Harry and Ginny hadn’t seen Hermione since the train had pulled out of King’s Cross. They’d soon forgotten about her as a kissing game had blossomed from finding a Harry Potter card in one of their Chocolate Frog packets. “Quick, Harry, what’s your favorite color?”
“That would have to be red, m’dear!” Harry emphasized this by running a hand through Ginny’s long tresses and then tracing her lips with his fingertips.
A torrid bit of necking later, Ginny caught her breath and said: “Wrong, Potter! According to the card, ‘It is well-known that Harry Potter has two favorite colors: the scarlet and gold of Hogwarts’ Gryffindor House.’ You left one out completely and muffed the specific hue of the other, so I think I’m owed an apology.”
Grinning at Ginny’s feigned indignation, Harry played along. “A thousand pardons, my scarlet woman! Oh that you would once again deign to shower your tender affections like so many soaring hippogriffs upon the parched garden of my heart…”
“Would you shut up and make with the apology, you nut!” Ginny pulled Harry up to her by his shirt and held his head in her hands as she planted the deepest, most sensual kiss on him that they had shared in a public place since their first embrace in the Gryffindor common room. They’d been cheated of so many moments together in the intervening time that they were determined to make up for it as often as possible after things settled down following the defeat of Voldemort. Having spent most of the time at the Burrow evading Mrs. Weasley and her omnipresent interference, the trip to Hogwarts felt like the end of a prison sentence for their love life. As they closed their eyes and nestled together, both could also sense that the train ride was a symbol of the next step forward in their relationship, as they moved forward as one into their common future.
The Welcoming Feast was bittersweet, as old friends greeted each for the first time since the haze of the Battle of Hogwarts had cleared while remembering those who would not be returning. After dedicating a section of the wall that listed the names of the fallen, Professor McGonagall (who was acting as interim headmistress but still insisted on being addressed solely as Professor) addressed the student body. “Though we will never forget what great sacrifices occurred here, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is going to keep its focus on the future. Our rebuilding efforts reflect this attitude, as over 60% of the damage inflicted upon the school and all major structural issues in the main body of the castle have received sufficient attention. I will caution you to avoid staircases which are not covered with the silver seal of approval for use, as structural damage and unexposed charms might still exist on unapproved staircases. (The same goes for bathroom stalls as well, by the way.) Simply wait for an approved staircase to appear before you, or ask a prefect or professor for assistance. Once again, students, welcome back!”
After a brief pause and something that sounded like a troll clearing his throat, Professor McGonagall said: “Oh thank you, Professor Hagrid… Tuck in!”
Harry tore into the mountain of mashed potatoes he’d scooped onto his plate. The time away from Hogwarts was forgotten, and everything felt as cheery as it had been in Harry’s first year. Even Peeves seemed to have mellowed, as he wasn’t flinging gravy at students but was leading Hagrid and Slughorn in a German drinking song. Rather than reproach them, Professor McGonagall smiled as she tapped along with a spoon on her goblet.
Hermione looked glumly at her plate, half-expecting to see Ron’s hand grabbing a turkey leg off of it and stuffing it in his mouth mid-sentence. “Sorry I didn’t stop in to see you two on the train, but I volunteered to show the new prefects the ropes. That also means I probably won’t be seeing you later this evening either. I hadn’t intended to be a prefect this year, but that was before I decided to spend the entire school year here. It’s actually good Ron’s not here, because I doubt I’d have had time to even think of him this year. I have a S.L.E.W. to attend to, so --”
“Hermione, we all have a slew of classes and we’re all going to be slammed most of the time, but that doesn’t mean --”
“No, I mean S.L.E.W., as in the Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Law Examination for Wizarding. I’m going to use my time here prepping for that as well as working on my other material, so it’s really for the best that Ron’s off ‘doing his own thing.’ I – I have to go help…” Hermione bit her lower lip, quickly rose from the table, and hurried away.
“I think she went down this corridor!” Harry said as he and Ginny sprinted around a corner. They soon found Hermione, who was sitting on a bench trying to hold back her tears. Harry and Ginny sat on either side of her, and each put an arm around their sobbing, shaking friend.
“Why couldn’t I make him understand that he means the world to me, that I don’t care whether he’s a star Quidditch player or a stock clerk? All I was trying to do was make sure he didn’t let the opportunity of finishing his education pass him by, but I wasn’t trying to run his life! I just want him to be happy. I tried to show him that over and over, but it clearly wasn’t enough.”
Ginny tried to calm Hermione. “Ron’s always had trouble communicating what’s in his heart. We all know he’s been slow to mature emotionally. It’s the reason it took him so long to show you how he felt, since he couldn’t control the level of his other emotions from anger to jealousy that surfaced whenever love was simmering underneath.”
“I know, Ginny,” Hermione replied quietly. “Even after we got together, he still kept so much inside that it was hard to tell when there was something really wrong until his feelings had boiled over and he’d exploded. Once he gets his feelings out, he can’t deal with all the hurt and anger that remains, and he just bolts. You’d think the git would’ve learned after he left us last year and couldn’t make it back that storming off only makes things worse. At least he had an excuse for not being able to contact us while he was away that time, but why can’t he at least send me a note now saying ‘I love you’ or ‘forgive me’ or even ‘sod off?’ I guess I should hate him for leaving that way again, but I want get through to him so desperately and help stop the pain and insecurities inside of him. I know he’s hurting as much as me. At least I hope he feels as bad as I do about all of this…” Her voice trailed away.
“Hermione, of course he does,” Harry replied, handing her his handkerchief. “You both know the way Ron handles things, and I’m sure he’s been searching for the right way to tell you how he feels, especially as the excitement over signing with the Cannons fades a bit. I’ve never thought to mention this before, but Ron saw himself in the Mirror of Erised alone, wearing the Head Boy badge and holding the Quidditch Cup. In other words, this issue of his self-worth and identity ran deeper than any of us really knew. I figure a semester’s worth of separation from everyone’s shadows will do him good; that is until the great Harry Potter shows up to save his bacon on the Quidditch pitch!”
Ginny laughed, but Hermione stayed silent. Harry had been holding back his perspective of the situation to keep from feeling too much like a meddler, but he was unable to stay silent any longer. Why did I fight so hard to live if I’m not going to doing whatever’s in my power to help my friends, even if the truth hurts? I’ve already gambled my future as an Auror just to plant myself in the middle of this, so here goes…
“Hermione, please listen to me. You’ve always given me good advice about my problems, and I hope that I’ve done the same. I’m going to ask you to fight every impulse to lecture, reprimand, or correct Ron and what he’s done wrong the next time you see him – at least to start off with. For as long as I’ve known you two, you’ve always communicated by arguing over the things you’re both most passionate about. It was kind of cute in the beginning and it made me realize how much you two cared about what the other thought. I’m not saying that even the happiest of couples won’t have their fair share of back and forth; they will. That being said, Ron needs to stay in the room long enough to get what you’re trying to say, and you need to delay explaining how and why Ron has it wrong and isn’t getting what you’re saying long enough for your tempers to ebb, so that you two can really talk and get through to each other. I think I have some insight on the subject of fighting anger, because you know I could be worse than anyone of us when I lost control. What helped me even in the worst of times was when I went too far, you and Ron and even Ginny let me know to cool it and check my temper if I wanted to continue our friendship. It’s going to have to work both ways when Ron and you next meet, and I know that anything can be worked out if you don’t let the cauldron of emotions spill over before you both share your thoughts and communicate above everything else how much you love and need one another. I know you can do it, Hermione.”
“By the way, St. Mungo’s latest find -- Healer Harry -- charges by the hour, so you better wrap this up, Miss Granger," Ginny quipped.
Hermione finally cracked a smile, and the updated version of the Potter-Granger-Weasley trio shared a tearful hug before heading towards the Gryffindor common room. As they did so, a tiny blur rushed towards them through the air and landed on Ginny’s shoulder.
“Pigwidgeon!” she cried, stroking his feathers as the small owl hooted happily. “Here’s a letter from Ron, Hermione! Oh… it’s addressed to you, Harry.”
Oh come off it, Ron, Harry thought. If you’re finally going to write, at least have the Quaffles to send a note to Hermione personally! Harry tried to play it off as an oversight by Ron, but it didn’t work. “Let’s see what it says, then…”