Hogwarts

The old man sighed as he eased himself into the chair. It was a fine chair and he liked it. It had been a fine chair even before he had begun charming it for maximum comfort. He believed that working on the endless paperwork his positions generated was made slightly more tolerable due to the chair.

He fussed through his candy dish looking for the perfect specimen, the exact lemon drop needed for fortification. He never looked, he selected his candy by feel alone; doing so was his one of his few forays into divination. Instead he watched a portrait.

The portrait of Phineas Nigellus grumbled and groused, as irritated as ever by Dumbledore's quirky love of muggle sweets.

Truth be told, Albus did like lemon drops well enough, but the true picante, the kick, was everyone's reactions to them. Lacking any living witness, sneaking a peek at Headmaster Black's portrait served well enough.

Albus twinkled happily at the painting then sighed and began to whittle down the tower of paperwork. It was all routine and dull, deadly dull, as dull as it was unavoidable.

He was working through a folder of paperwork concerning his magical wards, working quickly, a glance to take in the gist, a flourish of his quill, on to the next. The bulk was the sort of thing that plugs up any bureaucracy, things like address changes and grade reports.

There was an outlier however, a single sheet that contained a boilerplate betrothal that raised both of the Headmaster's very bushy brows.

A betrothal between Draco Lucius Malfoy and Hermione Jane Granger.

And wouldn't that set the niffler loose in the vault.

He rock back in his chair then pushed off with his right foot, gently sweeping in circles while he pondered what insanity could have possible resulted in this archaic bit of pureblood puffery presently before him.

An opportunity, quite a dazzling opportunity, one that couldn't possibly come at a more inconvenient time.

The truth of the inconvenience was still evident throughout his office, wheeling past as the world revolved around him.

Young Harry did manage a fairly complete thrashing..

Albus Dumbledore was a very accomplished wizard, perhaps the most skilled in Magical Britannia. He was most certainly could he could repair all of the damage, but he'd yet to do it. He was rather dramatically indulging in his self imposed penance.

Narcissa knows I will never allow this to go forward as is. I shall have to ask her what the devil she means by it.. Lucius would never allow this under any circumstances. I wonder what he would think if he knew?

"Fawkes? I must go to Azkaban, would you do me the honor?"

-o0o-

Azkaban

Mark Procter had done well in school. He'd managed an Outstanding in all NEWT's but for a single exception, Potions.

Despite his very good results that missing outstanding disqualified him from applying for his dream job right out of Hogwarts. He ignored the low level anger brought on by any thought of Snape's potions class.

No matter, Professor Sprout did right by me..

With the help of the Hufflepuff network, Mark had mapped out a clear path to his dream job. Some intense tutoring of NEWT level potions and reapply for Auror with an amended application which would include his exemplary record as an Azkaban guard.

Not all was roses and ice-cream.

Prior to the recent breakout the posting to Azkaban had been bottom of the ladder. Now it was worse.

Though Madam Bones was not much for pureblood supremacy her chain of command faffed about with her orders until, miraculously, Azkaban was staffed by muggleborns overseen by a pureblood warden who didn't seem to like his staff. The same warden who was notable for his determined absence from the facility at any and every opportunity.

We sussed it out quick.. who wouldn't? When Voldemort comes again we're on our own, we'll win or die like the last garrison.

The Azkaban garrison had laid plans independent of the Ministry and especially independent of the Warden, but they knew they were dangling over a long drop.

Mark was Hufflepuff, he'd do the work and he'd do it well. He'd do it knowing that the Death Eaters being back in residence made it nearly certain the Dark Bastard would come calling.

That fucker Snape.. I'd have been in Auror training right now if it wasn't for that useless bastard.

Mark was startled out of his wits, very nearly falling over, when a huge ball of red/orange flame erupted two meters in front of him. He sounded the alarm before he realized it was the Headmaster and his phoenix.

Dumbledore seemed to enjoy the next fifteen minutes of kerfuffle.

He was Dumbledore so he twinkled and he was kind and solicitous and got his way when no other would have. Soon enough Albus stood before the cell containing the pinnacle of pureblood breeding, Lucius Malfoy.

"Good Evening, Lucius. How do you find the accommodations?"

Malfoy had the sneer. He'd always have the sneer. He was born with it and he'd die with it. Perhaps he'd die because of it.

"Temporarily inconvenient."

"My dear fellow, I do sincerely wish you to find remorse and subsequently redemption but, alas, that time is obviously not now. Certainly not while within earshot of so many of his other true believers."

Dumbledore twinkled magnificently.

Lucius could have generated dry ice with his sneer.

Around them, Malfoy's companions were rioting, trying everything to discomfort Dumbledore even as two of the guards worked to settle them. The Headmaster flicked his wand, creating silence around Malfoy's cell.

"In the course of my duties I came across something most curious," Albus murmured, "I was wondering what you might think of it."

A copy of the Malfoy betrothal floated into Lucius' cell regardless of Mark's outraged protestations. Dumbledore watched closely as Lucius skimmed the thing. Malfoy's eyes bulged, he flushed and his nostrils flared, he started to spin away from the Headmaster. Albus didn't allow it, instead he forced Malfoy to face him.

The old man smiled gently and whispered, "Legilimens."

Half an hour later, Albus was back in his chair and desperate for any way to cleanse his mind. Lucius Malfoy was depraved but the Headmaster had known that going in. What shocked the old man was the breathtaking depth of that depravity. Malfoy's sole redeeming quality was his love for his family. He was also violently opposed to a betrothal between his only son and Miss Granger. And that Albus Dumbledore found very interesting indeed.

Lucius is nearly certain Riddle ordered the betrothal. Punishment for his failures as well as a blow at the Light and especially at Harry.

I wonder if Lucius is correct. Narcissa has always been both subtle and determined. I shall ask her to luncheon.

Hogwarts

Meeting with Narcissa was rather like elephants mating; it required determination and a lot of ponderous maneuvering. Nearly a week passed before they were seated in front of the fire in the headmaster's office with a beautiful meal between them.

Old pros at the dance, they fenced through the courses until desert was set aside and a final cup of tea served and sipped.

Narcissa lifted a beautifully sculpted eyebrow as Dumbledore levitated the betrothal onto the table between them.

"Is there anything you would like to tell me?"

She didn't snort. Her sort wouldn't. Despite that, the snort she didn't allow herself echoed in the room.

"I care only for my family. The wench is an abomination but she is a strong witch. This union would please the Dark Lord while awarding us a measure of safety should your 'Light' win the day. I intend to reduce my families exposure to the risks inherent in this upheaval."

Dumbledore didn't roll his eyes. His students might indulge in such obvious theatrics, but not he. He twinkled instead.

"I've no doubt Tom would very much enjoy her destruction. She is, after all, one of Harry's best friends, the premier witch of her generation and a student under my protection, a student for whom I hold a good deal of regard. She will not be tossed away to serve as a night's entertainment leaving your son an ecstatic widower."

"Tom?"

There was nothing Albus Dumbledore enjoyed more than teaching. He spent the next two minutes instructing Narcissa Malfoy in the true ancestry of her 'Dark Lord'. She pretended to be shocked. He pretended to believe her.

With the goalposts planted firmly in a spiffy new spot, they began again.

Seven hours later Minerva McGonagall acted as bonder for their series of Unbreakable Vows.

Each thought the other skilled but ultimately lacking.

Crawley, England

Two weeks had passed since they had blundered into much more than they were ready for. Two weeks since they had very nearly died. Two weeks since Sirius had fallen through the Veil. Two weeks of a very full potions regimen. At every meal she gulped down flask after flask of glutenous foul glop.

She had learned that chocolate helped. When didn't it?

Her parents didn't hover, they weren't the sort to hover. They chose to remonstrate quietly and logically with her. They reasoned ever so reasonably that it would be for the best when she was switched to intensive tutoring in normal subjects. 'Get you back on the right path..' as her dad became fond of saying.

And the truth was, she could.

She'd sat her OWLS. By their own laws they couldn't take her memory or her magic from her, not now.

She had that.

And the truth was, it was so very tempting.

She hadn't ever been so scared. She hadn't ever been so hurt. She'd gone into battle subtly convinced of both Harry's luck and her personal immortality. Two weeks later she was absolutely convinced she could die at any time, that she could fall again into that same dark, as confused and terrified as she had been but the next time she would not resurface.

An owl clattered against the kitchen window.

An owl didn't use to be an occasion. It was just an owl at the window and she would go get it's mail.

Now it was an occasion. Now she was frightened all the time but ignoring the bird wouldn't help, it was real and had to be dealt with so she scrabbled up from her seat and opened the window.

I'm being ridiculous. Death Eaters wouldn't attack by owl, they'd come in person and would already be in here killing us.

A glance told her the note was from Dumbledore, she knew that writing. The Headmaster had no reason to be sending her an owl. Especially not at ten o'clock on a Sunday morning.

Has there been an attack? Is everyone alright? Oh, God..

Her parents buzzed around her, nudging her to a chair, supplying her with a cuppa, looking spooked and supportive.

She fussed with the letter, spinning it slowly as she settled.

It was only an owl, an owl that didn't need a reply. It's just some trivial bit of information the Headmaster wants me aware of. Probably harping at me to leave Harry be.

She chest hurt horribly, as if she had run an enormous distance, as if she was doing something wrong.

Harry had scared her. She had followed him on faith, followed him against her best judgment, and she had so nearly died for it. She hated herself for it but she was terrified all the time now and she just needed space to deal with this stupid fear she would never allow to drive a wedge between them. The same wedge she couldn't get past.

I'm aware of how idiotic it all is.

Her parents assured her and one another that she was fine, they should let her be. They went from hovering to ostentatiously not hovering while keeping an eagle eye on the damn letter.

Well, they've been champs so I won't hide in my room with my mail.

The envelope held a note and a notice. Dumbledore's note was a couple of sentences, wishing her well and looking forward to seeing her. The notice was requesting her presence at the reading of the last will and testament of Sirius Orion Black to be held the next day at Gringotts bank.

They were dears, her mum and dad, and they huffed extravagantly as they rearranged their schedules to be with her, all the while grumbling about rude old men who needed a very serious talking to and maybe a damn good thumping!

She very much agreed.

Gringotts

During the entire walk from the Leaky Cauldron to Gringotts, Hermione heard chapter and verse on the difference between book knowledge and experience. It was a lesson her parents had been trying to teach her since her earliest memories.

Their current topic was the Knight Bus.

They hadn't enjoyed the Knight bus.

True, it was amazingly fast.

True, they didn't have to worry about parking.

There were downsides the books hadn't mentioned. Involuntary enrollment into a crash course on Team Vomiting as well as some dandy source material for night terrors were notably among the oversights.

They all agreed on British Rail for the return trip once the depressing business was concluded and Hermione rather thought the less said the better.

Her parents weren't quite done talking about it. They might never be done talking about it, actually, they did tend to hold on to things.

Still, they were on time when they were shown into a sparse meeting room. She wasn't surprised by any of those attending but she was surprised by who wasn't attending.

"Who's bringing Harry?"

The Malfoys sniffed. Not unexpected. She ignored them. The Weasleys blushed and shuffled and looked to the Headmaster who twinkled mightily and motioned her to sit next to him.

The silence was deafening.

Something isn't right..

Her dad took over and steered her and her mum to seats across from a miserable and very nervous Professor Lupin.

She began introductions, racing through the Weasleys and the Headmaster, lingering over Professor Lupin who introduced the Tonks family and finishing, last and least, with Malfoy and his ever so haughty mum.

"Why isn't Harry here?"

A goblin cleared it's throat and passed around copies of the Sirius' will.

Anyone who knew Hermione knew fear wasn't her natural state. Some would claim bossiness, some prissy adherence to rule and order. A few would claim friendship, bravery and loyalty, were her core.

Right there and then, with the impetus of knowing that something was very rotten indeed she got over her fear. Predictably, it was to protect her best friend.

She didn't remember standing, but her chair tumbled to the floor behind her as her hands slammed onto the conference table.

"WHY ISN'T HARRY HERE?"

Dumbledore's voice was as honeyed as ever, as deep and calm and sure.

"As Harry's magical guardian I thought it for the best if I attended in his stead as well as for myself. Please be seated Miss Granger, you portray yourself to your least advantage at a crucial juncture."

The Headmaster made his disapproval quite clear. The Malfoys increased their synchronized sneering.

Her dad, her regular muggle dad, a man they all disregarded for lack of their particular gift laid a pen and a small notebook in front of her seat.

"Sit down dear. Be sure to take careful notes, you must be ready to give an accurate account of this meeting to your friend when we see him later today."

Dumbledore stiffened but said nothing more. Dan Granger stared at the old man a bit longer before helping his baby girl to her seat. The same baby girl who was hissing and growling just at the edge of hearing.

The goblin muttered something about 'meatbag bickering' before announcing in a ferociously screechy voice, "First order of business! Reading of the Last Will and Testament of Sirius Orion Black with attendant banking as required!"

The goblin did a roll call. Hermione shook her head when Harry's name was called and the Headmaster answered for him.

He's going to hate that..

She looked around the room, full of sad, guilty, nervous people who refused to meet her eye.

Something isn't right..

The Malfoys were the exception, they looked extra sneaky and very pleased with themselves.

Do they plan on giving Harry short shrift?.. No, that's impossible, it's a will, they can't affect it.

The will was sweet and funny and heartbreaking. She'd known Sirius had a deep love for Harry so leaving Harry almost everything including making Harry the heir of Black was not unexpected. The Weasleys were gifted nice amounts which pleased them. Mooney was set for life and as difficult as ever to read. The twins were especially happy to have a nice financial bump for their shop. Hermione was pleased to inherit the Black library and a nice nest egg. Hogwarts got a bit. Andromeda was reinstated along with her family and did very well indeed.

Narcissa and Draco were left nothing and disowned along with Bellatrix.

The Malfoys were angry but there was still an underlying slimy sense of glee that Hermione didn't like one bit.

The goblin ground out the last of it and instructed everyone but Hermione, the Malfoys, and Dumbledore to get out.

"My parents will stay."

Draco liked that. She couldn't understand why he would.

Hermione stood to talk with the crowd, the currently very skittish and ashamed looking crowd. The goblin snapped his fingers at her and pointed at her seat. She huffed at the idiot and took a step towards the pack of Weasleys.

"What's going on? Ron?"

She'd never seen him look like that. He looked lost, so lost.

"What is it?" she asked.

Malfoy began laughing, a slow oily gloating laugh. Ron went for him but the adults were more than ready and he was hustled out of the room before he'd more than taken a step. Ginny and the twins finally met her eyes. She only seen them look like that when their father lay in St. Mungos, fighting for his life.

"Second Order of Business. Ratification of the Betrothal Contract between Draco Lucius Malfoy and Hermione Jane Granger."

A single piece of parchment drifted onto the table between the Malfoys and her mum and dad.

They didn't expect her to laugh.

Draco had never exhibited much more than average intelligence. He didn't even manage to hit that mark as he made a production of flicking a bit of dust from the cuff of his bespoke shirt.

"You find this amusing, Granger? I assure you that your mirth won't last. You won't like this at all but your cooperation isn't required. The House of Malfoy and your magical guardian have agreed to the match. It's done. This is the beginning of your training for your new station. You are mine now and I'm rather eager to get my things home. Say goodbye to the offal that spawned you."

Hermione turned to the display of weapons mounted on the wall by the door. She was standing quite near them after her fruitless attempt to yoink an explanation out of the Weasleys. One short sword looked especially suitable, gleaming and clean of any ornamentation, not for parades or posing but for fighting and winning.

She lifted it from it's brackets.

Draco pushed back from the table, eyes wide, "You dumb bitch! If you dare cause the least bit of harm to me it will return on you ten fold!"

Dumbledore rumbled and groaned about acceptance and the Greater Good, about her safety being looked out for and that she should behave herself but he didn't attempt to intervene. No one tried to intervene. Casting magic while on goblin territory was a capital offense and to physically intervene would have taken more courage than any twenty Malfoys and less sense than the Headmaster clearly possessed.

It was a very nice sword, the handle a bit small for her hand, but beautifully made and razor sharp.

She drove the sword through the betrothal contract, cutting it in half. The snap and hiss of the magic embedded in the betrothal being absorbed by the goblin steel was overridden by the laughter of the banker. She nodded to the ecstatic banker as she returned the sword to it's place on the wall.

Grimmauld Place

Very late that same night, the still incredibly angry Dan Granger sat in the kitchen of the dilapidated Edwardian townhouse, sipping a rather serviceable Scotch and thinking about the day.

Emma was in the library with their daughter. Under the thick layer of worry for the safety of his family and Hermione's health he nursed a nice warm glow of satisfaction.

There were many unknowns in the world, especially about his beloved daughter. Her life might well be cut tragically short in this stupid 'Blood War' the idiots were fighting. She might live but marry a wastrel.

There was one thing Dan did know.

Beyond any doubt, Hermione's wastrel wouldn't be named Malfoy. There was no magic that would see that done. Just as Dan was sure the little brat would see every last Granger dead the very first chance he got.

It had been a long, long day. First the Will, then the Betrothal, then the hurried retreat to Grimmauld Place and endless discussion of something that didn't need the smallest amount of consideration.

The Malfoys had been shocked when Hermione defied them. They had assured her she would pay for her unforgivable cheek, that the loss of the single bit of parchment would have no permanent effect.

Dan grinned as he recalled the ice and steel in his daughter's voice when she informed them of their error.

You misjudge your position. I rather hope you do push on with this attempt, I've wanted to put you lot down since second year.

His little girl had been magnificent. After the destruction of the contract Hermione had pointed out she wasn't currently attending Hogwarts thus she didn't need or want a magical guardian who was doubling as a pimp.

They didn't seem to hear her.

The Malfoys and the Headmaster had insisted she was bound by the betrothal and they combined to hound her, trying to force her to agree. Dumbledore explained several times that destruction of the parchment didn't invalidate the contract and that Hermione was well and truly betrothed to Draco Malfoy. She refused to consider it getting angrier each time until she had enough and offered to preform an experiment wherein she cut off Draco's wedding tackle thus proving herself unbound by the 'no harm' clause as she was sure even a removal of such a minor nature would still constitute a violation of the terms of the betrothal.

Narcissa then told his daughter that she would return with them '..to the Manor' where she would receive instruction in '..behavior commensurate with your station'. Draco hovered behind his mother. He seemed to have lost the will to continue.

Dumbledore had demurred. "By the terms of the betrothal Miss Granger is not obligated to attend her betrothed immediately but rather by her majority which is, I believe, September the 19th. I shall use the intervening time convince her that this arrangement is for the best."

Faced with both Dumbledore and a banker who kept offering the sword to Hermione, the Malfoys began their retreat to 'the Manor'.

The Grangers and the sword left the bank hot on the Malfoy's heels and forged ahead of them when the Malfoys stopped to argue with one another. It would have been stupid to dawdle and let an ambush form.

Dumbledore had tried to 'reason' with the Grangers as their group hustled down Diagon Alley. Twice the old man stopped and began to hold forth but the Grangers had taken an arm each and kept moving. Only an idiot stays on the opponents turf.

Dumbledore seemed sad and even a bit shocked that he had been shown such distrust. "You have put your family at great risk, Miss Granger. Your home is no deterrent to those who now have additional reasons to cause you harm. Please accept my offer of shelter."

Albus smiled gently, ignoring their snorts and mutters. They agreed and the old man took them to Grimmauld Place.

The rest of the day and night was a chaotic dance of constant chatter without meaning. Everyone spouted homey little aphorisms and rambled vacantly about their great uncle's contract match with that 'spirited' woman from the Selwyn line, a match that worked out 'for the best'. Of course they only did that after learning of the contract, blinking in shock, then whispering some very bad words.

Dan was very tired of how it was all 'for the best'.

There had been food which was followed by a meeting of 'the Order'.

The Grangers, one and all, were barred from that meeting so they naturally retreated to the library. The Order had eventually cleared out leaving the Weasleys, the Grangers, and the Headmaster. Dan had left his wife and daughter to deal with whatever redhead was currently minding them and, finally, Dan would hear what the old man had to say for himself.

Dumbledore seated himself with a groan and the assorted noises that old bones make. Dan slid a glass of Scotch to the Headmaster. Albus nodded his thanks and sank it in a single go then sighed softly and asked, "How can I help you?"

"You can start by explaining what you have done and why."

Dan listened as the old man explained that a match between that little prick Malfoy and his only child made solid sense for 'the Light'. It opened a new information channel and could eventually help to co-opt the Malfoy's Ministry influence. He went on to explain the spiritual opportunities for growth the Malfoy family would enjoy due to close association with a being of Hermione's caliber. He waxed rhapsodic about Hermione's glowing future due to the boost in status she would enjoy. Albus went on to detail again the protections he had so craftily won her. He laid out the many and powerful ways magic would coerce the Malfoys to treat her well, to protect her. He was a skilled speaker.

"Mmm. And the rest of it?"

Albus stroked his beard and rumbled on.

"The Malfoys are in nearly as much danger as your family, Mister Granger. Tom does not suffer failure without reprisal and Lucius failed rather badly against my students. Two weeks ago Lucius was exposed, captured, and imprisoned. This savaged his influence in the Ministry, which Tom had found most useful. Lucius is also the driving force behind the Malfoy's commitment to Tom's cause. The boy has yet to truly solidify his own opinion. Narcissa is concerned with survival not ideology. There is an opportunity that must be taken."

The old man stared gravely at Dan as he finished, "I hope you will support your daughter as she embarks on this most challenging task."

Dan Granger sat and stared at the Headmaster, the most puzzling of creatures. He knew he wasn't going to figure the old man out especially not a night so full of emotion. He was pretty sure it wasn't worth the effort the attempt would take. The Headmaster actually seemed to believe that Hermione could offer him access to the Malfoy's Ministry influence. The same influence he claimed had been destroyed with the elder Malfoy's arrest. He seemed to think the Malfoys would attain spiritual enlightenment due to exposure to Hermione possibly by magical osmosis. It never occurred to the old man that it wasn't his place to arrange Hermione's future to reap some benefit for 'the Light'.

The whole thing just confirmed to Dan that the man was lying his ass off. He was not to be trusted, not in the least. Dan also realized that the safest place for the Granger family was Number 12 Grimmauld Place. The Granger's had to have protection, protection that Dumbledore was currently willing to give.

Dan nodded. "I most certainly will support her. This will be very hard for her. She hasn't said much, shock I think. She never expected this of you."

The Headmaster sighed and nodded.

"Betrothal is passe in your society but is acceptable in ours and often has happy results."

Dan watched the Headmaster leave without another word. It was all clear enough, '..and often has happy results..' due to magical coercion.

I'm going to kill that man the instant I dare.

When the Headmaster had entered the kitchen to speak to Dan, Emma had begun her own mission.

She insisted Hermione stay where she was. The magicals would be well aware of her daughter's whereabouts, that Ron boy was slouched half asleep next to her. Emma rather thought no one would pay attention to Hermione's muggle mum.

Emma picked up her purse. She walked out of the library, down the stairs and out the front door.

She had someone to collect.

It was that odd time between very late and much too early when she turned the corner of Privet Drive and Magnolia Crescent headed to Number 4. She didn't hurry, her quiet steady footsteps never varied. She mounted the stoop and rung the bell.

At that time of the night a doorbell is amazingly loud. She pressed it again and smiled. She was no less intuitive than any other Granger. She'd read between the lines of her daughter's letters. Waking young Potter's Uncle Vernon was not something she was concerned about.

She listened to the shouting spiced with cursing followed by the vigorous slamming of doors then angry stomping footsteps marching toward the door. Locks clacked, chains rattled and at last the door was jerked open to reveal the vast purple face of a completely pissed off Vernon P. Dursley. He began to sputter outrage at her.

"I've come for Harry Potter. Let me in." She couldn't see up the stairwell but she could hear the furious honking of Harry's Aunt Petunia and the tense murmur of a young man's voice in response. Emma brandished Hermione's wand and glared, "Let me in, Dursley. The sooner you do, the sooner this will be done. No harm will come to you lot but he must come with me."

Vernon snorted, "If you take him you are going to keep him!"

"Absolutely! I wouldn't have it any other way."

They exchanged glares.

"Harry?" Emma had dared to raise her voice in the Dursley's house which generated some more angry honking.

"Could I talk to you please?"

Finally, silently, Harry Potter took Vernon's place at the door. He blinked at her, his head tilted to one side, blinked again and shifted uneasily. It couldn't be clearer that he hadn't the foggiest who she was. She nodded to him, "Yes, we've met. Dan and I were in Diagon Alley during a book signing.", she continued her ersatz introduction and thought, Well, he's quite passable when he smiles..

She waggled Hermione's wand before him as further identification then joined him in ignoring the whale bellowing "NONE OF THAT! I WON'T HAVE IT! I WON'T HAVE IT I TELL YOU!"

Lights were coming on in the houses to either side of Chez Dursley. Seeing the lights, Vernon plucked her inside and shut the door as quietly as a church. The man was a cretin to think it would make a bit of difference.

"Hermione is in terrible trouble." she told the boy.

Harry went white, then he went red, then he nodded.

"She needs you. Frankly, our whole family needs you. A lot has happened today but this isn't the place to go over it. Please trust me and come help your friend."

He nodded once and spun to the stairs, pointing to the cupboard under it while looking at his Uncle.

"I'll need my things Uncle."

Vernon was vast and he used his mass to push close to Harry, towering over the boy, leaning in, getting all the intimidation and dominance he could out of the situation.

"No do overs boy! This is it! If you go.. you stay gone!"

Hermione must not known how bad it is, Emma thought.

Harry gave the bully a flat stare then looked at Emma.

"I wouldn't ask, but her future is at stake. Please come with me."

Harry nodded again then faced his Uncle.

"I've stayed to protect you as much as me but you'll need to see to your own safety now. You'll need to move."

Harry looked at his Aunt, "I mean it Aunt. You need to move and soon. Tonight would be best."

Vernon guffawed at Harry's warning while he fussed with his keys eventually getting the cupboard door open. While he was doing that, Harry darted upstairs.

Emma horsed the boy's school trunk into the foyer then stood back and watched as the boy loaded some books and an armful of very ratty clothes into his school trunk. Evidently he had more of his things upstairs than Vernon was aware of judging by the behemoth's outraged spluttering.

Not even ten minutes from the first ring of the doorbell, Emma and Harry lifted the trunk and sidled out the front door. She heard Harry sigh as he crossed the threshold. Vernon marched behind them, snapping and snarling with every step.

They weren't free yet.

"'ere now! Potter! Get back in there, snot safe out 'ere!"

"Fletcher?," Harry snorted, "Did we wake you? Go back to sleep."

They'd made it to the curb. Emma lifted the wand, ignoring Fletcher, whom she had been introduced to at Grimmauld Place. She had to keep them moving.

Fortunately, Fletcher was sidetracked into going toe to toe with Vernon as the Knight bus arrived in it's calamitous fashion. They struggled aboard. Emma paid for their ride to Charring Cross, happily ignoring Harry's flushed mumbling about his money pouch and his trunk.

They plopped into a pair of chairs with unseemly haste. The Knight bus wasn't much for safety precautions. It was better to sit than to fall.

"Is she.. How is she?" They had a few minutes and Harry needed answers.

Emma took his hand in hers, it both linked their chairs together and offered him comfort. He jerked just the tiniest bit then forced himself to hold still. Emma decided she would be having a talk with this boy as soon as there was time.

"She's healthy enough, recovering from her wound but she's in shock from a new development. I left her with her father. She's not in immediate danger but she needs your help."

He nodded and began to tell her stories of her daughter. Not her academic triumphs but little things about her, stories of life in Gryffindor. It helped keep her mind off of the Knight Bus and the odds of living through the ride.