IV

Of course he wasn't fine: he was living in a world that no longer felt like his own. Colin's death had exiled him from the magical world, and the loss of that world hurt nearly as badly as the loss of his brother. And the one person who might even begin to understand had made it perfectly clear that she wanted nothing to do with him.

It was a fortnight before he saw Hermione again. She never seemed to be in the campus library when he went in – though once a door marked "Staff only" banged suspiciously quickly after he entered, leaving him with an impression of curly hair tied back and a scarf of scarlet and gold like his own. Nor did he see her around the university at all. It was exasperating.

Then, as he was on his way home for the weekend, he bumped into her. Quite literally. He was walking fast, his bag on his back, conscious that he was cutting it fine to catch the coach he wanted, and wishing that for once he could cheat on his bargain with himself and Apparate. Hermione was walking more slowly, but with a book open in her hands, so that she did not see him until he cannoned into her, sending the book flying.

"Look where you're going, idiot!" she snapped, kneeling down to retrieve her book. Then she looked up and realised who he was, and her face paled.

Dennis knew he had only a moment: she looked as if she might run at any second. He grabbed her arm and went straight to the point.

"Hermione, why are you avoiding me?" he asked.

She pulled away, shaking her head and looking both furious and upset.

"Please Dennis!" she pleaded. "Leave me alone. There's nothing to say. What is there to say?"

"Plenty," he said firmly. Then he lowered his voice, seeing that she was close to tears, whether of anger or of something else he could not tell. "Please Hermione. Half an hour, that's all. If after that you never want to see me again I'll respect that. But I have to talk to you."

She glared at him. "Why?" she demanded.

Dennis shook his head. "Not here. Half an hour. Please."

She sighed and some of the fight seemed to go out of her. "Okay. Come on then."

They found a corner in the cafe in the union building, and Dennis went to the counter and bought them both a coffee. Hermione nodded to his backpack as he sat down.

"You'll miss your train," she observed.

"Coach," he said with a shrug. "I'll get the later one."

Hermione smiled. "Girlfriend back at home?" she asked knowingly.

Dennis shook his head. "No. Just Mum and Dad. I go home most weekends." He swallowed. "It seems the least I can do."

Hermione looked down at her coffee cup, her half-teasing smile gone. Dennis had been right – she did understand.

"It must be hard for them," she said. "Do they even understand why Colin died?"

Dennis felt his throat tighten at the mention of his brother. He shrugged again.

"I don't know," he admitted. "I've tried to explain, but…" He took a gulp of his coffee, feeling Hermione's sympathetic eyes on him and wishing she would look away. Perhaps this hadn't been such a good idea after all.

"Explaining is hard," Hermione said quietly. "They might know about the magical world, but they can't really understand it. They've never been part of it."

Dennis nodded, some of his composure restored. "That's just it. However they try, they can only see it as something that took the pair of us away from them when we were just kids." He paused, looking down at his own cup. "And then something that took Colin forever." He looked up and met Hermione's eyes. "That's why I can't go back. I couldn't do that to them. I'm all they've got now."

"Mmm." There was silence between them for a few minutes, but it was the silence of understanding. Dennis broke it eventually.

"What about you?" he asked. "Me coming back here makes sense, but you? One of the saviours of the wizarding world? Why are you here?"

Hermione sighed, avoiding his eyes. "It's complicated," she said eventually. "Mum and Dad of course, but not just…" Her voice trailed off.

"Amanda?" Dennis asked quietly, and she nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Does Ron know about her?" Dennis asked.

For a moment, she stared at him, confused, almost as if she did not recognise him or understand the question. Then her face flooded with colour.

"Ron? Oh well…" She was gathering her books together, looking at her watch, doing anything except meet Dennis' eyes.

"I-I have to go," she stuttered. "And you have a coach to catch."

"Hermione wait!" Dennis put out a hand and took her arm, but she shook him off.

"I said it was complicated," she said fiercely. "And you've had your half an hour, and more. Goodbye Dennis."

And before Dennis could say anything more, she was gone.