NOTES and DISCLAIMERS: Harry Potter, etc is the intellectual property of JK Rowling. I'm making no money here and have no intentions to do so ever. For goldatemara for the choc_fic ficathon. Title from the Blur song. Thanks to kel., Mosca, Katie, Sandy and Mare.




THIS IS A LOW



She was running behind him to catch up but when she was finally standing next to him, panting a little, she simply said, "Hullo, Dean."

He kept walking, his takeaway close to his chest. "Hullo, Hermione." It was Hermione: she was playing at something, of course. She wanted to be all MI-5 like this was Hogwarts and all the Death Eaters were standing behind them. Dean decided it was fine. He could play along.

She put her arm in his, very chummy of her. She said, "Let's go sit over there and eat, shall we?"

"I didn't get enough for you, Hermione."

She smiled up at him. He sighed again and said, "Cool."

She sat down at a bench and tugged him down beside her. Dean knew it was always best to sit back when Hermione was on a tear. He liked to learn, too, and do things, but she was always a step more beyond that. It was a mite bit scary.

She said, "This is a very nice neighborhood. It reminds me of mine."

He wondered if she meant she was surprised at where he lived. Ron and Neville would have stared at the Muggle-ness of it all, but Hermione was probably thinking of something else because of who Dean was.

Harry might have thought something, but he wouldn't say it. Harry wasn't Dean's best mate like Seamus, but Harry was good people. Even when half the school thought Harry was the Heir and after Muggleborns like Dean, he hadn't been afraid for himself. Harry wouldn't hurt his friends, he'd never had enough. That'd been pretty plain when Harry was eleven and he'd always looked so surprised that Dean and Seamus and Neville were as nice to him as Ron was.

Dean opened the bag and looked at his kebab. Seamus hadn't even looked around the neighborhood the one time he'd visited. He'd gone straight to the house and given Dean's mum the biscuits that his own mum had sent. Seamus was good at being in Muggle places and magic places without looking uncomfortable in either. Hermione wasn't anymore, he supposed. Dean hadn't lost that, he knew.

He'd even managed to make sure the neighbors didn't notice all those owls from Ginny, even the ones she'd sent after they decided to be just friends. It took a little work without magic, but he didn't want complaints to his mum.

"Tell me, Hermione." He smiled and hoped it looked less false than hers.

"Well, it's really quite interesting," she said loudly, looking all around while not moving her head.

"Hermione, cool it. There's no one around here. Not like you're thinking." It wasn't that he didn't like Hermione; it was more that she wore him out.

"They really could be, Dean," she whispered. "There are more of them now, and they are looking for people like us."

"Mudbloods, you mean?"

"I mean people like us, who were in the DA." She looked over his shoulder quickly and then reached up, put her hand on his neck. She whispered in his ear, "They think we're the future, so get rid of us, and it will be easier to get to Harry, to kill him."

He shrugged off her hand. It reminded him of Ginny, or Seamus.

Dean's mother had taught him to run. She'd always said that it was best to run away and get someplace safe when you found trouble. He'd always thought it was funny because his dad had run away and left them both. His mum thought he didn't know that, but he'd figured it out even before he figured out he was different and magic. But she still insisted that trouble should be someone else's.

"Fine, Hermione, I understand. We'll be back at school in a few weeks, I reckon I can survive until then. I'll be cool." Hermione, Ron and Harry, they rushed headlong into the real danger, not just schoolwork and pranks like Dean. All this talk of Voldemort and Death Eaters, it had only been a little real to him. But now that it was his schoolmate, whispering nervously at him, he realized that it was, and not just a little. He was afraid for certain.

She sat back against the bench, hands crossed on her lap. She wore a bracelet made of shells. He wondered who'd given it to her, because it looked like something his mum would buy if they ever went to the seashore on holiday.

She whispered, "I knew Ginny would do this better, but Ginny, she said no. She said the two of you were all right now, but she still didn't want to. So maybe it was a little hard for her, still."

"We are, we're cool." He finally started eating his takeaway. A nice kebab, chips already soggy. He ate a few of the soggy chips while Hermione collected her thoughts. He wondered who went to roust Seamus.

Dean's mum wanted Dean wrapped in plastic and never hurt by anything. He usually ignored her. His mum's idea of danger was far removed from the real danger Dean felt. He was starting to think about listening to her. Him and Hermione, they were big targets, he supposed. Muggleborn wizards, trained with Harry Potter. But Dean wasn't so sure he was ready for the kind of danger Harry always seemed to be running to.

Hermione said, "We thought you could come early, not to Hogwarts, but to this place." She wrote an address on a piece of paper. Paper, not parchment. "See, you say it, there's a spell. It's loads more complicated than that, but the spell is the first part. We've been changing the meeting place every week." She was worried, more than her usual worried about schoolwork way. "It's not really safe, but we could use your help. And if you were with us, it would help your family. We think it would make it less likely that they might come for them."

"Where're your folks, Hermione?" He closed the bag. He wasn't hungry anymore.

"I arranged to put a ward on the house. I can do the same for you."

"Or I can do it, until I go to school."

"It violates the rules, Dean." She actually wrung her hands at that.

"I'm sure the ministry will be all over me for that with everything else they have to worry about." He almost laughed.

Hermione said, "It's very important, Dean." She had folded and unfolded and folded the paper in her hands. It was pink, another odd thing strange for Hermione. He always pictured her with perfect white paper with no guides but she would write everything perfectly lining up.

"Very important? You're talking like my family's in danger."

"They are," she whispered. She rubbed her neck and he saw the bracelet, flashing white.

"Where did you get that bracelet?" He opened the bag again and pushed it towards her. "It's pretty." He thought it was more flashy than pretty but he thought the flat out question was rude.

"Oh," she said and turned her wrist to look at it. "I made it. When I was little, we took our holiday at the beach. And I have a charm on it, like a pager, you see, and it was the only bracelet I could find that I owned that would work."

He almost laughed. Silly of him to think it was a gift and not another tool for her. As much danger as Dean had seen knowing Harry, Hermione had seen even more. He'd seen her afraid, but he'd never seen her run away. Dean and Seamus had talked once about going to visit her, when she was petrified, because Padma and Parvati thought it would be nice. None of them had gone in the end. They should have, he thought.

Hermione worried about everyone. Like she was everyone's mum. She stopped the Weasley twins from trying out their sweets on the little ones, sure, but she'd also talk to anyone who got an Owl from home and looked less than happy.

He thought about the Death Eaters at the World Cup. Seamus had woken him out of bed and dragged him into the woods. They'd waited there half the night, even after the green death's head loomed overhead until Seamus's mum arrived. Cedric Diggory had been one of those golden boys at Hogwarts and Dean couldn't believe he'd died. Dean had heard the stories about Voldemort coming right into the Ministry of Magic from the paper and from Neville, still bruised and upset.

It was funny to think the big decisions were happening on a sunny summer day, kebab in bag on his lap and his best friend far away. But his mum was wrong. You couldn't wait out and run away from real trouble. And even if it didn't, people were dying.

She said, "I'm sorry, these chips aren't very good."

He took the paper from her lap. "Is Seamus coming to this place? Him, too?"

"I think." She looked down at the bag. She took more chips. "Hm, Ron went to speak to him. And Ginny's talking to some of the girls she knows. We really need the help, you see."

He looked at the folded up paper. He reached in the bag and took out his kebab, unfolding the wax paper. It wasn't bad at all. He said, "Of course, Hermione. Tell me, there's not a curse on this if I open it, right?"

She stood up and smiled. "No, no, not for you. I mean, there's no curse on it at all, I wouldn't think I'd need that for you." She blushed, she was lying. Dean remembered Marietta. Hermione trusted him, but not enough to go without insurance. A habit - real danger had always been real for her. She tugged at his sleeve. "Come on, you'll want to say goodbye to your mum, right?"

He nodded and followed her.

THE END.

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