It was quite the surprise for Hermione’s parents when she announced that she would, in fact, be staying at home for a while for summer break.
“Of course we’re pleased to have you…” her dad had trailed off when she told them.
“It’s just that, we know you’re usually with Ron and Harry for the summer, so we booked a holiday to Australia,” her mum said apologetically.
Professor Dumbledore’s funeral had only been a few weeks prior. She needed for them to wait to leave until there was more solid news and evidence of Voldemort’s movements. Through some fast thinking, she’d convinced them to stay.
This turned out to be for the best. Hermione lazed away the summer days, sprawled out in the hammock in the garden during the day. In the evenings, her family almost returned to how it once was. They would play a card game after dinner, or put on a movie.
There was of course, the lingering dread she could not shake, knowing the path that was laid before her. But she was committed to not thinking about it until she had to. Of course the tidings from the wizarding community grew impossibly darker every day, but she willed herself to be present—in the hammock in the garden, at dinner with her parents, laughing at a new movie—because she knew this might be her last chance to do so for a while.
What made it even better, were the letters she sent at night. Dean and Hermione were just friends now, the contract having ended without much fuss. People in school had been shocked at their “sudden break-up.”
In front of others, they remained civil, like a freshly broken-up pair of lovers would. But they still passed notes and doodles back and forth to each other in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes. They’d even meet in the library to study in secret. Well, not so secret. Seamus began joining them barely a week into their new arrangement, confused with the whole thing.
“If you both are happy being mates, then why break up? Isn’t dating just being really good friends except you find the other attractive?” he asked indignantly one day.
“I dunno, you think Padma is ready to date you since you both are such good mates?” Dean had poked back with raised eyebrows.
Seamus dropped it after that.
Nighttime was when she’d answer her letters, Dean’s mostly. They came almost daily. They had promised to keep in touch in light of the shifting dynamics in the wizarding world. It was good to have a Muggle-born friend, who really understood what she was dealing with.
It had been already three weeks into the summer when Dean decided to make good on his offer from months ago.
I’ve been thinking we should hang out sometime soon, NOT at my place. My sisters are dying to see you but I need to get out of this house, I’m going stir-crazy. Which reminds me that you can’t drive. How about instead of taking the train, I come to you? We can have that driving lesson I offered from before. Don’t worry if you don’t have a provisional license, we’ll stick to car parks first.
Hermione bit her lip reading the letter, holding back a smile. She still hadn’t told Dean about her feelings. She thought it was probably best, given that she wasn’t planning on returning to Hogwarts, to remain as friends. No broken heart to distract her and no awkwardness to weigh him down.
But what if it didn’t end in heartbreak? a more hopeful part of her brain asked.
She shook her head, and plucked a pen from her cup of writing implements. It wouldn’t matter anyway. I’d have to leave regardless.
Pulling out a fresh sheet of stationary she wrote simply,
Are you sure you want to take me on as an apprentice? My motor skills and hand-eye coordination aren’t exactly top marks. There’s a reason I refuse to fly a broom. If you do feel you’re up to the challenge, I think I can muster up the courage too. How’s Saturday evening?
He had insisted on picking her up, which she knew would be a little hairy with her parents around. Positioning herself conveniently on the couch near the sitting room window — lips glossed, sandals on — she pretended to read while continuously glancing outside at every sound of an approaching vehicle. He arrived at 6 o’clock on the dot, as they had agreed. She knew this wasn’t a date, but she was impressed anyway.
“I’m headed out!” she shouted as she made a beeline for the door, hoping her parents would let their independent daughter leave without too much questioning.
“All of a sudden?” her mother called from the dining room. Hermione peeked her head in from the hall, trying to convey that she was in a hurry. Her mum was looking over what looked like bills and statements, her glasses low on the bridge of her nose.
“Not sudden. Realized I need some things from town. Might be back late. I’m meeting Harry and Ron at the Leaky Cauldron.” Hermione said this all rather quickly, unable to keep herself from glancing at the door.
Her mother eyed her suspiciously, before taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes wearily. “Did you ask your dad to drive you to the station?”
“No need! I can Apparate now, remember? Should go before it gets too late. Bye, Mum!”
Without glancing back at her mother’s narrowed eyes, she darted into the entryway. She gave herself a once over in the hanging mirror. Her hair was curled perfectly, to her relief. It had rained earlier and she was sure it would be nothing but a ball of frizz by the evening. The mascara and lipgloss she applied earlier had not budged, but her appearance was largely unchanged. She was trying to achieve the subtle effortless look that girls like Ginny and Cho achieved but she felt she looked plain as ever.
Shrugging, she smoothed out her pale yellow blouse and she caught sight of the gold bolo bracelet hanging off her wrist. Dean had insisted she keep it, but she had stopped wearing it at Hogwarts. She wondered what he would think of her wearing it today so suddenly.
She slung her purse over her shoulder and bounded out the door and down the steps, only stopping to lock it behind her.
Dean was sitting, grinning at her from the driver’s seat of his silver Toyota Camry. There was a stutter in Hermione’s step. How was it possible, that in the three weeks they’d been apart he’d gotten more handsome? His dimples were deeper than she remembered, and his smile brighter.
She breathed steadily out, trying to calm her nerves. As she approached, she gave a shy wave. This made him laugh.
After opening the door and sitting down, longing to get away from there quickly, she turned to him and said, “Go, before my mum pokes her head out the window and realizes where I’ve actually gone.”
“Hello to you, too,” he said with a chuckle, shifting the car into drive. “Where does she think you’re going?”
“Into town to meet with Harry and Ron.”
“Isn’t that the same excuse you used over Christmas break?”
“It was! Oh dear, I hadn’t thought of that,” she said with a groan. It was too late now, she would just have to hope they bought it again.
“Would they really care if you were out with a boy? I’m nicer than Harry and Ron and they don’t have any problem with you meeting up with them.” He was driving with one hand resting on the steering wheel, the other propped up on the window ledge, rubbing his chin.
Hermione felt her mouth go dry. “Hmm?” she said distractedly. “Right, the boys. No they wouldn’t have a problem with me being out with a boy. But I also can’t easily explain what we are, can I?”
“And what are we?” he asked, looking at her with an amused glint in his eye.
“Erm…friends?” Hermione bit her lip, embarrassed.
Dean guffawed and shook his head. “You’re not wrong I suppose.”
The car zipped and winded through the familiar roads of Emmer Green and Reading. The windows were cracked, letting in just enough breeze to tousle Hermione’s curls around in a funnel of wind. Unconsciously, she moved to pull the scrunchie from around her wrist to tie back her hair only to find it not there. That’s right. I left it at home, she thought to herself. Dean, when they had been dating (or rather fake dating), had expressed that he liked her hair better down.
A self-conscious grin at the memory spread across Hermione’s lips, causing her to blush. She glanced at Dean from under her swirling hair, his eyes focused ahead on the road. He had gotten darker over the last few weeks of summer, his skin a toasted mahogany. There were other smaller alterations to his features, too. Having vowed to move on at the conclusion of their fake relationship, she knew she shouldn’t be noticing any of these things. But she couldn’t help noticing how his jaw was cut a little sharper now, squarer, or how his shoulders had broadened ever so slightly. She especially couldn’t miss how he now grew his facial hair in a shadow that lightly dusted his jawline.
Noticing her intense gaze, Hermione having forgotten herself, he turned and gave her a questioning look. She snapped her gaze away, searching for anything to divert his attention. She looked at the buildings and houses whizzing by.
“Where exactly are we going? You didn’t ask me for any directions.”
“You’ll see,” he said, a melodic lilt to his voice.
They drove along for a few more minutes before Dean flicked on his turn signal.
“Hills Meadow?” Hermione asked cautiously. It was a small park that she had passed once or twice but never been to; her family had always opted to go to Christchurch across the road.
“Hills Meadow Car Park,” he replied eyebrows raised significantly.
They pulled into the car park, which was quite full but Dean steered them towards the back where there were whole sections left empty. Suddenly, Dean stopped in the middle of the lane, setting the car in park.
“Alright, so have you ever driven before?”
Hermione shook her head nervously.
“OK, well you know how a car works, right?”
“Of course I know how a car works!” she said giving him a slightly offended look.
“Great! You have one up on most of the kids at school,” he laughed and continued on, “First things first, we’ve got to identify all the different parts of a car.”
Hermione was nervous. She hadn’t realized they would just jump in like this. Of course, she had studied in preparation. She knew how to open the bonnet, what the lever in the middle console — the parking brake — was for, and how to set your windshield wipers to different speeds. She could even instruct you on the technical steps of changing the oil.
Dean looked at her exasperatedly as she began to recite the different types of oil and which should be utilized under what circumstances for various cars.
“Don’t tell me, you read your parents’ manuals, too?” he said, shaking his head as he unbuckled his seatbelt and removed the keys from the ignition.
Hermione averted her eyes, not daring to admit that she had, in fact, done just that.
She watched confused as he opened his door and got out. He walked around the car. At first she thought he was inspecting it until he opened the passenger door.
He leaned down, face level with her, “You planning on learning to drive sitting here?”
She gaped at him.
He rolled his eyes and leaned across her, the heat of his skin and the heavy scent of bergamot hit her in waves. Their faces were so close in the confined space of the passenger’s side. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat, as he reached over and clicked the button of her seatbelt, releasing it.
“It’s time to get you behind the wheel, c’mon.”
This broke Hermione out of her daze. “W-what? Now?”
He pulled away, stepping back from the door, allowing her space to step out. “Yes, now.”
She stepped out her legs shaking underneath her. “But I’ve never driven before! I can’t just get behind the wheel.”
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do.” With that he stepped behind her, sitting down in the passenger’s seat, shutting the door behind him.
She stood there stunned. Quickly looking around, she assessed the area. There were some people walking the trails in the distance and a group of cars parked meters away, but no immediate pedestrians were in danger of injury. Huffing, she stalked over to the driver’s side and wrenched open the door, plopping herself down.
“I think this is a bad idea,” she said, which he ignored, holding the keys out to her.
Tentatively, she took the keys from him, his soft fingers brushing against hers as she did. Hands shaking, she stuck the key into the ignition, just as she had read to do.
“Alright, now just turn it until you feel the engine turnover and then—yeah just like that!”
Hermione felt as if she’d been shocked. The car had rumbled to life, a sleeping beast now risen. She turned to him, eyes wide. For someone that was meant to be mentoring her, he sure was laughing at her a lot.
“That was good. Now, you’re going to release the parking break and press in the brake—yes that pedal right there—and move the gear shift into drive.”
If Hermione was good at anything, it was following instructions. As long as Dean kept coaching her, they may get through this without incident.
“It’s going to give you more than you expect, so press the gas lightly at first, then apply more pressure until you get a feel for it.”
Everything was jerky at first—accelerating, decelerating, braking, turning. Cars, Hermione had at first decided, were unwieldy creatures, independent and unwilling to bend to anyone’s will. When she wanted to turn slightly, it would jerk too hard, and when she wanted to gracefully accelerate from a full stop, it jerked forward snapping their necks almost painfully with it.
Dean was patient and kind, although still laughing and getting some digs in along the way.
“Man, it’s a good thing you’re a witch because I dunno if you’re cut out for the Muggle—“
“Oh shut up!” Hermione exclaimed, pale knuckles gripping the steering wheel.
After a few hours of practice, he had tasked her with making three laps around the now nearly empty car park, while maintaining a speed of 30 mph, not going a notch above or a notch below. Her brow was creased in intense concentration, willing the needle and her foot to stay steady. Her shoulders were hunched as she leaned forward, body tense.
They passed the lamp post that they had been using as their marker for the third and final time and Hermione whooped, slamming her foot down in her excitement bringing the car to a halting stop.
“Bloody—!” Dean’s exclamation cut off as he jolted forward, the seatbelt constricting around his chest.
“Sorry!” she said, throwing the car into park.
Gingerly he rubbed at his chest, holding up his hand to indicate that it was fine.
Satisfied that she hadn’t seriously maimed her instructor, she sat back in her seat, head thrown back, eyes closed, relieved. She was in a cold sweat, palms clammy from her anxiety. But she had done it. She had driven.
“One last test, Granger, then we can be done,” he said, voice raspy from the sudden shouting.
Her eyes snapped open and she eyed him with apprehension. He cleared his throat.
“It’s easy, don’t worry. We’re going to back this car into that parking spot,” he said, pointing to the spot adjacent to them.
“Back the car? As in reverse? We’ve only gone forward!” she said with a groan.
“I know, stay with me. It’s just a teaser for next time, we’ll work on it more then. I just want to show you how it’s done. It really isn’t that hard. Same as going forward.”
She looked at him doubtfully, to which he rolled his eyes. The street lamps were now glowing as the sun slowly began to set over the car park. Time had passed so quickly, Hermione hadn’t noticed it getting so late.
“So essentially, we’re going to put the car into reverse—stop panicking, you’ll know when it’s in reverse. Then you’re going to twist your body around to look behind you. Then you’re going to curve the wheel and guide the car into the space.”
Hermione watched carefully as his lips formed the words he was speaking, trying to desperately make it make sense, but all of it floated past her. Her mind was spent, she had worked so hard to do well and not embarrass herself. Magic came to her somewhat naturally, and she was well practiced in it. This was completely foreign to her, but she still couldn’t stand the idea of being seen as a failure. All of her energy was drained now and she couldn’t concentrate.
Picking up on her lack of responsiveness, Dean tried another approach. “OK, look it’s like this. Turn the wheel like this—“ he tugged the wheel into the proper position, so that she could move the car in proper direction, “—And then you’re going to place one hand here and twist your torso like this, and turn your head like this…” He moved her hand to the back of his seat and reached out to her waist turning her body. It was as he grabbed her chin to turn her head that he trailed off, their eyes locking. Something intense passed between them, but just for a moment.
He licked his lips and cleared his throat. “Erm right, so the wheel is turned for you already. You just have to go slowly and guide it.”
Hermione tried to ignore the prickling of her skin where his fingers had just grazed her jaw. Focus, she tried to tell herself. She tried her best not to move far from the position he had showed her, afraid she would forget exactly how it was done, though she had seen her parents do it a thousand times.
Taking a deep breath, she nodded. It was functionally the same as going forward, she reminded herself, it was just a matter of orienting herself to moving in the opposite direction.
She grabbed the gearshift, moved it to the “R” position, and turned to face behind her just as Dean had showed her. Any confidence she had mustered for this last exercise was quickly drained away though.
Not used to the unusual contortion of her body, her foot pressed too heavily on gas and it flew backwards. There was a sickening crunch and she felt the blood drain out of her face.
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” she groaned, quickly undoing her seatbelt.
She pushed the door open and stumbled out of the car, not daring to look behind her at what she was sure was Dean’s horrified expression. She had backed right into their light post, the one they had been tracking their progress with. There was a great big pit of embarrassment and shame opening up to swallow her and the car whole. The light post looked fine for what it was worth. But it was the rear bumper that was dented in on itself. She had wrecked Dean’s car on her first day!
Dean was slower to join her. His face was impassive while her eyes were wild, mind running a mile a minute. He had been joking when he’d said she wasn’t cut out for the Muggle world but maybe now he would really think so. She had to do something, she couldn’t just leave it.
“I’m so sorry Dean.” Her voice was panicked.
Dean didn’t reply. He wasn’t mad, he didn’t even look tense. He was deep in thought. Bending down, he grabbed the end of the bumper and tugged at it in a half-hearted attempt to try and pop it out.
She looked around for something that could help, anything. What could she do? Usually in an accident you called the police, but that wouldn’t apply here would it? There was no magical agency that she knew of that had anything to do with cars. There was no one around to even lend a hand, no one who had witnessed their crash. Then it dawned on her, as obvious as the hump on the old hag’s back.
“Quick, make sure no one’s looking.” Dean looked at her confused, slow to move at first but snapping to action when he realized what she was doing. Her adrenaline was racing. She had only used Reparo on small small objects—plates, water pitchers, and eyeglasses. Still she pulled out her wand and began waving it in the familiar lines and arcs. Relief flooded her as she could see the dents easing themselves out of the bumper. It had worked.
“Oh thank Merlin,” she breathed, collapsing onto the pavement in her own relief.
Dean turned from his post as look out and grinned as he surveyed her work. Finally he turned to her and she looked up at him, his profile silhouetted against the light of the lamp post.
“You did too much. You took out the scratch from when I accidentally backed into a Tesco shopping cart.“ Hermione opened her mouth, a bit confused but to issue another thousand apologies. “It’s alright. Now my mum will never notice the scratch!”
He held out a hand to her to help her up. His palm was warm but gone before she could fully appreciate how much she had missed his hand there.
“No harm no foul! I’d say that was a successful first driving lesson.”
Hermione looked down sheepishly, shuffling her feet.
“Stop, I wasn’t mad. I knew we were risking injury to the car when I volunteered it for service. It would have worn the dent proudly.”
He looked so sincere and proud of what they accomplished, Hermione couldn’t help but laugh. A cool breeze whipped around them, bringing with it the scent of fresh grass and river water.
“Shall we go for a walk?” he nodded in the direction of the trails and shoved his hands in his pockets.
“It’s getting late. I think they close soon,” Hermione said, eyes darting nervously to the entrance.
He gave her an exasperated look and began walking. Hermione froze with indecision. It’s not like she had the ability to drive his car out of the closed lot even if she did stay in protest. Sighing, she jogged to catch up.
They walked for a while along the river, the sound of water lapping at the banks accompanying their soft footfalls. They talked about recent programs on the telly, how Hermione was enjoying spending time with her parents for the first time in years, and Dean complained about how his four youngest sisters had taken to shouting “MMMBop” at each other from across every room in the house.
“It’s driving me mad. They turn it up any time it comes on the radio, they’ve made cassette recordings of it for when we’re at home, and if they hear it while we’re out at the supermarket they’ll turn the store into their own personal dance party.”
Hermione laughed, imagining Dean’s siblings clearly shaking and jumping around the cereal aisle, especially the youngest. “I like the song,” she said defensively.
“Right, but you haven’t heard it seven billion times the last three weeks.”
In the distance an owl hooted, and Hermione wondered if it were off to deliver some letter to a wizard amongst the Muggles of Reading or if it were just a common owl.
“I always wonder which world it’s from,” Dean said, as if reading her thoughts.
She sighed and nodded. “It makes me a little homesick. I miss it all when I’m away.”
He gave her a slight sad smile, nudging her as they walked. She wondered when Hogwarts had become home for him, and if he had felt as guilty as she had when she had realized where home was.
“Is that why you’re never home long?” He looked at her. She could barely make out his earnest expression in the dusky skylight, the sun long having sunk below the line of buildings surrounding the area.
“Yeah, I suppose so. I love my parents, but I never feel fully myself till I’m back there.”
He nodded, understandingly. “Me neither. I always count down the days till September 1st.”
Hermione looked away, guiltily. She hadn’t told him anything about her plans, knowing if she did he’d only be in danger. She wanted to though, Merlin knows she did. Instead, she was taking sleeping draughts to chase away the stress and dread of what awaited her and her family. At the end of term she had briefly spoken with Ron about her plans. He had simply nodded. There would be no better way and they both knew it. But she wished someone would tell her there was a better way, maybe even to tell her she didn’t have to.
A lump formed in her throat and her lip quivered. She was doing exactly what she promised herself she wouldn’t. This month was for her to enjoy her family and home to the fullest and she had decided that included Dean, even if he knew nothing about it.
Dean glanced at her and started, seeing the tears brimming her eyes. His face was twisted in concern, clearly instantly upset at whatever was hurting her. She swallowed them back, ashamed that she had lost her grip so easily after holding everything together so tightly for so many weeks.
His hand nearest her twitched at his side, but he caught it and shoved it back in his pocket. He looked away, trying to play it off. They stopped walking and Hermione cleared her throat, swiping at her eyes as he wasn’t looking, making sure to remove any traces of the weakness from before.
Warm lights from buildings across the river twinkled faintly through the shrubs and trees on the bank, contentment rushing in to soothe the long-suffering ache in her heart. A breeze whipped through her hair and she breathed deeply, the smells of the river and the city bringing their own sort of strange comfort.
“I miss holding your hand,” Dean suddenly said, his voice barely above a whisper, not taking his eyes off the river sparkling with reflected light.
Her stomach flipped and her heart eagerly thumped against her chest, the ache of before suddenly forgotten.
“Me too,” she said breathlessly, surprising even herself with her honesty.
Dean didn’t immediately react, letting her statement wash over him. His shoulders, which had been carrying a tension she hadn’t noticed, relaxed. He turned to her slowly, his eyes brooding and mysterious. The memory of a particular night in one of the castle breezeways came to her, a night of unknowns and what if’s had Hannah not arrived. The look disappeared and he smiled shyly at her, his dimples peeking out, unsure of themselves.
Without further prompting, he grabbed her hand, interlacing his long fingers with hers. Warmth shot up her arm and radiated through her body. It felt like a Patronus Charm. All the remnants of her dread and uncertainty seemed banished in that moment, away across the river. Vaguely, somewhere in her, she felt the longing to share with him more, more than she knew she could.
Squeezing his hand, she smiled at him. “We should head back.”
He nodded in agreement and leaned down, kissing the top of her head before tugging on her hand to lead them back up the path.
Her body felt lighter and her smile brighter than it had been in weeks. For now, this could be enough, she thought to herself. For now, this would be enough.