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Home: The Toast

“Okay, write that down,” Hermione said to Ron, pushing his essay and a sheet covered in her own writing back to Ron, “and then copy out this conclusion that I’ve written for you.”

“Hermione, you are honestly the most wonderful person I’ve ever met,” said Ron weakly, “and if I’m ever rude to you again –” He broke off suddenly. “This just says DO YOUR OWN GODDAMN WORK in fourteen languages.”

“Fifteen,” said Hermione. “One of them’s invisible.”

“How would it be,” she asked them as they left the classroom for break (Binns drifting away through the blackboard), “if I refused to lend you my notes this year?”

“We’d fail our O.W.L.s,” said Ron. “If you want that on your conscience, Hermione…”

“I’d be very sad if you failed your O.W.L.s,” Hermione said seriously. “But how could your mistakes be on my conscience?”

“Do you value me for my friendship,” she asked them, “or do you see me as someone you can get to shoulder the burdens you deem unimportant enough for you by tossing me the occasional scraps of flattery and feigned dependence?”

“We do value you,” said Ron. “We just haven’t got your brains or your memory or your concentration – you’re just cleverer than we are – is it nice to rub it in?”

“Why would suggesting that you are innately inferior convince me to do your work for you?” Hermione asked, puzzlement creasing her brow. “If I truly believed that to be the case, I would do everything in my power to assist you, but I would not injure you further by encouraging you to space out during class and fall even further behind.”

“But we’d fail –” Harry began.

Hermione wheeled around and fixed him with a venomous look. “Don’t ever suggest again that I am responsible for your failures, Harry Potter. I love you like a brother, but you rise and fall on your own. You will not place a burden on my shoulders that was meant for your own.”

“I am sorry that I was unable to see more of you over the summer. It pains me to criticise our parents, but I am afraid I can no longer live under their roof while they remain mixed up with the dangerous crowd around Dumbledore. (If you are writing to Mother at any point, you might tell her that a certain Sturgis Podmore, who is a great friend of Dumbledore’s, has recently been sent to Azkaban for trespass at the Ministry. Perhaps that will open their eyes to the kind of petty criminals with whom they are currently rubbing shoulders.) I count myself very lucky to have escaped the stigma of association with such people – the Minister really could not be more gracious to me – and I do hope, Ron, that you will not allow family ties to blind you to the misguided nature of our parents’ beliefs and actions, either. I sincerely hope that, in time, they will realise how mistaken they were and I shall, of course, be ready to accept a full apology when that day comes.

Please think over what I have said most carefully, particularly the bit about Harry Potter, and congratulations again on becoming prefect.

Your brother,

Harry looked up at Ron.

“Well,” he said, trying to sound as though he found the whole thing a joke, “if you want to – er – what is it?” – he checked Percy’s letter – “Oh yeah – “sever ties” with me, I swear I won’t get violent.”

“Give it back,” said Ron, holding out his hand. “He is – ” Ron said jerkily, tearing Percy’s letter in half “the world’s – ” he tore it into quarters “biggest – ” he tore it into eighths “git.” He threw the pieces into the fire.

“Come on, we’ve got to get this finished sometime before dawn,” he said briskly to Harry, pulling Professor Sinistra’s essay back towards him.

Hermione was looking at Ron with an odd expression on her face.

“Ron,” she said abruptly.

“What?” said Ron.

“I’m really sorry your brother said those things to you,” she said. “I hope your work goes well tonight.”

“Thanks, Hermione,” Ron said. “It’s not the first time I’ve had to pull an all-nighter. It’s what happens when you leave things until the last minute and then find yourself surprised by emotional crises, I suppose.”

“I’m going to bed,” she said. “Good night.”

“‘Night, Hermione,” said Harry weakly, looking over his essay and sinking back into his armchair, rubbing his eyes.

It was now past midnight and the common room was deserted but for the three of them and Crookshanks. The only sound was that of Ron’s quill scratching out sentences here and there on his essays and the ruffle of pages as he checked various facts in the reference books strewn across the table. Harry was exhausted.

Hermione slept beautifully that night, and woke refreshed in the morning.

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