Hermione Granger sat in the Great Hall, her breakfast half-eaten as she deliberated her plans for the upcoming Christmas break.
Ron had extended his parents invitation for her to stay with them at The Burrow, of course. Ron had given her such a syrupy look while waggling his eyebrows that she instantly knew what his hol gift to her would be. Their relationship had neither moved forward nor back since the end of Voldemort. They snogged a bit. They felt each other up a bit, more on his efforts than hers. The last two times she'd nearly got away without hexing him. Not that she didn't want to be with him. He was after all a formidable Quidditch player and a hero. And her friend.
He smelled thickly of man and she liked that bit. She enjoyed the snogging – at times. But, she was gradually realizing they had little to actually talk about. Ron had never been... academic. He didn't read books. He tried to be supportive of her desire to finish school properly, but he'd offered several times to support her. She didn't like that at all. Ron talked of Quidditch. She talked of academics. Sometimes they talked about Harry or Hagrid.
Hermione frowned and gave a deep sigh.
Harry wanted her, and Ron, to stay with him in his overly large and overly empty home at 12 Grimmauld Place. Harry still retained his boyishness. How anyone would ever take him serious as an Auror with his unruly hair, thin frame and modest demeanor she'd never know. At least Harry and Ginny were getting along well. Harry had been all eagerness to share his home with his two best mates for the holidays. Harry was truly heartfelt.
Hermione chewed her lip. She wanted to stay at Hogwarts to get ahead of her studies. It had been hard for her returning to the school to sit 7th year classes.
Particularly hard as Harry went off to Auror training at the Ministry and Ron fervently shucked his education for working at his brother's shop – Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes.
Her parents wanted her with them, of course. Hermione decidedly did not want to be cooped up all winter break with her parents She loved them, but she wanted to do right by them, too. She wanted to make them proud and she wanted to be proud of herself. She wanted, more than anything, to graduate and succeed in life by her own merits.
And so she had returned to Hogwarts.
She reviewed her 6th year texts in what little leisure time she had. The first month had been arduous, but she was feeling more settled - slightly. She reminded herself, again, that not having Ron or Harry about gave her more time to think and read and prepare.
She was debating which NEWT-levels to sit in the spring. She had whittled her prospects down to arithmancy, transfiguration and… potions. There, she said it.
Potions, potions, potions, she muttered in her head.
She'd never thought she'd take up with potions, specially since Professor Snape had reminded her so often that she was merely adequate. However, after his death and the revelations by Potter to Voldemort in the Great Hall... this Great Hall, she had felt guilty about not wanting to pursue the field.
A school owl dropped a crisp missive in her cold eggs. She fingered the heavy packet, turning it idyly over in her hand. She heard a gasp and looked about her.
The Great Hall was only half-full as many students had been killed in the war. Other parents had withdrawn their children allowing them to recuperate from injuries and sadness. Hermione scanned easily through the few scattered heads and spotted a Ravenclaw boy in shock. He was staring at the parchment in his hand as Headmaster Flitwick came to his aid.
Hermione swung her head 180° to stare at a girl behind her. The gingery thing was on her feet, tears streaming down her nubile face. Deputy Headmistress McGonagall was patting the girl on the back, soothingly muttering nonsense as she delicately removed the letter from the girl's hand.
A few more gasps went up about the hall and Hermione looked down at her own hand. She had clutched the paper so tightly it had crumpled. She released her grip and laid the missive on the table. She undid the string slowly, setting it in a neat coil on her breakfast plate. She unfolded the corners with utmost care.
Hermione was no fool. She read the papers. She knew what the rumors were. Based on the reactions of the students about her, she dreaded what awaited. Her Gryffindor bravery would be her undoing. She unfolded the last corner, splaying the paper as flat as she could and began to read.
Dear Miss Hermione Granger,
Pursuant to Marriage Law 906W2...