Act One - Best Friends

Chapter One - Beneath the Moon


A/N: Right then, a brief message from the author before we begin. This story is an AU (originally a Harmony oneshot called A Conversation Atop the Astronomy Tower), and I usually use the movies for reference as they're more convenient for me. If something is different from canon, it's probably not a mistake. Also, feel free to Brit pick me. I am (quite obviously) not British, and although primarily writing for a US audience, I do fix errors that are pointed out to me.

Be aware that while characters will try to make good decisions (not necessarily ethically good), they each have their own flaws. For instance, Hermione has a dangerous hobby that her pride and scientific curiosity won’t let her turn away from, but which she probably hasn’t taken as many precautions with as she should have.

Lastly, any scientific, computational, or mathematical concept introduced over the course of the story is real. Harry and Hermione are still young, however, and have a lot to learn before they obtain wisdom to share. If you want to be very confused and skip to where this becomes more blatantly apparent rather than weaved into the narrative in disguise, check out The Tale of Hermione.

Now without further ado, enjoy.


At the very top of Hogwarts, a young witch with untamable, bushy hair and buckteeth leaned on the stone railing of the Astronomy Tower watching the sun slowly disappear over the horizon. It was, technically, against the rules for her to be there, but she’d learnt last year to be more flexible about such things when it mattered.

And there was no mistake; this was certainly a time that called for a little rule breaking. She needed a quiet place to reflect, and in Hogwarts, there were but four types of quiet places.

First, there was the library. Ms Pince, the librarian, made sure of that. Yet the seductive call of unread books was more distraction than it was worth.

Second, one could venture into the seemingly endless depths of the castle and find an unused classroom. Rumour had it there was still a student missing from the class of 1947.

Third, it was entirely conceivable to wait until everyone else had gone to bed, in which case the common room of Gryffindor Tower was nearly always both empty and silent. But that would leave her tired, and she was in no mood to wait.

That left option four: the Astronomy Tower. Outside of class, no one ever came here, not even the prefects or professors on patrol for students breaking curfew. It was the strangest thing. The view was so beautiful, almost comparable to the sight of Hogwarts itself from Black Lake. Why no one ever came here was beyond her.

And so it was that Hermione Granger found herself atop the Astronomy Tower just before night, risking both curfew and simply being found where she was not permitted. There she fell into a frustrated contemplation.

It should be noted that Hermione Granger did not sulk, nor did she mope or angst. No, she brooded. It was an entirely respectable activity, brooding, especially seeing as there was so much to brood about these days.

Immortal dark lords, possibly disturbed house elves, giant spiders, child abuse, petrifications, monstrous dogs, a vicious professor, trolls, a basilisk for Merlin’s sake – when had that become her life? It was enough to drive a respectable young girl to brooding.

And as always since first year’s wonderful and awful Halloween, there was that niggling little annoyance in the back of her mind telling her to do what she was going to do anyway, thank you. It was never about what Hermione planned to do in the broad sense of the word. The fine details were what she had trouble with. At times like this, she wished she had a friend in Slytherin.

Hermione sighed as she mulled over her thoughts for perhaps the hundredth time tonight.

Honestly, what am I going to do with Harry? He’s going to get himself killed. This year was even worse than the last, if that's even possible: three brushes with death and one attempt by Professor Snape to expel him.

If only I could get him to actually listen to me instead of Ron.

Sighing, Hermione threw out of her mind the thought of just how much easier this all would be if she were a boy and not a ‘nagging, mental girl’. Whether it were possible or not, there was no way it was happening.

I need to figure out what makes Harry tick. Why does he always slack off and rush into danger without thinking?

Hermione flinched, knowing perfectly well why Harry’s academic curiosity was less than brilliant, even if she was a bit hazy on the fine details. And as terrible as it was, that brought a tiny smile to her face. There were, after all, no social penalties to opening up emotionally to a girl in confidence.

But that’s entirely the problem. I’m Harry’s emotional rock, and Ron is his social rock. As long as Ron keeps slacking off, Harry will, too, and Ron has zero interest in anything that’s not quidditch or chess.

It was so frustrating. Harry was smart despite the Dursleys and despite Ron. He managed to get decent grades without much help, while Ron got by with average grades only with Hermione’s aid. She knew Harry could do so much better if he only applied himself.

Maybe, even, Hermione hoped in the secret corners of her heart, Harry could do well enough to rival her. Aside from Padma Patil, Anthony Goldstein, and – surprisingly enough – Daphne Greengrass, the only other person that could follow her when she really started lecturing was Harry, but only if she first explained everything that he should have already studied.

But it all came back to that one question. How on Earth was Hermione supposed to get Harry to take his education seriously?

Ron is a lost cause. About the only thing that could possibly get him to shape up is – Hermione shuddered – dating me and looking for my approval, and that’s never going to happen even if he were old enough to be interested. And if I were pretty enough…

Hermione shook the notion from her head. She was not going to turn into Lavender Brown.

So what do I do? Do I try to separate Harry from Ron? Ron doesn’t really deserve that, even if he is unwittingly getting Harry killed. Besides, I’m sure that would just blow up in my face.

No, I need to find something Harry wants more than a best mate, something that will naturally cause him to work harder.

Hermione’s thoughts ran endlessly through everything she knew about Harry, trying to figure out what he could possibly want more than the friendship and love he never got in his home life. There were so many ideas to explore, but nothing presented itself to her as the right choice, the right opportunity. That Harry saw his family when he gazed into the Mirror of Erised rather failed to inspire confidence that such a thing existed to begin with.

Besides the obvious, of course, me being female.

In the end, Hermione was forced to admit this was not really her area of expertise. She desperately needed a Slytherin co-conspirator, but she was hardly going to go begging to Daphne the Ice Queen of all people, and no one else in that house capable of helping was really approachable as a muggleborn. The odd muggleborn or two who ended up in that house were so jaded that they refused to do much of anything.

Ugh. Fine. Putting that aside for now, why does Harry keep rushing into mortal peril with nary half a plan? Unless he’s hiding it really well, he isn’t showing suicidal tendencies. I know that he’s doing what he thinks is right, but there’s a difference between ‘choosing between what is right and what is easy’ and ‘choosing between what is right and will probably get you killed without doing anything and what is easy’.

Hermione paused as a thought occurred to her. Was that it, then? Did Harry, the Boy-Who-Lived, have a hero complex?

It would explain a lot, actually, if Harry felt compelled to actually live up to his fame. Whatever happened in Godric’s Hollow eleven years ago had nothing to do with him, even in the astronomically unlikely chance that he does have some sort of rare, magical, killing-curse-reflecting gift…thing. He knows that as well as I do.

And yet…that doesn’t feel quite right, like I have a piece of the puzzle but not the whole thing. That would explain why he rushes into danger but not why he does it so haphazardly.

And there Hermione got stuck as she always did. Admittedly, despite being one herself, she never really understood other children. Certainly, she suspected that when she was older she would look back on her actions and decry them as immature and perhaps even terminally foolish. But she liked to think there was a certain maturity in her that other children simply lacked for some unimaginable reason, one that at least let her stop to ask the question ‘is this a good idea?’ before acting on it.

It was something Harry seemed to lack entirely.

“Hermione?”

Speak of the devil… Hermione kept herself from sighing at the terminal interruption to her peace and quiet. Instead, she asked, “What is it, Harry?”

The boy in question quietly slid into place next to Hermione, similarly leaning on the Astronomy Tower railing and staring off into the rising full moon. Or perhaps it was a waning gibbous; she was understandably a little unsure of the lunar date right now, let alone the Julian date or even the ordinal date.

“You bolted right after the celebration feast.”

That brought a real smile onto Hermione’s face for the first time since she’d heard the recounting of Harry’s escapade in the Chamber of Secrets. As proud as she was that Harry had at least had the good sense to go to a professor first, his choice of professors and his subsequent actions were just as alarming as every other time he’d brushed with death.

A light touch fell on Hermione’s arm, startling her out of her thoughts. She looked over at Harry who looked almost ready to bolt himself. Honestly, Hermione suspected he only put up with her hugging because a Granger without hugs was no Granger at all.

Speaking of which – “Thank you for the hug earlier, Harry. I really needed that. Being petrified was awful.”

There was a long pause. Harry had his mouth partway open as if to say something and held it that way for a suspiciously long time.

Silently, Hermione added another tally to the ‘Harry is not gullible’ hypothesis. Two years after she met him and she was still not sure if Harry simply took everything at face value or if he played dumb. Every once in a while, he did something that made her wonder, and right now she had a very ‘you are distracting me’ vibe from Harry.

“You're welcome,” Harry eventually replied, taking his hand back. Of course, he looked no less worried than before.

And so descendeth the awkward silence in all its terrible glory. Hermione sighed to herself. At this time of night, she supposed her bed was as good a place to mull over her plans for the future as any.

“It’s getting late. We should head back to the dorms before the patrols start.”

Sporting a cheeky grin, Harry tugged a corner of his invisibility cloak from his robes.

Hermione rolled her eyes. Why am I not surprised? Still, if he’s this determined to make conversation… Placing her hands on her hips, she spun toward Harry and said, “Don’t tell me you followed me up here invisibly? Spying is a bad habit, Harry.”

“Wha? I didn’t – I mean I – I would never–”

Hermione rolled her eyes once more. Another point for the null hypothesis, it seemed. “You prat. I know you weren’t.”

“Ah… Good.”

Although if he reacts like that, maybe I wasn’t just teasing him. After a small giggle she kept to herself, Hermione decided to let the matter drop for now. She could always call him on it later and watch him squirm then.

“Um, Hermione?” Harry began hesitantly. “Honestly, is there anything wrong?”

A truly evil idea entered into Hermione’s mind, one simply too good not to act on.

“Do I really look so bad that a twelve-year-old, feelings-are-dumb boy is worried?”

“Er…”

Sometimes Hermione absolutely loved being a witch. There was something terribly wonderful about asking questions where every answer was wrong. Oh, it was so wrong, but that made it no less wonderful.

First a smirk escaped Hermione. Soon after, a snicker joined it. One chuckle became two, and two became three. Soon enough, Hermione found herself in a fit of giggles, much to Harry’s indignity.

“It’s not that funny,” Harry mumbled.

“Sorry, sorry,” Hermione wheezed out. If nothing else good came of it, she did feel a bit better for the jest.

“And I think I’m even more worried now,” Harry added. “I swear, if Hermione is handing out polyjuices of herself…”

Running with the joke, Hermione stuck out her hand. “It’s a fair cop. Wotcher, Harry!”

“Nymphadora Tonks?” Harry paused for a second, a strange expression running over his face, and for that moment, Hermione almost thought she had him. “No, can’t be. I’d be in pain by now for saying ‘Nymphadora’.”

“And how do you know that, huh? Cosying up to other girls?”

Rather than blushing as Hermione had expected, Harry frowned. “Hermione, what’s wrong?”

Hermione bit down on her lower lip, refusing to speak. Even if she were to explain, well, everything to Harry, she hardly wanted to do it without preparing in advance.

Obviously taking a wild guess, Harry said, “They’re just exams, Hermione. I think you’re the only person who wants to take them. Even Ravenclaws–”

A loud smack echoed through the Astronomy Tower.

It took Hermione half a moment to realise what just happened and another half a moment after that for her brain to reboot. There were far too many competing concerns.

I just hit an abused child.

No, that I hit someone at all is bad enough.

Harry is going to get himself killed.

I’ve got to apologise.

Harry sounded like Ron. What if it’s too late to do anything?

I am so emotionally compromised.

In all of a second, Hermione converged on the one thing she absolutely needed to do right away. It was another one of those things that she was going to do anyway with or without that usually small annoyance in her head screaming at her, simply because it was the right thing to do.

“Harry, I’m so sorry.”

Hermione found herself oddly distressed at how quickly Harry said, “It’s fine.” Merlin, but she hoped he was making an exception for her and would normally stand up for himself more.

“It’s not fine. I just… Harry, you’ve got to take your education seriously.”

It was terribly obvious Harry was fighting not to scowl. His frown came through clear enough, though.

“They’re just exams, Hermione. I know you like getting perfects, but they hardly matter. We just throw them in the rubbish when we get them back.”

Hermione bit back the scalding response she wanted to make. Turning this into a shouting match would hardly help matters. Instead, she settled on, “They matter, Harry. You need to know what you know. That’s what exams are for.”

Even in the bad mood Hermione knew she’d put him in, Harry quirked his eyebrows.

Feeling the need to defend herself, her blush rather noticeable, Hermione protested as diplomatically as possible, “I like getting outstandings probably more than I should. I…admit that. But exams aren’t about getting seven O’s on your report. They’re benchmarks, touchstones. They let you know your strengths and weaknesses.”

“I don’t think–”

“You never do!” Hermione screeched, throwing her hands up. She could feel tears forming at the corners of her eyes, but she ignored them.

Harry took a deep breath and visibly cooled himself off. He closed his eyes and breathed deep once more. Only once he had a controlled, neutral expression did he speak.

“Hands,” Harry said, holding out his own straight in front of him the way Hermione had done for him a hundred times before.

It was hardly fair. Harry was the impulsive one who needed help reining his emotions in.

“Hands,” Harry repeated himself more forcefully.

Hermione nearly gnawed her own lip off before conceding to the gesture, placing her own hands in his. The pair sank to the ground cross-legged, mere centimetres apart.

“Breathe first.”

And Hermione did, resigned to walking through this session for once on the other side. Admittedly, she was rather curious if Harry kept up with her life enough to help.

Which, of course, just makes me feel even worse for thinking that of him…

“Hermione, there was something I wanted to ask you before…”

Before I ended up in the infirmary, petrified. “Yes?”

“Er, well, anyway, I noticed a few times that you just, well, disappeared, I guess, for a few hours at a time.”

Hermione’s eyes widened before she could help herself. She thought she’d been discreet about that, at least after she found out what she was doing was…illegal…

The gears in Hermione’s head began to turn.

“Is there – was there… Is there?” Harry shook his head. “Is there anything going on that you want to talk about? I looked for you in the library, but I didn’t find you there. Actually, in hindsight, I think I remember you disappearing earlier in the year, too.”

“Ah, I was talking to the headmaster then,” Hermione replied absently. Harry had given her the answer she’d been so desperately seeking earlier, at least in the short term. She just needed to figure out how to pitch the idea for maximum effect.

“Really?” It took Hermione a few seconds to realise Harry was waiting on her response. Once she nodded, he asked, “What did he want?”

“No, he didn’t want anything. I…” And at that moment, Hermione’s brain finally caught up with what her mouth was saying. “Er, actually, I would rather not talk about that, if that’s okay. It’s not that I don’t trust you or anything. Just… Well, I guess I spent a lot of time badgering him about…things. It’s not really worth sharing.”

Rather than take offence to what she considered a painfully obvious lie as Hermione expected, Harry just nodded and asked, “And later in the year?”

“I think that’s going to be part of a larger discussion. And–”

Hermione cut herself off before she said anything incriminating. She’d had absolutely enough of Malfoy pointlessly stalking them after curfew, let alone anyone else who might possibly be eavesdropping.

Shaking her hands free of Harry’s, Hermione pulled her wand from her robe pocket. “One second, Harry.”

Immediately, Hermione went through the few privacy charms that she both knew and was capable of casting. Honestly, a simple proximity ward likely would be enough, but she feared she was becoming paranoid after everything that had happened to her and Harry.

Rather exhausted from casting spells witches her age had no business knowing, let alone performing, Hermione placed the last charm, which would interfere with animagus transformations. She gave the top of the tower a once over just in case her spells had caught anyone. As there was no one in sight and no one had as yet triggered her proximity ward, Hermione declared the room clear.

Of course, if someone else had an invisibility cloak like Harry’s, it’d certainly have gone unnoticed, but what were the odds of that? Hermione was fairly certain that the one Harry had casually stuffed in his robes like a used handkerchief was a device of power, given that it was an ancient Potter family heirloom.

Sitting back down and retaking Harry’s hands – honestly, she was surprised he allowed the extended contact each time they did this – Hermione said, “As I was saying, I’d appreciate if all this stays just between us.”

That definitely offended Harry. It was obvious in his expression. “Hermione, I’d never!”

“I didn’t mean it like…” Hermione trailed off, biting her lip. “Well, maybe I did mean it like that. Sorry. But I really don’t want to get a gargantuan fine and get sent to Azkaban when I inevitably won’t be able to pay it. This has to stay extra private.”

And now that she thought of it, Hermione wondered if Harry even knew what legilimency was. As much as she hated to admit it, Professor Snape – a professor! – would likely be only too eager to see her in Azkaban, if not because he hated her for being ‘an insufferable know-it-all’, then because it’d hurt Harry.

Well, they would get to that, too.

When Harry finally collected his wits, he said, “Hermione Jean Granger–”

Why on Earth did I tell Harry my middle name?

“–I’m shocked! Breaking the law? What would your parents think?”

Though he said that, Harry’s smirk told her very clearly what his opinion was.

Blushing, Hermione mumbled, “We can talk about that later.”

“And imagine, Ron thought we were a bad influence on you.”

“Harry!” Hermione whined.

“Okay, Jailbird.”

Hermione smacked Harry’s hand with her own for that, eliciting nothing more than a chuckle from him.

Quickly turning more somber, Harry asked, “So, are you ready to talk about why you’re up here now?”

“I…think so.” Hermione was rather more underprepared than she wanted to be, but the timing felt right, and the atmosphere was wonderful. She could do this.

Nodding, Harry asked, “Is this about the basilisk?”

“No. Yes. Not really, but kind of.” Hermione took a deep breath to keep herself from rambling, or crying, or whatever other unhelpful action her emotions might saddle her with. “Harry, I’m trying so hard to keep you alive, but I – I’m not – I messed up this time.”

“Hermione, you were brilliant! You found out what was going on before any of the professors and even before the DMLE. I’m still arguing with Professor Dumbledore about you not getting that Special Award for Services to the School thing, too.”

“T-thanks,” Hermione said, blushing despite how little she deserved the distinction. She read a lot and was one of the only people who knew Harry, a parselmouth, had been hearing voices; that was all. “I wasn’t, though. Brilliant, that is.”

“Hermione–”

“No, Harry! The mirror was stupid. I should’ve blindfolded myself, or closed my eyes, or even just stared at the floor. No, even that’s not – I should’ve gone straight to you instead of heading to the Headmaster’s Tower. I knew you could tell when the basilisk was around. You never should’ve been in that awful place. Merlin, Harry! You got so lucky!”

Harry looked like he wanted to say something stupid that would have earned him a tongue lashing, but he wisely kept his thoughts to himself.

“The basilisk should have killed you!” Hermione ranted on. And she knew she was ranting, for all the good that did her. “You had a fang stuck in your arm. And you let go of your wand. That’s rule number one! Don’t let go of your wand! It wasn’t even knocked away from you. You just dropped it! You dropped it!”

“Ginny was–”

“What did you do for her with an extra hand that you couldn’t have done just as well or better with a wand?”

Hermione’s thoughts buzzed out of control even faster than her mouth rambled off ideas. This was not how she wanted this conversation to go, but it was too late. There was no stopping the flood.

“You need to learn the wandless summoning charm, or at least a wandless levitation charm. If you only ever learn one wandless spell, it has to be one of those, and soon.

“And we need to get you one of those professional duelling holsters. Having your wand handy in an instant is fundamentally important.

“And – and I should try to charm your cloak to work as an actual cloak so it’s always ready for you to don at a moment’s notice. I’ve been doing research on it, and being an heirloom, it’s probably one of the more powerful ones that are really hard to detect.

“And I need to make you a second–”

Hermione broke off at the unexpected and very tight – if perhaps uncomfortable, both sitting as they were – hug Harry wrapped her in. She mumbled unintelligibly for a while longer before eventually petering out into the occasional sob and sniffle.

“I’ll be okay, Hermione,” Harry cooed. Hermione had never realised he could coo, at least not effectively. “You’ll be fine, too.”

After the most revolting sniff of her life, Hermione said, “Harry – Harry, you have You-Know-Who after you.”

“Hermione,” Harry began, his tone teasingly disapproving, “don’t tell me you’ve gone native. His name is Vol–”

After a deep breath, Hermione removed her hand from Harry’s mouth.

“Don’t,” Hermione said with the utmost seriousness. “I’ve been reading modern history. That name was jinxed during the war. That’s why everyone's so scared to say the name. Knowing Magical Britain, I’d bet it’s still jinxed. Every time you say it, you’re probably feeding You-Know-Who your position.”

She stopped to consider that for a moment.

“Or at least some death eater somewhere.”

And then the other shoe dropped.

Please tell me you’ve never said it at the Dursleys’.”

Harry shook his head and, to his credit, actually stopped to think about what Hermione had said. But then he said, “I’m really surprised at you, Jailbird. Breaking the law and now insulting the ministry? What am I going to do with you?”

Blushing profusely, Hermione swatted at Harry’s hand again. “Prat,” she mumbled.

More seriously, Harry asked, “Wouldn’t ‘You-Know-Who’ be jinxed, then, too?”

“Um… No, probably not,” Hermione replied, slowly composing herself. “The point was to be feared. He can’t be feared if no one talks about him. Well, maybe it is, actually. He could have used it as a statistic to see how, er, ‘popular’ he was. Maybe.”

Harry hummed thoughtfully. “Tom?”

Voldemort’s birth name? If I were him, I’d have that jinxed from here till next Tuesday. Tom is a common enough name, though, so there’d be a lot of false positives. Tom Riddle, or just Riddle, perhaps? No, ‘riddle’ is a proper word, so same problem. It’d have to be the full name.

“Unlikely,” Hermione conceded, “but not impossible. We’d be better off safe than sorry, though. Just because he’s a gigantic prat doesn’t mean we should act foolishly ourselves.”

“You think Vol–” At Hermione’s glare, Harry continued, “Er, you think…Moldyshorts is dumb?”

A moment passed.

“Moldyshorts? Seriously?”

At least Harry had the common decency to blush.

Hermione sighed. “He’s a... Well, to be perfectly frank, he seems a bit mentally handicapped.”

“Hermione, everyone is mentally handicapped compared to you.”

“Thank you?” Hermione hesitantly said. It sort of sounded like a compliment. “But it’s not hard to see why.”

Harry cocked his head to the side, silently asking for an explanation.

Biting her lip, Hermione took a moment to consider if a practical demonstration was in order. It would make the point very clear, but it was more of a, well, a Ron thing to do.

Like I said earlier, better safe than sorry. Harry needs to understand now before it’s too late.

Hermione freed her hands from Harry’s and reached for her robe pockets, making a show of searching for something. In one hand, she held her wand, casting a quick transfiguration on a piece of parchment in her pocket. In the other, she fingered a loose knut.

When Hermione’s transfiguration finished, she brought out the knut with her left hand, deliberately showing it off to Harry.

“Here, catch.”

Hermione flicked the knut toward Harry. As expected, he watched it fly through the air and reached out with his wand hand of all things to catch it.

Just as Harry was about to grab the knut, Hermione’s right hand shot forward from where it still rested within her robes. A glint of metal obviously caught Harry’s eye, but his reaction time was far too slow.

“You’re dead,” Hermione stated clearly, leaving nothing to doubt. “And the knut is a portkey to an active volcano.”

Harry looked down and watched in shock as Hermione slowly pulled away the toy knife she’d just ‘stabbed’ him in the heart with.

“Moldy... “ Hermione shook her head. The name was just too stupid to repeat. “Quirrelmort was here for a whole year.” She locked eyes with Harry. “Teaching you. Right next to you. It’d have been that easy.”

It was with sympathetic eyes that Hermione watched Harry’s hand run over his heart, almost searching for any damage.

“Maybe,” Harry began, choosing his words carefully, “there were, er… How would you say it? Contingent environmental circumstances?”

Hermione shrugged. “It’s just an example. I could go on and on about things that seem…not right about the last wizarding war. The excuses add up quickly. Honestly, I don’t think Quirrelmort would be that much of a threat if he didn’t keep coming back every time you killed him.”

It took a few seconds before Hermione realised exactly what she said and connected it with the hurt look on Harry’s face.

Careful not to let herself fly into another panic, Hermione said, “I’m so sorry, Harry. I’ll always be here for you if you need to talk.” Again.

Part of Hermione wanted to rage at Headmaster Dumbledore, or Professor McGonagall, or Madam Pomfrey, or anyone, really.

Harry kills Quirrell and banishes Voldemort’s spirit, and they give him a pat on the head and house points like it was just another day for him. Sometimes Magical Britain is just – just – just infuriating.

Even so, Harry himself was more important than venting some misguided anger. Hermione had checked, and Magical Britain had practically never even heard of a therapist.

“I’m fine,” Harry muttered, which of course meant he was anything but fine. Before Hermione could object, he added, “Later, maybe.”

“Okay,” Hermione eventually said. “I… Well, we got sidetracked, didn’t we?”

Harry nodded mutely. His hands were still curled up into trembling fists, but he at least looked up from his lap. That was something.

“You were going to tell me what was bothering you,” Harry said, changing the topic about as smoothly as Hermione had.

“It’s…” Hermione stopped to ensure she chose exactly the right words. Anything less could sound really, really bad. “Harry, sometimes you make me want to tear my hair out in worry. It’s not that you run off after evil wizards or fight giant snakes. Honestly, it’s not even that trouble follows you around like a lovesick schoolgirl. I can live with all that. That’s just who you are.”

Clearly rather confused, Harry asked, “Really? Aren’t you the one who always says we should talk to Professor McGonagall or Headmaster Dumbledore?”

Hermione stopped herself from rambling off everything she wanted to say immediately once again. Today, right now, was far too important to not get this right. Tonight could be the moment Harry would finally listen to her. No, it would be. She had her illegal secret weapon burning a hole in her pocket even now.

He’s not a Ravenclaw, Hermione reminded herself. Be clear. Don’t make any intuitive leaps of logic.

Hermione took one deep breath to steady her nerves. This was it.

“Harry, you could live like Godric Gryffindor, flinging yourself from one cause to the next around the world, and I wouldn’t care. It’s not getting into trouble that bothers me. It’s how much trouble you get yourself into. You’re constantly biting off more than you can chew. I try my best to pick up the slack, but you get me in over my head, too.”

Defensive, almost snarling, Harry asked, “So I shouldn’t have saved Ginny?”

Hermione cringed at Harry’s tone of voice. Her speech had not conveyed exactly what she’d meant it to, she supposed.

“I think you’d have been more likely to save her with assistance, preferably from adults.”

“We went to Lockhart,” Harry growled. It was impossible to tell if he was upset with Hermione or Lockhart.

And it was just as hard for Hermione not to blush at Lockhart’s name. Certainly, her little fangirl phase was over and done with, but that left her horribly embarrassed at the things she’d said and thought about him.

Still, she did resist the blush. There was no sense in riling Harry up any further. He was sure to misunderstand.

“Yes, and I’m very proud of you for that, even though he was...not the best of choices.”

Hermione flinched away from Harry’s glare. I’m just digging myself deeper, aren’t I?

Chewing over her next words what must have been a dozen times, Hermione said, “It’s not that you get in over your head that bothers me, Harry. I mean, it does, but that happens when you’re off...heroing? Questing?”

Hermione shook her head. Any other time, she would try to think of the precise word she wanted, but not now.

“It’s not that at all, Harry. It’s that you don’t… You keep getting into more trouble than you can reasonably handle. If you want to keep doing that, you need to get better. Much better.”

Harry opened his mouth to, no doubt, make the obvious reply, but Hermione cut him off.

“It’s not enough to just do well in school, Harry. It’s not even enough to get all outstandings. Quirrelmort didn’t rise to power by just doing the assigned coursework. Dumbledore didn’t become one of the greatest wizards since Merlin by being reactionary. Grindelwald didn’t storm across Europe without allies, and research, and a great deal of personal power. You’re following in their footsteps. You can’t just…”

There Hermione hesitated. She knew Harry would loathe her next words, but they had to be said.

“Harry, you can’t be normal.”

It’d been slow at first, but Harry had shown a more and more distressed and even contemplative expression, rather than the betrayed anger that had been on his face not long before. But Hermione’s last words floored him.

“Hermione, I don’t want–”

“It doesn’t matter what you want,” Hermione interrupted. “Quirrelmort took your chance to be normal from you eleven years ago, and you’ve only added to your legend since you arrived at Hogwarts with what are undeniably your accomplishments. I’m sorry, Harry, but you’re never going to be normal.”

Reaching out, Hermione stole back Harry’s hands and squeezed.

“Harry, I know you hate it, but you do have people that see you. Ron sometimes goes all ‘Boy-Who-Lived’ on you, but he tries. Neville is almost painfully earnest and transparent in everything he does and treats everyone else as if they were, too. And most muggleborn don’t really understand why Magical Britain is obsessed with you.”

“You don’t understand.”

It took an awful lot of self-control for Hermione not to laugh at that particular bit of angst that came out of Harry’s mouth.

“No? Harry, who am I?”

Clearly rather confused, Harry said, “Hermione Granger?”

“Hardly. Do you know what adults call me when they don’t know I’m listening?”

Harry shook his head.

“Depending on who you ask, I’m either ‘the smartest witch of my generation’ or ‘that mudblood filth who thinks she’s Merlin’.”

“Hermione!”

Ignoring Harry’s protestation of the m word, Hermione continued, “I hang out with you, of course, so it’s practically expected that I’m exceptional, but I get a lot of unwanted attention, too. I understand the expectations, the constant feeling of being watched, the whispering. Maybe not as well, but I do understand.”

“I… I didn’t realise,” Harry whispered. “Merlin, you must think I’m a self-centred jerk.”

Giggling, Hermione said, “No more than anyone else, and you at least have a good excuse with how awful your life can be.” She traded small smirks with Harry before continuing, “Still, this is neither here nor there. I don’t mind being Godric Junior’s best friend–”

“Hermione!”

Ignoring Harry’s embarrassed protestation, Hermione continued uninterrupted, “–but if you want to keep heroing, we need to come to an agreement about how you’re going to do that safely. I’m not letting you die on me.”

Harry sighed and leaned back to stare up at the moon now high in the sky. “Hermione, we tried to be safe. In first year, we went straight to, well, we ended up with Professor McGonagall, remember?”

“Yes, Harry, I remember.”

“And she didn’t believe us when we told her the stone was in danger. You remember that, too, right?”

Hermione bit on her lip, an act that did not go unnoticed.

“What do you know?” Harry asked, perfectly justified suspicion in his voice.

“Harry, you don’t want to hear this.”

“Yes I do,” Harry insisted. “And even if I didn’t, I’m sure I’d rather hear it than leave you sulking up here tomorrow night, too.”

“I was not sulking.” Hermione and Harry fell into a staring contest, one which Hermione lost. Averting her gaze, blushing, she said, “She was right. The stone was never in any danger.”

“What! Are you daft? Vol – Quirrelmort was at the mirror!”

Hermione nodded. “He was. And the headmaster arrived not long after you fell unconscious, and you removed the stone from the mirror.”

Harry did not take that well, scowling at the mere thought.

“If that was even the real philosopher’s stone,” Hermione quietly added. She thought it likely it was. It was too obvious a trap without the real stone to bait it, but one never knew for sure with wizards.

“It was real,” Harry said sullenly. “When I held it in my hand… It was such a rush. I don’t know how to describe it. I felt like I could do anything.”

Hermione decided not to comment that Harry’s experience was not incompatible with a confundus charm or similar such enchantment. The Mirror of Erised held such a strong compulsion on it to begin with; no one would suspect a second, lesser one placed upon the stone, at least not right away.

Besides, real or not, Hermione’s point was unaffected.

“Okay, it was real. But Quirrelmort was stuck at the mirror, bewitched. If we hadn’t interfered…”

The look in Harry’s eyes said he’d connected the dots himself, but Hermione wanted to really drive the point home.

“You, Ron, and I, three first year students made it past all the ‘defences’ unaided. Except for the troll and Fluffy, I think I could’ve run the gauntlet alone my first week of school.”

“I… Hermione, did we do the right thing? Did we let Quirrelmort get away? Did I…for nothing?”

It was times like these that Hermione desperately wished Harry was comfortable with physical contact and hugging.

“We did, Harry. We did as we understood the situation. Professor McGonagall did the right thing, too, I think. She couldn’t safely tell us why the stone was safe, and Headmaster Dumbledore returned to Hogwarts early, so she must have sent our warning on; Hedwig couldn’t have reached him that fast. It was just one of those situations where everyone doing the right thing turned out wrong. What you did in the mirror room, it wasn’t for nothing.”

Harry fell silent, now brooding himself, which was exactly the opposite of what Hermione had wanted tonight. Getting him out of these funks was always a lot of work.

“I’m sorry, Harry. If it makes you feel better, I only realised in hindsight. It’s not like these kinds of things are obvious to me, either. Really, I should have told you earlier so you could learn from–”

“Hermione, you’re right. You’re always right.”

“Harry, no.”

“I’ll listen to whatever you say from now on.”

No, no, no! This isn’t right! “Harry, don’t do this to yourself. I’ll never forgive myself if I guilt you into listening to me.”

Hermione faltered as she considered that that statement in itself might guilt Harry into not guilting him into listening to her. The irony was rather painful.

“Why does life have to be so complicated?” Hermione mumbled to herself. “Harry, I’m not trying to become your keeper. Frankly, I don’t want the responsibility, and you’d be boring if you hung blindly onto my every word. I honestly admire the part of you that refuses to do anything but the right thing.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, blushing ever so slightly despite his obviously depressed mood.

“All I really want is for you to be able to recognise when it’s time to find help and for you to get to the point where you’re not relying on sheer dumb luck to survive against basilisks, and trolls, and dark lords.”

“I don’t think I’m that smart or powerful.”

Hermione would have stomped her foot had she been standing, and even now she was trying to find a way. “That’s the Dursleys talking! You’re really smart, Harry. I’ve helped a lot of students, so I know. You just don’t try. You slack off and just do well when you could be great.”

It was obvious Harry was struggling to believe. If Hermione had known it’d be this hard to get him to accept that he was smart – honestly, she really had thought he just enjoyed lazing around with Ron after being worked like a slave at the Dursleys’ – she’d have gathered data and shoved it in his face.

“Harry, I’m smart, right?”

“Of course! Hermione, you’re absolutely brilliant.”

“Then why are you acting like I don’t know what I’m talking about?”

“It’s hardly the same,” Harry mumbled.

“Maybe not, but I’m not alone and unchallenged at the top by being unable to recognise potential rivals.”

Harry actually chuckled at the faux haughtiness Hermione had inserted into her voice.

“Just think,” Hermione continued, hands on her hips and a smirk on her face, “you could be known as the Boy-Who-Almost-Dethroned-Granger. Wouldn’t that be lovely?”

“Miss Granger, you are completely daft.” Somehow, Harry had managed to deliver those words in perfect seriousness.

“Am I? Well then there’s nothing to it, right? After all, some barmy witch can do it.” Hermione paused for effect before smirking. “Besides, you get to cheat.”

Harry made a show of sticking a finger in his ear, and eventually, flicking away some wax, as gross as that was.

“I’m sorry. I must have misheard you. Did you just say the c word?”

Rolling her eyes, Hermione said, “Honestly, Harry.”

As annoying as it was, though, inside Hermione was smiling. She had his interest.

Once Harry’s weak chuckles died down, Hermione said, “Anyway, you’re allowed to use magic outside of school for self-defence, and frankly, you, Mr Potter, need to practice during summer as part of your future self-defending.”

“Hermione, no one will–”

Over Harry’s completely reasonable protestation, Hermione continued, “And if it just so happens that some muggles who know about magic don’t like that, well, you’d be downright justified to hex them, and seal your bedroom door, and all manner of other things.”

That got under Harry’s skin better than anything else Hermione could have said. She still needed a long term solution for his motivation problems, but a lot could happen in one summer.

“Hermione,” Harry said, hands trembling as his fingers interwove in a nervous dance, “no one will buy that excuse.”

I know,” Hermione grumbled. “But that’s why it’s a good thing students at Hogwarts aren’t instructed in magical law. I certainly wouldn’t knowingly break the law, but poor uneducated muggleborn that I am, I can hardly help my own curiosity at times.”

For what felt like a minute, Harry’s jaw hung open in shock. It was kind of rude, actually.

Does he really think I’m that much of a goody two-shoes? I certainly know the difference between the word and the spirit of the law. Although thinking back on how she behaved at the start of first year, she added, Well I do now, at least.

Finally, Harry slapped a hand to his forehead and almost fell over laughing.

“Harry James Potter! That’s entirely enough of that!”

Apparently, Harry thought otherwise, wheezing as he was from laughing too hard for too long. Hermione glared at him with her cheeks puffed out, humming angrily and trying to petrify him with her mere gaze.

“Sorry. Sorry. Oh wow. Ron and I–” Harry had to pause to catch his breathe. “We really ruined you, didn’t we? Please don’t tell your parents where I live.”

“If you’re quite done.” Hermione waited for Harry to both nod and apologise again, and she tried to let go of just how much she wanted to hex the Boy-Who-Tempted-Fate in exchange “Then will you at least try? At least study with me over the summer, and we can reconsider our options at the start of school if things aren’t working out. Please?”

“What about Ron?”

Don’t say anything disparaging. Don’t say anything mean. Don’t try to come between the boys.

Hermione wracked her brain for any excuse she could come up with in the next two seconds that would let her avoid saying, ‘Ron would never be able to keep up and will get you killed.’ And to her surprise, she thought of one.

“We can see if he’s up for it after summer, but for now, I think discretion is the better part of valour. You know how Mrs Weasley is better than me. Even a hint of what we’re doing, and she’ll put a stop to it and tell us we shouldn’t worry about such things at our ages even though she knows you’ve almost died more times than I care to count, not to mention that it’s illegal!”

Breaking off her rant at the feeling of Harry retaking her hands – with his gross possibly wax-covered one, no less – Hermione let herself cool off and breathed slowly without having to be told.

“Alright, I won’t say anything unless he asks and even then not anything that could send you to Azkaban.”

“Thank… Wait, does that mean you’re agreeing?”

“I’ll try,” Harry said hesitantly, but it was enough. Hermione pounced on him in a full-body hug, knocking the both of them over.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Oh Harry, you have no idea how much that eases my worries. There’s so much we need to learn, and even more that I need to get you caught up on. And with two of us – no, no, I’m getting ahead of myself. What electives are you taking next year?”

Harry looked suddenly nervous.

Sitting back upright, Hermione said, “Please tell me Ron didn’t convince you to take divination for an easy O.”

Hermione noticed Harry’s hand slip inside his robe pocket, perhaps unconsciously. Taking that as her cue, she did the same and stole the small slip of parchment that he’d tried to hide.

Reading the sign-up sheet over in less than a second, Hermione simply said, “No. We’ll talk about this later.” With that, she placed the parchment in her inner pocket, effectively rendering it unretrievable to Harry.

“Hermione–”

Later. And you’re taking runes. I’m one-hundred percent certain you will need to know how to break and place proper wards in the future.”

“Runes is harder than arithmancy!” Harry protested, not that it did him any good. Hermione was bent on seeing him take both runes and arithmancy.

And if Hermione had her way, Harry would be in every class with her. Unable to resist, a teasing smirk grew on her face.

“I’m sure I can help you find the time somewhere.”

A moment’s silence passed.

“I feel like I should be distinctly worried.”

“Oh, don’t be silly, Harry. Besides, that’s next year. We have a whole summer to plan for first.”

Harry mumbled, “Not helping,” which Hermione ignored.

“Now with two of us, we can finally learn legilimency and occlumency! It’s been on my to-do list for forever now. Honestly, I’ve been meaning to badger you about learning occlumency since the start of this year, but something always came up. Really, everyone should be taught to at least detect intrusion.”

“Er…”

“You have no idea what I’ve talking about, do you?”

Harry shook his head.

Well, at least that answers the question of if Harry knows what legilimency is.

This is why you need to study hard, Harry. Well, one of the reasons, at least. Being muggle-raised puts you at a huge disadvantage. You need to at least know what kinds of magic exist, especially legilimency. It’s the art of reading minds. That’s one of the very first things I looked for when I found out I had magic. Most other muggleborn probably do the same, too.” Numbering them off on her fingers, Hermione continued, “Mind reading, telekinesis, fireballs if you’re a boy–”

Meanwhile, a look of sudden realisation passed over Harry’s face. His eyes widened, and his jaw fell. “That’s why Headmaster Dumbledore never tells me – us anything!” Harry interrupted. “Occlumency is the defensive skill?”

Hermione smiled, rather impressed Harry had seen the connection so quickly. “See? You are smart.”

That got a blush out of Harry and some incomprehensible mumble.

“I really, really, really want both of us to learn occlumency over the summer. We need a legilimens we can trust for that, which is, well, ourselves, ideally. The only legilimens I know of are Headmaster Dumbledore–”

“Who’s way too busy,” Harry said.

“–and Professor Snape,” Hermione finished. Like Harry, she shuddered at the thought of letting him into her mind, although she tried to be more polite about it.

“So us,” Harry concluded.

Rather embarrassed to even bring it up, Hermione said, “We should work on some of the basics of occlumency first, though. From what I’ve read so far, legilimens in-training tend to find…more than they ask for.”

Harry looked more aghast than embarrassed at the thought. In hindsight, Hermione found herself unsurprised. His childhood was anything but pleasant.

As silly as it is, I think I feel a little…shallow. Getting embarrassed about Harry seeing memories of me showering or whatever is tame in comparison to what I’ll probably see.

Hermione faked a cough. “Well, anyway. Both occlumency and legilimency are supposed to be extremely difficult, so if we can’t finish over the summer, it’s not the end of the world.”

“The Dursleys won’t” – Harry obviously decided to change his wording mid sentence – “let you come over or drive me to visit you.”

“We’ll take the Knight Bus.”

“The Knight Bus?”

“It’s Magical Britain’s idea of public transportation.” Hermione shuddered at the memories. “I swear, everyone who grows up in Magical Britain is clinically insane.”

“That bad?”

Nodding, Hermione said, “Imagine being in a near-fatal collision at least once every three seconds. Then realise that there are no seatbelts.”

After a second or two, Harry shivered, which likely meant Hermione had utterly failed to instill the appropriate level of fear into him.

At least he’s somewhat prepared.

“But to be honest, Harry, I’m not concerned about what the Dursleys will allow. If the wards allow it, I will be visiting this summer, and your relatives better not give me an excuse for target practice.”

Hermione seethed on her own until Harry interrupted the silence.

“So, I suppose all this” – Harry gestured to the room, or presumably to the privacy charms Hermione had placed – “is because you’re about to tell me how to circumvent the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery?”

Hermione knew what was coming, just as well as she knew there was nothing she could do to stop it. She twiddled her thumbs and no doubt looked as guilty as she felt.

“I still find it hard to imagine” – Hermione could already hear the smirk in Harry’s voice – “Hermione Granger breaking the law.”

“It’s a dumb law,” Hermione mumbled. Sure, it sort of helped protect the Statute of Secrecy, and it kept children – or at least muggleborn, who the Trace actually properly worked on – from blowing themselves up, but that was what parents and aurors were for. Sometimes, to her, at least, it felt more like something deliberately created to hinder muggleborn’s education and erode their relationships with their family.

“Wow, today is just full of surprises,” Harry teased.

“Prat.”

Harry’s smile only grew at her response.

“Do you know how the Trace detects underage magic?” Hermione asked. If she was to be a petty criminal, Harry would be dragged down with her.

Shrugging, Harry guessed, “Doesn’t it just alert the Ministry whenever someone underage uses magic?”

Hermione shook her head. “Nation-wide magic tuned to only children and only picks up non-accidental magic? Even Magical Britain isn’t crazy enough to try that. The power requirements to actively monitor everywhere at once is beyond reasonable.”

Although now that she’d brought it up, Hermione considered that the jinx on Quirrelmort’s assumed name did exactly that. She shoved that worrying thought to the back of her mind.

“I meant more on each child, like at birth or something.”

Again, Hermione shook her head. “You’d never get all of them, and parents wouldn't stand for it. Plus muggleborn really complicate the situation. So if it’s not in the environment, and it’s not on the child, what is it on?”

“The wand?” Harry guessed.

“Exactly! After Dobby got you in trouble last summer, I did some research. The Trace records every spell we use and records it in the ministry's archives. It naturally degrades after a certain amount of time. If it’s still active after you’re seventeen, the ministry ignores the record, but it’s usually cast to degrade months in advance, which is only an issue with summer birthdays, but not a big one.

“Anyway, it’s cast by the wandmaker at time of purchase. It’s a crime to sell or buy a wand to or as a minor without the Trace placed on it. Accidental magic is picked up by the Trace as a somewhat weaker spell, so the ministry can usually differentiate between it and a properly cast spell. Of course if the wand is around a lot of older witches and wizards who cast spells all the time, then the Trace picks up most of the spells, which makes it practically worthless–”

Hermione jumped and, though she would deny it, shrieked at Harry snapping his fingers right in her face. He apparently thought it was funny.

“Sorry, Hermione, but you went into lecture mode.”

Pouting – Ron thankfully was too far away to tease her about it – Hermione said, “You could have just said something.”

“I did. Three times.”

“Oh,” Hermione squeaked. That was embarrassing.

“So long story short, someone sold you a wand without the Trace on it?”

“Not – not exactly.” I really need to learn occlumency. Knowing Magical Britain, they’d throw me in Azkaban for this if they ever found out.

Hermione reached into her robe and rummaged around in the hidden pocket the Weasley twins had added to it.

Best sickle I’ve ever spent.

Finally finding what she wanted, Hermione withdrew a somewhat crude-looking wand – rudimentary would be the word she would use – and held it out for Harry to take.

Eyeing the wand suspiciously, Harry asked, “Are you sure this thing is…safe?”

Hermione chuckled nervously. “Probably. This one hasn’t blown up yet.”

“Yet? Blown up?” Harry obviously could not decide which was worse. He held the wand as far from him as he possibly could without throwing it from the tower while running away screaming. “How many of these did you buy?”

“I didn’t buy them,” Hermione said in a small voice.

“Were given, then.”

“I – I wasn’t given them.”

Harry’s mouth moved, but no words came out. He seemed to be talking to himself, working on the puzzle, at least until his eyes appeared eager to bulge out of their sockets.

Rubbing a hand along the sleeve of her robe, Hermione whispered, “I don’t suppose this would be a good time to tell you I’ve been…dabbling?”

“You’re making wands?” Harry asked clearly more to simply give voice to the thought than that he wanted an answer.

Quickly, Hermione leapt to her own defence. “It’s not like professional wandmakers really know what they’re doing, either. It’s all trial and error for them, too. Didn’t Ollivander give you his speech about the ‘mysteries of wandlore’?”

“You’re making wands?” Harry shrieked.

“They’re just sticks with a magical core…”

Harry looked about to faint.

“How many?” Harry paused before asking again, “How many blew up?”

Deciding the truth was probably for the best, Hermione said, “Thirty-seven.”

“Thirty-seven!”

Hermione knew herself well enough to admit, “I was too stubborn to give up. What Ollivander said really bothered me. It wasn’t scientific!”

“You… You make wands as a hobby by experiment? And they blow up in your face? Because you didn’t think Ollivander was being scientific about magic?”

Hermione nodded at each question, although the last one rather tentatively. There had to be a reasonable explanation for magic, if perhaps not in terms that muggle physics was yet familiar with.

“Why are you not in Ravenclaw?” Harry screamed.

Lips tight, Hermione said absolutely nothing on that. If there were a single memory she never wanted Harry to see with legilimency, it was her sorting.

Of course now that I think that, it’s going to be the very first one…

After the silence had stretched long enough, Harry asked, “Do I even want to know what this is made of?”

“There’s a rowan tree growing at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. It’s supposed to work well with the core, I think.”

Harry tried to raise just one eyebrow as high as he could. Although partially successful, he ended up looking rather silly for the effort. Hermione tried not to giggle.

“The core is three strands of unicorn hair.”

“You didn’t!” Obviously, Harry remembered when Hermione had asked to borrow his cloak just after winter break.

“I am a pure and innocent young girl, you know. I can’t help it if unicorns love me.”

Harry looked to the wand again. While not the expert carving of Ollivander, Hermione thought she made it nice enough to look at and easy enough to hold. Unicorn hair was – at least in theory – easy for anyone to cast spells with, if not optimally. Not that Harry would know that.

Biting her lip, Hermione watched Harry look back and forth between her and the wand.

I feel like he’s trying to decide which of the wand and me is more dangerous.

Eventually, Harry thrust the wand up and uttered, “Lumos.”

The wand lit up just as it was supposed to, and Hermione let out her held breath. A wand blowing up in Harry’s face would be just the worst way to start their extracurricular studies together.

“Hermione, you are brilliant. Completely mad, but brilliant.”

Hermione smiled. Her hands moved to her hips. “I’m not sure if I should be offended or not.”

“Seriously, did the Sorting Hat at least offer you Ravenclaw?”

“Why? Don’t you like being in the same house as me?”

Harry rather awkwardly fumbled for words. “Of course! But you’re so – I mean there’s nothing wrong with being – not that I want you gone or anything… I’m just digging myself deeper, aren’t I?”

It’s good to be a witch.

“As it so happens, I was offered Ravenclaw, Mr Potter. What about you? You were under the Sorting Hat for a long time, too. You must have gotten at least one other offer.”

Harry immediately went silent at the mention of his own other offers.

And naturally, that meant Hermione knew exactly what that other offer must be.

“You got Slytherin!”

“Did not.”

“You did too.”

“No I didn’t.”

“It’s written all over your face. It says, ‘I’m Harry James Potter, and I could’ve been a Slytherin.’”

“I’m not a Slytherin!”

Hermione fell quiet at Harry’s rather excessive outburst. Still, she could understand his feelings on the matter. His ‘Heir of Slytherin’ wounds were no doubt still fresh and raw.

Unless… Could tonight truly be so fortunate?

“I’m sorry, Harry.”

“I’m sorry, too,” Harry replied.

Hermione slipped behind Harry and wrapped her arms loosely about him, ignoring the tensing of his shoulders.

“You know, with all the politicking Dumbledore does, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sorting Hat would want to place him in Slytherin, too. Without all the hate and bigotry, the Weasley twins would do well there as well. Some of their pranks are…involved.”

That got a weak laugh out of Harry.

“Imagine the Weasley twins with ambition,” Hermione added.

“Heh. It’d be the end of the world.”

Hermione smiled at the jest, but inside, a few stray thoughts were connecting.

I bet this is why Harry always runs off into danger without thinking. To do anything more would be too Slytherin in his mind. I’ll have to find out why that bothers him so much.

Hermione mulled over those thoughts for a moment. It really spoke to the sheer amount of crazy in Harry’s life – which overflowed into hers – that she reached the conclusion she had.

I need to encourage Harry to embrace his inner Slytherin; this isn’t healthy for him. Doubly so if he’s crazy enough to want to be the next Godric Gryffindor – he needs to learn how to scheme and how to use and cultivate his political capital.

Merlin, what would my mother think if she heard that?

Shaking her head, Hermione told herself just to go with it. Magical Britain was already strange and lacking in common sense; what was a little more?

“It’s not the end of the world to have Slytherin traits, Harry. Why, just earlier tonight, I was lamenting that I didn’t have a Slytherin friend to ask advice of.”

“What for?” Harry asked sullenly.

“I couldn’t figure out how to trick you into letting me be your taskmistress, of course.”

Harry let out a snort of amusement. “You did that well enough on your own, you minx.”

“Well, don’t let me show you up. I’m just a poor little Ravenclaw with her nose stuck in a book as often as not.”

For a moment, neither Harry nor Hermione spoke, simply enjoying the moment.

“Hey, Hermione?”

“Yes?”

“Do you still play?”

It took Hermione a few seconds to figure out what Harry was talking about. The disconnect in topic was rather jarring.

“I’m out of practice.”

“Could you manage something…peaceful?”

Hermione bit down on her lip, recalling the few songs she’d practised enough to memorise. Eidetic memory or no, this was more a question of muscle memory, which was mostly dedicated to wand movements these days.

Releasing Harry from her grasp, Hermione took out her proper wand and picked up the loose knut she’d flicked at Harry earlier. A few minutes later and she had a transfigured violin. After digging around in her pocket for another loose knut, she made a bow to complete the instrument.

“I might be able to play Greensleeves with only a few mistakes, unless you want to wait an hour for me to transfigure a piano. That okay?”

Harry nodded, and so she played on into the night, excited for what a new day would bring.