The safety measures instituted since Sirius Black's last break in made it very difficult for Hermione and her coven to get ingredients for their next ritual. The only time they were allowed near the Forbidden Forest was for Hagrid's class, and not paying attention to what was happening there could be fatal. Even with Blaise putting out feelers through whatever dodgy contacts he knew through his family, there were a lot of things needed for the ritual, and a lot of them were very unpleasant.
"We could ask Snape for help," Hermione suggested to Blaise one morning, as they collected frog spawn from near the lake. "He probably has a bunch of this stuff in his private stores to use for his private research potions. Or for the N.E.W.T. students, even."
"Yes, Hermione," Blaise drawled, raising an eyebrow. "We ask Snape for help with a fetus-stealing ritual. I'm sure he's bound to be thrilled about it."
"We'd be using it to get the Slytherin Head Girl unpregnant," she said. "Surely he'd see that as a plus?"
"There are ways of making a girl 'unpregnant'," Blaise said, eyes glinting, "that are much simpler than arcane Dark rituals."
"It's not Dark," Hermione argued. "Both parties are going to consent to it, so it's not a Dark ritual. It'll be fine."
"Hermione," Blaise said, rolling his eyes. "I love you to pieces, but honestly, this is Dark. You might not be using it for Dark magic, but any ritual that requires this much blood and this many dead things as sacrifices… this is Dark."
Hermione flushed and shot him a dark look.
"I've been in arguments recently about whether certain spells are Dark by nature," she mused. "I think I've come to the conclusion that yes, some of them are, but not all the spells they classify as 'Dark' are necessarily Dark. I wonder if it's much the same with rituals."
Blaise stopped looking for frog spawn. He stood up, giving Hermione a level look.
"May I ask," he said pointedly, "why you are having such discussions, Hermione?"
"I was curious," she said, her voice unnaturally high. "It was all theoretical, mostly. I didn't know the Cruciatus Curse required genuine sadism to cast it, for example."
"The Cruciatus Curse—Hermione—" Blaise broke off, frustrated.
"I'm not casting Unforgivables," Hermione hurried to assure him. "I was just trying to learn—"
"Hermione…" Blaise gave a great sigh, plopping himself down on the dock. His dark eyes met hers, and she tried not to wince at his expression. "You know I'm at your side, right?"
"Um," Hermione said. "Yes…"
"And that won't change," Blaise told her, eyes holding hers. "Regardless of what magic you do, you know?"
"Wait, really?" she asked. "I mean, I know you trust me, but if I—"
"I'm loyal to you," Blaise said simply. "If you are casting Dark magic, I trust that you've analyzed why and determined it necessary. I know you well enough to know you're not going to just start throwing Killing Curses around."
Hermione felt an odd feeling in the bottom of her throat, an uncomfortable sort of void as he looked at her. She made her way over to him, sitting down on the dock a distance away but angling her body to face him.
"If—If you'd still be fine with me casting Dark magic – which I'm not, by the way – then why are you so worried when I say things like how I was looking into if some curses are Dark by nature?" she asked.
"Magic has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, you know?" he mused. "There's been countless people studying it, classifying it, quantifying it. Tons and tons of people. And then there's you – who is also studying it and learning about magic, but who is also trying to find ways to wiggle around the rules."
He looked her square in the eyes.
"I'm not hugely concerned with you trying to find loopholes around Dark magic," he told her honestly. "I probably should be, but I'm not. But I am concerned with you trying to dismiss parts of the greater knowledge about magic because it disagrees with you."
"I'm not," she defended, uneasy. "I just… I'm adding to it…"
"When you add things is fine," Blaise said, waving a hand. "Like discovering a way for the hedgewitches to cast on their own – that's adding—"
"How do you know about that?" Hermione asked, astonished.
"Derek and I keep in touch," he dismissed. "But Hermione – presuming you know best, just jumping in and doing things without reviewing whether or not they should be done – that sort of thing is dangerous."
"I am reviewing things," she said hotly. "That's why I was having that theoretical discussion in the first place!"
"You're very careful with Dark magic, sure," Blaise said, shrugging. "But you're not the most careful with other things you do. You tend to just jump in, without thinking about the consequences of what might happen later."
"Like what?" Hermione snapped.
Blaise raised an eyebrow. "Like your hands, for one."
Hermione winced. He had her there.
"Your hair, for another – don't even try to pretend you didn't burn it off getting a fire elemental somehow; Pansy was crowing about helping you over the break, and we've been out here an hour and a half and you've yet to cast a warming charm on yourself – but what about the goblins?"
"What about the goblins?" Hermione said defensively.
"Your budget bill gave them access to all sorts of things," Blaise said, shrugging. "None of it seems dangerous, sure, but have you really thought down the line about what they might do with these new things?"
"Wizards have oppressed goblins for ages," she said hotly. "If we can take steps to help them now to make up for the near genocide the Ministry's attempted throughout the ages—"
"That's just it, Hermione," Blaise said, cutting her off. "The Ministry has murdered massive amounts of goblins. Multiple times. Do you think the goblins are just going to forget that?" His gaze was sharp on hers, keen. "Do the goblins seem like a particularly forgiving race to you, Hermione?"
Hermione bit her lip.
"No," she admitted. "But they're trying to reset their civilization right now. They never recovered from whatever the Ministry did last, you know – they're still trying to make sure they can all survive. The barely have access to clean water—"
Blaise was staring at her now.
"Hermione," he said, incredulously. "How do you—you're not just guessing, are you," he said, astounded. "You—you know—how?"
"I made friends with the goblins," Hermione said, shifting uncomfortable. "Well, with a few of them, and they vouched for me enough to go into their Hold—"
Blaise groaned and held his head in his hands.
"I have an idea," he said, his voice muffled. "We will finish collecting all of this stupid frog spawn, and then we will go inside, find a quiet place, and you can tell me what all you have been up to – even the things that don't affect me."
Hermione bit her lip, her heart panging.
"I—alright," she said.
Blaise relaxed. "Good."
"But nothing that could implicate you in something dangerous in the future," she warned. "It's not that I don't trust you, but—"
"For all things excepting hypothetical potential future criminal endeavors requiring me to maintain plausible deniability," he added, rolling his eyes.
Hermione smiled slightly, stifling a giggle at him. He looked over at her and smirked.
"What?" he said. "Isn't that what you were after?"
"Yes," Hermione said. "It's just the way you said it. Like it was all just a minor annoyance to you."
"Your insistence on protecting me from things is a minor annoyance," Blaise said, raising an eyebrow, but he was grinning. "Just be glad I'm used to it now. It won't last forever."
Hermione was curious. "How do you mean?"
"Well, right now you're incredibly stupidly powerful for our age," Blaise said, raising an eyebrow. "You're also smart, so you're comfortable handling issues by yourself. But that won't last forever."
Hermione blinked. "It won't?"
"As we all get older, and as the political climate changes, I've no doubt that the issues you're going to want to take on will be much bigger than yourself," Blaise told her. His voice was quieter, now, his eyes serious. "And when that happens, you won't be able to do it alone."
Hermione bit her lip.
"I know," she admitted.
"Yes. I think—sometimes I think I'm already to the point where I need help," she said, thinking to her lessons with Tom. "But it's—it's so hard to ask for help, Blaise—"
His eyes softened.
"If I'm doing my job properly at your side and I'm paying attention," he told her, his eyes warm as he booped the tip of her nose with a finger, "then you'll never have to ask."
The Great Hall was loud for lunch, most of the students all present at once, so Dean Thomas had to wave at her from across the room to get her attention, wearing a wide grin.
"Got a minute?" he asked, once she'd come over. "I've got your artwork done."
Excitement flickered through her, and her eyes went wide as she grinned.
"Yes," she said emphatically, taking a seat.
The Gryffindors were largely preoccupied by Fred and George retelling a story of a prank they'd played on Professor Lockhart that morning, allowing Hermione to look at the sketches without worrying of other people peeking over to see.
"I've drawn out several different options here," Dean Thomas told her, scooching closer to her on the bench. "I didn't know what sort of feel you were going for, so I made a few."
"Options are never a bad thing," Hermione teased him, and Dean grinned, sheepish.
"Yeah, well," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. "I've never been paid for drawing like a professional before. I wanted to do a good job."
"I'm sure you did," Hermione assured him. "Why don't you show me what you've got?"
"Alright," Dean said, pausing for a moment, before withdrawing a scroll. "Seals first, I think."
He unrolled the parchment, revealing ink sketches, and Hermione's eyes widened.
"These are all so good," she breathed.
She could feel his face heat next to hers. "Thanks," he muttered, but Hermione was too busy looking over the artwork to really pay attention.
Dean had drawn half a dozen versions of a wax seal with a fox, all with a very different feel to them. One was just a fox's head, looking very stately with tall ears and flowing fur. Another was the silhouette of a fox, looking back at the moon, with beautiful scrollwork around it. There was a similar one with the fox facing forward, in front of a stylized version of the sun. One was a small, cute fox, almost cartoon-style, curled up on pine branches with its tail. Another had just a curious fox looking right at her, almost endearingly. There was a silhouette of a fox's body looking behind itself, very simple, and one of a fox's face with a moon on its forehead, with curved branches around it in the seal.
"A few of these have the moon in them," Hermione commented. She glanced over at Dean. "Why the moon?"
"I mean, it seemed to fit," he said awkwardly. "It's, y'know, a nature symbol, and it's a feminine one that's mysterious…" He cringed. "I can take it out if you want…"
"No," Hermione said, looking down at the art again. "I quite like it, actually."
The moon wasn't just a symbol of femininity, Hermione knew; it was also a symbol of the cyclical nature of life, of immortality, eternity, and enlightenment, as well as the dark side of nature itself. It also hinted at wild, uncontrollable forces and magic, like its power over rituals or over werewolves, which no one quite fully understood.
Plus, it was a highly recognizable symbol, and one that would be easy to incorporate into thematic artwork.
"I like this one the best," Hermione said, pointing to the one of the fox's face with the moon on its forehead. "I love this other one, but I think maybe it's too cute for an official seal."
"Yeah, I kind of thought so too," he admitted. "But it made you smile to look at."
"That it did," she admitted, pleased.
"Coats of arms, next," Dean said, pulling out a sketchpad from his bad. "These were harder – from what I can tell, there's a lot of variance in this sort of thing. Probably because the purebloods never had to actually make a shield with their coat of arms on it, so they just went wild."
The first page of his sketchbook had sketches of other families' coats of arms.
"I looked a few Slytherin families' up. Lavender helped me," he told her. "See, the Black one is just this shield with the stars and a sword, but it has these greyhounds next to it holding the shield. Or maybe they're wolves? Some kind of weird-looking dog. The Malfoys just have this giant crest with a big 'M' and spears behind it, behind held up by dragons."
"Of course they've got dragons," Hermione said dryly.
"The Lestranges have got a shield with a really weird symbol made up of the letters of their name," Dean said, pointing. "They've got it imposed over a moon with a drop of blood, some fancy scrollwork, and a crow sitting on top of the whole thing. The Averys are a bit less fancy – they've got a compass rose surrounded by a couple sea monsters." He paused to turn the page. "Families not historically in Slytherin are a bit less dramatic," he said, shooting her a grin. "The Bones just have this set of scales, and the Abbots just have a badger."
"Whose is this one?" Hermione asked, pointing to one with a very large, detailed spider on it, the shield wearing a traditional witch's hat.
"Ah, that's the Browns'," Dean said. He snickered. "Lavender doesn't like it none too much, though, so I didn't label it. I think it embarrasses her."
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "I'm not surprised."
"So based on all that as references," Dean said, flipping the page, "this is what I've come up with."
At first glance, it was clearly a family coat of arms, and immediately recognizable as such, which pleased her. There was a large shield in the center, emblazoned with a crescent moon and a fox underneath it. The fox was positioned at almost a ¾ view, looking back at its own tail, the moon above it. The emblem of a triskelion in a circle at the top of the shield, and there was an emblem of an open book at the bottom of the shield. There were laurels surrounding the shield, with embellished scrollwork around emblems at top and bottom. A banner hung below the rest of it, reading "You only fail when you stop trying" – in English, just as Hermione wanted, so there would be no mistaking her words.
Hermione couldn't stop the slow grin that grew to take over her face, and she could see Dean slump and relax next to her out of the corner of her eye as he saw she liked it.
He'd really done a superb job, Hermione noted. He'd used colored inks to sketch in a color scheme of sorts – green, orange, with bits of a deep purple and gold. He'd shaded the shield with a pencil to make it look metallic, which Hermione thought was a neat trick, and he'd taken the time to make the words on the banner look like fancy calligraphy.
"This is excellent," Hermione told him honestly. "This is way better than I imagined, to be honest."
"So you like it?" Dean wanted to confirm.
She liked it, yes, but did she like it for her? Did she like this family crest enough to adopt it as her own, to have it on the wall of her hypothetical manor someday, to have her descendants grow up under it with pride? She cast a critical eye over it, feeling it out.
"Yes," she said decisively, satisfied with her decision. "I love it. This is now the coat of arms of House Granger."
"House Granger?" Dean grinned. "Does that mean I am the official artist of House Granger?"
Hermione laughed. "Perhaps. Is there more art you think I need to have done?"
"Ha! I wouldn't know," he admitted, amused. "I more meant it as a joke."
But Hermione was already considering.
"I don't think I need any more illustrations," she said, "but if you learn to paint magical portraits by the time I come of age, I could hire you to do that."
"Magical portraits?" Dean stared at her.
"I can't imagine a great wizarding House isn't going to have magical portraits of their ancestors lining the halls of the manor," Hermione said, shrugging. "It'd just be me to start, but that's fine. They'd be added one by one."
"Hermione… I've got no idea how to paint magical portraits," Dean told her, shaking his head. "I like to draw and sketch. I don't know how to paint."
"You're thirteen," Hermione pointed out, amused. "I hardly expect you to be a master painter at this age. But if you decide on it as a career path, you know."
"That's a career path?"
"Probably?" Hermione said, lips quirked. "They don't give painting lessons here, so I imagine most painters probably are self-taught. But there's probably fairly advanced charms involved in getting them to animate, I imagine."
Dean looked thoughtful.
"I'll have to look into that," he said. "I never thought about that before."
Hermione counted out a few galleons, and Dean's eyes went wide.
"Wait, what?" he said. "I thought—didn't you already pay me?"
"I gave you a couple galleons as an advance for supplies," Hermione said, blinking. "I didn't pay you for the artwork – I thought I'd pay you upon completion."
"You gave me five galleons," Dean said, astonished. "That was just for supplies?"
"Well, you did use supplies, didn't you?" Hermione said, folding her arms. "There's colored inks used in there."
"I already had those—"
"Oh, spare me your Gryffindor sense of self-sacrifice," Hermione said, rolling her eyes and shoving the gold into his hand. "No. Listen. I am paying you for your work. I understand you feel like you need to protest, tell me this isn't necessary, but I literally hired you to do a job. You wouldn't tell your employer at the Ministry to give you less gold than you were worth, would you?"
Dean paused. "…no."
"Then take the gold," Hermione said, giving him a sharp look. "People are never going to take you seriously as a professional artist unless you start charging professional artist prices."
"No one does take me seriously as a professional artist, though," Dean protested.
"Well, I do," Hermione said primly. "That's one. And now you do, too. That's two."
"Hate to break it to you, Hermione," Dean said, pulling her House Crest from his sketchpad and giving it to her, along with the sketch of her fox head stamp, "but I don't take myself seriously like that either."
"You just earned over £100 for your work," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows. "And you don't think you're a professional?"
"Wait, what?" Dean's attention switched over to counting the gold. "There's twenty—no, twenty-five galleons here." He looked up at her, screwing his face up in thought. "What's the exchange rate, though? I can never—"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's about £5 to the galleon."
She stood up from the Gryffindor bench, even as Dean was protesting the amount she gave him.
"Thank you for this," she said primly, lifting the folded sheets in her hand. "I'll be sure to come to you with any art-related needs. And if you do learn how to paint magical portraits, let me know."
She left the sputtering boy behind her, opening one of them again to see her fox head stamp design looking up at her, and she smiled.
Now just to file the designs with the Ministry, and to figure out who to commission to make them properly. She already had an idea how to go about it, though – she was slowly growing a network of connections, and one group in particular had skills in the manipulation of metals.