The End of the Beginning

Chapter 39

"Merry Christmas mate."

Harry woke up to Ron's voice and a heavy package landing on his chest.

"This one's from "Mione. A book by the feel of it, figures." Ron had already busily begun unwrapping the pile of presents at the foot of his bed. Harry began with the one that was on his chest. It was indeed a book entitled Aurors Through the Ages by the same author of the quidditch book Hermione had given him his first year at Hogwarts. There was a small note on the inside cover:

Some reading material for your new line of work. Merry Christmas!

Love,

Hermione

Harry worked his way through the rest of his packages: quidditch posters from Ron, a new sweater from Molly, a pile of Weasley products from George, a box of Honeyduke's hot fudge from Ginny, a dragon skin coat from Hagrid, and a hand knit pair of wool socks from Kreacher.

"Good haul mate?" Ron made his way over from his own bed.

"Yeah." Harry nodded.

"Let's get downstairs, I smell breakfast." Both boys made their way down to the breakfast table where George, Aubrey, Percy, Penelope, Mr. Weasley, Ginny and Luke were already seated. The table had had to be extended until it nearly touched the walls on both ends in order to accommodate everyone.

"Where's Hermione?" Harry asked Mrs. Weasley as she piled waffles onto his plate.

"She hasn't made it down yet. Bill and Fleur went for a walk through the village and I'm not sure where Charlie is." She chatted idly while scurrying back and forth putting food on plates. Harry sat quietly as the noise level grew, everyone chatting excitedly and swapping details about their gifts. It was enough of a gift to him to simply enjoy the company of everyone he loved most.

"Harry I'll take that dear." Mrs. Weasley waved her wand and Harry's empty plate made its way through the open kitchen door.

"Let me help." Harry stood up. There was still one thing he needed to take care of.

"Nonsense dear."

"I insist." Harry followed a flustered Mrs. Weasley into the kitchen and closed the door behind them. "Mrs. Weasley…"

"I'm planning on going to see Andromeda later if you would like to tag along." Mrs. Weasley had her back turned as she watched the sink fill itself with water.

"That would be great, but I want to talk about Ginny." Mrs. Weasley noticeably stiffened. "I wanted to say that I'm sorry."

Mrs. Weasley didn't say anything, the sink filled with water and with two flicks of her wand she mixed soap in and the dishes began to wash themselves. With nothing else to preoccupy her, she heaved a sigh and turned to Harry.

"It's alright dear, it's nothing that the two of you can't find your way through. Arthur and I had our fights too." Her voice had a false cheeriness to it that made Harry cringe.

"Mrs. Weasley, I'm not going to get back together with Ginny."

"Nonsense dear, you just hit a snag is all."

"Mrs. Weasley…"

"Harry dear," her fake smile faltered and a tear appeared in her eyes, "would you kindly run upstairs and see if Charlie is in his room?"

"Mrs. Weasley, I'm sorry things didn't work out with Ginny and I'm sorry if I hurt her in any way. I certainly didn't mean for things to work out this way, but we really are through." Harry watched as Mrs. Weasley's veneer finally cracked and she surveyed him with watery eyes.

"Harry dear, you can't really mean that can you?"

"'Fraid so." Harry shrugged.

"But everything was going to be so perfect." Mrs. Weasley blew her nose into a handkerchief, "You would marry Ginny and be my son and Hermione would marry Ron and be my daughter….and it's not that I don't like the new girl, but why couldn't they have at least tried to work things out?" Mrs. Weasley was sobbing now and she took a seat on a stool. Harry took a step towards her, but froze as she looked over her handkerchief and grabbed his hand. "Are you happy Harry?"

"Yes." Mrs. Weasley let out a fresh wave of sobs before she wiped her eyes and blew her nose again. She stood up and wrapped Harry into a hug.

"Well, I suppose that's all a mother can really ask for." She stepped back and placed her hands on his face, appraising him with pride shining on her face. "I know you hear this often, but you look so much like your father. He's proud of you, you know. Even prouder than I am."

Harry heard James' voice in his mind, "We are….so proud of you."

"I know." He smiled as Mrs. Weasley let out one more sniff.

"Now, run along now I have everything handled here." She shooed him out of the kitchen.

Harry returned to the dining room to find that everyone but Percy and Mr. Weasley had left the table.

"The boys are in the sitting room Harry if you'd like to join them." Mr. Weasley said mid-flow of his conversation with Percy.

"Thanks Mr. Weasley." Harry made his way to the sitting room to find George, Ron, Charlie and Bill all drinking eggnog and trying out a new board game that George had come up with.

"Care to join us Harry?" Charlie turned to face him, offering him an eggnog.

"Sure." Harry took a seat between Charlie and Ron while George explained how the game worked. The game was quite fun, but Harry's mind drifted to Hermione and what she may or may not have found out about Luke.

"Merry Christmas Hermione." Luke offered Hermione a small golden wrapped package. She carefully untied the bow and neatly unwrapped the paper. "You know it's okay to tear it right?" He grinned broadly at her.

"I know, but it just seems rude to tear to pieces what it took someone time to do." Hermione answered, not bothered at all by the thought that Luke had probably wrapped it by magic. It was a small box that contained a charm in the shape of a book.

"I remember you mentioned one time that you'd like to buy a charm for that necklace of yours."

"Thank you Luke." Hermione smiled, the gift was thoughtful without being overboard. The sick feeling in her stomach had nothing to do with the gift and everything to do with the two shrunken packages she had in her hands. Would she really force out the truth by magic? Or would she trust that Luke would be honest when confronted?

Have you tried just talking to him?

Harry's voice echoed in her mind. If she couldn't bring herself to trust Luke, then she could at least trust Harry's instincts.

She unshrunk the red package.

"Merry Christmas Luke." Luke unabashedly tore off the paper as if to show her how presents were supposed to be unwrapped.

"Oh wow, this is that book from Hogsmeade you had to hear me drone on about. You remembered." Luke's grin went from ear to ear. He was seemingly always happy, but there was something to her remembering that detail that seemed to really make him glow. While she hated ruining the moment, Hermione thought she would perhaps never have a better chance than this.

"Luke, can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"What…." She hesitated, perhaps instead of accusing him it would be best to come clean herself. "What were you talking about with that girl in that hallway at Hogwarts? She said something about not getting me involved and that you needed to tell me something. What was that about?"

The smile slid off Luke's face like someone had thrown stinksap on it. "What are you talking about?"

"I was heading to breakfast and I took a shortcut. When I reached the exit I heard you talking to a girl. She said you "needed to tell me" and you refused. She said it wasn't fair that you involved me without me knowing. What was she talking about?" Hermione's voice grew stronger on every syllable. Now that she was confronting him, her indignation about being kept in the dark was building.

Luke frowned. "You weren't supposed to hear that."

"And that makes it somehow better? When were you planning on telling me?"

"When I had no other choice."

"Well I'm not giving you another option, so tell me now." Hermione felt her insides bubble with anger. Only Ron had ever worked her up like this.

"It's not that simple, you don't understand." Luke's voice began to rise.

"Why don't you try me? Or do you take back all those compliments about my, what did you call it, Ravenclaw wits?"

"No, it's not like that."

"Then tell me what is is like." Hermione cast a silencing charm on the door of Ginny's room.

"You have no idea." Luke's voice suddenly went very quiet and his face twisted with suppressed fury. "You have no idea what it is like to be me. Living your life pretending you're something you're not."

"What are you talking about?"

"You probably caught my guard slipping at some point. It becomes really hard sometimes to keep pretending."

"What is it you are…" Hermione was growing more bewildered by the second.

"Do you know why Dumbledore and Grindelwald were such a big deal?" Luke interrupted her.

"What?"

"It wasn't just because they were two powerful wizards. There was a lot of gossip about the two of them. People said a lot of things about the kind of relationship they had. Some folks said they had a falling out over it. It was the hottest topic of the time." Luke was talking faster and faster. "And you know why that is? It's blood. Everything in this world comes down to blood. There's only so many of us right? Witches and wizards. Even fewer of us still who are purely of wizard stock like me. There's a responsibility that comes with that. It's why parents encourage marrying young. They don't want their little boy left without a suitor. It doesn't even enter their minds that little johnny may not even want it, or worse, that he may want something different."

Luke's hands were shaking and a lone tear had escaped his eyes. "You want the truth Hermione? I'm miserable. I'm lonely and angry and just so miserable."

Hermione's hand went to her mouth. "Luke….are you gay?"

Luke let out a long breath. "Yes Hermione."

Her mouth simply hung open. This was far beyond anything Hermione could have expected. "Who else knows?" her brain went on autopilot.

"My friend Veronica, Fred and George Weasley, and my parents."

"Wait….Fred and George know?" Hermione gasped.

"Yeah. I was always good friends with the twins, Fred in particular." Luke seemed to deflate a little, "They caught on to why I never seemed to care about the pretty girls. They never treated me any differently though."

"Who's Veronica?"

"She's a first year Ravenclaw I befriended on the train. That's the voice you heard. I told her about it a few months ago after another one of my parents' letters came." Luke's eyes burned with anger. "My parents only care about the family name and bloodline. I'm an only child."

"Then why go out with me? Why pretend to be so interested in me?" Hermione felt her own anger rise in spite of herself.

"To appease my parents. They were threatening to pull me out of Hogwarts." Luke's tone softened, "I'm sorry Hermione. Being with you made them happy, even if you were a muggleborn. I thought that if I made them happy for a while they would forget about pulling me out and then I could tell you and end it."

Hermione simply gaped at him. So she had simply been a pawn in a game she wasn't even aware was being played. Luke stared at her with eyes filled with guilt. She felt her own guilt begin to fester and rise into her throat. While Luke had been playing one game, she had been playing another.

"Luke, I…."

"I'm sorry I hurt you Hermione…."

"No, listen." She interrupted him, "I'm sorry too. I need to be honest with you. The only reason I agreed to go out with you was to get over someone else."

Luke nodded his head solemnly. "Harry right?" Hermione nodded. "I have to admit that I thought there was something there. It was part of the reason I felt I didn't need to tell you. As long as we could both play our game we could both get what we wanted."

"I'm sorry Luke." Hermione exhaled. "But I have to ask: why do your parents care so much? And surely it's just them right? Not every witch and wizard thinks there's anything wrong with who you are."

Luke actually laughed. "You truly are an idealist Hermione. Of course other witches and wizards care. Most do. You really think a society as obsessed with blood and bloodlines as wizards are would openly tolerate people who wouldn't keep it going? Haven't you noticed how anachronistic wizards are?"

"That's appalling." Hermione's temper flared again. "So what if two wizards love each other? All this blood nonsense is absolutely ridiculous."

"Agreed, but as it stands it makes it very hard for people like me to be who they really are. Nobody crossed Dumbledore because he was so powerful. Later in life they dropped it all together once he basically became a celibate and made the world such a noticeably better place. It suited their interests to let it slide."

For a moment neither of them said anything. The truth of the conversation was still sinking into Hermione.

"So what do we do now?" she looked up at Luke.

"I won't hold you to this sham of a relationship. You know the truth about me now, besides I think we both know who you really want to be with." Luke smiled, but it was a small sad smile instead of his perfect grin. There was something more genuine about it and Hermione smiled back.

"But what about your parents? What will you do?"

"I'll tell them it didn't work out. They're not stupid; I can't imagine they really thought it would last."

"Luke you need to confront them. You can't let them force you to live a lie."

Luke sighed. "And what would come of it Hermione? Even if by some miracle my parents had some change of heart, there are still a whole lot of other wizards that would look down at me and no other wizard in his right mind would ever openly love me."

"Luke you can't just give up. It's not fair."

"Of course it's not." Luke's voice shook and another tear slid down his face, "But life isn't always fair." Luke waved his wand to lift Hermione's silencing charm. "I think its best that I go home. I hope you enjoy the rest of your holidays Hermione." He gave her one last sad smile before he turned and walked out the door.

Hermione stood rooted to the spot. The last few minutes played on repeat in her mind while she struggled to make sense of it. She had not expected to end up feeling sorry for Luke or for the injustice that was his life. She had spent her life deploring the plight of magical creatures like house elves and wizards like her who were looked down on because of their birth, but never could she have imagined someone having to live in such misery based solely on who they loved.

She needed space to be able to absorb all of this. She grabbed her winter coat and threw a scarf around her neck. There was a park near here where she often snuck away for alone time. She had no desire to see anyone else, but she knew Harry to be downstairs with the others. Despairing over how to tell him where she was going, she decided that she could send her patronus down. It might raise some eyebrows, but it would be better than having to explain herself in person.

She closed her eyes and remembered the moment Voldemort had hit the ground. She had run to Harry and squeezed him with all her might, joy at seeing him alive and triumphant nearly making her heart burst.

"Expecto Patronum!"

Her eyes widened in shock as a large silver doe erupted from her wand instead of the gamboling otter.

My patronus has changed.

While her love for Harry was nothing new to her, there was something about having physical proof in front of her that sent her heart racing. She hesitated sending it to him, knowing that if he were to see her patronus now that it would mean she would have to explain why hers matched his.

Then she thought about Luke and how he wasn't free to live life as himself because wizard society made it intolerable. Meanwhile the only thing keeping her from being who she truly was was her own stubborn pride.

Filling the patronus with her message, she waved her wand and sent it galloping down the stairs. There was no turning back now.

Hermione turned on the spot and felt the tight squeeze of apparition as the image of swing hanging from an oak tree filled her mind.

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