Chapter 10 — Girl Talk
James and Lily had gone to visit Filius Flitwick, leaving Albus to sit in his chair and ponder his new staffing needs. Two teachers gone. I have lost my Potions professor — perhaps I never truly had him — and my Defence teacher waited until today to realise that Harry Potter’s presence means that Voldemort might also make an appearance. He sighed. Where do I get these idiots from? He blinked as he realised what he had just been thinking. I am certainly under far too much pressure when I refer to my teachers as idiots.
He stood and walked over to his window, gazing absently over the Forbidden Forest. How do I manage this situation, however? Cornelius remains in office and wishes to control things as tightly as ever. He does not do well when forced into an action, and he has been forced to admit to Tom's return. If word gets out that we have lost two teachers, then Cornelius will use that fact to take more control over Hogwarts. Since Dolores does not seem to be paying for her crimes against the students, having the Ministry in charge of the school is clearly a dangerous position to be in for the students' sake. He began to walk back and forth in front of the window, trying to puzzle out a solution.
Minerva entered his office as he paced. "Good heavens, Albus! You'll wear a hole in your carpet! What seems to be bothering you this time?" She had not completely forgiven him for his crimes against the Potters, but his willingness to pay for his crimes did seem to allow her to once again act as the friend and assistant she had been for years.
"I have no Defence or Potions teachers. What can we do? If I let this situation stand, there will be letters flying to the Ministry tonight, and tomorrow we will likely have teachers worse than Dolores Umbridge thrust upon us by Cornelius." His pacing did not slacken.
For the first time in weeks, a real smile came to her face. "Albus, I believe that I have the solution. Do I have your permission to talk to the candidates I have in mind?"
He stopped and looked at her hopefully. As he registered the smugness of her appearance, it suddenly came to him who she had to be considering, and a smile crossed his face for the first time in weeks. "By all means. Feel free to promise them as much autonomy as the school can manage. I promise I shall not interfere with them beyond the minimum supervision required by the Board of Governors." When she looked at him in disbelief, he added, "An old dog can learn new tricks, Minerva ... My apologies. I believe that I have lost the right to refer to you in such a familiar manner, Professor McGonagall." He sighed and wiped at the wetness that had appeared at the corner of his eyes. "I am learning to ... I believe the current phrase is 'back off'. 'Keeping my fingers out of the various pies' is also rather apropos here." He sighed. "Besides, I had best delegate the administration of the school. Once Tom has finally been defeated, I am surrendering myself to the Aurors for my crimes against the Potters. I would do so now, but as arrogant as it sounds, I appear to be the only wizard to frighten Tom."
Minerva's smile was sad, but it conveyed the deep respect for him that she had carried before this summer. "Now there is the Albus Dumbledore that I've known and called friend these many years." She turned away. "I shall return shortly, hopefully with two new professors. And perhaps we can have tea together this afternoon, before the students arrive. And I can ask about the Board required interference that you mentioned."
"You and the others complain about it every year — the useless paperwork, the occasional requests from me that we sit down and talk about how your classes are going and how the students are working out — all the things that slow you down from doing the proper job of teaching."
As she descended the stairs, he added, "I do hope that tea this afternoon works out for you." He sat back in his seat and began to work on the remaining paperwork, feeling lighter than he had for some time.
"He must have gotten his taunting out of the way at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters," Neville said with a laugh as the Express pulled into Hogsmeade Station. "It was a nice change, not having to deal with Malfoy on the train."
"Yeah, but he'll be back to his usual garbage once school starts," Ginny growled. "I just wish we could hex him once without worrying that Snape is going to catch us."
The students all stood and began to shuffle toward the exit. Once they were out in the open, Harry headed off to talk to Parvati and Lavender. Hermione scowled as they spent the time walking to the carriages deep in conversation, the girls giggling once or twice. Once the unlikely trio reached a carriage, Harry nodded and moved away, returning to his friends. "Sorry about that," he said. "It took longer than I thought."
"Well, it is Lavender and Parvati," Hermione answered him, her tone sharper than her friends were used to.
"They aren't that bad," Harry said with a curious look at Hermione. Ginny, Luna and Ron got into one of the four person carriages, and Hermione managed to get the final seat, leaving Harry and Neville to climb in with Parvati and Lavender.
"I wish there was something more I could do for Hermione," Harry lamented as the carriage began its trip to the castle. "But thinking seriously about that sort of route is a dangerous slope to be on. Necromancy is the route that started Tom on his road. Or maybe he was just bad to begin with, but . . . well, the only way to help her right now would be to try to raise her parents from the dead, and I won’t even contemplate that."
"Yeah," Neville said. "It was easier on the both of us, because we never really knew our parents. She had almost seventeen years with them."
"She'll be okay," Lavender said. "We'll keep an eye on her."
"Good. I think she's been trying to be her old self and not grieve in public, for whatever reason. She'll likely cry herself to sleep some nights. Don't be surprised by Silencing Charms. It’s what I did after … after Sirius died. I think that's why I didn't hear anything from her at the place she stayed these last few days."
"So you paid close attention to her?" Parvati asked impishly.
Harry gave her an annoyed look. "She's my best friend, and her parents were just murdered. Of course I did."
"Uh-huh," was the thoroughly unconvinced response from Lavender.
"Admit it," Neville said. "You'd like to get her alone in broom closet and snog the daylights out of her, wouldn't you?"
"She's not that kind of a girl!" Harry replied, offended. "I wouldn’t dream of doing something like … like that!"
Neville looked at Harry for a second before asking carefully, "What precisely do you think 'snogging' means, Harry?"
"There are ladies present," he replied through his teeth, as if trying to be somewhat secretive about it. He was blushing furiously.
"You can't even talk about kissing in front of us?" Lavender asked with a smile.
Harry stared at her for a moment and then turned and began to gently smack his head against the wall of the carriage. "What's that about?" Neville asked him.
"It's my lot in life to be an arse in front of females, apparently," he said with a wry laugh. "First I treat Parvati like garbage at the Yule Ball two years ago, because I was drooling over Cho -"
"- and Hermione," Lavender quipped.
"- rather than paying attention to the pretty girl I was there with." Parvati blushed prettily at the compliment. "Let's not get into that whole thing with Cho," he added. "Now I manage to prove just how clueless I am in front of my classmates. The only way it could have been worse is if -"
"- Hermione had heard?" Lavender quipped again.
Harry paused. "Well, I was thinking Malfoy, but yeah, Hermione hearing how dumb I can be at times would be more than a little embarrassing. She already knows it, there's no need to drive the point home any worse."
The three others in the carriage looked at each other for a moment before smiling and saying, "Smitten," in unison.
"What?" Harry asked in confusion. "Just because I admit that I'll never be as smart as her means I'm in love with her?"
"I'd say that not wanting to look dumb in front of her is a sign," Parvati said. "Do you have a problem with doing something that makes you look ... less than smart in front of Ron, for instance?"
"With the number of times I've done that in front of him already? With how often he's the author of the dumb thing we're doing, that I readily agreed to?" Harry laughed. "Not hardly."
"Then why are you afraid of looking dumb in front of Hermione? She's part of the Trio. Shouldn't she be in on the things you're doing?"
"She's usually trying to talk us out of whatever it is, and she's pretty much always right. Why give her more ammunition?"
"But why is it that her opinion of you matters more than Ron's?" Neville asked sagely. "I know that Ginny's means more to me than Hermione's or Luna's does." He scowled a second later, and added, "That didn't sound right. All their opinions — and yours — mean something to me. But Ginny's means a bit more."
"You want her to be proud of you, right?" Parvati asked suddenly.
"Those rare times I've done something right, it's felt nice when she said so," Harry admitted.
"Does it feel the same as when Ron or Neville or Ginny says that they're proud of you?" Lavender asked, obviously having gotten the thread of what her best friend was thinking. Harry shook his head.
"How about when Mrs. Weasley says she's proud of you? Or your own mother?" Neville asked with a grin.
Harry did something unusual, much as he had on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters; he stopped and thought about the situation, rather than simply reacting. It had led to a much more satisfying taunting of Draco Malfoy in London, but he wasn't sure where it might lead him now.
It does mean something when Mrs. Weasley is proud of me, and I liked it when Mum hugged me and told me she was proud of me when she tested my Occlumency. But is it the same if Hermione tells me that she's proud of me?
He had to think for a moment about when she had been proud of him. The fact that it took so long to come up with something shamed him, and he silently vowed to do better. There was when she thought I was a prefect last year — no, she was sure that I was, but that's not really the same as being proud of me. She was sure that I could handle what was ahead in our first year, but ... He thought long and hard about it.
"I guess I'll have to find out on the day I do something that she feels proud of me for," he said, more than a little sadly. "So far, nothing I've done has really gotten that from her. She’s been happy when I did something right, but she’s never actually said that she’s proud of me for something."
That comment led to a scowl on Neville's face.
James grinned as he looked into the mirror. The person that grinned back at him was not someone that he ever expected to see — a Hogwarts professor. "Hey, Potter, stop hogging the mirror!" a female voice called from behind him. He turned to face his wife, kissing her quickly as he stepped out of the way.
"Could you ever imagine me as a teacher, Lily?" he asked, unable to wipe the grin from his face.
"Back when I first knew you, if you'd told me that you'd end up teaching at Hogwarts, I'd have started running. I'd have made Canada by now, easy." She reached over and ruffled his hair, her own grin making an appearance.
"What do we do, though? Profess ... Minerva — Merlin, is that going to take some getting used to — said that we have some serious latitude with what we teach. I know Defence pretty well - and I won't be able to thank Remus enough for giving me his notes from when he taught the class - but I've never really taught before."
She chuckled slightly. "The other professors want you to succeed, so feel free to ask them for tips. If you want, you could even ask Harry — I hear that he did a decent job this past year."
"Yeah, possibly. Could be a little weird though," he replied with a small laugh.
"Well, that would work fine then, because you are as well," she fired back with a smirk.
"I'll get you later for that, Lily," he said in mock annoyance. "Right now, we need to get to the Great Hall for a show of solidarity or some such. Plus, we get to listen to the utter silence when we're announced, and the pandemonium when it's announced that Snivellus isn't here anymore."
She opened her mouth to admonish him, but he could see that her heart wasn't in it. "You're right. It probably will be a madhouse the moment that's announced."
"He'll never pay enough for what he's done. He can't be tried for his part in what happened to us, but he'll certainly be tried for complicity in the murders of the Grangers. He'll go to Azkaban this time, and he'll stay there."
"We can only hope," Lily said. "I really don't want to have to kill him." James was startled by the surety in her voice. She obviously saw his reaction and said, "This is Snape. If he gets free, he'll try for revenge. And I'll kill him if he tries. He's done enough to my baby."
"Our boy, Lily. Let me have some rights to him. too." This last was delivered with a theatrical whine, which succeeded in his goal: he made her chuckle again.
"I suppose so," she replied, equally as theatrically. They held their expressions for a moment longer, before bursting into laughter. This is how Minerva McGonagall found them.
"I'm pleased to see you two in a good mood, given what happened this morning," she said. "It's time to head to the Great Hall."
They followed her to the Hall, where James took a seat between Pomona and Hagrid, while Lily sat between Minerva and Filius. "This is going to take some getting used to," James said with a small laugh to the rest of them. "Not only am I having to get used to calling you by your first names in private, but I have to be respectable now! The first will be easy in comparison to the second!" He was given his chosen applause — laughter — and they settled down to await the entrance of the students.
The students began to filter in, and several stopped in their tracks when they saw the Potters at the Head table. "It's really true!" was heard frequently — plus variations on that phrase — as well as more than one, "Huh! The Prophet was right! How'd they manage that?"
The Hall filled quickly, and James found himself amazed at the speed managed by the coaches and thestrals. There certainly weren't enough carriages or thestrals to bring all the students to the castle at one time, so the winged equines performed a circular route to deliver them. The first year students, on the other hand, took their slow trip across the lake followed by their first example of the stairs at Hogwarts — the climb from the lake to the Great Hall level, a substantial number of steps.
Harry walked in with his friends, and James was curious why Hermione seemed to be annoyed at his son. They walked in farther apart than he'd seen them all summer, and when they sat, she did not look at Harry at all. He seemed hurt by the unexpected snubbing.
Their old friend Hagrid came into the Great Hall to announce, "The First Years are outside, Professors." He obviously considered this not only a great honour to be permitted to do this, but a duty that he performed with great solemnity.
James didn't really pay attention too much to the Sorting, save to laugh along with the rest of the hall when a "Finnegan, Brianna" was Sorted into Gryffindor. The reason for the laughter was her brother shouting "That's me sis! Way to go, Bree!" as soon as the Hat announced her House. She, of course, blushed furiously and glared toward the Gryffindor table, specifically at her loud older brother.
Finally the Sorting was done, and Professor Dumbledore stood. "Once again, I welcome all students to another year at Hogwarts!" There was a smattering of applause, mostly from the new first year students, which drew a smile from the Headmaster. "As always, the Forbidden Forest is as the name suggests, forbidden. No one should be entering it without a proper staff escort." James noted that his eyes seemed to slide to Harry with some amusement. "Mr. Filch has once again expanded the list of forbidden items in the school, and the list is posted on his door, as always. I believe that any person who has a Weasley Wizard Wheezes catalog likely has the majority of the list within their possession." There was a slight pause while several at the Gryffindor table, most notably Ginny and Ron, cheered.
"Please also note that the staff complement has changed. Severus Snape will no longer be teaching at Hogwarts, I am sorry to say."
James was utterly startled at the loud cheering that erupted from three of the four tables — he knew that he didn't like the man, but for that many students to be cheering that loudly? The cries of "Maybe we can get a fair teacher now!" startled several at the Head table.
"I am sorry to discover that you all feel that way about his leaving our employment. In his place, we have hired Mrs. Lily Potter to teach Potions."
"Is she any good?" came a laughing voice from the Gryffindor table. There was absolute silence for a moment as people realised that it was Harry who had called out the question. "I mean, I think she'll do good, but I'm biased!"
James noted that most of the other students seemed utterly shocked at Harry's behaviour, but he decided to play along with his son. "I'd vouch for her talents, but I'm kinda biased as well."
"Yes, well," Dumbledore said, mildly surprised at the way the announcements were going. "I have full faith in her capabilities as a Potions teacher," he finally said.
"Plus, she's a heck of a lot nicer to look at than Snape was," the Finnegan boy said, obviously intending it to be heard only by his table-mates.
"Thank you, Mr. ... Finnegan, I believe it is?" Lily said sweetly. The boy managed to somehow turn both bright red and completely white in the span of about ten seconds as he nodded.
Albus once again took control. "Our other new professor is Professor James Potter, who will be teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts this year. I hope that you will give both professors a warm welcome." He was answered by a round of applause, understandably started at the Gryffindor table by a certain six students. James smiled softly and stood, sketching a bow to the students, as did Lily.
"Finally, as Professor Snape had been the Head of Slytherin House, we find it necessary to place another into that role. Professor Fitby will be taking on those responsibilities and looks forward to making the acquaintance of those Slytherins who do not take his Ancient Runes class." There was perfunctory applause from the Slytherin table, where most of the students were still getting over the shock of Snape’s absence.
The feast started shortly thereafter, and the students tucked into their meals. James idly looked around the Great Hall as he ate. Harry, his shoulders hunched, was apparently being berated by by a wildly gesticulating Hermione. She seemed to gesture around the hall several times, more than once including the Head table.
Finally, Harry pushed away from the table, before the dessert course had even begun, and walked to the Head table, stopping stiffly before his mother. "Professor Potter?" he asked in a voice that could be heard throughout the hall. "It has been pointed out to me that I have been terribly rude to you with my comments earlier. I would like to apologise. I honestly believe that you will do a wonderful job in the position and did not mean to impugn your abilities."
"What brought this on?" she asked, clearly startled at his actions.
"I am the head of a Noble House, and I am sixteen. I can no longer afford childish things, such as making fun of a teacher, even if it is good-natured. It will certainly not help me in my fight against a psychotic madman who has wanted me dead for my entire life. It is better that I begin to act the adult that the law and my peers expect me to be." The tone and wording made it obvious that he was trying very hard to sound adult, even if it made his words sound a bit stilted. "Again, I apologise for the slight upon your abilities." He bowed to her and turned to face Minerva, whom he began to speak with her in tones inaudible to James.
James let his eyes slide to Hermione, and she looked happy that Harry had apologised. Her look turned to confusion when, rather than returning to the Gryffindor table, Harry walked to the doors of the Great Hall and left without a further word to anyone. The Longbottom boy said something to her that caused her to appear stunned and hurt. James looked to Lily and knew that a problem was brewing — she was glaring at the young witch with an expression that wouldn't have been out of place had she been looking at Snivellus.
Hermione quickly moved toward Gryffindor Tower once the feast was over. Neville's words had bothered her quite a bit, and that Look that Professor Potter had given her was not terribly encouraging. At least her husband didn't seem to want to kill her on sight.
Would that really be so bad, if I let her? At least then I could be with Mum and Dad again and apologise for all the crap that I put them through in my life. She sighed. No, they'd be unhappy with me. It hurts so much to lose them, and I'm chasing away all my friends because of it. I'm snapping at Harry more than I ever did before in these past few days, and after this evening, I've probably lost him as a friend.
'I know you're hurting, but are you trying to make him hurt, too?' I didn't think Neville knew what he was talking about, but when Harry just ... left ... I didn't mean to hurt him. I just think that professors deserve some respect.
Who are you kidding, you stupid bint? she answered herself harshly. You just wanted him to follow your rules. You just decided for him, like you always have, and forced him into it. Just like with the Firebolt — you did it behind his back, because you knew better. Even her mental voice had a harsh mocking tone as she thought it.
She entered the Gryffindor Common Room to find it as yet unoccupied. He might have gone upstairs, she thought hopefully. But he's probably not in a mood to see me, she finished. She headed up the stairs to the girls' dormitories and threw herself onto her bed and began to sob into her pillows. I've lost them all, she thought. Mum, Dad, Harry, Ron, Ginny — all of them. Friends and family are completely gone, driven away or killed. She pulled herself into a foetal position around her pillow and cried as if her soul were dying.
She had no idea how long she'd been sobbing when the outside world intruded on her senses once more. Maybe it was the soft, wordless crooning that someone was doing, or maybe it was the hand rubbing her back soothingly. She sniffled a few times as she listened and realised that Parvati had a beautiful singing voice.
"I'm sorry," she said as she began to uncurl from around her pillow. "I should have Silenced the curtains. I didn't mean to disturb the two of you."
"It's all right," Lavender said. "We were actually kinda expecting it. Harry asked us to keep an eye on you, since you're hurting so much for your parents."
Hermione slowly rolled over to her back, staring at the canopy to avoid the eyes of the two girls sitting on her bed. "After all I've done and said and the way I've acted over the past five years, you still do that," she said sadly. "I've been horrid to you, and you still try to comfort me."
"Well, we've both lost family," Parvati said. "I think that's why Pad and I are in different Houses. Our sister Lalita was killed the summer before we started school. Pad withdrew into her books, and I started trying to fill that hole that she left in my life — I wanted to be as outgoing as she'd been."
"It was my great-gran," Lavender said. "Just before fourth year. I was always happy to visit her, but I never really paid the attention to her that I ought to have done. There are so many family stories I'll never know now because I was just too stupid to realise that she wasn't going to live forever."
Hermione sniffed again. "So many things I should have said to them," she moaned. "I don't even remember whether or not I told them that I love ... loved them!" She started to cry again but this time felt the comforting presence of her two room-mates with her. She slowly faded off to sleep, her strength sapped by crying.
The next morning, Hermione awoke to find herself sandwiched between the two girls. She moved slightly, trying to stretch without waking them and only succeeded in doing just that — waking them. "How are you feeling?" Lavender asked sleepily.
"Much better," Hermione said after a moment of introspection. "Thank you. Having someone to share my grief with was what I needed." She looked at her room-mates and then bit her lower lip. "It was more than I deserved."
"How do you mean?" Lavender asked, propping herself up on an elbow and rubbing her eyes.
"With the 'superior little bitch queen' act I've pulled these past five years, looking down my nose at you? You have to ask?"
"We all have our own ways of acting childish. Mine was to turn into a giggly little bimbo." Lavender looked at Hermione, who was shocked at the girl's self-description, and then added, "Now I'm embracing my inner bimbo and leaving the giggling to the younger girls." Lavender looked utterly serious, save the small sparkle in her eyes.
Hermione stared at her for a moment before she started to laugh softly. She tried to stop it, but that just seemed to make it worse. In short order, all three of them were laughing so hard that they were crying again. It took several minutes to calm themselves down again.
Hermione finally looked down at herself and realised that she'd slept in her clothes. "Blech. I think I need a shower and some clean clothes," she observed.
"We all do," Parvati said, stripping quickly and grabbing a dressing gown and a towel — actions quickly mirrored by the other two.
Once they were in the shower, Parvati spoke over the sound of the water, "Look, you're apologising to us for how you treated us, and we really owe you the same sort of apology. You looked down your nose at us because we were acting like flighty bimbos, and we made snide comments about your teeth and your studious nature."
"That's a polite way of putting it," Hermione said with a very unladylike snort. "'Bookworm' is one of the phrases that can be used in public, I'd imagine."
"Yeah, but I'd like to think that we're finally growing up," Lavender said. "Took us a while, but it's happening."
"'When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.' First Corinthians, chapter 13. Somewhere around verse four or so," Hermione answered them both. She blushed. "Sorry, beaver-toothed bookworm here," she said.
"And I apologise for calling you that," Lavender said sadly.
Hermione waved her hand dismissively. "That was last week," she said, pausing and hoping that she'd read the two girls right.
Lavender giggled for a moment. "Nice, Hermione."
"You two are able to laugh at yourselves. I've got to learn to do the same and stop taking everything so seriously," she said. "There's certainly enough material to laugh at," she added softly, thinking the other two couldn't hear her. She stopped speaking while she worked on getting the last of the shampoo out of her hair. After she'd finished that task, she opened her eyes to see Parvati and Lavender scowling at her. "What?" she asked, more than a little puzzled.
"We spent the past five years either disliking or ignoring each other," Lavender said, "but that doesn't mean that we have to keep the fight going."
"Part of growing up means acting that way," Parvati said. "Maybe we'll never be friends. On the other hand, maybe we can, if the three of us can stop acting like we used to toward each other. The first thing we're going to do is talk to you about your self-hatred."
"I drive people away," Hermione said, tears building again. "I badger Harry to no end, and I humiliated him in public last night. He left before dessert was served. He never does that. I drove him away from the table because I thought he wasn't treating a professor right." She started to run a brush through her hair, but it quickly became caught. "Argh!" she screamed, and the tears began to flow again as she painfully yanked the brush free and threw it across the room. "I should just shave it all off! I couldn't possibly look worse!"
Lavender hugged her. "Shh, it's all right. The first thing we're going to do for you is to teach you some hair charms. We didn't teach them to you before because it was our way of feeling superior to the smart girl." It was only then that Hermione noticed that Parvati had started working with the mass of tangles that was her hair, humming softly as she worked. Hermione couldn't help but relax into the dark skinned girl's ministrations.
It was tangle-free in just a few short minutes, with only three slightly painful tugs. "The first thing we're going to teach you," Parvati said, "is to change your shampoo. You have beautiful, lush hair, and it's the shampoo that's made it unmanageable. A few other charms we can teach you, and I guarantee that you will have Harry picking his jaw up off the floor. And it will all be you, Hermione. No illusions necessary."
"I couldn't be that lucky," Hermione retorted sadly. "Besides, I think tacky is the kindest word that could be used for me starting to date so soon after my parents died." She sniffed as tears threatened yet again. "I've been called a cold, heartless bitch before. No sense in proving it to everyone. Like he'd really date me anyway. We're friends, but he's looking for someone who can match him — a Cho or a Ginny."
Lavender smiled. "Ask Neville. Harry was so dejected last night not because he was chewed out or anything, but because he wants to do something that you're proud of him for. He felt, I'll bet, that he'd made himself look stupid in your eyes. Just as you think you can't do anything right by him, he thinks the same way. He didn't say it in the carriage, but I'll bet that if we were to ask him, he'd say that a girl like you would never deign to lower yourself to someone as dumb as him." Hermione's eyes flared, and Lavender sped on. "I'm not calling him dumb, Hermione! He called himself that. He said that you already knew how dumb he was, he didn't need to rub it in. Ask Neville if you want confirmation."
"What led to that conversation?" she asked, curious how her brilliant but somewhat lazy best friend came to the conclusion that he was unintelligent.
"We had to explain what snogging was to him," Parvati said with a giggle. "He'd thought that it was considerably more than just some serious kissing. He rather forcefully informed us that you were not that kind of a girl!"
"I could go for the kissing, but nothing more just yet," she admitted. "I'm not ready for that in so many ways."
"Hermione, you have something unique in your hands, and I think you should be careful with it," Lavender interjected. "You hold the heart of a remarkable man, and I think that he worships the ground you walk on, if he'd admit it to himself."
"I want to, but ... I feel like ... if I talk to him about it, do you think he'd understand if I wanted to grieve more for my parents?"
"I think if you told him he had to wait until you were both finished with Hogwarts, he'd wait. He'd be impatient, mind you, but he'd wait. He won't even really admit it to himself, I think, but he loves you."
Hermione was lost in thought for a while over Lavender's words, not paying attention to the outside world.
She was brought to reality by Parvati saying, "Done! And that's fairly simple to deal with on a regular basis, as long as you get rid of that shampoo. You can use mine until you can pick up some of your own."
Hermione looked in the mirror, and for the first time in her life, thought that the person staring back at her in shock was beautiful. Her hair was no longer an unruly mop but a cascade of gentle waves. "Let me do your hair with you a few times until I'm sure that you've got it down pat, okay?"
"That's really me? No illusions?" Hermione was incredulous at the change in appearance that simply changing her hair had brought about.
"That's one hundred percent natural Hermione Granger," Lavender said with a grin.
Parvati started to giggle. "I'll say! Can you imagine Harry if he saw her right now?"
Lavender started to giggle. "Since she's naked? He'd probably ..." She lost the smile. "Honestly, he'd probably turn himself in for expulsion, because he'd feel that he violated you or something." She looked at Hermione. "Girl, if he's gonna keep you on a pedestal, at least convince him it's alright to look up your skirt once in a while, okay?"
"Lavender!" squeaked the suddenly blushing Hermione.
"Like the idea, huh?" Lavender asked in a lascivious tone.
"Wanna make some of the boys uncomfortable at breakfast?" Parvati asked, rescuing Hermione. "We'd need to let Harry know that we were pranking everyone else, though."
"What do you have in mind?" Hermione asked. When the two girls looked at her in some slight surprise, she added, "Look, I've been a real bitch to you two these past five years. You're being friendly anyway, even though my past with you doesn't deserve this kind treatment. As long as it's not a harmful prank, I just might be willing to play along with it."
Ginny sat at the breakfast table, looking at Harry. She had heard Neville's comment last night to Hermione, and she was worried. He was looking mildly unhappy — a look she was all too familiar with from him.
She looked to the door as she heard people entering and saw that it was Hermione and her room-mates. Hermione made straight for Harry. "Harry, I want to apologise for last night at the feast," she said. "I let my turmoil turn something that should have been an amusing comment into a row between us, and I'm sorry for that. I should have stayed silent."
"You're beautiful!" he blurted as he looked at her. "Um, I mean, uh, it's all right that you said what you did. I was out of line." He had looked away after his exclamation, too embarrassed to look in her eyes.
"No you weren't, and I'm sorry for hurting you," she said, then leaned over and hugged him. From Ginny's perspective, she could see her whisper something in Harry's ear.
She was curious as to why Parvati's eyes started sparkling with mirth until she said with a small purr in her voice, "Thank you for last night, Hermione. I think all three of us needed that."
"That's what friends are for," was Hermione's response, also with a small purr. "The shower was needed too, I think." Ginny noticed that Harry reacted, but not the way that she would have expected. He didn't seem to be surprised by what was being said.
Lavender never got a chance to say anything, because Dean was pounding Seamus on the back, finally dislodging a piece of sausage. "Breathing ... sausage ... bad ..." the sandy haired Irish teen coughed.
Harry was utterly clueless as to why Seamus was coughing until Dean said, "I doubt it's what you're thinking, Seamus."
"And what are you thinking?" Harry asked, suddenly seeming very dangerous. Ginny smiled to herself. They might not be a couple, but he was certainly acting like the jealous boyfriend.
Seamus blinked at his room-mate and suddenly realised for the first time just how dangerous Harry Potter could be. There was something that made him answer, even knowing that it would likely infuriate Harry. "That those three are damned lucky to have seen each other naked! And more, it sounds like."
"Hermione isn't like that," Harry growled. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Finnegan."
He took his life in his hands then. "Can I help it if your girlfriend is hot?" he asked loudly, coughing the whole time.
"Harry, it's all right," Hermione said. "We said this knowing that the boys would think that way. We did sleep together last night and shower together this morning. And that's exactly what happened. We each talked about loss and cried ourselves to sleep in the same bed, and then we used the communal shower, the same way that you boys do in the mornings." She smiled. "We knew that at least Seamus had a dirty mind and would think in the direction we wanted." Harry was scowling, so she leaned in closely. "It's all right to think about it, Harry. And we'll talk about us later." He looked at her in surprise. "Well, you didn't exactly try to complain when Seamus called me your girlfriend," she continued in a whisper.
He looked pole-axed for a moment, and then panicked. "I'm sorry," he said quickly. "I know I should have, but I just wanted to -"
"Calm down, Harry," she said, trying hard not to laugh at his sudden panic. "I can tell you that it's not an unpleasant idea. I just ... well, my parents died less than a week ago. You're all helping me get through it, but I need some time, okay?"
He stared at her. "You'd ... you actually don't have a problem being thought of as my girlfriend?" He asked carefully, sounding beyond astonished. Ginny couldn't help but giggle a little as she heard his utter incredulity.
"I'd like it to be reality," she said with a soft blush. "But I need -"
"You take all the time you need to grieve, Hermione," he interrupted. "If you'd rather wait until Voldemort's dead, I can understand. If you want to take until you're twenty, or forty, go ahead!"
"It won't be that long," she said. "But right now, I want breakfast." He started and then stood.
"There's room for all of us here," Parvati said, stopping Harry from moving out of the way. "Besides, we've got five years of girl talk to catch up on with Hermione!"
Ginny relaxed a little as she saw Harry settle down with a small smile. She finally had a definition for 'bemused' — the look on Harry's face. A little bit bewildered and a little bit happy.
Bastards, Severus Snape thought viciously as he paced his small cell. It was a pair of worthless Muggles! Why can't they see that it was necessary? If it gave me a sense of revenge, all the better. But he actually wanted someone worthwhile put at risk, rather than ... I will never understand that man.
I will not go down alone. I need to try to ensure the least punishment for myself, and the greatest damage to my enemies. If they are going to take me down, others will be going with me.
And if I can manage that damned brat and his parents as collateral damage, then even prison would be sweet.