The clock ticked exceedingly slowly as Hermione waited for exams to finish. Without even trying, she'd performed reasonably well. Last year, she'd been so incensed that she couldn't finish her education, she'd read all the required books out of spite. This year, she'd barely picked up a book, partially out of protest, even if she couldn't exactly define what she'd been protesting against.
Was she still angry? Yes.
But she could also distract herself now. Her anger didn't consume her like it had, and that was pretty remarkable. Everyone had gotten through the year in one way or another. It had been a miserable year for some, no doubt.
Looking across the large hall, she saw Draco still writing at his desk. Not scribbling furiously. Something about him was so measured and contained. Some things about him weren't.
A bit further away, Harry was scribbling furiously. He still wanted to be an auror, and this exam was a barrier he needed to get past.
The bell chided and Draco looked over at her, giving that small uptick of his chin in acknowledgement, then he got up and left as the murmur in the hall exploded. Draco still didn't like crowds.
So this was it. It was all done. Hogwarts was finished. How was it that the end seemed to have snuck up on her? Day by day, it had drawn closer, but it still felt like a surprise. It also felt like it could be much worse of a shock, because an important part of her life wasn't changing, was stable through this transition.
"How'd it go for you?" Harry asked as she reached the corridor outside.
"There were some hard questions. The one about alternative uses for bezoars threw me. It's so powerful in what it should be used for, who even thinks of alternative uses?"
The old her probably would have talked about it, but instead she noticed the harsh glare from Ron as he walked past.
"He'll take some time to come around," Harry said.
"Yeah, I don't think he will come around," Hermione replied with a smile. Ron wouldn't get over this. It was downright betrayal in his book. You just weren't allowed to hate someone for years on end, and then change your mind. Certainly not will Malfoy, who was still enemy number one in Ron's book. And along with Ron went the Weasleys. In many ways support network, but they naturally went with Ron in the divorce. "How's Ginny?"
Hermione wanted to ask how their relationship was, but it was prying a little too much, and she appreciated that Harry didn't pry into her own.
"There's drinks in the Gryffindor common room tonight. Last night in the common room," he said with a smile. "I can't believe we leave tomorrow. It's strange it's all over. It's been such a large part of our lives."
"Yeah." About the drinks, she wasn't sure she should come. At least not with Draco. Most would be cordial with him, but it would kind of be rubbing salt in Ron's wound. And truthfully, the others wouldn't perhaps be as comfortable and relaxed with Draco around. And frankly, she didn't entirely trust Draco either. He seemed to accumulate injuries when there were other people around. "I'd better go. I'll see you later."
Harry looked like he wanted to say something more, but Hermione wasn't in the mood to talk about the likely uncomfortable topic Harry would bring up. Neither did she want to fall to pieces over leaving Hogwarts either. This was just something she wanted to get through. Maybe even scarier was wondering what was on the other side of tomorrow—when they were no longer Hogwarts students. What then?
In some ways, nothing would change. They were all still friends, with the exception of Ron in most regards, and Draco would be with her. But it was still a substantial change, and she feared change. She feared the peace she'd found would be threatened. She feared the changes would be too much for her to cope with after just finding a new equilibrium.
Students were chattering everywhere. There were no classes left to run to, no schedule to keep. It was all over. Some of the younger students were boisterous and showing off for their friends. Some would likely sneak some alcohol they'd squirreled away, after having snuck it from home or from someone older.
Some of the older girls were visibly pregnant, and it still looked wrong for the setting. Hermione wasn't sure exactly how Ginny and Harry had managed it, but Ginny was still too fragile for something so monumental. Although better than before, she couldn't handle the changes required. She'd make a good mother when the time was right. Being a mother was still something Hermione couldn't think about. Draco was quite open to the idea, though, which was surprising.
Draco was in the bedroom when she got back, packing things into his trunk. It occurred to her that they were leaving this little flat behind too. It was as though she needed to manually fit all these pieces of loss together in her head. "I suppose they will get rid of all these small flats now."
"They won't need them anymore," Draco said. "Unless they are planning to do the same thing next year."
"I don't think so. Because we were a year older, we were technically adults. Except they dictated to us like children, about very adult topics. I don't think they'll get away with doing it again. And they'll want to review the results." The Ministry did very little without ample analysis and debates. They would be talking about this initiative for quite a while.
"Maybe they'll loosen the rules on fraternising after curfew. Might work a treat."
"Could you imagine the Slytherins and Gryffindors were roaming the castle at night? It would be all-out war before long."
"That would have been fun, wouldn't it?" Draco said wistfully.
"No, it would have been awful."
"Afraid what I would have done to you?" he said with a sly smile. It still gave her shivers when he smiled like that.
"This is exactly the reason curfew exists. No one wants mayhem in the halls of Hogwarts."
"I suspect it will be mayhem tonight."
"Speaking of, the Gryffindors are having a party in the common room."
"Have fun," Draco said dismissively.
"What are you going to do?"
"Well, technically, as much as I'd like to see to some people, I can't have any fun until I leave school grounds. But I think I might leave a legacy for future generations, which may involve hexing some objects around the castle. Leave the castle with some perils for the unwary. The Curse of the Carrows."
"Oh wonderful. Just what the school needs. Well, in that case I might get pleasantly inebriated with the Gryffindors."
"And I will absolutely not do anything to you when you get back. Happy drinking," he said sweetly.
She wasn't sure if that was putting a damper on the evening or not. Draco was clearly in a mischievous mood, which in all serious was quite nice to see again. Maybe she wouldn't stay out too late.
"Rise and shine," Draco stated. "You need a shower."
"What?" Hermione mumbled, trying to get her mind in order. It pounded.
"You're all sticky, and you look an absolute fright."
There had been honey involved last night, she vaguely recalled.
Draco was dressed in his typical black suit, his hair neatly combed. "The ceremony and breakfast is about to start. If you want to be there for it, you'd better get a move on."
"Uhm," she moaned and wanted desperately to close her eyes again, instead trying to get her eyes to work properly. The bed was an absolute mess, and she was kind of surprised Draco could have tolerated it. Not just honey, but chocolate too. But all evidence was cleaned away from him. "Fine," she said and got up, before stumbling to the shower. Memories of kissing him last night fleeted into her mind. Honey and mess, and total abandon. Draco continued to surprise her, and made her surprise herself.
It took some time to get clean, but she finished her shower and got out. Draco wasn't there, but the bed was utterly clean, all evidence wiped away. In her trunk, her uniform was neatly packed away. She'd never wear it again. A wave of sadness hit her. It was really over. This was it. They were leaving shortly.
One foot in front of the other. At times it was easier to just do and not think about the implications. Dress, eat, get ready. She hadn't lost anything. All the laughing and crying last night, and drunken promises that they would all be friends forever, and meet every week at the Leaky Cauldron. Ron hadn't spoken to her, but she wasn't surprised.
And by the look of it, his marriage wasn't lasting through the summer. May not last through the day. She could imagine he'd put more effort into his drinking. Apparently he was going to stop now that school was over, or so Harry had told her.
Last breakfast in the Great Hall. It was packed with students, the teachers all looking tidy at their table. Harry and Ginny were at the Gryffindor table, watching as Professor McGonagall spoke about how bright the future was after such darkness. The school would go on, but some students would not be coming back, would instead head out into the world. She also mentioned that some students would never get the chance.
It was hard to listen to McGonagall's speech. It was definitely challenging her promise not to fall to pieces and just get through the day. Harder when someone pointed out how monumental this change was. Mercifully, her speech finished, and she was replaced by Shacklebolt, who walked about the importance of rebuilding and of supporting their unique community.
"You alright?" Draco asked as the speeches finished.
"Just feeling a little overwhelmed."
Her stomach was a little uneasy, but she ate anyway. Truthfully, she wasn't sure where her next meal would come from. They were heading to her house in London, but there would be no food in cupboards. In fact, she wasn't even sure there was furniture. If nothing else, they could stay with Harry, but Draco wouldn't be wild about it.
And then the food was gone and it really was time to go. There wasn't any point going back to the flat. Their trunks would have been removed already, just like they now had to remove themselves.
"Seventh and eight years to the lake please," McGonagall said. That was right. They had to leave the same way they'd come, across the lake. Again, Hermione felt tears sting her eyes. She didn't want to cry as they slowly walked out of the castle. Likely she would be back here again at some point. She could even be a teacher if she chose to, not that it was something she was considering right now.
The mood was subdued down by the lake. Some students were excited, and few of the girls were gently rubbing their bellies. "It's almost embarrassing how effective the Ministry's marriage law was."
"You put teenagers in a room for long enough, it's bound to happen," Draco said. "Some have resisted. Pansy is definitely holding out for a better husband."
Hermione looked over, seeing Pansy form-fitting silk robes, looking very adult. The girl looked bored and eager to get away.
The boats slowly arrived across the lake, turning until their rears were pushed onto the shore, and students starting getting in.
"I remember these being much larger," Dean said with a laugh. It was a couple per boat, generally. Draco got in theirs first, then held his hand out for her. It bobbed a little until she sat down and watched as the castle retreated behind them as they silently glid across the lake toward the train station.
The subdued mood continued throughout the journey, especially for the older students, who were both sad, nostalgic and hung over. The younger students were just excited for their summer plans. They ended up sitting with Luna and Ernie. It was hard to tell what the state of their marriage was. Hermione didn't know if it was a good match. Luna was so unique, it may not suit someone who was more of a conformist. Her belly didn't look like it was swelling. But Hermione was tired of thinking of other people's relationships. They could sort their own business out.
"I won't miss these train rides," Draco said.
"I've never minded them," she replied. "Except when the dementors came. That experience I could do without."
All these last experiences they were currently having were getting to her and she shook the moroseness off her, in a way, wanting this to be over. She wanted to look forward, not back. "What are your plans for the summer, Ernie?"
"I'm going to work with my father. Luna is going to see her father. We're going our separate ways for a while."
"Right," she said and wished she hadn't asked.
"What about you?"
"We're going to stay in London for a bit," she answered and an awkward silence descended.
"Are you staying with Harry?" Luna asked.
"No, I have a house. It was my parents'."
"Harry says he'll renovate his house," Luna continued. Hermione hadn't even thought about it, but that would make sense. It was a dark house. "Has to be careful not to disturb the spirit of the house. I always find it's better to ask the house first if you can."
"Renovate quite a lot of houses, do you?" Draco asked.
"I've helped rebuilt a few. They're very grateful. Houses don't like to be injured."
Sometimes, Hermione just didn't know what to say when Luna spoke. Silence descended.
"I would always establish where you were on the train," Draco said quietly in her ear. "At the end of the summer, I would always see what you looked like, how you'd changed."
"I tended to avoid you," she whispered back.
"Admit you were also a bit curious. Fascinated."
Hermione bit her lips together. What was it he wanted to hear from her? "Fine. I always watched out for you before anyone else." The answer pleased him. "Now I am going to sleep." The hangover wasn't as bad as she'd thought. It was more tiredness that was plaguing her. She hadn't had enough sleep, and neither had he. "Sleep," she repeated, and they quieted down for the rest of the journey.
King's Cross finally pulled into view, and some were out before the train had properly stopped, rushing to see their parents or to say goodbye to their friends, some left right away with their parents. The Weasley were there, of course, kissing and fussing like they had when welcoming them back every single year. Nothing changed with them. Arthur nodded to her and shook Draco's hand when they got closer.
"You're welcome come for supper one night," Molly said, but Hermione could see a tense wariness in her.
"Of course. We might be traveling for a while."
"Oh, you plan to travel? How wonderful. Now, let's get home. Everyone is waiting. You are, of course, welcome to join us, Hermione, and Draco."
"Thank you, but I think we have to see to the state of the house."
Harry looked back at her before he walked through the barrier. "You know where to find me," he said before disappearing with the others.
Besides the odd straggler, they were the only people left. Hermione busied herself levitating their trunks into her amazing purse. She could do all the magic she wanted now, within reason. They were officially adults.
"Well, let's go see this shoebox," Draco said and walked towards the barrier. "We could always go back to Morocco. As I said, I don't think my parents even remember it."
"We could. It's an option," she said and felt the curious sensation of walking through the barrier into muggle London, where an announcer was just calling all passengers for the train to Leeds. A crowd of people were moving along the platform toward the exit. The bright lights of the shops, the wafts of music, and smells. There was always something exciting about arriving back in muggle London. It was like arriving in another country. Newspaper displays of politicians and sex scandals. Muggle London had an energy she hadn't found anywhere else.
At the entrance to King's Cross, she paused for a moment and Draco looked at her questioningly. She treated her fingers through his.
"We hold hands now?" he asked.
"Just this once. It's a big day. It's just us now."
"Good," he said and looked over at the taxi cue. "Got any pounds?"
"I can pay with my bankcard."
"I forgot about those card things. They're quite useful. Do I get one?"
"Yes. We'll get you one tomorrow." Perhaps she would leave the lecture on how sparing they needed to treat them until then. Frugality, at least until they had income flowing. In the short term, she would get a job of some sort and he would write his memoirs.
"Let's go," he said, urging her toward the first black taxi.
A/N Well there is the end. Hogwarts is done. I know, it doesn't answer everything. Now, I don't have a HP story lined up, so I will be taking a break until another has formed. They always do before too long. But if you'll miss me, I am putting one of my box sets up for free on Amazon for the next five days. Three full length books to keep you going for a while. It's called Marbella Coast, under my Shel Stone pen name. Grab a copy if you want. Otherwise, until next time.