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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Ten

PAST TENSE, FUTURE IMPERFECT

 

Harry’s left arm tingled, and his neck was sore.  His eyes fluttered open to a sideways world.

Hermione’s voice was a sleepy drawl.  “Hello there.”

Hello yourself,” he croaked, and gingerly sat up.  “Feeling any better?”
She nodded slowly and asked, “What time is it?”
I don’t know,” he said.  “No sign of light yet – three or four o’clock, I suppose?”
How long have you sat there?” she asked.
He shrugged, which caused a flicker of pain in his neck and shoulder.  “I didn’t realise that I feel asleep.”
She patted the side of the sofa without lifting her head.  “Come back here,” she said.  It was a command, and he nervously obeyed; he nearly sat on his glasses in the process. 
Harry lay on his back with Hermione awkwardly beside him and stared at the ceiling. “Is this what best friends do?” he asked.  His voice cracked, and he wanted to cringe.
I don’t know,” she admitted.  “I think that we’re making this up as we go.”  She sounded uncertain, and he found that somehow reassuring.
She moved her head from the arm of the sofa to his shoulder, draped one arm across his stomach, and nestled against him.  “Perfect,” she murmured.
He was sure he’d hugged her this way at some point – arm around her back, her face pressed against him – but it was an utterly different experience lying down.  He’d never noticed how warm she felt or how soft she was.  He’d never noticed the feel of straps through her shirt.  He thought about escape for a while – could he slide free after she fell asleep again and sneak off to the couch, without offending her or making her angry?  He knew that he wanted to escape because he was worried about what might happen and afraid of what he might want to do.
She lifted her head to look at him, and said, “You’re stiff as a board,” she said.  He winced inwardly at the surely unintended double meaning.  She continued, “I’m sorry.  I just thought…”
Even in the dim light cast by the waning fire, he knew he’d waited too long to flee – there was no escaping now.  They kissed, and it electrified him and made him queasy all at once. 

She drew back and searched his face, and whispered, “Me, too.”  He knew that a silly grin was plastered across his face, and he didn’t care.  She was right – it was perfect.  ‘Who says I can’t live?’ he thought, as he drifted off into a very satisfied sleep.

August 1

Harry blinked against bright sunlight.  He absently brushed hair back from his face, and sat up.  The room was blurry, and it occurred to him that his glasses weren’t on his face; a moment later, he recognised that he was on the bed in the room that he had shared with Ron the previous summer.  Hermione was nowhere to be seen. 

He stumbled to the bathroom and made a futile effort at combing his hair.  There was no doubt in his mind that he simply recalled a vivid dream, the by-product of a long and intense day.  That didn’t explain waking up in the bedroom.  Dobby could have moved him, or Lupin perhaps.  He found the perfect explanation – Hermione had woken up and fetched Dobby to help move him before she retired to her own room.  For some reason, the word ‘perfect’ left him uneasy.

Harry dressed in his clothes from the day prior.  The door to the library was open, which made perfect sense with Hermione in the house.  She stood with her back to the door, contemplating four stacks of books on the table.  She wore her father’s light jumper over one of Harry’s boxing singlets, and a pair of Harry’s denims rolled up at the ankles.

“Where did you find my clothes?” Harry asked.

Hermione spun around in surprise.  After gathering herself, she said, “I hope you don’t mind.  Professor Lupin fetched your things from wherever it is that you’ve been staying, and I sweat through my clothes overnight, actually, on account of the spell –”

“No, it’s fine,” he said.  “How did you – erm, I mean, did you sleep well?”

“Very well, actually,” she said, turning back to the books.  “I’ve been taking a stab at sorting through all of this.  I was spot on, you know – no organization of any kind.”

“Uh-huh,” Harry said absently.  “I was worried about you last night.  I sat with you for a long time.”

“I know,” Hermione said, pulling more books from one of the shelves.  “It was nice of you to look after me, despite the fact that I told you there was no need.”

“It wasn’t about need,” Harry told her.

“Well, it was nice all the same,” she admitted.  “Say, would you look over those shelves and see if there are any more texts by deGrassi?”

Harry tapped at the spines of the books as he read them.  “Somehow I moved from the sofa to a bed,” he said casually.

Hermione divided one of the book stacks into three smaller piles.  “You don’t remember?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” Harry said.  “I had… an odd dream last night, a very real one.  I’m having quite a time getting it straight.”

“Did you find any deGrassi texts, then?” Hermione asked.

“None on these shelves,” Harry replied.

She contemplated the smaller book piles.  “It was a night for dreams, wasn’t it?” she said quietly.

“Anything you want to talk about?” he asked.

“Erm… I’m sure it was just an after-effect from the spell,” she answered.  “Could you help me with those folios on the top shelves?”

Harry moved one of the rolling ladders, and scrambled up to the highest shelf.  He took four of the large folios, and started down the ladder.  His right foot slipped, and he came down awkwardly.

Hermione dashed over to him.  “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Right as rain,” he fumed; “I just landed flat on my bum, that’s all.  I hope your books made out as well.”  Harry had tossed the four books clear.

“Let’s see … good… good… good… blast, the binding cracked on this one,” she reported.

Harry pulled himself to his feet.  “Sorry,” he said, “I don’t know how I lost my footing.”

“Come and look at this, Harry,” Hermione said, as she flipped the pages of the cracked folio.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s called ‘A Compendium of Dark Beasts’.  I’ve heard of it before, but I’ve not actually seen it in the Hogwarts library,” she explained.  “Based on the look and feel of it, I’d guess it to be around a hundred years old.” 

“Isn’t that lovely?” he said, pointing at a sketch of a large, broad shouldered creature covered in greyish-olive hair.

“It’s the Fear Liath More – the Grey Man.  You can find this one in Muggle folklore as well,” Hermione said.

“ ‘Fear Liath More is a creature that inhabits the peaks of the Scottish Cairngorm mountains,” Harry read aloud.  “ ‘Frequently, the Grey Man is encountered as a physical sensation rather than in its true physical form.  Sensations of this type include an icy feeling in the surrounding atmosphere, as well as a physical feeling of a cold grip or touch against the observer’s flesh.  A high pitched humming sound is also associated with the Grey Man’… Hermione, listen to this.  ‘Additionally, the Grey Man has a powerful psychic effect.  Visitors to the Cairngorm peaks report feelings of overwhelming negative energy, typified by acute fear, apprehension and panic, leading to suicidal thoughts or physical flight from the area.’  It sounds a bit like a Dementor, doesn’t it?”

“That hadn’t occurred to me,” Hermione said.  “Isn’t it too tall?”

“I don’t know how tall a Dementor is, not really… eh, never mind, it was just a thought,” Harry shuddered.  He looked around the room.  “Any more that you want me to get down?” he asked.  “I won’t drop more than half of them, I promise… Hermione?  Hello?”  Hermione had turned the pages of the cracked folio, and was staring at it intently. 

“Hermione…?” Harry tried again; she simply kept staring so he peered over her shoulder.  The illustration was unmistakeable: a wizard was depicted waist-deep in a pond, under attack from two tentacled brains.

“Merlin…” Harry whispered.  He read the accompanying text.

COGNIVORUM CADOGANSIS
These vile creatures are believed responsible for more than seventy attacks during the ten-year period from 1871 to 1881.  Cognivorum cadogansis appears to favour shallow water with a strong earth element, such as a marsh or bog.  Medieval lore attributed Sir Cadogan of Entwistle with the extermination of the last of these beasts in the late 15th century.  Nine of the creatures were driven into Loch Lomond and were captured by Mr. Algernon Croaker in 1881.  No further attacks have been reported, but additional specimens may remain at large. 
Cognivores are believed to feed on the thoughts of their victims.  Medieval texts suggest that victims are beset with visions of the future.  Little information is available from those attacked during the recent scourge.  More than half died within weeks of their unfortunate encounters, and thirty-four souls have been permanently committed to St. Mungo’s Asylum.    

“Are those…?” asked Hermione.

Harry nodded.  “I’ll never forget them.”

“Beset with visions of the future…” Hermione read aloud, and trailed off.

“Visions… he told me that they showed him things,” Harry said.

“It must have been horrible,” Hermione whispered.  She dropped into a chair beside the table.

“Did he say something?  Did he tell you what he saw?” Harry asked.

Hermione shook her head.  “Harry, he was so… I don’t know – determined when I talked to him this summer, and… and then the way he asked me out was so… well, it was desperate, actually – like he had to do it…”

Harry paced the room.  Things began to come together for him – the moods, the arguing, the Bonneville… the Bonneville.

“Something’s occurred to you, hasn’t it?” Hermione asked.

He silently cursed her for knowing him too well, and realised that there was nothing to be gained by keeping another secret.  “The motorbike,” he said.

“What about it?”

“Ron saw the motorbike when I came to the party, and he went absolutely spare – ran off to his room.  He couldn’t look at it,” Harry told her.

“He’d seen it before,” she said quietly.  “Do you suppose he saw something happening to you?”

Harry thought about that for a moment, then shook his head.  “He wasn’t concerned; he was terrified.  He saw himself, I’m sure of it.”  He sighed.  “This changes quite a lot, doesn’t it?”

Hermione hesitated.  “I… I thought about saying yes, you know.”

Harry’s stomach tightened.  “What – to Ron, you mean?” he asked.

“I nearly did it,” Hermione said.  “He – he seemed to want it so much, that I considered giving it a go.  I didn’t want to hurt him.  But I hesitated, and everything fell apart from there.”  With a bitter edge in her voice, she added, “He certainly had no problem moving on straight away, did he?”

Harry’s thoughts kept returning to the last sentence in the description of the cognivores.  “Ron may actually be going mad, if you believe that book,” he offered.

Hermione gave in to the impulse Harry shunned.  “He’d have to be mad, to make off with Lavender Brown like that!” she fumed.  “They deserve each other!”

“I’m angry at him for hurting you,” Harry said, “but… I know what it’s like to be alone and scared, you know – to think you’re going mad.  Who knows what he’s seen, or thinks he’s seen?”

“Don’t make him out to be noble, Harry,” Hermione warned.  “He didn’t try to spirit Lavender away for conversation.  The only things she talks about are boys, makeup and Divination –”

“Exactly,” Harry tried to interject.  “She’d be likely to take him more seriously about visions than you –”

Hermione ignored him.  “– and even then she’s hard to listen to.  It’d be like carrying on a conversation with a flobberworm, for goodness’ sake!  It’s a wonder she’s managed –”

Harry cut her off.  “She acquitted herself well in the DA, as I remember it.”

Hermione’s eyes narrowed.  “She’s curvy, she’s giggly, and she’s easy, and that’s why Ron took to her.”

Harry cringed.  “Remind me to stay on your good side, would you?”

Hermione closed her eyes, and put a hand to her forehead.  “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.  It’s just… it’s just that I was willing to try, you know, and that wasn’t good enough.  I’m the one that didn’t want anything to happen, and now I’m shirty about being rejected.  Perhaps I’m the one going mad?”

Harry smiled.  “You’re not going mad.  I’m not sure it’s about the brain attack, either.  Maybe this is just a Weasley problem?”

Hermione looked puzzled.  She began, “What are you…?” before recognition set in.  “Ah… Ginny,” she recalled.  “I really should have warned you.”

Harry nodded.  “Rather like a game of Exploding Snap gone badly, all the way around,” he said.  They both laughed, but it was uneasy laughter.

“I know you’re hurt, and I’m angry, but we have to help him,” Harry said.

Hermione frowned and admitted, “You’re right, Harry.”  She rose from the chair, and slid her arms around him.  “I thought that I was supposed to be the sensible one.  How did we flip things around?” she said.

Harry carefully put his arms around her in return.  He wanted that dream out of his head, but he knew that it wouldn’t matter.  After the safeguarding of the prophecy, he felt as if an invisible line had been crossed – that somehow the friendship of their childhood was at an end, no matter what choices were made.

Dobby called from just beyond the door to the library, “Miss Granger can be found in here, sirs and madam.”  Lupin entered the room, closely followed by Mr. and Mrs. Granger.  Harry dropped his arms immediately, but Hermione inexplicably continued to hold him.  He was certain that he radiated guilt. 

“Good morning, Dad,” Hermione said brightly.  “It’s starting out to be a wonderful day, isn’t it?”

“Smashing,” Mr. Granger said flatly, as he looked Harry up and down.

“You’re up at last, Harry!  I’m glad to see you’re recovered from the ride,” Lupin said, and he rushed forward to clasp Harry’s hand.  This gave Harry an opportunity to disengage from Hermione – from Mr. Granger’s daughter, as he was very acutely aware. 

Mrs. Granger chided, “I realise that the baggy look is in, Hermione, but…”

Hermione shrugged.  “I didn’t have a change of clothing, Mother, so I borrowed these from Harry.”  Mr. Granger squinted at Harry’s clothes on Hermione, and then returned his gaze to Harry. 

Lupin strode between Harry and Mr. Granger, and gestured widely around the room.  “This is Hermione’s library,” he said.  “She’s been organizing it, you know… all morning long.” 

Mrs. Granger swept along the shelves, and a smile began to form on her face.  “Fascinating,” she murmured.

“Quite a lot of books here,” Mr. Granger said.  “I should think we’d have to add on, to accommodate all of this.”

“By the time I hand off some to the library at Hogwarts and when the really dark material is binned, as I was told, it may be cut in half,” Hermione told her father.  “I was hoping Harry would allow me to keep it here, until I have a place of my own for it.”

“A place of your own – that should be quite a while, then,” Mr. Granger said.

“You can keep the library here as long as you like,” Harry offered.

“Tom, you should see some of these titles,” Mrs. Granger said.  She stopped abruptly.  “This can’t actually… good heavens, is this some sort of joke?”

Hermione glanced casually at the shelf before her mother.  “It’s not a joke, Mother; de Montmorency was a very serious potions scholar.” 

Mrs. Granger’s eyebrows began to climb.  “This isn’t something you would cover in a class, is it?” she asked.

“Of course not… well, perhaps in seventh year,” Hermione sighed.  “I’m familiar with the author from History of Magic class.”

“Let me see that… love potions?  You’ll be binning that one, straight away,” Mr. Granger commanded.

“Dad!” Hermione protested.

Fine – we’ll hold it for you until you reach an appropriate age,” Mr. Granger said gravely.  “What do you think, Cordelia – 30, perhaps?”

Mrs. Granger continued to read book spines.  “She’s maturing nicely enough… I believe we might consider it at, say, 28?” she said.

Hermione snapped, “Mother!”

Mr. and Mrs. Granger both began to laugh, and Hermione turned ever redder.  Mr. Granger reached out and tousled her hair.  “You’re still easily teased,” he snorted.

“Over nothing, at that; you won’t need that book,” Mrs. Granger said absently.

“I’m so pleased that I amuse you both,” Hermione grumbled, as she ran her fingers through her hair.  She looked to Harry, and her eyes narrowed.  “What are you smiling at?”

“Nothing – I’m just taking notes,” Harry insisted.  Hermione shot him a foul look, and Harry’s smile became a smirk.

Mr. Granger paused in front of the table.  “Good Lord!  What on Earth are those things…?  Cognivores… they eat thoughts?”

Lupin walked slowly to the table.  He peered at the open folio for some time.  “When did you find this?” he asked Hermione.

“Just now, Professor,” she answered.

“I was too tired to insist last night, but I’ll remind you that I’m no longer your professor.  Remus will do nicely,” Lupin said.  He sighed.  “I didn’t know what they were, in truth.  You do realise that this may explain some of Ron’s recent behaviour?”

“Ron… Ron Weasley?  You mean… Good Lord, when Arthur said something about a ‘brain attack’, I thought perhaps he meant a stroke or an epileptic episode.  You’re saying that Ron Weasley was attacked by those?” Mr. Granger asked nervously.

“It would seem so,” Lupin said.  “He has received treatment, of course; and our understanding of magical disorders is much improved since this was written.”  Mrs. Granger peered around Lupin at the folio, and put a hand to her mouth in shock.

Mr. Granger took Hermione by the hands.  “Of your two closest friends, one is attacked by brains that eat thoughts, and the other is marked for death by someone so horrible that most of these people can’t speak his name!  It’s enough that your two closest friends are both boys, for God’s sake.  Does this seem acceptable to you?”

Mrs. Granger stared at Hermione in disbelief.  “You… you’ve seen these things?” she asked.  “My God, what else have you seen?”

“We planned to tell you that we’d decided to remain in England, for now,” Mr. Granger said.  “I didn’t expect to have my mind changed again, but here we are.”

Hermione snatched her hands away.  “I won’t go anywhere,” she said firmly.  “I’m returning to Hogwarts next month.”  Hermione and her father stared at each other, jaws set and bodies unmoving. 

Mrs. Granger looked to Harry and Lupin, and said quietly, “I’m sorry that this has to play out in front of you.”

Harry impulsively stepped forward and took Hermione by the arm.  “Excuse us for a moment, please,” he mumbled, and then pulled her through the doorway and into the corridor.

“This had better be important,” she growled at him.

“You need to tell them everything,” he said.

You need to stay out of this,” she warned.

“Do you like making decisions without knowing all the facts?” he asked.

“Of course not!” she snapped.

“How do you think they feel?” he asked.  She stared daggers at him, but said nothing.

“You’ve been angry with me most of the summer because I wouldn’t talk to you,” Harry said, “and you’re doing exactly the same thing to your parents.”

“That’s not fair,” she insisted.  “You knew you could talk to me, and everything would be all right.  I can’t tell them everything.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“They’ll go mad!” Hermione shrieked; “They’ll withdraw me for certain!”

“It seems they may do that anyway,” he pointed out.  “They may as well do it with everything in hand, right?”   

“Enough! I get it,” she fumed.  “I wouldn’t know where to begin, honestly.”

“At the beginning, I should imagine?” Harry said.

Hermione shoved her hands in her front pockets.  “Everything?” she asked nervously.

Harry shrugged.  “That’s what I would do, in your shoes.  I’d tell my parents everything.”

“You might feel differently if you were actually faced with it,” Hermione said bitterly.

“You may be right – I don’t know,” Harry said.  “I wish that I had a choice in it.”

Hermione looked around furtively.  “Will you come back in with me?” she asked.  Harry nodded.  She drew herself up, in a way that reminded him of McGonagall, and he followed her back into the library.

She stood before her parents, her hands clasped behind her back.  She struggled for words.  “I… I have a story to tell.  It’s…”  She faltered.  Harry wanted to reach out and take her hand, but Lupin chose that moment to stand next to Harry.

Hermione collected herself and continued, “It’s about a little girl who received a strange letter from a strange place, you see?  It’s about how that little girl was changed, and how she grew up.  The whole affair is rather like Alice passing through the Looking Glass, except that this story is real.  Some of it… some of it may be hard for you to take in.  I know you’ve heard the introduction and selected parts of the story… would you care to hear the rest?”

Without a word, or even a sound, her parents took chairs next to the table.  Hermione stood at first, and later sat on the floor.  She hit every high point and low point from her first three years at Hogwarts, from the mountain troll to Buckbeak.  Harry was mostly silent, except when he thought that she was drifting from her own story toward his.  He wouldn’t allow her to recede into the background of her own accomplishments.  Lupin, ever the teacher, provided a few well-crafted explanations where they were required.

When explaining Sirius Black – and thus drawing a contemptuous expression from Mr. Granger – Hermione insisted on describing the circumstances that led to Sirius’ imprisonment, including the death of Harry’s parents.  Harry prepared to intercede but Lupin gently held him back.  Mrs. Granger watched Harry through the entire explanation, with an expression that he couldn’t fathom.  Mr. Granger was fascinated by the concept of the Time-Turner and asked question after question.  He and Lupin tore off on a tangent regarding paradoxes until Mrs. Granger cut them off. 

Lupin had to explain the concept of the Patronus Charm.  He suggested that Harry summon his Patronus.  Harry searched for a happy thought, and then smiled.  He spoke the charm instead of shouting it out like a schoolboy.  A wash of silver luminescence erupted from his wand, followed by a dazzling silver stag that cantered around to face all three Grangers.  The stag was vividly real, down to the individual hairs and the texture of its antlers.  Mr. and Mrs. Granger appeared uncertain how to respond and settled on polite applause.

“Outstanding,” Lupin said.  “You’ve happened upon the perfect thought, for certain.”  Harry’s wand twitched in his hand when Lupin said ‘perfect’, and the silver stag quickly dissipated.

Hermione pressed on through the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  Her parents were familiar with Krum, but knew little or nothing about the circumstances under which they met.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Granger were incensed as she described the second task.  Lupin took great pains to assure them that Hermione had not been at any actual risk.  Harry couldn’t understand why they were more upset by the idea of their daughter caught underwater than by the incident with the basilisk or a half-dozen other things.

When she came to their fifth year, Harry was very much on guard.  Hermione’s descriptions were terse, and she talked more of him than of herself.  He kept jumping in until she cut him off.  She showed fierce pride when talking about Dumbledore’s Army.  She began to describe the encounter in the Department of Mysteries, but for some reason kept getting lost in the story.  Each time that she began again, she seemed more confused.  After the fourth attempt, Lupin interrupted to tell the story.  Harry filled in the gaps and wondered what was wrong.  By the end of the telling, Hermione seemed herself again.

“That takes us to the beginning of the summer,” she finished, “and you know the story from there.”  Everyone sat silently.  No one seemed to know who should speak next, or what should be said.

Harry cleared his throat.  “Perhaps Remus and I should step out?” he ventured, and stood to leave the room.

Hermione said, “I’m not finished.”  Harry froze.  He was apprehensive about what else she might have to say.

“This is who I am – it’s what I’ve become.  I… I hope you can accept that,” she told her parents.

Mr. Granger said, “If we had it to do over again… we knew you were different, you know.  Deep inside, we knew.  When you were very young, we could label you as gifted and set our fears aside.  Later, though… do you remember what happened when those boys kept harassing you?  What was the one boy’s name – Strauss, or something?”

Hermione winced.  “Stroud – David Stroud.  That’s a rather difficult thing to forget.  I sometimes wonder how long it took for his hair to grow back,” she said.

“We explained it away, of course,” her father said.  “No one wanted to believe that an angry ten year old girl could make a boy’s hair fall out.  We knew better, your mother and me – you were different.  You were different, but we loved you – we have always loved you.”

Hermione seemed part sad and part embarrassed.  “I know that, Dad,” she said.

“Then why has it taken you five years to confide in us?” her mother asked.  “We accepted that outlandish letter on its face; we were so desperate to understand you, and for you to understand yourself.  We’ve always been proud of you – you must know that.  Why couldn’t you see fit to trust us with the simple truth?”

“What is simple about it?   A part of me is still in disbelief every time I go to class.  Read some of these books, for goodness’ sake!  Dad, you flew last night – you sat on some concealed sticks and you flew, without any wings or engine.  It’s not simple,” Hermione insisted.

“No, but I did it,” Mr. Granger reminded her.  “I asked for a ride, I jumped on, and I flew.  I seem to have retained my faculties in the process.  Answer your mother’s question – why couldn’t you trust us?”  He looked at Harry, and added, “Why did you have to be talked into trusting us now?” 

“Because I was afraid, right?” Hermione cried.  “Is that what you wanted to hear?  I was afraid!”

“You’ve had a hundred things to fear over the last five years, and you decided to be afraid of us?  Why?” Mr. Granger asked.

“You’ve always been on the edge of taking it all away from me,” Hermione said angrily.  “There’s always a threat there.  I won’t let you do it – I won’t.  It would be as if I asked you to breathe water –”

“– which you have apparently done,” her father added.  “We know we can’t ask you to come home, and be something that you never were; you should give us more credit.  It’s your safety we’re concerned about, not your identity.  Do I wish that your circumstances were different?  I suppose that I do –”

“You can’t wish this away.  Magic will always be a part of my life.  If I ever have children, it’s likely that they’ll be magical as well,” Hermione said.

Mrs. Granger’s eyes were moist.  “When you do have a child,” she said in a halting voice, “I hope you never feel as powerless to help her as I feel right now.”

Mr. Granger looked as if he wanted to say something else.  Then he shook his head, and held his arms out toward Hermione.  She stood up, slowly shuffled to her father, and embraced him.

Lupin whispered in Harry’s ear, “This would be a good time to make our exit.”  Harry agreed and quietly followed him out of the room and down the stairs.

When they reached the entry hall, Lupin stopped before Harry.  “Why did you encourage Hermione to open up to her parents?” he asked.

Harry shrugged.  “I thought that they might be afraid of what they didn’t know.  Even if they were uncomfortable with the truth, I thought that they might be less afraid.  I don’t know – it seemed like the best chance for getting them to reconsider,” he explained.

Lupin smiled broadly.  “Well done, Harry.  You handled yourself brilliantly in there.  I’m… I’m quite proud of you.”

Harry blushed.  “Erm – thanks, Remus,” he said awkwardly.  His stomach growled, and he added, “I’m famished.”

“Perhaps we should arrange for some food to be taken up?” Lupin suggested.  “They may be a while.”

Harry asked Dobby to arrange food for the Grangers, and Winky served sandwiches and crisps to Lupin and Harry in the kitchen.  Between bites, Lupin said, “I have a birthday present for you.  I never got around to giving it yesterday.”

Harry hastily chewed, before he told Lupin, “You didn’t need to get me anything.”

“Finish up here and I’ll show it to you,” Lupin said.

After they were finished eating, Lupin led Harry down to the cellar.  Harry had never been below the kitchen level before.  At the base of the stairs, two doors led out of a small alcove.  One door looked especially stout and had thick metal loops that looked as if they would hold chains, and the other door was painted red.  Lupin opened the red door.

Inside was a virtual duplicate of Dudley’s workout room at Privet Drive – before Harry blew it up, of course.  Harry lightly jabbed at the speed bag, and then the heavy bag.  He made a visual inventory of the free weights.  There were two large black trunks stacked in one corner.

“I thought that you might like to maintain your routine,” Lupin said.

Harry turned and gave Lupin a stout handshake.  “This is wonderful,” he said.  “Thank you.”

“Everything packs in the trunks, so you can take it all with you in the fall,” Lupin explained.

Harry fidgeted.  “This must have been very expensive…”

“I have little use for money,” Lupin said.

“How did you know what equipment to buy?” Harry asked.

“Oh, your cousin was most helpful,” Lupin said.

Harry’s eyes widened.  “My cousinYou talked to Dudley?”

“I contacted him via Arabella Figg,” Lupin explained.  “He sent me an equipment list.  He also sent along that package next to the trunks.”

A long, flat package wrapped in brown paper leaned against the bottom trunk.  When Harry opened the end of the wrapping, an envelope fell out.  He carefully pulled out a painted canvas.  A figure in silhouette faced the ocean, its back to the viewer, looking out at a twilight sky and burnt-orange horizon.  It was one of the half-dozen paintings and drawings that had hung in Harry’s room.  Harry wondered if and how Dudley had known it was his favourite.

Lupin looked at the painting.  “That’s very nice.  Much better than previous gifts from the Dursleys, I imagine?”

“That wouldn’t take much,” Harry said.  “This was hanging in my room.  Dudley painted it.”

“You must be joking,” Lupin said.  “Your cousin doesn’t look the artistic type.”

“He’s really quite good,” Harry said absently, as he opened the envelope.  There was a sheet of typing paper folded inside, covered with a rough scrawl.

Potter –

Am using enjoying new weights and bags.  Bought what I had before, so I can pay my trainer if Dad welches.  Took the Latin exam yesterday.  Don’t know how it went but it felt good.  Thought I’d send a painting for your place.  Mum said you fancied this one.  Water and sky colours turned out well, I think.  Stay away from Lord Nutter, right?

Dudley

Harry handed Lupin the note.  “‘Lord Nutter’?” Lupin laughed.

Harry murmured, “I preferred ‘Lord Whoop-de-do’,” but Lupin didn’t hear.

“Shall we check on our guests?” Lupin asked.

Harry slid the painting back into its wrapping, and tucked it under his arm.  On the way out, Harry pointed at the other door and asked, “What’s in there?”

Lupin looked away from Harry.  “That room is for my use,” he grumbled.  “It’s well reinforced.”  Harry left it alone.

Dobby and Winky were in the kitchen; Dobby was washing plates while Winky surveyed the pantry.  Dobby grinned at Harry.  “Harry Potter has seen his present from Mister Lupin,” he said.  “It must be to his liking.”

“Very much so,” Harry agreed.  “Is… everything in hand upstairs?”

“The Grangers have moved to the drawing room,” Dobby squeaked.  “Dobby left beverages there.”

“We should make an appearance – don’t you agree?” Lupin asked.

Winky peeked out of the pantry, and shot a cross look at Dobby.  “Miss Granger’s parents moved,” she added, “but Miss Granger remains in the library, Harry Potter.”

The corners of Lupin’s mouth turned up slightly.  “We see her parents first, Harry.  It’s good form.”

The door to the drawing room was open.  As they climbed the stairs, Harry fell farther and farther behind Lupin.  He could hear Lupin talking to the Grangers, but couldn’t make out what they were saying.  No one’s voice was raised, which Harry took as a good sign.  He trudged up the last steps, and faced the open doorway.  Mr. Granger caught sight of him, and motioned for Harry to enter.  Lupin watched Harry with a curious expression, one that left Harry a bit uncomfortable.

Mrs. Granger looked at Harry.  She stood with her hands clasped and her head tilted a bit – it was the same posture Hermione took when she was nervous or uncertain, Harry realised.  “While we do not appreciate that Hermione needed your permission before she would talk to us –” she began.  Mr. Granger nodded fervently.

“– we do appreciate what you accomplished by interceding,” Mrs. Granger continued.  “There’s quite a lot that we find troubling in all of this, as you might imagine.”  She hesitated, and then added, “We would be pleased if you would join us for dinner this Sunday, at our home.”

“Yes – yes, of course,” Harry stammered, “I’d, erm, be delighted.”  It occurred to Harry that he didn’t know what day of the week it was.  Sweat began to bead at Harry’s temples.  He looked to Mr. Granger, and hastily added, “Are you planning to…?”

“No,” Mr. Granger said sternly and formally, his arms crossed.  “Hermione was rather persuasive.  Given her attitude with regard to you, we think it important that we all get to know one another – very well.  That might require several Sunday dinners.  Surely you agree.”

Harry looked to Lupin, who showed no inclination to save him.  Mr. Granger watched and waited – he was a predator stalking his prey.  Mrs. Granger maintained her nervous posture, and regarded Harry with the same unfathomable expression as when she had heard the story of his childhood.  Show no fear, he thought, show no fear!  

He swallowed hard.  “Erm – yes, certainly – er… very well, yes.  I had hoped we made a start toward that at the Weasley’s, sir.”  Mr. Granger’s countenance lightened a bit, but he said nothing in response.

Mrs. Granger said, “Remus is going to call for our ride now.  You have a few minutes.”  Harry hesitated, not quite comprehending what she was telling him.

“Upstairs!  Go!” Mr. Granger commanded, waving his hands toward the doorway.  Harry nearly dropped the wrapped painting in his haste to leave.  There were sounds behind him as he quickly mounted the stairs – for a moment, he thought that he heard laughter.

Hermione was on one of the ladders in the library, extracting more books.  Harry knocked on the doorframe, rather than risk startling her.  “Harry!” she called out.  She carefully climbed down the ladder, set an armful of books on the table, and bounded toward him.  He barely had a chance to set down the painting, before she was upon him – her cheek pressed against his ear, and hair everywhere. 

“I’m so glad you’re not moving away,” he said.  He reached up, and swept her hair from his face.

She pulled back and smiled mischievously.  “What did they tell you?” she asked.

“Your father said you were persuasive,” Harry said.

“Persuasive… you could say that,” Hermione laughed, her arms still around Harry’s waist.

“Well?”

“Well – what?” Hermione asked.

Harry pretended to shake her.  “Tell me!” he demanded.

“I told them that if they took me to Canada I’d learn Apparation on my own, and that I didn’t care if I ended up splinched or worse.  I said that as soon as I learned how, I’d Apparate right back to Hogwarts,” she said proudly.

“I’d like to see you Apparate across the Atlantic Ocean,” Harry teased.

“What they didn’t know didn’t hurt them – I was simply making a point,” Hermione explained.  “They had to know that I’d simply refuse to go with them.”

“Your parents want to have me for Sunday dinner,” Harry told her.

“Really?” she said, and her eyes widened a bit.  “Sunday dinner at the house?”

“Uh-huh.  I couldn’t tell if they want me rolled in crumbs and baked, or if they’d prefer me raw,” Harry moaned, only half-joking.

“That’s terrible,” Hermione said, as she playfully struck him with the back of her hand.  She added, more seriously, “Obviously, you don’t understand the meaning of the invitation.”

“What, there’s more?” Harry asked nervously.            

“Sunday dinner is a family meal in our house – only family.  Mother and Dad evict all the Order members; even Tonks generally eats out in the front room.”  Hermione thought for a moment.  “I can’t think of the last time I had a friend for Sunday dinner… it would had to have been before I left for Hogwarts, if even then.”

“Your father threatened me with several Sunday dinners,” Harry reported.  “I think they believe I have some kind of unnatural hold over you – something about your ‘attitude toward me’, or the like.”

Hermione said in a low voice, “Excuse me?”

“Your mother seemed to think that you required my permission before you were willing to talk to them,” Harry explained. 

Her jaw tightened and lips pursed.  “She doesn’t think that I make my own choices?”  Hermione growled.  “We’ll just see about that!”  She started for the door, but Harry tightened his loose hold around her waist.

“What are you…?” she protested.

“Save it for dinner,” he joked.

“You actually want to go through with dinner?” she asked.

“Gryffindors stick together, right?  Besides, your parents may be trying to surprise you.  I can’t very well interfere with their plan,” Harry said.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Hermione admitted.  “I wonder if they intend to invite anyone else.  I can’t imagine – I mean, it’s Sunday dinner after all.”

Harry shrugged.  “It sounded like they were fairly intent on getting to know me – whatever that may involve.  No one else was mentioned.”

Hermione frowned.  “As long as they don’t invite Ron…”  Before Harry could interject, she cut him off and continued, “I’m sorry, Harry – I’ve just had enough for now.  If you want to help him, I won’t interfere.  As I see it, he can go and bugger –”

“Hermione!” he exclaimed.

“ – or flail away at Lavender Brown… whatever he wants, as long as he stays away from me,” she snarled, and pulled away.

“Enough with Ron,” he said.  “You were the one who brought him up, not me.”

“Sorry,” she muttered as she turned her attention back to the books.  “Thank you for allowing me to keep the library here for the time being.  I haven’t decided how I’ll go about reading everything.  I suppose I’ll take home a few books to start?”

Harry offered, “It should be easier after you sort through all the material, right?  I mean, you did say that sorting would cut it in half.”

“You didn’t believe that rot, did you?” she muttered without looking up from the table.

Harry’s eyes widened and he said, “I’m sorry?”

Hermione turned, and the mischievous smile was back.  It was a smile he would have associated with the Weasley twins, not Hermione.  “Sirius was the one who told me to break a few rules and loosen up.  So, I’ve decided to start with his library.  I’m not binning anything without at least looking it over.  If anything proves truly dangerous, I’ll hand it over to Madam Pince for the Hogwarts restricted section.”

She set her hand on one of the larger stacks of books.  “I put these aside for you to review.  They all deal with advanced defensive work, and I’ve only heard of two of them.  You don’t mind, do you?”

“Not at all,” Harry said.  “It might help prepare me for the fall.”  He glanced at the spines of the stacked books.  “Some of these certainly look intriguing… ‘Scandalous Tactics for Duelling’?  What, do I need more scandal in my life?”

Harry didn’t notice that Hermione had put her arm around him until after he read all the book titles.  She didn’t seem remotely self-conscious about it.  He felt that it should bother him, though he wasn’t certain why.

He turned toward her, and she put her other arm around him.  “This seems a little out of order for best friends, doesn’t it?” Harry asked nervously.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “I’m just making this up as I go.”

Harry froze.  “What did you dream last night?” he asked haltingly.

Hermione blushed faintly and let go of him.  “I told you it was probably just a result of the safeguarding charm,” she said.  “It was nothing.”

“Hermione!” Mr. Granger’s voice carried up the stairs.  “It’s time to leave!  Our ride is here!”

“Could you help me with some of these books?” Hermione asked.  “I want to take these two stacks home.  That should tide me over for a while.”        Harry picked up a large stack of books as he was directed, and followed her down the stairs to the entry hall.  Mr. and Mrs. Granger were waiting by the door. 

“You’re taking all those books home?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“It’s just some light reading,” Hermione claimed.  Harry groaned, and shifted the weight of the dozen thick books he carried for her.

There was a nondescript car in front of the house.  Harry was reminded of the cars used by the Ministry.  A young, thickly built man who Harry did not know sat behind the wheel.  Seeing Harry coming, the driver reached down toward his feet and the boot popped open.  Shacklebolt stood by the open rear door of the car and silently observed.  Lupin stood on the front stoop, and kept a careful eye on the neighbouring houses.  Harry lowered the books into the boot, and then shook his arms to restore the flow of blood.  Hermione placed her smaller stack of books into the boot as well.

Harry said to her, “You know that you’re always welcome to study here in the library.  I’ll make sure that Dobby knows to admit you.”  Sensing Mr. Granger watching, he hastily added, “And your parents as well, of course.”

Hermione smiled.  “That’s perfect.  It would be much easier, to be sure, and then I could organize and read all at once.”  She stared at her mother, who was climbing into the back seat of the car, and added loudly, “I’m certain my parents would find that amenable.”

Harry closed the boot and walked Hermione around the sedan.  Her parents were very obviously watching them from inside the car.  Hermione stopped and turned toward Harry.  “I’ll return your clothes straight away,” she said.  Shacklebolt stopped looking around and stared at Harry; one eyebrow slowly climbed.

Hermione stopped at the door.  “Thank you for taking care of me last night,” she said, then hugged him tightly, and planted a lingering kiss on his cheek.  Harry stood completely still, in order to avoid betraying his mounting panic.  What in the hell are you doing, Hermione? he thought.  Harry turned away from the car very quickly, as Mr. Granger reddened and spluttered.  Half of him resented being used as a pawn; the other half was too overwhelmed to care.

“Potter!” Shacklebolt barked.

Harry turned back again slowly.  “Yes?”

Shacklebolt said tersely, “Here, at eight o’clock tomorrow morning.  Don’t disappoint me.”  He swept back his cloak and clambered into the front passenger seat of the car, which swiftly pulled away from number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

Harry drifted down the walk to the front door.  Lupin still stood on the front stoop.  “I see Kingsley’s been talked into teaching you,” he said.

“It looks that way – I know he’s none too happy about it,” Harry observed. 

“That was an interesting end to your time with Hermione.  Perhaps the two of you did need a chaperone last night?” he laughed.

Harry sighed.  “You don’t recognize a sham when you see one?”

“What do you mean by ‘a sham’?” Lupin asked.

“She’s furious with her parents.  Hermione wouldn’t behave that way; she was making a point,” Harry explained.

Lupin sighed and shook his head.  “If that’s how you see it…” he said.

Shortly, Harry retired to the library and took the top book from the stack of defensive texts.  He was going to have an angry tutor, which meant that it would be very wise and very practical to spend the remainder of the evening preparing for their first session.

After two hours of continuous reading, Harry stopped to stretch.  He caught sight of the wrapped painting from Dudley.  There were a few finishing nails in the library walls, where presumably evil artwork had been removed.  Harry unwrapped the painting, found a well-lit spot, and balanced the canvas on a nail.  He wasn’t sure why he was so taken with the image – there was just something about it.

He was still looking at the painting, when Lupin entered the library.  “Taking a stretch?” Lupin asked.  “This would be a good time to break for dinner.”

“That sounds grand,” Harry said.  “My eyes are burning.”

“Find anything useful?” Lupin wondered.

Harry grinned.  “Absolutely, yes – some of these jinxes are vicious.  I’ll have a few surprises in store for Shacklebolt, I think.”

Lupin walked toward the painting on the wall.  “I see you’ve hung it here.  Not planning on putting it in your room, then?”

“This room could use some colour,” Harry said.  “I’ll leave it here for now.”

Lupin gazed at the painting and stroked his chin.  “Is it sunrise or sunset, Harry?” he asked.

Harry considered that at length.  “I don’t know,” he decided.

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