Harry had the terrible feeling of being stuck. Whatever he thought of doing, seemed, on deeper reflection, like a bad idea. Even if he did manage to break into Grimmauld Place, the Locket would be safer there than with him. Better just to stay patient and wait until Sirius was free. Running away to Albania to chase madly after Voldemort and Nagini was even worse, and he didn't have a clue where the other Horcuxes were.
He didn't know where Dumbledore had found the ring. He'd heard rumors about Hufflepuff's Cup, been told that some rebels in Dover had a line on it and had been planning a heist, but the battle of London had interrupted everything before he'd been able to make contact. He'd now learned a good bit about about Ravenclaw's Diadem from books, and a picture of a replica of it had seemed familiar, but he hadn't been able to figure where from and had finally decided that in all likelihood, Hermione had shown him the exact same picture during the Hunt.
He'd seen the power of telling everyone and anyone about Horcuxes, but with no ticking clock, he was likely better off keeping the knowledge to a select few, at least for now. It left him with nothing to do but general preparation, and for that, he only saw three tacts.
There was reading, and he'd done a great deal of that already, averaging well over a book a day with the aid of his spectacles. Beyond his own selections, he'd finished Percy's reading list and most of Hermione's, and he'd learned enough about History and Magical Theory to be embarrassed of how little he'd known before.
But while he had to keep on reading, he couldn't stand the idea of keeping on only reading, and adding ten more push-ups to his daily routine just irritated him with its paltriness. He needed some action to take, or, failing that, some practical skill to work on or he would go mad.
He'd learned enough about the Restriction now to know that accidental magic — which was to say, wandless magic — was treated differently than the wanded sort, but he didn't want to push it with wandless, not after what had happened the previous summer with Aunt Marge. That left occlumency. He'd read two books on occlumency, and he'd talked about it ad nauseam with Fleamont and Euphemia.
He had hoped, had believed even, that once he really buckled down, once he really took it seriously, he would prove a natural occlumens. He could throw off Voldemort's Imperius, couldn't he?
But as it happened, in a month of striving, he was still rubbish at the exercises. Improvement, he suspected, would be a long slog.
What he wanted, really, was to speak to someone real.
One Weasley or the other were where he'd usually gone when he felt overwhelmed. All nine of them were brilliant at taking his mind off things. But lately, having his mind taken off things terrified him. It felt as if, if his attention flagged for even a moment, Voldemort would be back and the world would be dead.
No, Harry wanted a plan. He needed someone to put things in careful, sensible terms for him before he lost his mind and invaded Grimmauld Place.
After making sure Dobby knew where to go, he rummaged through Euphemia's old jewelry with her cackling down suggestions, threw a few books into his bag, a few more into his mokeskin pouch, and he and Dobby both got under Harry's invisibility cloak.
Pop, and they were in a back garden. The house they were in back of was a three story townhouse, with others of the same type on either side. From behind them came a rhythmic squeaking.
Harry turned. The garden was small. Half of it was concrete patio, and a bit of it was flower beds. The rest was lawn, and most of that was covered by a black trampoline.
Something in him uncurled at seeing Hermione Granger, who hadn't after all died while his back was turned. She was wearing football shorts and an old shirt, and was bouncing straight up and down on the trampoline. Her hair rose with her and fell a moment after, the bushiest he'd ever seen it, and a leather-covered book was resting on the wire patio chair not far off.
Tall narrow trees were pushed up against the fence, giving some privacy, but the neighbors still had windows that might look in, so Harry backed up and took the cloak off between the wall of the house and a trellis covered in creeping wisteria.
Dobby slunk off, his blue suit not reducing his house-elf stealth in the least, and Harry waited behind the wisteria, figuring he shouldn't surprise her mid-jump, noticing that she was wearing pink socks. She didn't bounce around or do any of the tricks Harry imagined he would've. It was a just a steady, rhythmic up and down, landing each time in the exact center and jumping straight up. He felt more and more awkward, the boy hiding behind the wisteria to watch a girl trampoline.
Something brushed against his leg, and he yelped, wand coming straight to hand. It was Crookshanks, come over to sniff his shoes and now puffed up at his response.
"Hello?" called Hermione suspiciously, getting off the trampoline. "Is someone there?"
Harry replaced his wand, stepped out from behind the wisteria, and waved.
Her look of suspicion was replaced by a squeal of glee, and she rushed at him, giving him one of the big, crushing hugs that she'd mostly outgrown by sixth-year or so.
"Harry, what are you doing here? You should've called! Oh, look at how I'm dressed. Would you like tea? Biscuits? My parents are both at work, you know, so I'm the hostess, aren't I? And what did you do to scare Crooks? Poor Crookshanks, did Harry give you a fright?" She picked up the massive orange cat, who looked forebodingly at Harry as if he hadn't yet forgiven him.
"I reckon we scared each other," said Harry.
She opened the back door and led him in, Crookshanks jumping out onto the arm of a gray sofa.
"Are you taller? You seem taller. And those new spectacles too, and the clothes. You look dashing." She turned the kettle on and pulled a packet of biscuits from a drawer. "How did you get here anyway?"
"By house-elf," Harry said. "There's someone I'd like you to meet. Dobby, could you come out here?"
Dobby stepped out from behind a lamp, politely removed his hat, and bowed.
Hermione stared at Harry. "Dobby? The one from second year, with the barrier and that bewitched bludger?"
"Er, yeah. It's fine now. I've hired him on and he's been brilliant."
"I suppose," said Hermione, pulling out a third tea cup. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Dobby, so long as you don't do anything like that ever again."
"Dobby won't," the house-elf said. "Dobby is happy to meet Miss Hermione Granger."
Harry didn't care either way about Dobby's house-elf grammar, but they'd worked on saying names right, since Dobby didn't want to sound silly, but it seemed wrong, suddenly, that he was dressed well and didn't sound silly. There'd been so much courage in how he'd been before, and he wished Hermione could've met him that way.
Harry watched them interact, feeling very old. What was he doing, full of dark secrets and coming to a 14 year-old yearning for advice? Hermione had always told him what he ought to do, and he'd usually ignored it, but now that he was desperate for that direction, that bulleted list of things to do, she couldn't give it, not really.
"But you don't have to clean!" Hermione was saying to Dobby, when Harry tuned back in. "You're a guest. I have tea for you, and biscuits." She had just poured the steaming water.
"I is wanting to be cleaning," said Dobby. "Cleaning houses is being part of Dobby's work."
"But now that you're free-"
"Let him," said Harry.
"Being free means he doesn't have to what we want. Dobby, if you want to clean, clean. But you'll need Hermione's permission to do it here. Hermione?"
"Oh, alright. If you insist. This was my day to clean the third floor loo, so if you could do that…"
Dobby hurried up the stairs. Hermione looked anxiously after him.
"He's going to get that beautiful suit all dirty."
Harry said, "They're spelled to stay clean right well."
They took tea and biscuits out onto the patio, and Hermione fetched her book from the patio chair.
"When did you hire him? And why? And how?"
"At Diagon Alley," Harry shrugged. "Thought it might be useful. I called him, and he came. He works cheap."
"But are you sure about this one? He did try to hurt you quite badly. Wouldn't it be better to hire another one?"
"No. He's brilliant. Besides, I don't know if there's another free elf in Britain."
She stared. "What do you mean? I know you had to free him from the Malfoy's, but that was just them, wasn't it?"
"No. House-elves are almost always slaves." Seeing her shocked incomprehension, Harry felt another stab of grief. The other Hermione, the older Hermione, would have been thrilled he'd hired a house-elf, or else angry he wasn't paying enough. She might've thought it was a big step forward in house-elf rights, or she might've thought it was terribly regressive. Either way, she would've had a battery of questions and a collection of strong opinions.
But this Hermione hadn't founded S.P.E.W., or even considered the need for it. She hadn't met Winky yet, hadn't found out that Hogwarts was staffed with house-elves, hadn't done the least bit of reading about house-elf law, and house-elves had never been mentioned in their classes. All she knew was what Harry had told her of Dobby in second year and right now.
"They're not human, so that makes it complicated. From what Dobby tells me, most of them would hate being freed. I don't know what to do about it. Dobby wants to be free, but he still wants to work for someone. I'm happy to be his boss."
"That can't be right," said Hermione. "We can't still have slavery in Britain."
"You might look it up," said Harry. He pointed out into the yard. "I didn't figure you for trampolines. Aren't you afraid of heights?"
"Maybe 20 feet up, but a trampoline doesn't bother me. They're safe enough so long as you don't do flips or somersaults or go bouncing near the edge, and it keeps me in training for those Hogwarts stairs. I can use it so long as it's not raining, which it is supposed to do later this evening, so I had better put the cover on before we go back in, assuming we do go back in, that is. How's your tea?"
"Good," said Harry, taking a sip. Had she still been such a chatterbox at this age? He'd thought that had calmed down more by third year even, but maybe he misremembered. She was allowing the subject change, anyway.
"How about playing Quidditch?"
She shuddered. "I shouldn't like it the way you do it, with bludgers and all. But I wouldn't mind trying a friendly game on poky old brooms, if everyone agreed not to go too fast or high or have rough contact."
"What do you think of my doing Quidditch? A good choice, you think?" He'd never asked her questions much, thinking she was pushy enough with her opinions on her own, and it wasn't until she'd been dead that he'd realized how very much he didn't know, and therefore, how much she'd held back, small things and large.
"There's plenty of benefits to playing sport. I read about it in The Times. The danger bothers me, and I do wish Wood's practice schedule hadn't been so intense last year. And I'm still not sure it was right to put you on the team first year, but I know you love it, and I always thought, considering how good you are, that you might go professional after Hogwarts."
"Never thought of that," said Harry. People had mentioned it to him, sure, but he'd never had a single daydream on it. Quidditch as a hobby had been fun. Quidditch as a job was impossible to imagine. Before the world had ended, the only job he'd ever considered was that of an Auror.
"I'd rather do something that matters."
Hermione stared at him. "Harry," she asked. "Is something wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?"
He wasn't telling her that he hated Quidditch. What in Merlin's name had he been thinking, being on the team sixth year? If he hadn't wasted so much time on it, if he'd spent that time doing what he should've, who knew how things would've gone?
"Is it the attacks?" Hermione asked. "If it happened to me in three matches out of six, I'd never want to see a Quidditch pitch again, but it's never seemed to bother you."
"Taking things more seriously doesn't mean you can't ever have any fun. You'll burn out that way."
Harry shrugged. She ought to know about burning out, but he didn't feel in any danger of reducing to ash.
"I'd be more worried if you didn't look healthier somehow. And I swear, you must've grown at least an inch. Is it," her voice fell to a whisper, "Is it because this is the first summer you've been eating alright?"
"I've been eating well," Harry allowed, "And I've been exercising too. The Dursleys leave me alone, mostly. That's all fine. I've been doing a lot of reading."
She began to quiz him on the books he'd read, mainly Arithmancy and Runes. He hadn't found either of them easy, but with his spectacles, and with Euphemia and Fleamont to talk things through with, he was doing alright, though the classes weren't exactly top priority.
"Oh Harry!" squealed Hermione, taking his hands, all thoughts of Quidditch and burn out banished, "If you keeping work hard at it, I'm sure you'll be able to join me in fourth-year Runes and Arithmancy by the end of the year, and then you'll be able to take your OWLS on time!"
Harry thought of sixth year Potions, but assured himself that the next time they were in a class together without Ron, it would go much better.
They finished their tea and biscuits, which had been sadly neglected as they'd talked, and Harry helped her pull the cover over the trampoline. Dishes went neatly into the dishwasher, and she led him up the stairs to see her room.
"Your house-elf has cleaned the fur from the stairs," said Hermione. "I was going to do that tomorrow."
"Do you have a lot of chores?" Harry asked.
"Don't sound like that," said Hermione. "Our cleaning lady comes every Sunday, but Crookshanks is shedding more than most dogs now that it's summer, and when my parents agreed to my getting a pet, they insisted that I had to be responsible and clean up after the pet, so I've been vacuuming the house every Thursday."
"Where are your parents anyway?"
"Well, it's a weekday isn't it? We went on holiday earlier in the summer, but now that we're back, they're back at work. They leave at 7 and get back just after six Monday through Friday, and half days some Saturdays. Anyway, here's my room. Very pink, I know, but I was six when I chose the colours. Don't tell Ron."
Pinkness aside, it was very Hermionish. The room was militaristically clean and tidy, with added frills and pastels, but it had been crowded by full bookcases shoved in wherever they might fit, eating up every bit of wall space. Crookshanks leapt up onto the blanket folded at the foot of the bed. Harry took a seat next to the cat.
Hermione closed the door and drew the blinds before taking the desk chair, and pulling a familiar pair of reading spectacles out of a case. "Thanks for these spectacles, by the way. They're incredible. I'm almost through my summer reading list already, plus I've read two books on Guardian Charms like the Patronus Charm. Absolutely fascinating, and I can't wait to try it once we get back to Hogwarts."
"You ought to read up on it too. There's a whole class of guardian magic, and seeing as you've already learned to cast a Patronus, you might as well try them. But was there something else you wanted to talk about? You seemed coy earlier."
Harry grinned lopsidedly. Trust Hermione to know when he was holding back. Harry hesitated just a moment. With the deluminator, Dumbledore could be listening to him this very moment, but then, he wasn't going to tell her anything Dumbledore absolutely couldn't know, was he, so it ought to be fine.
"There's a bit more to tell," he said, and he started with the visit to Gringotts, skipping the Rematuration Concoction but dwelling on his family vault.
She gasped when he got to the part about his grandparents, and then cried a little saying how happy she was for him.
Harry moved on quickly from that, pausing only briefly to mention he was learning Irish, and skipped ahead to Dobby's testimony to Madam Bones.
"Is that the real reason you hired him?" Hermione asked, wide-eyed.
"No. It just happened." And he went on to relay the contents of Dobby's testimony.
"That horrible man," she gasped. "Killing people?"
"Mostly Crabbe and Goyle did the actual killing. Crabbe and Goyle's fathers, I mean. But yeah."
"And you're sure Dobby is trustworthy? He seemed fine just now, but from what you said before, he seemed a bit gone in the head."
"He did," Harry admitted. "But Amelia Bones didn't seem surprised by any of it, and you remember what Lucius Malfoy got up to second year. I bet he knew bloody well what he was doing when he slipped that Diary into Ginny's cauldron. And there's last year too, and the fact that he was literally a Death Eater."
Hermione said, "Then that, that's like the Mafia, isn't it, only he's one of the most politically powerful men in the country. So that's like the old Italian Mafia, and targeted at muggles mainly. That's horrible, but no wonder they're so rich. If we can help bring them down… They're all pitting themselves against Sirius right now, so if we can prove his innocence — prove it even further I mean, that might help. Have you thought about what you'll say on the wireless?"
"A bit. I've been listening to it, trying to figure what program would be best to go on. But there just isn't much more for me to do there. But Lucius Malfoy is secondary. The one I'm really after is Voldemort."
She gasped, eyes flying wide with worries, and Harry pressed on before she could express them. "Don't worry, I don't figure on running off to the Balkans looking for him, not until I'm off the Trace, anyway, but he's going to try and come back on his own, and when he does, I need to be ready to stop him. I know you're probably thinking I ought to leave it to Dumbledore and focus on lessons, but Voldemort wants to kill me particularly, and you know how I keep getting wrapped up in things every year, so-"
"I don't think you should just leave it to Dumbledore," said Hermione, bringing him to a halt. "Certainly, I think we should leave it to Dumbledore as much as possible, but I'm the one who's been wishing you'd take your yearly near-death experiences more seriously. I don't know why I'm the paranoid one when you're the one who people keep trying to kill. If you're finally getting paranoid too, that makes me feel ever so much better, because I don't expect we'll be able to go the rest of our schooling without getting mixed up in deadly madness again, though it'll be very nice if we do.
"But I do think the very first step is, yes, to focus on your lessons, especially Defence, Charms and Transfiguration. Why do you think I've been pushing you so hard to do well in them? Though obviously you're best in our year Defence, which does help me fall asleep some nights. Have you done your summer homework yet?"
"Er, not yet." It hadn't seemed important.
She took a piece of a paper and a biro, and wrote:
To Defeat Voldemort
Do summer homework well
"You've been reading books on Defence, Magical Theory and the war, haven't you?"
She wrote down to continue it. "I know there's the Restriction, but there must be some exercises we can safely do over summer."
"I've been running a mile most days, Plus sit-ups, lunges, squats, some push-ups."
"I meant magical exercises, but that's wonderful. Have you been doing anything else?"
"I've been studying occlumency."
"I've never heard of it."
"Oh, it's, er, to defend against mind magic. Mostly against legilimency, which is when people look in your mind with magic, Voldemort was great at it, but it can also help against the Imperius Curse, dementors, all sorts of things. But I need to find a decent tutor, one I can trust with seeing in my head."
They quickly made a short list, Harry bemused by the pure Hermionish of it.
To Defeat Voldemort
Do summer homework well
Do well in all classes.
Continue reading on Defence, Charms, Transfiguration, Magical Theory, History of war.
Rehearse what you'll say on the wireless
Identify suitable wireless program and arrange to appear on it.
Say it on the wireless
Re-read books, continue nightly exercises
Set essay topics for self and write them.
Find trustworthy occlumency tutor —ask Dumbledore?
Lend occlumency books to Hermione
Get wards fixed on Potter lands — ask Dumbledore for advice
"I don't know about all this asking Dumbledore," Harry said. "He's a bit busy."
"But he is your magical guardian, and does owe you a favor or two, I should think. But there's something else that's very important. We don't know how Voldemort is still alive, do we? And other than getting a new Philosopher's Stone made, which would be impossibly difficult, we don't have any idea of how he might try coming back, and those seem worth knowing. I know it would involve looking a lot into dark magic, which we'd have to be very careful about, but it may be what we have to do, if you're really serious about this." She bit her lip. "But I don't know that even the restricted section of the library will have what we need. I wonder where we could go."
Harry figured he had only a few seconds before the words 'Knockturn Alley' came to her mind.
Sheepishly, he pulled Secrets of the Darkest Art out of his mokeskin pouch. "About that. Er, I wasn't sure how you'd take this, since it is dark magic, but, I've been careful. Here, I'll show you the right pages."
She made an eager sound and practically dove into the book, spectacles on straight away, put off only briefly when she realized what sort of book it was.
She read quickly, pages turning in a flurry. When she reached the end, she squeezed his shoulder and grinned, saying, "Oh Harry," in a sort of squeal.
"What are you so happy about?" he asked in consternation.
"Horcuxes! Don't you see? This is wonderful. The Diary was his Horcrux. It must've been, and you've already destroyed it. His spirit might've just withered away after that, and even if it didn't, he doesn't have a Horcrux anymore, so he should be mortal as anyone."
"I reckon he might've made more than one Horcrux."
Hermione looked back at the book, scanning quickly. "Has anyone else ever made more than one?"
"Not so far as I know. But a big part of his thing was about wizards mastering life and death and becoming gods, so I don't reckon he'd be satisfied without doing more than anyone else had, and I don't think he'd leave it in Lucius Malfoy's hands if he only had the one. Plus, he got all snake-like at the end, and Herpo the Foul didn't do that, so again, more than one."
Hermione said, "That could as easily be because of something else he did to himself. He might've even have done it just for looks — Heir of Slytherin and all."
"I'm sure he made more than one," said Harry.
"Based on what?" said Hermione.
Harry opened his mouth to explain that, and found he couldn't. Based on what he'd learned in this timeline, there wasn't any strong reason to suppose Voldemort had made more than Horcrux, and so if he were going to convince anyone else of the idea…
"I just think so, alright," Harry said, mentally adding talk to Horace Slughorn to the list.
"Does this say anything on resurrection methods?"
"Not this book," said Harry, "But Most Potent Potions does. The way it shows, you use blood or bone from a close relative. It's alright for the relative to be dead, if you've got bone, but it has to be a magical relative — no muggles. But I thought Voldemort might find a way around that, so we worked out his muggle family. His dad was named Tom Riddle too. Dobby went up to the cemetery in Little Hangleton and made them unusable."
"That must've been a lot of research!" said Hermione, sounding impressed. "But what do you mean, made them unusable?"
"Oh, er, Dobby burned them, scattered the ashes into the sea, and replaced the bodies with dead pigs. Never felt like asking Dobby where he got the pigs."
"Harry! That's a crime. You could be in so much trouble! What if he was seen?"
Harry waved that away. "House-elves are stealthy, and he did it at night, mostly. And even if someone did see him, he's the only house-elf in Britain who wears a suit, so that's all people see, especially with the hat pulled low. But when he does secret work, he wears a bedraggled tea towel and looks like any other house-elf."
"But what's the point, if it's impossible to use muggle bones? You could've got in so much trouble, and Dobby too. You should've at least talked to Professor Dumbledore about it first, and let him do it if he thought it was necessary."
Harry stood abruptly, pacing around her room, hands clasped behind his head. He was not yelling at her. He was not yelling at Hermione for something that probably sounded perfectly sensible if you hadn't come from a dead future.
He'd never wished so badly before that somehow they'd both been able to come back.
"Dumbledore's kind and wise and terribly good with a wand," Harry finally gritted out, "but you can't say he doesn't let plenty slip, or haven't you noticed that the past three years we've done his job for him?"
Hermione gaped. "Harry, I think there's a lot more to his job then-
"Not letting Voldemort possess his Defence teacher? Finding the monster that's terrorizing the school? Letting a Death Eater spend several years disguised as a rat in his school through multiple emergencies when the map makes perfectly clear he wasn't undetectable? It's a lot to let slip. We can't keep relying on his being competent when he's proven again and again that he isn't, not at some things he insists on doing anyway. I know you don't like it, I know everyone wants to think of Dumbledore as some perfect creature of wisdom, but it just isn't true."
He expected Hermione to make an impassioned defence. He didn't expect her to frown peevishly at him and say, "I don't know why you're telling me that. If you remember the end of our first year I was the one angry that Dumbledore had known all along what was happening, while you seemed to think it perfectly natural that he'd let you have a showdown with You-Know-Who."
Harry blinked, because that was true.
Hermione continued, "He is a great wizard, no doubt of that — just look at all the things he's done — but if analogous things had happened at any muggle school, he'd have been sacked ages ago." Waving her arms, she said, "I'm not saying he should be, of course he shouldn't, he's Albus Dumbledore, and just imagine who they might replace him with — but it hasn't exactly run like clockwork, has it? And some of the staffing decisions… I won't hold the Defence position against the school too much, assuming there is really a Curse on it, but some of the rest..."
Hermione trailed off, and Harry stared at her. He hadn't expected her to say a word against the school or Dumbledore, or even tolerate one, and yet, who was it who'd called Trewalney a fraud and stormed out of the class? Who was it who'd bit her tongue again and again over Hagrid's teaching, holding herself back only, Harry was sure, because she'd known how he'd react? And this Hermione was only a couple months away from when the future Hermione had begun accusing the school of outright slavery. And on the hunt, hadn't she been the one most skeptical of the gifts in Dumbledore's will, the one who'd complained most bitterly if not most often about Dumbledore not giving them more to go on?
No, the one who'd been the most fanatical believer in Dumbledore, the one who'd been surest there must be a good reason, hadn't been Hermione, and it hadn't been Ron either. It'd been him. Not always — in fifth year, he'd had his doubts — but usually. After Hagrid, Harry himself was the biggest Dumbledore fanatic he knew.
And Hermione was talking again. "But just because he makes occasional mistakes doesn't mean you should think you know better than him, committing felonies on your own when you might've been able to accomplish the same thing just by owling him, and much more safely. Adults might not be perfect, but at least they're adults. But how is it with You-Know-Who's mother's family's graves?"
"Er. I don't know?"
Hermione shook her head briskly. "Well, that seems rather more urgent, doesn't it?" She added, Desecrate Voldemort's mother's family's graves to the list. "It's probably already been done, but we ought to check and make sure. But talk to Professor Dumbledore about it, don't just go haring off on your own. There can be terrible curses on wizarding graves. You will owl him about it, won't you?"
"Fine. I will."
"Good. Does he know about Horcuxes?"
"I reckon so. He saw the Diary."
"Well, you'd best tell him anyway, just to make sure he's put it together, though I can't imagine he hasn't. But I don't know what you're upset about. Graverobbing aside, you've made brilliant progress. Though I can't believe you were thinking of not telling me about it!"
"Didn't want to tell me about felonies and reading up on dark magic," said Hermione, "which is patently ridiculous. We've committed plenty of felonies together, and researching Riddle is the best possible reason to look into dark magic, so long as you're being careful about it. You are being careful, aren't you?"
Harry began to laugh.
"What is it? Are you not?"
Harry laughed even harder at her worried expression, and only shook his head when she asked why he was laughing. He really didn't get her, and he never had. The one who cared about breaking rules, and the one who, when she did break them, ground them into dust and set them on fire. Her rebelliousness and her trust in authority were bound up so tightly together that he could never tell where one ended and the other began.
"I'm being careful," he said, when he'd found the breath for it, "I just thought you'd be angry."
She looked at him archly. "I am irritated. We've always done research together. It's practically how we made friends. Now that we're finally researching Riddle, you'd better not cut me out. That's part of what made last year so terrible, you know. We didn't research anything but cases for Buckbeak, and between my classes and your Quidditch schedule, we hardly did it together at all."
"You want to spend next year researching Voldemort?"
"If we can't get it all sorted out by summer," she said, a bit mullishly. "You really have made astoundingly progress. Any other secrets?"
"Fresh out," he lied.
She added an item to the list and moved on as if everything about Horcruxes and resurrection were just another item on the agenda. "What was in the books in the little vault that Dumbledore opened?"
"Oh, that. There's the Potter family Grimoire — and before you get excited, most of it is spells that aren't secret anymore and Potions recipes for hair and skincare — and the rest is financial records, legal parchments, contracts, that sort of thing."
She bit her lip. "There must be more of their things somewhere, if it's not in Gringotts, and there might be clues about what exactly happened that Halloween. You should find out."
"There's probably still stuff in the cottage at Godric's Hollow. I mean where they were living when they were killed. I could check there, anyway."
"You don't think it's been emptied?"
Harry shrugged. "Seems the place to start looking."
Uncertainly, she said, "I understand if you want to go alone, but if you want me to come with you, I'd be happy to."
Harry's throat closed up. He and Hermione, together in Godric's Hollow, looking for clues of use against Voldemort. It felt like destiny, and he dismissed that thought angrily, because he didn't want to believe in destiny. But if it was only coincidence, it was one he didn't mind.
Harry said, "Dobby can pop us straight over, if you're alright leaving now."
Godric's Hollow looked different in summer. The lane was still narrow, and the houses were still small cottages in the main, but flowers abounded, and the trees were green. The sky was a patchwork of bright blue and dark grey. Summer rain fell, warm and gentle, and Harry raised his face to let the rain wash it.
Hermione, though, was in the shadow of a tree, looking nervously up, in no hurry to get soaked, so Harry rummaged through his bag and pulled out his black leather jacket. "Here, put this on," he said.
"What about you?"
"I don't mind the rain."
"You'll catch cold."
"I won't, just put it on."
The sleeves went halfway up her hands, but she smiled. "I ought to have a motorcycle, wearing this. Or maybe you should. Is this dragonhide?"
They walked down the main road, if it could be called that. He knew Godric's Hollow was a mixed community, and his spectacles helped him pick out which buildings were magical and which were not. The magical ones had an extra shine.
They came to the little town square, and after a slight squint, the 'war memorial' resolved for him into a statue of man, woman and baby, all of them happy, tender, and warm, an ideal little family frozen in time.
He was watching Hermione when the memorial changed for her. Saw her surprise, and her anger. "Well," she sniffed, "If they could build a statue, I'd think they could've seen you were properly taken care of."
"It was never about could," said Harry, glancing at the little church. It had seemed to hold a magic of its own that Christmas Eve, but now it was just a muggle building, a pretty thing of old stone, stained glass in the windows. He could see the cemetery beyond.
"I should have brought flowers," he said.
Hermione glanced around and pointed to the side of the road. A plant was growing up amid the dirt, a weed but for how clearly it was flowers, long thin stalks ending in blue flowers like clusters of small bells. "It's columbine," she said. "It can symbolize doves, spirit, and romantic love, so I don't think it's an inappropriate choice for a, for a grave. If you like. Or maybe they sell flowers in the church."
"How do you even know that?"
"Harry, we've had whole sections on wildflowers of Britain in Potions and Herbology."
Not having any muggle money, Harry took his penknife and cut several flowering stalks from the plant. Gathering into a careful bundle, he entered the cemetery, Hermione at his side.
They found the Dumbledores, and Ignotus Peverell. Harry stared for a while at the latter grave, at the symbol on the grave, thinking of Voldemort's address to the muggle world after he'd destroyed parliament. But he shook his head, dismissing it as some dark magic that would now never matter.
"Harry," Hermione called. "I found them."
His parents' grave were quite close to the Dumbledores'. He re-read the names and dates, reminded of how, when they'd died, they'd been only a few years older than he was now and read the inscription outloud.
"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. It still seems like a Death Eater thought."
Hermione gently said, "It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters meant it, Harry. It means living beyond death. Heaven, really."
"No," said Harry. "It's from the Bible, and it's about very literal resurrection, here in this world. It's very clear about that." He'd mentioned the line to Percy, who knew nearly as much as he imagined Hermione would've by the same age and had kept a library in his brown suitcase. As much as Hary had tried to make the passage about afterlife or some metaphor, it just wasn't.
Now Hermione was surprised. "Are you sure?" she asked. "That can't be right."
"Go find that part and read it," said Harry. "After that, tell me it can't be right."
"But Christians believe in-"
"Look it up, read it, and then tell me what you think it means," he said sharply, and Hermione shut her mouth.
He laid the flowers on the grave and they went back into the village.
When they found the cottage, Hermione was clearly shocked by the wild hedge, the hole blown in the roof, the rubble scattered in the high grass. He touched the gate, and pointed to the sign as it rose, the margins of it as covered in signatures and messages of gratitude and support as it had been in the dead future, if not in quite so many layers of it.
Hermione was predictably indignant, and Harry's fingernails dug into his palms, furious not at the people, but at the Ministry. Here it was, plain as day, proof that there had always been plenty of anti-Voldemort sentiment in Britain, but the Ministry had spent the whole war pacifying people, telling them to stay calm instead of getting angry, to support the Ministry rather than putting their backs into the fight themselves. But after he'd gone on Potterwatch, it'd turned out that Wizarding Britain was chock full of people willing to fight if they were just asked to. Damned if there hadn't been a few weeks there where it'd actually seemed as if Voldemort had been losing. If only that energy had been tapped into earlier. Dumbledore had tried in a way, but he'd sabotaged his own efforts with his habitual secrecy and his namby-pamby refusal to accept that wars were won with violence.
The rusted gate opened at a touch, and he began up the overgrown walkway, squeezing around the sign.
"Harry," said Hermione, in a squeaky voice. She was pressed up against the air behind him as if it were a glass wall, unable to pass.
The moment he got an arm around her shoulders, the resistance vanished, and she was able to enter. They'd gone just a few steps when there was a crack and a man in red DMLE robes appeared in the middle of the lawn. In a very bored voice, he began to recite a tired spiel. "Entry to Potter Cottage or interfering with its wards is strictly forbidden, subject to-
He stopped, staring at Harry.
"I think I ought to be an exception to that," said Harry, brushing the bangs from his forehead.
After checking his wand to confirm he really was Harry Potter, the wizard fell over himself to let Harry in, telling him that "Things had been cleaned up a bit before the funeral," but "most of it has been left as it was, as a monument."
The wizard closed the door behind them, not entering himself, and Hermione kept a tight grip on Harry's hand.
It was a cute little house. Most of the ground floor could be seen immediately on entering through the front door, with the flight of stairs just next to it. A small kitchen opened into a small parlor, and the back garden was wild through the windows. Inside, nothing was wet, and there was only a thin layer of dust. Preservation, weather and cleaning charms had kept it decent. Clean plates were laid on the table, and a mobile was next to the sofa, a few brightly coloured toys scattered across it. Harry picked up a red rattle, and hard as he tried, could remember nothing of it.
A full circuit of the lower floor revealed a glass door opening on the back garden, a loo, and a discreet potions room. It was the only sign of magic on the lower floor, and Harry supposed they'd kept it suitable for entertaining the odd muggle. The Potions room had cauldrons of various sizes, and a number of vials, beakers, ingredients in sealed jars. There was a small bookcase with a number of advanced Potions and Arithmany texts. Another large book was on the table next to the cauldrons. Harry opened it, and Hermione read over his shoulder as he flipped through. It was in his mother's handwriting.
"I think they were studying the Lycanthropic Curse," whispered Hermione, "and looking for any improvements to the Wolfsbane Potion."
"You hang onto it."
"You're the one who can fix Neville's potions while Snape's not looking." Harry had learned a little about how to nudge potions going wrong back into the right direction, but he doubted he could think of anything as complex as the directions he'd heard her whispering to Neville, which was pathetic, really, considering he'd had three more years of Potions. "Let me know if she was on to anything."
Hermione took the book wordlessly, holding it tight to her chest, and they moved upstairs.
There were four doors. The first he opened was just a loo. The second was a study. It had a few bookcases and a mahogany desk. Journals were lined up on a shelf above it. Harry took one down and read a few lines.
"It's my da's. The potions book is my mum's handwriting. This must've been his office." Harry opened his bag and swept the journals into it, along with any books from the case.
Hermione said, "Look, it's a wand drying rack." Various cloths and oils were set out next to it for polishing.
"I bet it was here when Voldemort come in." Harry said.
"Your father didn't have his wand?" said Hermione quietly.
"Neither of them did."
The next room was the nursery. A hole had been blown out the ceiling, but the rain, still falling gently off and on, could not penetrate whatever protections had been erected, blown away as if by wind.
There were bright pictures on the wall, and bright wallpaper, and cubbies full of toys. A toy broomstick was on the floor, and another crib was in the center of the room.
So that was where he'd been. He stood for a moment in front of the crib where Lily had stood, and then stood where Voldemort had been. Memory winged through him, the same the dementors had shown him, but now offered a new clarity and sense of place. He was sure he shouldn't be emotional about these things anymore, but he was sniffling regardless. Hermione was still holding his hand and watching him carefully. He could see the gears turning in her head, trying to work out whether she should back away or give him a hug.
Harry squeezed her hand. "Come on. Let's see the master."
He headed straight for the white desk, but stopped abruptly when he glimpsed the pictures on the nightstands, pulling away from Hermione to pick them up.
James and Lily together. James and Lily at a wedding, James and Lily hiking, James splashing water in her hair as she mock-screamed. The two of them with him, as a newborn baby, smiling broadly. James kept looking away from the viewer to try and play peek-a-boo with little baby Harry, who hadn't yet opened his eyes..
There was another picture too, on Lily's nightstand, where she must've seen it every morning when she first woke up. It was a still muggle photograph, and James wasn't with her. She was at a muggle cemetery, dressed all in black, and she looked not sad but deadly angry. A young woman whom he recognized, with a start, as a young Aunt Petunia, was standing next to her and crying.
Harry was still staring at it when Hermione said, "I found journals."
She handed him one and he flicked through it, his spectacles helping him quickly scan until a passage caught his attention.
The more I understand of wandless magic, the more I understand of all magic and sneer at my old conceptions.
All things have narrative implications. The sun is shining, so the day is good. The man is very tall, so he's frightening — unless he's not, in which case he must be a gentle giant, and a gentle giant shall be wise of heart. As a child, I could throw myself off a swing and fly high and fall slowly because I was coming off a swing. Had I tried to jump off a bridge known for suicides, matters would've gone differently. These implications, like symbols in a story, are not fixed in their meaning, but can be transfigured.
Magic, then, is the pressing of narrative implication into hard and fast reality. More and more, I find the old Greco-Babylonian understanding of magic a more useful model than our own — we are but actors performing for the gods, and when our performance catches their fancy, they endow our play with special effects, like a parent pretending their toddler has knocked them over or fed them tea.
The wand appears to remove us from that, but it doesn't. A witch waves her wand in a studied way, says a studied word which contains no little implication on its own, and so of course there is an effect. The wand and incantation, more than anything, is a way of quickly creating a set of narrative implications fully under the witch's control. It sets me up as the conductor of an orchestra, fabulously batoned, and not a girl striving desperately to channel the flow of a river off into a different course than it would otherwise have gone.
I find myself now longing for that river, leaving my wand aside and paying strict attention to the narrative implications of every action I take, whether it's noting my lab results, picking up Harry, or tickling James, consciously choosing whether or not to infuse the circumstance with magic.
"It's my Mum's," said Harry, handing it to Hermione. "If you wanted a clue about what happened to Voldemort, here's one."
Hermione read quickly, Harry looking at it still over her shoulder. When she'd finished that part and Lily had gone from discussing to wandless magic to discussing what James had made for dinner, she handed the journal back. "She was brilliant," Hermione said, in an awed tone.
"There's a new Head Girl every year," said Hermione. "She's talking about a very high level of wandless magic here, and lycanthropy is a very old and difficult topic, and she seemed confident about it, from what I saw. I don't think being so good at both is normal even for a Head Girl, not at 21."
"Don't forget she offed Voldemort. Walked him right through something that was half spell, half sacrificial ritual, and got the double-kill."
"You think she did it on purpose?"
"Can you read that and think anything else?"
"But then, if she did, then…"
"Then I'm not the Boy-Who-Lived, she's the Woman Who Won. At the cost of her own life, but I imagine she thought it was worth it. But who wants a muggleborn witch for their savior, one who had opinions that may be on the record, when they could instead have a baby wizard, last of a pureblood family, whom you don't have to see hide or hair of again for 10 years? The perfect little symbol of how everything will turn out alright if you just sit back and don't do anything. Did you know it was my dad who got the posthumous Order of Merlin First class out of it, not her?"
"Amelia Bones seems alright, but the Ministry as a whole is competent at nothing but disguising its malice. We can't count on it being any use against Voldemort."
He knew, from her wide-eyed look, that he'd said too much, shown too much bitterness, and she, like Ron a few weeks ago, was thinking that this was not her Harry Potter, that this degree of change could not be explained by a few key realizations, and something must be terribly wrong.
"I've been talking to my grandparent's portraits too much," he hastily explained. "Been adopting all their opinions."
"Harry," she said slowly, and she had her hand in her pocket, gripping the handle of her wand. "Do you remember the first thing I ever said to you?"
"It was on the train. You came in looking for Neville's toad, and you told me I was in books, which I hadn't known. You watched Ron try using that bad excuse for a spell to turn Scabbers yellow, and you didn't laugh at him somehow. Why?"
"No reason," she said, loosening her grip on her wand. "I just wondered if you remembered. And I did giggle about it, but only after I'd left the compartment. But is something else going on, Harry? Something you're not telling me?"
Harry was silent. He knew he had to say this well. He was thinking not of lies, but of what thoughts he might use that would draw the same shape that had beaten into him by four years of horror, disappointment and disillusionment.
"I was thinking one day, and it occurred to me that Hagrid was 13 or 14 when he was sent to Azkaban for a murder he couldn't have done. They must've known acromantula can't kill that way, they just didn't want to see it. And then I thought about how, when students were being petrified left and right, mandrakes weren't ordered in from outside, and the Aurors were never brought in to investigate. Then I thought about how I've survived multiple assasination attempts, one of them quite public, and not one person but you has ever talked to me about how I might be in danger and should take precautions. And the funny thing is, I'd known these things all along. I'd just refused to think about them, because thinking was frightening.
"But I'm done not thinking. It hasn't got me anywhere. If I keep it up, it'll get me killed, and worse, it could get you killed too, and Ron, and so many other people. And I refuse to let that happen."
Another hug, fierce and fast, her head buried in his chest, and she was trembling. She must see too how frightening the Wizarding World was, must have been been refusing for years to think of how very terrifying it was to be Harry Potter's friend.
"You don't have to stick with me," he said. "It might be better if you didn't."
Her arms tightened. "Don't you dare say that again. You think it's worse for me to die? Well I think its worse for you to die. I won't let it happen. As for ending Voldemort, I hardly want him coming back either, and if the Ministry is corrupt, as it certainly seems to be, that only means I'll have to help reform it."
There that was. Hermione Granger, forming large plans. Reform the Ministry, would she? He could believe it. End Voldemort? She'd be the junior partner this time, and that was why they'd succeed. And if one of them did have to die, he'd make sure it was him.
"Don't be too scared," said Harry. "Our enemies aren't as strong as they seem."
They moved quickly through the house, Hermione opening and cupboards and boxes along with him, letting when he did and didn't need to bother looking at what she'd found. When even his expanded bag was nearing full, they took a quick look at the backgarden, which had returned to nature, full of flowering weeds and unpruned trees, and left the Potters' cottage behind. No wizard apparated in to stop them, and the gentle rain had stopped.
But instead of leading them out, Harry took them deeper into the village, hunting for a house he'd only been to once and that time in the dark.
He found it eventually, by the smallness of the village, the glimmer of the wards, the white sign by the door with a stylized B on it, and the little old woman sitting in the front garden sipping from a bottle of beer.
"Excuse me," said Harry. "Are you Bathilda Bagshot?"
"What's it to you?" said the old woman in a rough and dusty voice.
"Er, I'm Harry Potter, and-"
The gate swung open. "Potter, eh? I've been wanting to talk to you."
Next to him, Hermione froze solid. The only sign she was alive was the way she was turning bright red.
Harry took her hand and pulled her into the garden with him. The old woman got up slowly, leaning on a cane. From how she used the cane like a pole in a boat and came down very slowly with each step, he thought she must've cast a Featherlight Charm on herself. The door opened, and she led then inside. The parlor was clean but worn, all the colours faded, and it had an odd, musty smell.
Bathilda Bagshot sat in a padded rocking chair, and Harry and Hermione took seats on an old, flower-patterned sofa.
"My friend Hermione here has read all of your books. Haven't you, Hermione?"
Bathilda said, "So you thought you'd use your fame to get your girlfriend a talk with her hero?"
"She's not my girlfriend."
"Not pretty enough for you?"
"Hermione's plenty pretty. Maybe I'm too dull and thoughtless for her. Or maybe we're too young to be thinking about that."
Bathilda laughed. "So the boy hero has teeth." She squinted at him. "Why are you famous again?"
"My mum offed Voldemort."
She nodded. "Yes. Now I remember. The flower girl. Didn't like her. I can't abide people with bad tempers. If you can't even control yourself, what good are you?" She paused. "But you marry her if you like, James, not that you've ever listened to me. Now, why are you here?"
Harry hesitated only briefly at Bathilda calling him James. No surprise she was batty. He opened his bag and pulled out eight books, Hermione's collection of all the history books that Bathilda Bagshot had had published. Hermione made a startled noise.
"Grabbed these from your room while you were in the loo," he whispered, putting a quill on the cover of the top book.
"Oh, a signing!" exclaimed Ms Bagshot, smiling broadly. "I do love signings. Who should I make it out to, dear?"
"Her-Hermione Granger," Hermione stuttered, and that opened the floodgates. "I'm ever so excited to meet you. I slept with Hogwarts, A History next to me for a full week before I came to Hogwarts. How do you find it all out, anyway?"
"Interviews, mostly. Living people for modern history, ghosts and portraits for older history, plus whatever other primary source I can find. The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron both date to the time of the founders, and the Sorting Hat too, of course."
In addition to occasionally thinking that Harry was James, she kept calling Hermione 'Mildred,' but when discussing her work, she seemed wholly lucid. Harry let them talk until Bathilda, remembering that he was Harry Potter, turned her attention back to him.
She asked him what he remembered of his parents (he lied and said he didn't remember them at all), what he thought of his fame, what he thought of Voldemort. She was surprisingly sharp all through it, and Harry was glad when Bathilda began to make excuses about needing to get dinner ready.
"But you're a lovely couple," Bathilda said, seeing them out the door. "Very kind to an old woman who's lost half her mind, and not so moody or temperamental as Lily. Give my best to Monty, the old rascal."
The moment they were out of the garden, Hermione began babbling about meeting Bathilda Bagshot. Harry nodded along until they were safely hidden in the little wood outside Godric's Hollow.
When Dobby popped them back into Hermione's house, the kitchen clock read 5:45.
"Reckon I'd better be going," said Harry.
"Just you wait one minute," Hermione said, giving him a fierce hug. "That was marvelous. I don't think she's half as far around the twist as she seems. She pretends just convincingly enough you can't guess which battiness is real and which isn't. That was the best present I've ever got. But why right then? I know you can't have been in the mood for it, not after seeing the Cottage."
"I wanted to say thanks," said Harry, "and sorry. For lots of things."
"You already have."
"Words are cheap," said Harry, because it was only lately that he'd realized that he'd always valued words too highly, always cared too much about people telling him what he wanted to hear and not enough about people actually doing things.
"Well, now I feel like I have to do something to say sorry to you too."
"You helped save Sirius."
She shook her head. "That doesn't count. It's not as if I did it for you."
Harry reared back as if struck, breaking out of the hug. He'd had nightmares and daydreams about words very like those, playing through his head again and again, one moment good and one moment bad, but always foreign.
"What did you do it for then?" he asked. "Padfoot?"
"Sort of, but I'd only known him a couple of hours. It's about the principle of the thing. Innocent men shouldn't have their souls sucked out by a government that shuts its ears to whatever it doesn't want to hear."
"The principle?" he asked dumbly.
"Of course. What else have we done all this for? Before I made friends with you and Ron, I thought that if everyone just followed the rules, things would work well. I thought that most of the time the rules were good, and if sometimes they weren't, that didn't mean you could go breaking them just because you thought so, because everything would fall apart if that's what everyone did. But now I know that the rules are bad not occasionally, but often, and some rules are just too silly to be borne. Good rules are still wonderful to have, but what would really make things fall apart is if everyone insisted on following them exactly all the time and not bending them when we have to, or breaking them when we really have to. You taught me that."
"I did?" said Harry.
"You and Ron. You taught me that sometimes you have to make your own justice, or there won't be any at all, and sometimes that justice is for yourself. But it's still a serious thing, breaking the rules, especially the important ones that have a good reason for them. It's all so much more complicated than I thought it was when I was young."
It sounded very strange and cold to Harry, and his expression must've said so, because she continued in a rush. "I don't mean that I don't care about the particular. Of course I do. I just think more about the general principle, but everyone does that some."
"I don't," said Harry. When it came to saving Sirius or Ginny or anyone else, he never thought about the general principle. He just thought about saving them. It sounded cold, yet Hermione was the most insistently helpful person he'd ever met.
"You know," said Harry, "I don't think I've ever understood you." He wondered about sixth year, when she'd Confunded Cormac to help Ron win the tryout. She hadn't seemed to have any strong reason then. But that year the three of them had been united in choosing angst and immaturity as their coping mechanism.
"That might be mutual," said Hermione. "You've certainly surprised me enough lately."
The lock snicked, a door opened, and before Harry could do more than glance around and realize Dobby had vanished, a brown-haired man walked in, followed by a woman with dark blonde hair of a familiar curly disposition. Harry had seen them once before, in the summer before second year. It felt like another life.
Glancing at the stove, then the table, Mr Granger said, "Hermione, haven't I told you? If you're not going to make dinner, give the office a call so we can pick something up on the way home."
"Sorry," said Hermione. "I got distracted. My friend Harry came over."
"Hullo," said Mr Granger, nodding absently at Harry. To Hermione, he said, "Harry's that boy from Diagon Alley you're friends with?"
"Yes. I wondered-"
"How about the red-heads?"
"They're not here."
"Good. Man made me feel like a zoo animal, and that was before the fist fight."
Mrs Granger said, "Hermione, dear, if you want to have a friend over, ask us first, especially a boy. And is that his jacket you're wearing?"
"Yes it is, and he just showed up out of the blue, as a very nice surprise. Harry, these are my mum and dad."
Harry stepped forward and extended his hand, but even as they both shook it, they were discussing what to do for dinner. They saw him clear enough, but they hardly acted as if he were there.
Realizing finally what was happening, Harry hurriedly took off the necklace that stopped muggles from much noticing him. The Grangers immediately turned to him with much sharper gazes.
"Now where are my manners?" said Mrs Granger. "It's so nice to meet you again, Harry. Will you be staying for dinner?"
"Er, I-" he glanced at Hermione, who was smiling hopefully. "I'd love to. If you don't mind. I don't want to impose."
"It's not any imposition. Pizza, Dan? I'd rather not cook."
Mr Granger was already pulling a menu from a stack of them on the counter. "Boys that age can really pack it away. Two mediums? No, better make it a medium and a large."
Harry spoke awkwardly to Mrs Granger (she said he could call her Claire, but Harry didn't think he'd dare) while Mr Granger placed the order. He'd not often had pizza (when the Dursleys had ordered it, he'd usually just been given crusts, and it wasn't served at Hogwarts) but he'd had it enough to know he liked it, and he could do with a break from pies.
"So," said Mr Granger abruptly, after he'd hung up the phone. "You and Hermione have been friends for a while now."
"Since a couple months into first year."
"Good, good. Our Herms has always been rubbish at making friends, so it was a relief when her letters changed to being about something other than schoolwork."
Hermione's smile turned wooden, but Mr Granger continued blithely. "And now you're here, a handsome young lad with a black leather jacket. I don't suppose you have a motorbike out front." He laughed at his own joke.
"No, but I do have a very fast broom."
"Hermione's mentioned that. You're the finder?"
"Is that how it works, then? The swot tutoring the athlete to pass his classes?"
"Hermione's brilliant, and I'm sure my marks would be worse without her. But I'd pass anyway, and it's not why we're friends. It's more because she's curious, caring, and brave."
"I need to talk to Harry," said Hermione. "In private." She tugged on his arm sharply, dragging him away into a study and shutting the door behind him.
The silence was tense, Harry asking the questions with his eyes.
"It's not what it sounds like," Hermione said. "He's just worried. Sometimes, when I was younger, there were people who pretended to be my friend just until the homework was done or the test was passed."
"He was putting you down."
"My dad's careless with words, that's all. He doesn't mean it any. And he's a swot too, so it's not like he can look down on it. But listen, Harry. My parents don't know anything about our," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "extracurriculars. I did tell them about meeting a loose troll in a loo, but I certainly didn't say it attacked me. I made it sound much more harmless anyway, like certain nordic trolls. And I did tell them there was extra security around the school this year because a fugitive had got loose from the prison, but I didn't talk about dementors or meeting Sirius, or the Chamber last year. Nothing like that."
The question of what Hermione told her parents had never once occurred to him. But to tell them nothing? He didn't know why he was surprised they weren't closer. Not only had she obliviated them, but the older she'd got, the more of her summers and Christmas breaks she'd spent away from them, a trend that had started even before Voldemort's return.
"Alright," said Harry. "But what was that about you making dinner?"
"I cook every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Don't look at me like that. It's perfectly normal, and it was my idea. I'm learning to cook and taking a load off them, and it makes sure we have nice family dinners."
They went back out. Mr and Mrs Granger had taken seats on the sofa. Harry and Hermione took chairs opposite.
"You were saying our daughter is brave?" Mrs Granger said.
"Oh, sure. Ron and I get up to some stupid ideas, and she tells us so, even when we hate to hear it. It's hard, standing up to your friends."
"Er, this year Ron and I wanted to sneak me down into Hogsmeade even though I didn't have a permission. She objected."
"What a nag, but that's our Hermione," Mr Granger said. "Always ready with her opinions."
"It's pretty great," Harry agreed.
"She could stand to learn to listen better."
"Couldn't we all," said Harry. He couldn't possibly have had this conversation at 14. He could barely have it now. His hands were curling into fists.
Mrs Granger opened a photo album on the coffee table. "I thought you might get a laugh out of this," said Mrs Granger. "Pictures of young Hermione."
Hermione in a crib. A tiny Hermione in nothing but a diaper, wrestling with a cat. A Hermione who couldn't have been older than five reading a book that was definitely past her age level.
It would've been cute if Mr Granger hadn't been there with occasional comments of critical concern about what an peculiar child Hermione had always been, or how she hadn't been getting along with the other children in grade 1. He'd seldom been more relieved than when the pizza arrived. With Mr Granger eating, Mrs Granger turned the conversation to questions about Hogwarts, saying she was happy to hear a different perspective, and he was so busy answering her questions that at first he hardly got a chance to eat.
"I've always thought it terribly strange that you have fighting as a core class."
"Defence? We've hardly learned any fighting in it yet. Mostly just dealing with creatures."
"Er, like bogarts."
Mrs Granger raised an eyebrow, and Hermione jumped in. "They're a dark creature, but not a very dangerous one. They live in dark spaces like wardrobes and cupboards, and if you stumble on one, they transform into whatever most frightens you."
"How fascinating. Harry dear, what do they transform into for you?"
"Dementors. They're a more dangerous dark creature, but the Ministry uses them to, er, guard a prison."
"How about you Hermione?"
Hermione turned bright red and spoke too quickly to be understood.
"What was that? Speak clearly, dear."
"Professor McGonagall told me I'd failed every class and was being kicked out of Hogwarts."
Mr Granger snorted through his pizza.
"That's not what I'd see normally," Hermione said. "It's because I was already so strung out from exams, and I would've done better against the bogart if I'd had a chance to practice against one before the exam, but I hadn't, even though everyone else had "
Mr Granger said, "Hermione, there is nothing you fear as much as failure."
Harry shook his head. "Bogarts aren't trying to make people feel bad and confront with emotional issues. It's just a defence mechanism. They don't want people to learn about themselves, they want people to run out of the room and leave them to their cupboard. If a bogart faces someone whose greatest fear is 'never being good enough,' the Bogart'll probably just turn into a giant spider, because that's what'll send them screaming out of the room. You'll only usually see something else if it's a powerful phobia." He assumed that Lupin broke into a cold sweat every time he saw even a picture of the full moon.
Hermione gave him a very sharp look but said, "Exactly. If I hadn't been in such a state from worrying for weeks about exams, I probably would've seen a troll."
"Didn't you meet a troll once?" said Mrs Granger.
"Oh, several times. They had some in the school this year. I mean one of the feral mountain trolls. They look frightful in pictures."
Harry remembered suddenly that Hermione had never shown any interest in the security trolls stationed outside Gryffindor tower, only keeping her eyes down and going quickly in and out of the portraithole.
"So what would scare you if it were a more emotional fear?" said Mrs Granger.
Harry told them about the singing Valentine's Day dwarves, and even Mr Granger unbent enough to laugh.
Harry did get to eat eventually, and he and Hermione left the table together, helping with the plates until Mrs Granger shooed them away. Hermione gestured up the stairs.
"Keep the door open if you're in your room together," Mrs Granger said.
"Mum, we spend most of the year at a boarding school together."
"And I'll wager you don't have much chance to be really alone there either."
"We were here together before you two came home."
"Don't remind me. Just keep the door open."
They went up to her room and left the door half open.
"Well," said Hermione, taking a seat at her desk. "I can't say that went perfectly, but they like you at least."
"Your dad doesn't."
"Believe me, for him, that was rather favorable. You can be sure he approves of your involvement in sport, even if he does think Quidditch sounds mad. Now, about our actions this summer. I'll start reading your mum's potions book straight away, but I really can't promise to make heads or tails of it. It's well beyond anything I've learned so far. And you ought to send that letter to Dumbledore straight away. We should meet again soon to compare progress."
"Next week?" said Harry.
"If you like. But it really is just me and Crooks here most of the day Monday through Friday. You could come anytime between 9:30 and five without the slightest chance of meeting my parents."
"Tomorrow, then. You can check my letter before I send it."
"Bring your summer homework too. And your grandparents, if you like. I'd love to meet them."
"Sure," said Harry, though he was oddly anxious about that introduction. "Speaking of which, I almost forgot. Since you're afraid of heights and all, I-"
"I'm not afraid of heights," she objected. "I just have appropriate for their capacity to be lethal. AndsometimesIgetvertigo."
"Right, I found this in my vault." He pulled a silver ring from his pocket and set it in her palm. "It's The Ring of Falling Gently. Does what it says. You'll be able to control it if you practice. That trampoline is perfect, probably."
"But I can't take this," she said, trying to hand the ring back. "It's an heirloom, isn't?"
"I have enough heirlooms to fill a mansion, and more magic rings than fingers to put them on. Just take it, and wear it on your off-hand, not your wand hand. Just take it."
Smiling toothily, Hermione fit it on her right index finger, the band expanding slightly to better fit her finger. "It's pretty." She jumped, waved her hand in the air. It took just a little longer than it should've to fall, and the thump when she landed was strangely muted.
She hopped again and again, waving her beringed hand, experimenting. Harry grinned as she did, moving about the room and glancing at the books on her desk. Alchemy of the Middle Ages. He hadn't known she'd ever read anything about that, but it wasn't any surprise. Basic Healings in a Pinch. Well, Ron getting his leg torn up had probably brought that on. Spirit Guardians in Greco-Roman Magic. That must be that Patronus bit she was talking about. And another book, rather out of place, because the cover was paper, not parchment. He immediately recognized it as a muggle book.
It was called The Deprived Child, and Hermione made a soft, worried noise when he picked it up. He skimmed the dustjacket quickly, and found it was a book for adults and teens trying move on from childhood abuse. He stared at Hermione.
"It's not for me!" she blurted. "After what you said on the train, I wanted to understand better. Please don't be angry."
"What, you think there's something useful in here? I know the Dursleys are horrible, I don't need to read about it. What is this shite anyway?"
He opened to a random page, and his eyes fell on an underlined question, with an empty box below it for readers to write in their answers. 'Which of your parents' negative habits and behaviors have you learned?'
He snorted contemptuously. He hadn't learned anything from his parents. He'd been raised by Un-
Harry dropped the book back on Hermione's desk. He would've booted it across the room if it were his. Nothing, he hadn't learned anything from them, wasn't anything like them. He was as far from being a Dursley as it was possible to be. He glared at Hermione, his vision going red.
Harry didn't remember saying goodbye to Hermione or to Mr and Mrs Granger, or anything of how he left the house.
There was a sort of break in his memory, and the next thing he knew he was sharply telling Dobby to pop him into the back garden. He didn't want his grandparents seeing him and asking what was wrong before he could compose himself.
The back garden of Number 4 Privet Drive was not so rigidly maintained as the front. It had, still, a center of well-mown grass, a few over-pruned trees, and shallow beds of flowers at the borders. It was also occupied. Uncle Vernon was sitting in a chair and listening to a rugby match over the wireless. Uncle Vernon did that occasionally when he was too upset about the match to watch it on the telly, or when he wanted to 'get out of the house,' which Harry took as code for, 'get away from Aunt Petunia.'
He shot to his feet the moment Harry and Dobby popped into the garden.
"HOW THE DEVIL DID YOU GET HERE, BOY?!" He roared, already turning purple. "AND WHAT IN THE BLOOMING HELL IS THAT THING?!" He grabbed Harry roughly by the ear and pulled him toward the door, yelling at him still.
Harry had his wand out before he knew what he was doing, a Blasting Curse on the tip of his tongue. He caught himself an instant before he would've killed his Uncle and forced himself to stick his wand back in his pocket and root around in it for another item, even as he waved off Dobby, who was preparing to banish Uncle Vernon.
The kitchen door slammed behind them. "NO FREAKISHNESS HERE! NONE OF THAT. NO APPEARING, NO RATS IN SUITS, AND IT'S NOT COMING INSIDE!"
"Of course not. Emergency transportation, like a cabby. Won't happen again."
He tugged the necklace out of his pocket and hung it around his wrist. Uncle Vernon's grip on his ear immediately relaxed.
"See that it doesn't," Uncle Vernon said. "Ruddy ungrateful nephew," he muttered to himself, turning away.
Harry stared at the man, trembling, shaking, fingering his wand, his ear still feeling painful and raw, as Uncle Vernon went back outside to keep listening to his rugby match.
Harry stomped up the stairs. He couldn't believe he'd forgot to put the necklace back on. Uncle Vernon was the whole reason he had it. But he took a savage pleasure in its power, in how helpless the enmity of a muggle was against a single spell. As if he'd learned a damn thing from that horrible oaf.
Dobby was waiting in his room, and so was Hedwig, perched on the edge of the cage and pecking at owl feed.
He moved straight away to the owl, focusing on what he needed to do, not on that brute he only had to tolerate a little while longer.
Ever since Harry had appeared on Potterwatch, Voldemort had got serious about catching him.
He'd thought Voldemort had been serious about it before. Would've sworn, in fact, that he was one of Voldemort's top priorities. And perhaps that was true, but even if he'd been a top priority, he clearly had never been an urgent one. Killing Dumbledore, toppling the Ministry and who knew what else had been higher on the to-do list.
Now though, Harry was number one.
He and Dobby were on a rugged hillside of scree and shrubs somewhere in the Welsh countryside. Voldemort and four Death Eaters were chasing him, the great swooping snake himself doing his broomless flight routine.
Harry's scar ached, but it had become a familiar feeling, one he accepted with a strange, savage satisfaction. The pain of it hadn't thrown him to his knees in weeks.
Harry ran on, a stitch in his side, wishing desperately that he still had an invisibility cloak and that the last broom he'd stolen hadn't been reduced to ash by an unregonized curse. He ducked beneath a flash of red, and a boulder behind him took it without harm. They had only been casting stunners at him. Voldemort had summarily killed a Death Eater who'd tried a Blasting Curse. There were distinct advantages to the man knowing Harry was his Horcrux.
"Dobby?" shouted Harry.
The exhausted elf shook his head. It had come as a sickening surprise to Harry, though not to Dobby, that Jinxes could be put up against elf apparition when you really cared to, and they had yet to escape the jinx.
Harry was increasingly certain that the jinx was centered on Voldemort himself, who was keeping pace with them easily. Regardless, he didn't think the elf could run any further.
Harry turned to face his enemies, casting his strongest shield as he did. It was a gloomy hour of the day, and Harry could think of worse places to die, though he wasn't wholly convinced yet that he'd end the day dead.
"Well Tom?!" Harry shouted to the monster in the sky. "Are you going to cast a spell at me, or will you leave it to your slaves to do their best?"
For a moment, Harry though that Voldemort would leave it to his Death Eaters after all, but then Fiendfyre rose up on the hillside. None of it was directly aimed at him, but it circled him instead, trapping him, sustained by Voldemort's magic if not the scant bushes.
Voldemort descended to the ground on the other side of the flames, his Death Eaters coming
"Give it up, Harry Potter. For one such as you, I am yet willing to let bygones be bygones."
"Damn you're shite at lying. This ring of fire seems clever for half a second, but are you really that sure I won't commit suicide?" He moved toward the fire, and the moment he was about set foot in it, the flames reared, and Voldemort's wand flew from his hand. The corner of his lip pulled up into a fey grin. It seemed Voldemort's magic still couldn't do a damn thing against his own Horcux.
"Avada Kedavra!" said Harry.
With a burst of wandless magic, Voldemort summoned one of his Death Eaters into the green light's path. The man fell lifeless to the turf.
"Avada Kedavra!" roared Harry again, and a second Death Eater died in a flash of green light, also used as a shield by their master. With a pop, Voldemort vanished.
Harry laughed loudly and shouted to the remaining Death Eaters. "Tommy always was a coward, wasn't he? Now who's next? Who's next?" Not that he thought he could actually cast the Killing Curse at them. He needed Voldemort as a target for that. But there were other ways.
But before the remaining Death Eaters could decide anything, Dobby grabbed his hand and they popped away, the elf-ward having vanished with Voldemort.
Harry looked around at the heather, the distant pines, and the sun bright in the sky. Scotland, probably.
"I'll get him next time, Hermione, I swear I will."
I know this chapter seems like Harmony. It isn't. There is going to be a lot of "seems like Harmony," but it will not in fact be that, though Harmony may eventually occur.
It took me a long time to work out dynamics between 14-year-old Hermione and 18-year-old Harry. In canon, Hermione's typically thrilled on those occasions when Harry is methodically working to address issues in a sensible and methodical manner, but how does she respond to a more mature Harry acknowledging her points and disagreeing in a nuanced and reasonable way, an argumentative style she didn't see much of in canon prior to book 7, when it started to pop up more?
Further, what does Hermione think? Canon Hermione sometimes gives very forthright opinions, but she also just as clearly holds herself back at times, and serious conversation about personal things and political issues is just not something we see much with her despite her apparent interest in them. What thoughts and doubts does she admit to when Harry isn't a brooding powder keg? I imagine some reviewers will tell me just how I got it wrong.
Hope you enjoyed the chapter!
You know what's surprisingly awesome? Bidets. Better for your pocketbook, better for the environment and about a billion times less disgusting than toilet paper. Nothing else comes close.