Chapter 31

Encounter

Remus settled happily on the Escape Artist, and life went on. It actually turned out to be a good thing, too. Harry had heard very little about his parents, and Remus was quite happy to tell endless stories. For the first time in his life, Harry was getting a flavor for who his parents truly were, rather than merely how people wanted to paint them.

And true to his prediction, Emily warmed up to Remus very quickly.

They graduated the Academy with top honors, all three of them. Emily had little to do but study thanks to her social issues, so that was no real surprise. For Harry and Ginny it was an effort, but one they'd been more than willing to put in. Remus was impressed given how much more advanced the education was than at Hogwarts.

In the end they also decided to go forward with a small, high-end charter business. They were going to buy and renovate a yacht about half the size of the Artist when the summer was over, and then run the business for a couple of years and see where it took them. They weren't one hundred percent convinced, but they felt they could probably make a go of it.

It was merely a question of whether they would truly enjoy it or not, but they were certainly leaning that way.

Right now, though, they were at a yacht club in Nice, France, where the Escape Artist was currently docked. Yesterday they attended Bill and Fleur's wedding, and it was beautiful ceremony. Given the situation, though, Harry couldn't be himself and had to use Polyjuice potion. Few of the guests were aware of his continued existence.

For her part, Emily was just pleased to have received an invitation at all.

Harry and Remus then spent today tinkering with the starboard engine; one of the gaskets was starting to leak a little, and Harry wanted both engines running perfectly before they set off for home. They were planning on staying in France for a few more days anyway because Ginny wanted to see Paris. Emily was ambivalent; she wouldn't mind seeing the sights, but the crowds were a definite downside.

Night was falling now, and Emily was once more sitting at the stern, reading another book, though not for much longer with the waning light. Ginny was somewhere inside, doing who knew what. They had spent the day together wandering the nearby shops, and now Emily needed some time to recharge.

Being an introvert truly sucked in her opinion.

She was just getting ready to go back inside, though, when a middle-aged couple wandered up the dock and stopped at the end of their boat. Normally they docked lengthwise, but this time they were backed in with the stern against the dock, nestled in between two other yachts. The couple stopped and looked directly at her, causing her to look up.

She really wasn't in the mood for more people.

"Excuse me," the woman said, "but we noticed a young redhead up on deck. Would you mind asking her if we might speak with her?"

Emily blinked at them and slowly stood. "W-who– are y-you?" she stuttered out.

"Our names are Monica and David Granger," the man said with a slightly worried frown at her.

Emily froze for a long moment. She had heard plenty of stories about the Potters' time at Hogwarts, and the name Granger figured prominently. The only thing that stopped her from drawing her wand on them was that the adult Grangers were supposed to be muggles. That said, she couldn't ignore them: if they had recognized Ginny, there could be problems.

Finally, she held a finger up to indicate they should wait for a moment, and dug her cell phone out of her pocket, quickly hitting the speed dial that corresponded with Ginny.

It was only a moment before she answered.

"What's up, Emmie?" came the curious greeting.

"D-david and M-m-m-monica G-Granger are at the s-s-stern," she said simply.

There was a brief pause before–

"Be right there," was the sharp response.

Emily nodded out of habit even though Ginny couldn't see her, and then ended the call and stuck her phone back in her pocket. Once more she held a finger up; she didn't know these people, and what she suspected was certainly not designed to make her comfortable. They would just have to wait for Ginny.

"Thank you," nodded Monica.

Emily nodded back, but said nothing.

Ginny exited the aft salon less than a minute later, and her expression was carved from stone. It wasn't an angry expression; it was a blank one, which was almost worse. Given what Emily knew, she couldn't blame her.

"What can I do for you?" she asked them flatly.

"You're Ginny Weasley, correct?" asked David.

"That is my maiden name," she nodded.

Both Grangers looked surprised by that, but bypassed it without comment, which was probably for the best. Emily knew Ginny easily well enough to know that she was on edge, and wouldn't take kindly to even the faintest of insults. She wondered idly if these people realized that.

"May we speak with you?" asked Monica softly. "It would need to be inside given the topic."

Ginny studied them for a long moment before finally nodding. "Come aboard," she offered.

Emily stepped to the side so they could pass her as they entered the salon, and then she entered behind them and slid the door shut. Ginny waved them into seats before taking one herself. Emily folded her arms and leaned against the wall next to the door; she was out of the direct line of sight, which suited her just fine.

"Before we go any further," said Ginny before they could speak, "how exactly did you find me?"

The couple blinked in surprise in eerie synchronicity.

It was Monica who answered. "We were attending a party on the next yacht over," she explained, honestly so far as Emily could tell. "We glanced over and happened to see you. Just a coincidence, but we didn't want to let the opportunity pass."

Ginny studied them carefully for a moment before nodding. "I'll take your word for that," she nodded. "Now why are you here? If you know anything at all about me, then you have to know that I find your daughter's actions toward Harry to be abhorrent and frankly unforgivable."

Both Gangers looked down, and Emily was sure that Ginny caught their synchronized winces.

David finally looked back up at her. "We do as well," he said quietly. "We just want to inform you of the current state of things, and request that you pass it on to Madam Bones for us. That's all. We have no other way to contact her. We tried a letter, but it didn't get through for some reason."

Ginny stared, allowing the silence to spiral for a long moment. Emily knew she would agree to listen; the information could be useful somewhere down the line. She wasn't happy about confronting this today, however.

"Very well," she nodded. "Go on."

"I think it will help if we start a ways back," said Monica quietly. "We do not defend what she did, but it will help you understand the whole picture."

Ginny just nodded and waved for them to get on with it. She wasn't making it easy on them, that much was certain, not that Emily could blame her. While it wasn't their fault, per se, this was a very nasty topic. It was the one that hurt Harry the most: that his so-called friends were never his friends at all, and in Granger's case that she was outright attacking him.

The only saving grace was that he'd realized it early on.

Monica took a deep breath. "As a child, Hermione had an intellect that outstripped those of her peers rather significantly," she said quietly, and not as though she was bragging. "From early on she intimidated them, and failed to make friends. She was very lonely, and very isolated."

"Unfortunately," cut in David, equally softly, "she also realized that she was smarter, and developed something of an ego."

"We struggled to correct that," sighed Monica, "and we were planning on getting her into a program that would help, but then Minerva McGonagall came. She convinced us that magic would fix it all."

"And how she managed that I will never understand," said David, a very slight note of anger present in his voice.

"If she used magic on us then we were unaware of it," Monica noted, "and I know it's probably our desire to blame someone else, but sometimes we do wonder."

Ginny raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.

"And then came Albus Dumbledore," said David with a loathing that was almost palpable.

Ginny snorted, not in disbelief, but in obvious agreement with the sentiment.

"I see you understand," nodded Monica. "That… man… He saw the same things we did, but instead of trying to correct it, he used magic to mold and warp it so that he could use her as a weapon against Harry."

"She had barely spoken to us in four years," said David quietly. "Even over the summers she was very distant, which she never was before."

A lone tear slipped down Monica's cheek. "We didn't know what to do, or how to fix it," she said quietly. "We did know that there was no way to take her out of that school. They would just make us forget."

"And when it all fell apart," continued David, "we found ourselves with a daughter we didn't even recognize anymore. And worse, she was a criminal who had very probably contributed to the death of a young man whose only crime was that a truly evil terrorist wanted him dead."

"Madam Bones was very clear that we had to get her out of the country permanently," said Monica faintly. "Otherwise they may well have executed her. She's our daughter, so we had to try, but we didn't want her to hurt anyone else. So at our request, Madam Bones bound her magic."

Ginny nodded, but remained stubbornly silent. Emily knew she was already aware of the story they'd painted so far, except perhaps for a few background details. Whether or not Hogwarts people went around compelling attendance was an interesting question, but not really relevant in her opinion.

"We moved to Australia," explained David. "And once there, we managed to find a Mind Healer to assess her. She fought us, but we forced the issue, and without access to her magic she couldn't prevent it. And what they found…"

"Dumbledore warped her so badly," explained Monica, "that the only way to fix it at that point was to erase the last four years of her life."

"I almost said no," frowned David. "I cannot tell you how angry I was with her over what she'd done. I didn't want her to forget it. I wanted her to live with it so that when she finally understood how wrong she was, it would be a reminder never to do anything like it ever again."

"In the end, though, we realized we had to," sighed Monica. "Hermione was so twisted that even after reading the transcript of Dumbledore's trial, and the heinous nature of the things he admitted to under that truth serum, she still insisted that he was the greatest wizard in the world."

"All the proof in the world that what he did was unethical, immoral, and flat out illegal," sighed David heavily, "and she still wouldn't hear a single word against that bastard."

Ginny frowned.

Emily blinked as she processed that. It sounded awfully familiar…

"In the end we said yes," sighed Monica. "They took it all. She's entirely unaware of magic and doesn't even remember McGonagall's visit. We put her in remedial homeschooling classes for the next year to catch her up to her peers, and she's now in a normal school, a grade behind her age group."

"The binding is still in place, obviously," said David heavily. "We haven't decided yet if we're ever going to tell her."

Ginny shifted, a slightly thoughtful look showing through. "How did you explain away her missing memories?" she finally asked.

"We told her she was in a car accident," said David darkly. "I thought that was fairly ironic given the stories we heard about Harry and the way his relatives lied to him."

Ginny snorted. "And has any of it worked?" she asked. "Or is she still the holier-than-thou self-declared smartest person in the room?"

"The homeschooling helped," said Monica. "Plus a lot of reading material on how to make friends, the dangers of ego, and so on. She's much better adjusted now than she ever was before, and I think the fact that she lost four years of memory put a much-needed dent in her self-confidence."

"Which is something we thought we'd never say about our daughter," David explained, "but it's true nevertheless."

Silence fell in the wake of the explanation, and Emily's thoughts whirled with what she'd heard. And if there was a possibility that what she had noticed would help somehow, then they had to know. Ginny was on a different train of thought as far as she could tell, which meant she would have to speak up.

Joy.

With a quiet sigh, Emily pushed herself off the wall and moved to sit down next to Ginny. The surprised look that earned her was almost expected. She closed her eyes for a moment to tamp down her nerves, and then looked up at the Grangers.

"D-did the M-mind Healer g-g-g-give a n-name to her c-c-c-condition?" she stuttered.

Ginny looked over sharply at her, a confused expression taking hold. Emily wasn't surprised; she was really too angry to see straight. It was hardly surprising, and Emily was glad she'd stayed in the room. She liked it when she was able to contribute something, especially after all they'd done for her.

"He called her functionally insane," frowned David, "though it hardly sounded like a diagnosis."

Ginny's expression burst into one of shock, her eyes opening wide. "You think that would work?" she breathed, still staring at Emily.

Emily just shrugged. "M-maybe?" she wondered. "C-c-c-could it h-hurt?"

"Surely you don't want to lose your memories," frowned Monica. "You may stutter, but that's not exactly unheard of. Hardly something to lose part of your life over in my opinion."

Now it was Emily's turn to look shocked, and her mind froze enough that she couldn't get the words out. Fortunately, Ginny had recovered a bit.

"Not her," she said with a shake of her head. "My brother." And then a chagrined look crossed her face. "And oh boy, do I feel like such an utter hypocrite now."

"Pardon?" frowned David.

Ginny sighed and shook her head in self-disgust before finally looking up at them again. "I've been sitting here giving you the cold shoulder because your daughter did something heinous to Harry," she sighed. "And all this time I was forgetting that my very own brother did the same bloody thing, and you're about as guilty as I am."

"It's understandable," offered Monica. "Honestly, I'm not certain if either of us would have handled this conversation as well as you have if our roles were reversed."

"That's the Occlumency," she snorted, waving it away. "It's a skill that allows me exceptional control of my emotions and how I display them, but it doesn't mean they're not there."

"That sounds useful," said David in surprise.

"It is," nodded Ginny. "Give me a moment please."

And with that she closed her eyes, and Emily knew she was talking to Harry, though what about she could only guess. Certainly she would pass on the idea they'd just come up with, but why she was doing it right now was a mystery. Emily figured she'd find out later.

"If it's not too personal," said Monica quietly in the mean time, her gaze fixed on Emily, "may I ask after your situation?"

Emily froze and blinked a few times, and couldn't stop herself from shrinking away. Even just the idea of discussing her past was enough to give her the willies. She could handle it with Harry or Ginny, but even then it had to be approached carefully. A stranger asking? That was terrifying.

Ginny opened her eyes again and reached over to put a hand on her shoulder, even as she addressed the Grangers. "That's not something she's easily capable of discussing with you," she said softly. "She had a difficult life up until two years ago. It's been fixed, and now she's just extremely introverted is all."

"I'm sorry," offered Monica, looking to her. "I'll drop the subject, of course."

Emily just nodded and curled into Ginny's side. She couldn't recall ever having been asked so directly by a stranger before, and her own reaction surprised her. Her nerves were jangling horribly. The feeling of Ginny's arm coming around her and pulling her close was soothing, though.

"Okay," Ginny sighed down at her. "He's making sure Dad doesn't leave tonight. We'll talk to him tomorrow and see if it might help." She frowned for a moment before adding, "And maybe we consider taking Ron to Australia or somewhere else that isn't full of the idiots that infest British Magical society."

Emily nodded against her, and watched the Grangers warily.

Their eyebrows had gone up at her comment.

"You don't sound like a fan," frowned David. "Didn't you grow up there?"

"Until I got run out of the country a few years ago," she nodded, "though that was actually my mother, who is also functionally insane. I already knew that a lot of British Magicals were idiots, but I didn't realize just how severe it was until we got to a sane country."

David and Monica stared at her. "You got run out of the country a few years ago?" he breathed. "You couldn't have been more than, what… fourteen?"

"Thirteen," she corrected. "It's a very long story, and it's honestly family business that I can't really talk about. It's been fixed though thankfully. Nobody knew my mother was mentally ill at the time."

That was a little white lie, Emily knew, but she wasn't about to call her on it.

"I'm glad you got it sorted," offered Monica. "And from the size of this yacht, I'm guessing you landed on your feet?"

The smile on Monica's face was a gently teasing one, and fortunately for Monica, Ginny saw that too. "Definitely," she snorted. "I have no complaints at all, and the money isn't even relevant."

"You're in love," smiled Monica.

"Like you wouldn't believe," admitted Ginny.

Emily smiled, too. While she doubted she would ever find romance for herself — not unless she was exceptionally lucky — she loved watching Harry and Ginny. Theirs was a love for the ages, and it was truly beautiful.

"What's his name?" grinned Monica, clearly entering gossip mode.

And Ginny froze.

How could she not?

The silence held for a long moment before–

"Bugger," she sighed. "I really need to not paint myself into corners."

Emily couldn't help the giggle that escaped her at that description. Even she hadn't seen it coming, or she would've deflected it, but Ginny really had painted herself into a corner. And probably from the very first moment she admitted to being married in the first place.

"I think we missed something," frowned David.

Emily giggled again.

"Hush you," admonished Ginny, whacking her lightly on the side where her arm was still wrapped around her.

"Oooooh, or is it a she?" grinned Monica.

Ginny went wide-eyed at that, and now Emily couldn't stop giggling. She couldn't help it; this was hilarious. And it wasn't like they couldn't obliviate the knowledge if needs be.

"Er, no," she blinked. "Emily is dear to us, but no, she's not my lover."

"Y-you m-m-might as w-well t-t-tell them," she grinned.

Ginny rolled her eyes and sighed, but then she abruptly sobered. Clearly she intended to impress the sensitivity of the issue on them. Honestly, Emily liked the elder Grangers. It had to take some serious stones to come here like this, and they were being amazingly honest.

They seemed like good people, and Ginny apparently felt the same if her reaction was any indication.

"I'll answer that", she said seriously, "but I need your word that you will take it to your grave. And I'm not kidding."

"Agreed," frowned Monica, clearly sensing that something had just shifted.

"Agreed," confirmed David. He was clearly just as curious as his wife was.

Ginny examined them both carefully, and then she took a deep breath. Emily thought she was worried about their reaction for some reason, but couldn't see it being a bad one. She made a mental calculation as to how fast she could extract herself to defend Ginny, though, just in case.

"Harry isn't actually dead," she said quietly. "That was the invention of a gossipmongering reporter. He's my husband."

Their eyes widened at this revelation.

"He's alive?" breathed Monica.

"Yes," nodded Ginny. "He figured out that Dumbledore was trying to kill him and took the first opportunity to escape the country. It coincided with my family issues, so he took me with him at my request."

The shock on the faces of the Grangers would have been comical under other circumstances. They stared for a long moment, and then Monica was the first to shake herself out of it. A rather intense look came over her, then.

"Is it possible for us to see him?" she asked carefully. "We'll understand if he doesn't want to, but…"

Ginny studied them for a long moment before closing her eyes again. Nobody spoke; Emily because she knew what was going on, and the Grangers because they were on tenterhooks most likely. Finally, though she nodded and opened her eyes again.

"He'll be up in a bit," she informed them. "He and Remus have been working on the engines, so he might need a minute to clean up. I'm not sure how far along they got."

David seemed to decide that a change of conversation was in order, which was probably a good thing. "He does your maintenance?" he asked curiously.

"We all do, actually," nodded Ginny. "The engines are mostly Harry's though. We walk the boat after we take a long trip, and we noticed one of them was leaking a little when we got here. Given that our next trip is transatlantic, it's worth dealing with before we set out again."

"I'll say," he breathed, his eyebrows going up. "Will this be your first trip that long?"

Emily couldn't help it; she giggled again.

"It'll be our fourth," smiled Ginny. "We live over there. We're only here for my oldest brother's wedding, but we felt like cruising instead of flying."

"Do you have some way of magically generating fuel?" asked Monica with a furrowed brow. "From what little I know, a yacht this size guzzles the stuff."

"You know correctly," nodded Ginny, "and unfortunately no. We could probably develop one, but it would be very hard to explain why we never fuel up, so we just deal with the cost. We don't actually sail the Artist very often. Normally it's our home that just happens to float on the water."

"You obviously know how to run it, though," grinned David. "I have to admit, this thing is very impressive."

"Thanks," smiled Ginny. "We like it."

And then Ginny turned, clearly sensing Harry entering the room. Both Grangers looked up, and immediately stood. Ginny just waited, though, for which Emily was thankful. She didn't want to give up her source of comfort until she had to.

He walked into her field of view with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He was clean; he'd probably scourgified his clothing. Not that anyone would care; clean was clean.

Monica slowly moved toward him, as though seeing a ghost. "You'll have to excuse me for this, Harry," she said quietly, and then engulfed him in a gentle, heartfelt hug.

That made Emily smile too; she knew he didn't like being touched, but the sentiment behind it would probably mean more than his discomfort.

"We're so glad you survived," she whispered. "And we're so very, very sorry for what Hermione did to you."

She let him go then, and he nodded at her briefly before turning to look at Ginny. Emily could practically sense the conversation zinging between them. Ginny had described it once, and she knew that it happened a lot faster than the spoken word when they talked like that. Catching him up on the conversation, she figured.

Finally, he moved over, clearly intending to sit with Ginny. With an internal sigh of discontent over losing her source of comfort, she carefully extracted herself and scooted over. Harry frowned slightly, but otherwise didn't react.

Instead he sat down and promptly reached out to her to draw her to his side. He clearly recognized that she needed the comfort right now. She couldn't prevent herself from letting out a quiet, contented sigh as she curled back up against him.

That was just a sideshow, however.

He was focused on the middle distance even as the Grangers retook their seats. They seemed content to let him contemplate for a few moments, which was a good thing. He had yet to speak a word, but there was a weight about him…

"Not long ago," he finally said, still staring off into space, "my honorary Uncle showed up. I was upset because he was the only one of my parents' friends who could have helped me when I was younger. But then we realized that it was probably Dumbledore's fault. He was interfering with everyone and everything."

Then he finally focused in on the Grangers. "Hermione is a victim," he said bluntly. "Yes, she hurt me, but only after Dumbledore altered her to force her into that. I won't lie to you, I don't really have any particular desire to ever see her again, there's too many bad memories associated, but in the end it wasn't her fault."

His voice turned hard as he concluded with, "It was Dumbledore's fault. And even the living hell he's currently in will never be sufficient punishment for all the people he hurt."

===[~]===

A/N: And just a bit of closure with regard to Hermione. The Grangers like to visit France, and just happen to run across our wayward couple.

This is probably my least favorite chapter in the story.

To those wanting more action, sorry, I did warn you about that way back when. This is why I almost rolled it up right after first contact with Amelia; it's mostly an extended epilogue, just tying up loose ends. The excitement was really over with their arrival in America.

The general idea is that Dumbledore built a house of cards and was spending a lot of time and effort to ensure it kept standing. It fell apart once he was removed from the equation, everything became a lot easier on everybody.

red-jacobson: I genuinely wish there was room for that here. I love the character. Someday I may write that extended edition, just for the opportunity to flesh her out.

Jlargent: Nope, sorry. They left that to the Aurors, so they're probably in jail somewhere, though we don't know for sure.

Tork01: They were already leaning toward believing Remus innocent; the circumstantial evidence points that way. That doesn't erase the hurt, though, so Harry had to get over that hump with him. Once he did, all was fine.

JayBat: Thanks, I enjoyed imagining that scene. =)

EmlynMara: That's a valid point, but they're looking at charters rather than a cruise business. If they needed attendants and whatnot to interact with the passengers, they'd probably just hire some. They themselves will merely run the boat, so wouldn't have that much interaction. Or at least, that's how I visualize it happening.

Just the epilogue to go now. See you all tomorrow!