauld Place. Usually they pored over books and
manuscripts and musty old documents until ten or so and then headed to the
lounge for some down-time. Hermione would knit and Harry and Ron would play
Gobstones or Wizard’s chess. It was by far Ron’s favorite part of the day, and
the prospect of her not being there made him more disappointed than he would
Hermione wasn’t deterred, though, apparently. "I know what time it is.
Aren’t I allowed to go to bed if I like?" She didn’t sound angry so much
as exasperated, and she didn’t wait for an answer before heading out the door
into the dark hallway, hair flouncing in her wake.
Ron stared after her for a moment, even when she was out of sight. Then he
turned his attention to Harry, who was jotting down notes about Rowena
Ravenclaw and apparently hadn’t noticed Hermione’s abrupt departure.
"Harry" – Ron waited for him to look up from his writing –
"did Hermione say anything to you about being upset?"
"No." He went back to his notes.
"She didn’t say anything?"
"No, she didn’t," Harry told him with a sigh.
Ron glanced at the vacant doorway again, concerned. "But she just went
to bed. She isn’t even going to meet us in the lounge."
"I’m not deaf, you know. I heard her."
Ron’s frown deepened. "Oy, what’s with you lot tonight?" Hermione
was in a funk and Harry was snapping at him, and Ron had no idea what had set
them off. He racked his brain, trying to remember if he’d done something
horrible at dinner—accidentally insult their mothers, perhaps?—but it had
seemed a pretty normal meal to him: beef stew, cabbage, some pumpkin juice, and
a lot of discussion about Horcruxes.
"What day is it, Ron," Harry said suddenly, and it wasn’t really a
"Er, I dunno." The days at Grimmauld Place all sort of ran
together for him. "Tuesday?"
Harry put down his worn eagle feather quill and turned to Ron, shaking his
head. "It’s Sunday, actually, but I meant the date."
"The date?" Ron asked. He looked over at the tower of Daily Prophets next to the rubbish bin, but from where he sat he couldn’t quite
make out today’s date on the one they’d added to pile after breakfast.
"It’s August thirty-first," Harry said significantly.
"So? What does that have to do with—oh." Now he got it. "I
hadn’t even thought about that."
"I know." Harry slapped him once on the shoulder once in a
friendly way. "I’m not really surprised."
"Gee, thanks." Ron didn’t feel much like joking, though—he was
busy thinking about Hermione, putting her actions into perspective. Her odd
behavior made sense now, and Ron was beginning to feel a little miserable about
it himself. "I hate not going back," he said to Harry, though he was
looking straight ahead, at the peeling wallpaper and the cracks in the plaster
"So do I."
Ron turned quickly to Harry, who had picked his quill back up and was
drawing squiggles in the margin of his parchment. "I know it’s not your
fault, mate, I didn’t mean that—"
"I know." His squiggle turned into a sharp angle, and it was clear
to Ron that he wanted that particular subject to end there.
"But it’s got to be killing Hermione. You know how much she loves
Harry nodded slightly, thoughtfully. "She was going to be Head
"Really?" Ron wasn’t surprised by the news, but rather that Harry
knew and he didn’t. "How’d you find that out?"
"I saw her open her Hogwarts letter—I was going upstairs and she was in
her bedroom—and she took a badge out of the envelope. She didn’t see me."
He paused and then added hesitantly, "I think she was crying."
Sighing, Ron planted his elbows on the table in front of him and put his
head in his hands. "Sometimes I wish we could make her go back."
"I know, but we can’t."
"I know," said Ron, and he did.
For a few minutes they were silent. Harry went back to taking notes from the
barely legible biography of Rowena Ravenclaw and Ron stayed how he was, rubbing
his eyes and thinking. About Hermione not being able to go back to school,
mostly, but also about their entire situation. If they died, it wouldn’t matter
if they missed their seventh year, if Hermione couldn’t be Head Girl, but he
didn’t want to think about that. He couldn’t. Visions of Hermione lying cold
and lifeless in the middle of chaotic battle already came too freely to his
"Hey," he said after a bit, and lifted his head up. "I have
"This’ll be good," Harry quipped, putting his quill down again.
"I’m serious. We should do something for Hermione. Cheer her up
"Well, I was thinking maybe we could talk to McGonagall. Maybe she has
schoolwork Hermione could do, like a correspondence course, or Hermione could
help her out with something a Head Girl would do. I dunno."
Harry was quiet for a moment, but then he smiled a little. "I think
Hermione would love that. I could send my Patronus to her in the morning.
She’ll probably be busy with school stuff, but she’ll come if she thinks it’s
Order business. And kill me when she finds out it’s not," he added.
"No, I think we should owl her," Ron said, a plan forming rapidly
in his head. "I bet Hedwig could get to her tonight; Pig’d be too slow. We
could tell her to pretend it’s her own idea." They’d already had a few
heated discussions with Order members, including McGonagall and his parents,
about their not going back to school. "Hermione wouldn’t want us to know
she’s so upset—you know how she gets. Yeah?"
"Yeah." Harry pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from the bottom of
his stack. "You really thought this through, didn’t you?" There was
something knowing in the way he said it, but Ron shrugged off the question.
Lately, thinking things through when it came to Hermione was all too easy.
"You should write it. She likes you better."
"That’s not saying much." But Harry poised his quill over the page
anyway. "What should I write?"
Ron dictated the letter and Harry wrote, with a few changes in diction and
syntax. In fifteen minutes it was done and Harry went up to send it off with
Hedwig while Ron set up the chess board. He was feeling too strategic for
Rolling onto his stomach and dragging his pillow over his head, Ron tried to
find a comfortable position so he could get a bit more sleep. After a few
moments of trying and failing, however, he realized what had awoken him:
tapping. Immediately the events of the previous night came back to him, and he
forced himself to sit up.
"Harry," he said to his friend, who was sleeping soundly in the
room’s other bed, "get up. Hedwig’s back."
Ron threw his pillow at Harry’s back and went over to the window, where the
snowy white owl glared at him impatiently through the glass. She had a return
letter, which Ron hadn’t really expected, and after dropping it in his hands
she flew to the top of the bureau, clipping his ear with her wing in the
Ron shot an annoyed look at the bird, then broke the seal on the parchment
and unrolled it.
Dear Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley,
I’m afraid your summer homework does need to be completed before the
start of term. No extensions will be granted under any circumstances. I expect
there will be ample time to complete your assignments on the Hogwarts Express,
but if you are unable to hand in your work tomorrow on the first day of class,
I’m sure you will find a week’s worth of detention sufficient motivation for
completing future assignments. Let us not forget that your N.E.W.T.s are just
around the corner.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
"Bet she had a good time writing that." Harry had finally
got up and was now reading over Ron’s shoulder. He tapped the letter with his
wand, and immediately the words on the page morphed and rearranged, forming a
The Order had created a system of sending messages in changeable ink, hidden
as mundane letters. It wasn’t infallible, but hopefully it would suffice if
anyone intercepted their owls. Patronuses were still the primary method of
communication, but they couldn’t always convey enough detail.
The boys skimmed the newly revealed message.
It is clear you will not be persuaded to return to school, so I will not
bother trying any further, though I must impress upon you that I believe you
are making a mistake. Miss Granger should not have to suffer for it, however,
and I will arrive at precisely eight o’clock this morning (without revealing to
her that you had anything to do with my visit) to give her some schoolwork, as
well as a task she can complete as my special assistant. If you two are wise, you
will do the work along with Miss Granger: turn all of it in as I assign it and
I will make arrangements for you to sit for the N.E.W.T.s come June.
"She’s a nutter," Ron said when he’d finished reading the letter.
"As though I’d do homework if I didn’t have to. Bloody hell."
"Thought you wanted to be an Auror." Harry swept his wand over the
parchment so the ink disappeared, then crumpled up the letter and threw it in
the rubbish bin, which belched loudly after chomping the paper to bits.
"You’ll have to sit for the N.E.W.T.s if you want to do that."
Ron walked away from the window and flopped down on his bed. "Maybe
they’ll make us honorary Aurors after we kill Voldemort and all the Death
Harry smirked and threw Ron’s pillow back at him. "You wish. What if
they make you an honorary janitor instead? You could get a job as a maid at the
"Ha ha." Ron stuck the pillow behind his head. His long legs
dangled over the edge of the mattress. "I reckon I’ll do the homework.
Hermione’ll be worse than McGonagall if I don’t, and I’d rather not spend the
rest of my life cleaning up after hags at the Leaky."
"I’ll do it too," Harry answered from his own bed. "We might
as well, right?" He sounded strange, almost constrained, but before Ron had
a chance to think about why, they heard a crisp knocking sound.
"McGonagall," Harry said, standing and heading to their bedroom
door. Ron followed suit, but when he reached for the handle, Harry stopped him.
"Wait. Let Hermione answer it."
Ron nodded, but he turned the handle anyway and opened the door just a
crack. The floorboards upstairs creaked; Hermione was heading downstairs. After
a moment they heard the front door open and close, and voices echoed through
"Yes, hello, Miss Granger." The Headmistress’s tone was brusque.
"What are you—?"
"Upstairs, if you please. The lounge will do nicely."
Their footsteps came closer as they walked up the first flight of stairs.
Then the door shut, however, and Ron couldn’t make out what they were saying.
"Damn. Do you think we should move closer?"
Harry pulled back from where he’d been listening at the door, just below
Ron, and said, "Wait!" He hurried over to his trunk and dug around
for a moment before returning triumphantly with two long, string-like objects.
Extendable Ears. He handed Ron one of the flesh-colored devices, courtesy of
Fred and George, and they both sent them out the hall, down the stairs, and
under the lounge door. Suddenly Ron could hear everything Hermione and McGonagall
were saying as if he were in the room with them.
"—highly irregular, but I am willing to make this exception. There is
something I would like you to do in return, however."
"This is something you would have done as Head Girl," McGonagall
said tersely, "so you may think of it as a duty. I would like you to enter
all of the individual grades into the official Hogwarts ledger once per month.
It is no small, unimportant task, Miss Granger, and you must complete it
promptly and accurately."
"I’d be honored," Hermione started to say, in her eager manner.
Ron could just imagine her standing there straight-backed and attentive.
"It will require you to come to the school on the third Wednesday of
each month, at precisely ten a.m. Is this understood?"
There was a silence, and then McGonagall said in a gentler voice,
"Though if you find yourself unable to come in at that time, other
arrangements may be made. I trust you will let me know in advance if possible,
"Yes, Headmistress." Hermione sounded relieved, and Ron wondered
if she would have turned down the offer had McGonagall not given her any
leniency—they all knew that their futures were unpredictable, especially as
they came closer to actually going out to find the Horcruxes.
"That is all, Miss Granger." The gentleness was gone, replaced
again with her normal brisk, clipped manner of speech. "I would like to
encourage you to get Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley to join you in the homework.
The same offer I made to you is available to
them, as well."
"She’s relentless," Ron complained to Harry.
"That’s why Dumbledore chose her," Harry said as he lowered his
Extendable Ear. "Come on." He opened their bedroom door then and
strode down the hall. Ron, slightly confused, followed.
They approached the lounge just as Hermione emerged behind a stern-looking
McGonagall. Ron tried to read Hermione’s expression, but it was rather blank.
"Professor!" Harry exclaimed, as though he was surprised to see
"Hello, Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley."
"Anything wrong?" Ron asked as casually as possible.
"Yes. Making this trip has altered my schedule beyond repair, and I’m
sure you all remember that it is September first." She gave each of them a
pointed look in turn. "Now if you’ll excuse me, I may be able to get back
to Hogwarts before the last student is Sorted."
As she walked down the stairs toward the front door, Ron muttered to Harry,
"The train hasn’t even left yet," and rolled his eyes.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione all followed her down to see her out, and as they
offered her polite good-byes and Harry opened the door for her, Ron could have
sworn she winked at them both just when Hermione’s head was turned the other
way. He probably imagined it, though.
"What was all that about?" he asked Hermione when the door was
shut behind the Headmistress. He and Harry had to appear ignorant of her visit.
Now that McGonagall was gone, Hermione seemed to relax, and she let out a
breath and shrugged her shoulders. "She wants us to do some homework and
send it to her via owl. She says that we can take the N.E.W.T.s at the end of
the year if we complete it all."
"Yes," Hermione said, and Ron could see her going into lecture
mode. "I’d like you both to do it, too. Neither one of you ever looks to
the future, and you’re going to need skills to fall back on, career paths
chosen. I know you both want to be Aurors, and N.E.W.T. scores are very
"I’ll do the homework," Harry cut in.
Hermione had halted with her mouth wide open, and now she shut it in surprise.
"Yeah, and Ron will too, won’t you, Ron?"
"Er, yeah. Sure. Maybe it’ll be a nice break from research."
"Well," Hermione said, looking back and forth between them.
Clearly she’d expected an argument. "Well. Good. Yes." Her lecturing
tone came back and she continued, "I think we should work out a system.
Let’s go have breakfast and then we can get started right away. Professor
McGonagall gave me some assignments to start off with, and I can make copies of
them for you. We’ll study until noon everyday. It’ll mean less time to research
Horcruxes, of course, but I’ve been thinking about that and I believe I can
come up with a more efficient method…" She kept talking as she headed down
to the kitchen, obviously expecting the boys to follow.
Ron and Harry shared an amused smile. The plan had worked. Hermione wasn’t
jumping for joy, but they both knew her well enough to realize she was
ecstatic—in her element. Harry walked down the hall, and Ron trailed after.
It was a small victory among the challenges that awaited them, and Ron still
wasn’t satisfied with the way Hermione had hidden being named Head Girl or the
fact that Harry refused to discuss anything involving his having a future, but
it was a victory nonetheless. Maybe Ron couldn’t be a hero like Harry or a
brain like Hermione, but he could support them both. If that was his role, he’d
take it gladly.