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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Nine

SECRETS REVEALED AND GUARDED  

Once they reached the outskirts of London, Harry found a secluded spot where he could render the Bonnie invisible again.  Rather than trifle with traffic controls and late-night drivers, they followed the urban roads from above the rooftops.  Neither Harry nor Hermione had much to say.  Harry wasn’t pleased at being blackmailed into taking Hermione back to London.  He was tired and cold from the long ride, and numbed from the longest three days of his life.  Hermione was fiercely determined to reach Grimmauld Place.  At one point, he lowered their speed; she immediately noticed, and accused him of tarrying. 

He set down a few blocks from Grimmauld Place but maintained the invisibility charm.  As they rode slowly toward the house, Harry scouted for signs of undesired company – especially Moody, who could doubtless see through the charm with his magical eye.  He circled past the house twice but only spotted a single person: Lupin sat on the front stoop.  Harry waited until they were inside the wards before he disengaged the charm. 

Lupin showed no surprise.  He doffed his cloak and draped it around Harry.  “You must be freezing,” he said.

“No one else is here?” Harry asked.

“No one else was interested in sitting outside,” Lupin smirked.  “Dobby is extremely loyal to you.”

“My parents…?” Hermione began.

“At home,” Lupin told her.  “Tom and I decided that you’d probably come here first.  Cordelia hoped we were wrong.”

“Why here?” Harry asked.

“I didn’t think you’d find the other place on your own,” said Lupin.

Hermione shot Lupin a puzzled look.  “You’re on a first name basis with my parents?”

Lupin managed a wry smile.  “Perhaps you should give them more credit for their ability to cope with your circumstances?” he suggested.  “They’re fine people – too rational to be completely comfortable with us, perhaps, but fine people nonetheless.  You certainly seem to have made an impression on them, Harry.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Harry said suspiciously.

“Since your house is not accessible via Floo, Hermione, we agreed that I would decide whether either of you were in any condition to continue riding,” Lupin said.  He made a show of looking them up and down, and shook his head.  “I think not.  Harry, would you please ask Dobby to open the house?”

Dobby let them in immediately.  “Dobby is pleased to see Harry Potter!” the house-elf squeaked.  “Harry Potter worried Dobby with his instructions.  Dobby did not like to leave Mister Lupin out on the stoop.”

Chagrined, Harry said, “I should have made an exception for Prof… erm, for Remus.  Unblock the Floo, but only for Remus and myself.”

“Dobby will – OH!  Dobby wishes Harry Potter a happy birthday!  Dobby forgot to give a birthday present this morning!”  For a moment, Harry thought Dobby was going to punish himself.  Instead he pulled a small and carefully wrapped package from inside his patchwork jacket.

“Thank you, Dobby,” Harry said.  In the package was a matched pair of tan woollen socks. 

“They’re great. I’m, uh, surprised by the choice,” Harry told Dobby.

Dobby looked to his left and then his right, cupped his hand to his mouth, and whispered, “Dobby let Winky choose.  Dobby thinks Winky is a bit lacking in colour.”  Harry couldn’t help but snigger at that.

Lupin asked Dobby, “Would you make up one of the guest rooms for Hermione, please?”  He yawned, and said to Harry and Hermione, “I’m knackered.  I’ll be retiring for the evening.”

Harry wondered, “Don’t you want to know what Dumbledore had to say about, erm, things?”

Lupin shook his head.  “He and I spoke at length after you left. It was less than pleasant, but I’m satisfied – for now.”

“What about Mr. and Mrs. Granger?  Don’t they expect you to keep an eye on us, or at least an ear?” Harry asked.

“You’re an adult now,” Lupin answered.  “You don’t need chaperoning… do you?” Harry and Hermione looked at each other nervously. 

“I thought not,” Lupin said.  “I’m going to assume that Hermione will sleep in the guest room.  Try to manage that by morning, would you?  Harry… well… if there’s anything you need to… what I mean is… that is to say… you have had a talk, haven’t you?”

Hermione turned crimson, and Harry spluttered, “What does that have to do with Hermione and me?”

Lupin smiled.  “I didn’t mean to offend.  I just… someone had to ask whether a talk was in order.”

Simultaneously, Harry and Hermione exclaimed, “No!”

“As I thought, no need for a chaperone,” Lupin said.

“We just need to discuss some things,” Hermione offered.

Lupin’s brow furrowed.  “Things such as what happened last night, perhaps?”  He searched Harry’s face for a reaction, and seemed to find it.

“Harry,” Lupin said, “think very carefully about what you say.”  When Harry scowled at him, he added, “I’m not telling you what to do.  Just think things through, right?  Good night, then.”  He slowly ambled up the stairs.

“Dobby did not greet Miss Granger,” Dobby said.  “Welcome to the house of Harry Potter.”  The house-elf bowed with a flourish.

Hermione chuckled.  “Thank you, Dobby.  Please don’t bow to me – I don’t merit that.”

Dobby beamed.  “Dobby will most certainly bow to Harry Potter’s honoured guest.  May Dobby provide some refreshments?”

“Pumpkin juice would be nice – I’m parched,” Harry said.  “For you, Hermione?”

She shuddered.  “Something warmer, I think.  What would you recommend, Dobby?”

“Dobby always recommends hot chocolate for warming oneself.  Dobby will make it just the way that young Master M –” The house-elf quickly stopped himself, and then added hesitantly, “Dobby knows how to make proper hot chocolate.”

“Bring it to us on the fourth floor, please,” Harry called after Dobby.  He motioned for Hermione to follow him up the stairs.

“You’d better not be putting me off,” Hermione warned him.  Harry stopped before the door farthest from the fourth floor landing; he knew she would remember what was behind the door. 

Hermione smiled.  “Well,” she said, “I suppose you can put me off for a few minutes.” 

She opened the door to the library.  There was one very tall window on the wall to the left of the door.  The draperies were down, piled atop the long reading table that sat before the window.  To the other side was a hearth faced by a small sofa.  The rest of the walls were lined from floor to ceiling with books of all sizes and colours, and there were rolling ladders on two of the walls.  A second table and four chairs were set at the center of the room, beside a small freestanding shelf fully loaded with scrolls.

Hermione’s eyes were wide with excitement; Harry couldn’t help but enjoy watching her.  She dashed to the nearest books, running her index finger across spines as she read their titles.  “This is amazing, Harry!  Look - Agrippa’s testimony, and I think it may be an original!  And Malecrit’s plays, all of them from the looks of it.  Look at this – I didn’t know Bagshot had written any other books.  Oooh, it’s de Montmorency’s grimoire… that will certainly be interesting.  Goodness, this one is very dark.  Oh my!  I see what Sirius meant about some of this deserving to be binned!  There’s no organization, not that I can make out.  I’ll need to begin a catalogue straight away.”

“I think this must be what you’d see in the Mirror of Erised,” Harry laughed.  Hermione’s face fell.

“What did I say?” asked Harry.  “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be upsetting.”

“I’ve gotten low so easily this summer,” she sighed.  “I was just… never mind.  Sorry for that.”

“We need to stop being sorry all the time,” Harry said gently.

THUMP!

Harry and Hermione looked toward the long reading table.  A chair partly obscured by the pile of drapery had tipped backward and fallen, and a high-pitched squeak accompanied the thump.

“Is Dobby here?” Hermione asked.

Harry said, “I don’t know,” and dashed to the fallen chair.

Winky scampered out from beneath the chair, and squeaked, “Winky is working!  Winky is working!”  She brushed at her apron and shook her head from side to side. 

“No worries, Winky.  Let me right this chair,” said Harry.  There was a large folio on the floor next to the chair.  “What’s this?” he asked as he set it on the table.

“Winky is working!  Winky is working!” Winky repeated.  She hopped nervously from foot to foot.

Hermione looked at the cover of the folio.  “Winky, were you looking at this book?” she asked.

“Winky is working!  It is not my place to look at books belonging to Harry Potter!” Winky insisted.  “Bad Winky!” she added and banged her fist against her forehead.

Hermione wrapped her hand gently around the house-elf’s wrist.  “Winky, please stop!  These are my books now, and you may look at them if you like.  This book has lovely pictures, actually,” she said.

She opened the folio and turned the pages, which contained reproductions of a number of Muggle paintings.  “I wonder why the Blacks would have this.  Look, Harry – I’ve seen that one at the Louvre.  Rembrandt, of course.  I’m not familiar with these three.  They all have a similar look to them.  Same artist, I’d imagine.”

Winky said, “Vermeer,” then cowered.

Hermione leaned in to peer at the accompanying text.  “Did you say Vermeer?” she asked.  Winky gave a furtive nod.

Hermione turned the pages again.  “What about this one?”

“Rubens,” Winky said, still cowering.

Hermione reached out and gently stroked the house-elf’s hand.  “I didn’t – er, please don’t be offended – but the idea of a house-elf reading for pleasure never occurred to me.  Please, Winky, don’t be frightened.  No one will ever strike you in this house.  Isn’t that right, Harry?”

Harry said, “Absolutely.  Dobby can vouch for that.”

Winky frowned.  “House-elves can read.  Winky has to keep the larder and follow instructions from the… from Harry Potter.”

“Dobby is here!  Dobby can vouch for what, Harry Potter?”  Dobby entered the library with a tray holding a glass of pumpkin juice and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

“Winky is working!” Winky cried.  “Bad Winky!”  Hermione gripped the hand she was stroking before Winky could use it to hit herself again.

“Winky was just reading this book,” Harry said, “ and she fell from the chair.  I don’t believe that she wanted to be seen.”

Dobby set down the tray and walked toward Winky until their noses were nearly touching.  “Dobby needs to hear again, please.  Winky was reading this book?  This book, on this table?  Winky was not working?”  Winky squeezed her huge brown eyes tightly closed and nodded up and down furiously.

“Dobby – is – so - happy!”  Dobby enveloped Winky in a hug, then stepped back quickly and instead stroked her cheek.  He looked down to Winky’s feet, and squeaked, “Socks!”

“Winky is becoming, as you said,” Winky said quietly.

“You will excuse Dobby and Winky,” Dobby said.  With that, he pulled Winky out the door by the hand.

“Becoming what?” Harry asked after the house-elves had left. 

Hermione laughed.  “You don’t think that Dobby and Winky are… you know…?  I mean, if I saw people acting like that, I’d assume they were in love.  Wouldn’t you?”

Harry shrugged.  “Why not?  Little house-elves have to come from somewhere, don’t they?  Come on, House-Elf Crusader, shouldn’t they be able to read books and fancy one other?”

“I didn’t say they couldn’t,” she protested, “I’m just surprised – pleasantly, of course.  It demonstrates what I’ve been saying all along, that they’re quite capable of being free.”  Harry wondered how Hermione would react when she returned to Hogwarts and Dobby wasn’t there to pick up all of her hats and scarves anymore.

He drank his juice.  “Delicious,” he said, “and there’s no one to chase me out for drinking or eating.”

Hermione said with a grin, “I just haven’t set the rules yet.”

“It was a brilliant choice that Sirius made,” Harry told her.  “If he’d left this to me, I’d have given it to you anyway.”

“I’ve let you put me off long enough,” Hermione chided.  “There are some things I really need to tell you.  At least, I think I can tell you about them… hopefully, I won’t turn into a canary.”

“This is about what you signed, then?” Harry asked.

“There’s also the letter he wrote me,” Hermione added.

Harry said, “He left me a whole journal, as well as a letter.  I’m afraid to open either one, to tell you the truth.  Perhaps you could help me go through some of what he left me?”

“As long as you aren’t avoiding me, Harry,” Hermione agreed.

“No, not tonight.  I think all of my things are still at the other place,” said Harry. He withdrew his wand and started a fire in the hearth.  Hermione sat down on the sofa; she closed her eyes and soaked in the warmth. 

Harry eventually broke the silence.  “I have something to tell you.  At least, I want to tell you.  I just… it doesn’t seem like a good idea.”

“I didn’t think you’d be the one to speak first.  That’s a hopeful sign.”  Hermione sat up.  “Why don’t you come over here?”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea, either,” Harry said.

“Oh.  Are you… is this about what happened last night, erm, before I left?” asked Hermione.

Harry said nervously, “We should talk about that as well, I suppose.  The thing I want to tell you, it’s been with me a while.”

She asked him, “Is this about the reason you stayed away from us, then?  If it is, then of course I want to know.  Why wouldn’t you want to tell me that?”

He buried his face in his hands.  “Because it’ll change everything.  It’ll change everything, and there’ll be no changing it back.”  He lowered his hands, still looking down.  “If I tell you this, you might never be safe again.”

“Harry,” Hermione said gently, “I think it would be a very good idea if you sat over here.  Please.  While you think about whether you should tell me – well, whatever it is you have to tell – perhaps I should tell you about what I signed last night… if I’m able.”

Harry reluctantly sat on the other end of the couch from Hermione.  “You’re still worried that you’ll be hexed?”

She said, “I don’t know which would be more cruel – hexing me so that I can’t tell you, or allowing me to tell you.  I feel the same as you; if we finish this conversation, I’m afraid everything will change.”

Harry swallowed hard, and then said, “Then perhaps we shouldn’t be talking.”

Hermione slowly shook her head from side to side.  “I’m trapped at the centre of a bridge, Harry.  Both ends are on fire.  I can go back to where I came from, but the fire is everywhere.  I can’t jump over it, and I’ll never be able to run through it without burning.  If I stay in the centre, the fire will eventually reach me.  As for the flames ahead, who knows?  What should I do?”

“What is it with scenarios?” Harry asked.  “Fine, then.  How high is the bridge?”

She rolled her eyes but smiled faintly.  “I’m not letting you get off that easily; it’s a thousand feet high.  What should I do?”

“We’re Gryffindors,” he said at last.  “We go forward.”

Hermione nodded; she sounded uneasy.  “Mr. Diggle owled everyone their formal copies of the will this morning.  There was a copy of what I signed, as well.  I assume everyone else received the same?”

Harry said, “I don’t know; I’ve been given more stacks of paper than I know what to do with.” 

Hermione pulled a piece of parchment from the front pocket of her denims. “I had a thought… perhaps it will work, and perhaps it won’t,” she said.  “Take it from me and read it.  I won’t give it to you, and I won’t say anything.”

“Clever,” he said, and she grew pale.  “Are you sure you want to do this?  We can still jump over the side.”

She closed her eyes.  “Gryffindors go forward, right?” she said.  Harry wrested the parchment from her hand, and read it.



I, Hermione Jean Granger, solemnly swear that I will help Harry James Potter find and experience true love, no matter the sacrifice required, for Harry has known little love and much sorrow.  I solemnly swear that I will not forsake Harry when others do, knowing full well that such a promise may exact a terrible personal price.  I solemnly swear that I will lighten up a bit and venture out of the library from time to time, because life is short and the greatest pleasures in life aren’t found in a book.  To honour Sirius, James and Lily, I promise to break at least one rule per month during my remaining time at Hogwarts (Sirius allows that the rules may be minor ones).   Finally, I solemnly swear that I will play by Sirius’ rules tonight, certainly against the better judgment of me and those assembled, and shall refrain from cursing his name until tomorrow.
This I so swear before all authority, both civil and supreme, on this 30th day of July.
Signed
Hermione Jean Granger

 

He handed the parchment back to her without a word.

“Harry?” Hermione whispered.  “Say something.  Please.  Your hand is shaking – Harry, please say something.”

Harry closed his eyes.  “He had no right,” he said in a low monotone.

“It felt right to me – it still does,” she whispered.

Harry felt a catch in his throat.  “He had no right to do this to you,” he said more forcefully.  “It’s wrong.”

Hermione reached for his hand.  “He did nothing to me.  I had to make a choice last night, and I chose you.”

Harry pulled his hand away.  “He asked you to be a human sacrifice, and you said yes!  How could you do that?  How could he do that?  I thought I knew him.  I thought – I thought he loved me.”

“Harry, he did love you,” Hermione said, her eyes pleading. “He does love you.  You have to believe me.  The letter he wrote –”

Harry seized both of her hands and squeezed.  “Did you read what you signed, did you really read it?  The whole thing’s about what you’re expected to give up on my behalf!  What did it say – ‘sacrifice’ and ‘terrible price’?  I – I won’t let you, that’s all.  I won’t allow this!”

Hermione said, “It’s done, and I don’t want it undone,” and a tear trickled down her cheek.

Harry wiped it away with his fingertips, and she shuddered.  “If this stands, it would be like this all the time,” he said.

She told him, “You should read his letter,” and fumbled through her pockets.

Harry pulled away.  “If this is how things are going to be, then I can’t possibly tell –”

Hermione’s eyes lit.  “It’s about the prophecy, isn’t it?” she said abruptly.

“Where did that come from?” Harry asked, sitting up straight.

“You heard it, didn’t you?” Hermione asked.  “You heard it before the orb broke.”

“No, I didn’t hear it then,” Harry said.

“That’s why you hid from us all summer, Harry, isn’t it?  You know what the prophecy says, and you don’t think that you can tell anyone.  You’re pushing me away… no.”  She stopped, stricken.  

“Hermione – please!” Harry pleaded.

She insisted, “No!  It doesn’t… Harry, Divination is very flimsy.  Trelawney predicted your imminent death every week –”

“Stop it!  Please stop!” Harry shouted.

Hermione pleaded, “Harry, you have to share this with someone.  I swear to you that I can handle it!”

There was a knock at the door.  “Harry, is everything all right in there?”

Harry spun to face the closed door.  “Remus, I thought you were going to bed.”

Lupin called out, “I could hear you two floors down.  May I come in?”

Harry started to refuse, but Hermione said loudly, “Yes!”

Lupin slowly strolled toward the fireplace.  He extended his hands toward the fire, palms out.  “It’s warm in here, isn’t it?  I should light the fireplace in my room on occasion.”  Without turning away from the fire, he asked, “Let’s talk about what you wanted to stop, Harry.”

“He knows the prophecy,” Hermione said, “I’m certain of it.  It must predict his death, because he’s pushing all of us away and he’s afraid to share it.”

Lupin sighed.  “It’s a bit more complicated than that,” he said as he continued to warm himself at the fire. 

“What are you doing?” Harry protested.

“You don’t want to tell me, because knowing would make me a target.  Is that it?” Hermione asked Harry.  “Besides being Muggle-born, I’m already closely associated with you.  Why do you think I’ve been cooped up with my parents for most of the holiday?  I’m a target now, for goodness’ sake!”

Harry tried but couldn’t give voice to his concern.  It would have been difficult enough for him, but with Lupin in the room he couldn’t manage a word.

Lupin explained to Hermione, “All who know of the full prophecy can conceal their knowledge of its contents.”

“I thought that Harry’s Occlumency lessons failed,” she said.

Harry reluctantly admitted, “They worked, I think.  I just didn’t realise it at the time.”

“I can learn,” Hermione insisted, “if someone will teach me.”

“You have the mental capability, certainly.  I’m sensing that you have the necessary incentive, as well,” Lupin said.

“Remus, don’t encourage her!” Harry snapped.

Hermione frowned at him.  “You can’t go on like this – it’s devouring you.”

Harry glared at Lupin, who looked back at him impassively.  “I believe she’s correct,” Lupin said.  “You need to share this with a friend.  I’m not a friend, I’m… well, whatever I am, it’s something different than a friend.  Everyone around you is in danger, as are any wizards or witches who would stand up against Voldemort.  Telling or not telling anyone won’t change that.  Would you prefer to hear this from Dumbledore?”

Harry frowned immediately.  “I’d rather not.”

“It’s probably best to have his permission first,” Hermione said.

“Well… it’s settled, then,” Lupin said.  “May I…?”  After a nod from Harry, Lupin retrieved a pinch of Floo powder from a small pot next to the hearth, and the fire went from burnt orange to emerald.  Instead of placing his head in the flames, Lupin pointed his wand and muttered something under his breath.

Several moments later, Dumbledore’s head appeared.  “Ah,” he said, “I see that our motorcyclist and his passenger have reached you, Remus.”

“They are worn but safe,” Lupin said.  “Something’s come up, Albus, and it won’t be of surprise to you.  Would you mind terribly…?”

“Certainly – I’ll just need a few moments,” Dumbledore said.  Shortly, he stepped out of the fireplace; Lupin moved to steady him.  He wore a robe over his bedclothes, and Fwooper-feather slippers over bright orange socks.  Hermione stifled a chuckle.

Dumbledore fished his small wire-rimmed glasses from a pocket in the robe.  “Good evening, Harry.”  He glanced around the room.  “This is an impressive family library, is it not?  Do you approve, Hermione?”

Hermione blushed.  “Erm – it’s very impressive, sir.  I’m sorry, it’s just… I believe you’ve always referred to me as ‘Miss Granger’.”

“Have I?” Dumbledore asked.  “No matter – I have this sense that our conversation this evening shall place us on a first-name basis.  Does someone care to confirm why I am visiting at this very late hour?”  Harry pulled out his wand and began casting various charms around the room.

“I see,” Dumbledore said.  “My sense about the conversation-to-come is accurate.  Harry, do you care to begin?”

Harry said, “Hermione’s guessed that I heard the prophecy.  She wants me to tell it to her.” 

Dumbledore conjured one of the armchairs that he seemed to favour and sat heavily.  “How do you feel about this development?” he asked Harry.

Harry returned, “I want to tell her… but it’s not safe.”

“I don’t care,” Hermione said.  Harry waited for a scolding from Dumbledore – or a scowl, or a frown, or even a flicker; instead, Dumbledore smiled.  “I was beginning to wonder how long I would have to wait,” he said.  Harry gaped at Dumbledore, and was relieved to see a similar reaction play across Hermione’s face.

Dumbledore explained, “I couldn’t expect you to hold the knowledge to yourself forever, Harry.  In my ideal conception, we would have met at least weekly throughout the summer.  By now, I would have expected you to choose at least one confidant.  I would have predicted Hermione’s selection.”

“I share Harry’s concern with regard to safety,” Lupin said, “although now that the knowledge exists beyond you and the orb…”

“It is only a matter of time before Voldemort possesses the full content of the prophecy,” Dumbledore finished for him.  He turned to Hermione and explained, “The first portion of the prophecy has been shared with the Order, because Voldemort already possesses it.  It is the second portion that must be safeguarded for as long as possible.”

“Harry, I want to share this with you, but not if it puts you at more risk,” Hermione said.

Harry sighed.  “How could I be at more risk?”

“I believe that I provided the answer to that question during our meeting at the conclusion of the term,” said Dumbledore.  “Hermione, why are you so eager to know?”

“Harry’s my best friend,” Hermione answered without hesitation.  “I intend to see him through to the end of all of this.  I’m sure that’s obvious to you, sir.”  She turned to Harry.  “You saw what I signed.  It should be obvious to you, too, if it wasn’t before.”

“What you signed…?”  Lupin’s eyebrows slowly rose.  “What did Sirius ask you to swear?”  When she hesitated, he turned to Harry.  “Obviously you know what she agreed to – have you seen a copy?”  Harry said nothing.

“I assume that you were provided a copy of your agreement with Sirius.  Is that copy on your person?” Dumbledore asked directly.  Hermione slowly withdrew the parchment. 

Before Dumbledore could reach out, Lupin took it and quickly read the contents.  “He… asked quite a lot of you, didn’t he?  It was rather inappropriate for him to ask this of a school-age witch.  If I were your father, I would be rather upset by this.”     

Lupin handed Hermione’s parchment to Dumbledore.  Dumbledore’s eyes lingered on it, before turning to Hermione with a curious mix of pride and sadness.  “These are the precise contents of the agreement that you signed last night?” he asked her.

“Yes, and I’d do it again,” she said with defiance in her voice.

“I am more interested in the contents of your heart than the contents of this agreement,” Dumbledore told Hermione.  “It is your wish to do these things?”

“I knew what I was signing,” she said.

“Do you recognise that knowing the contents of the prophecy puts you much closer to the dangers suggested here?” Dumbledore asked.

“I… I have to know,” Hermione said quietly.

“I believe you, and I believe that Harry needs you to know,” Dumbledore said; when Harry frowned, he added, “even if that admission makes him uncomfortable.  However, that presents a dilemma.  You would have to learn Occlumency immediately, but even that would be no guarantee.”  He hesitated, which made Harry very nervous.  “There is another means to safeguard important information such as this, but I am loathe to employ it.”  Lupin frowned instantly, which did nothing to ease Harry’s nerves.

“There’s a way that I can protect the knowledge?” Hermione asked.  “If that’s true, then I do want to know.”

Dumbledore watched her impassively.  “Do you truly understand what it is that you ask?  If Voldemort were to ever suspect that you possess knowledge of the full prophecy, then he would seek to capture you.  He would assume you to be vulnerable.”

Her voice cracked.  “I understand.”

Dumbledore said firmly, “He would gladly kill you – you must realise that.”

“I would let him, before I would betray Harry,” she said with resolve.

“I won’t have this; I won’t tell you,” Harry said sadly, because he knew that she would not be denied.

Hermione turned her resolve full-force on him.  “If the Death Eaters ever take me, I will be killed.  It won’t matter what I know or don’t know, Harry.  They’ll kill me because of who and what I am.  I want to know, and you want me to know, but if anything ever happens to me I will not betray you.”  Without taking her eyes off Harry, she added, “Professor Dumbledore, I want this.”

“Hermione, we must discuss this in frank terms.  You must convince me that you understand the consequences of what you ask,” said Dumbledore.

Hermione stood.  “We’ll be just outside, Harry,” she said, and she led Dumbledore out of the room.

Harry sat silently facing the fireplace.  Lupin looked as if he was ready to say something on more than one occasion as they waited, but never spoke.  After the better part of half an hour, Dumbledore returned.

“I believe that we should share the prophecy with Hermione,” he announced.  “What say you, Harry?”

Harry turned to Hermione and said, “You won’t stop until you hear it, will you?”

“Should I stop?” she asked.  “I think you need to tell the prophecy to someone, but it wouldn’t be right for anyone to force your hand.”

“Would you prefer to think on it until the morrow?” asked Dumbledore. 

Harry shook his head.  “I’d like Hermione to know, but I don’t like the sound of this safeguard,” he said.

“It’s for the best, Harry,” Hermione said.  “It can be taken off when I’ve mastered Occlumency.”

“If you’re sure…?” Harry offered – it was a last opportunity for Hermione to back down.  She didn’t do so, and he spoke the prophecy.

“Oh my God,” she said as she pulled Harry into an embrace.  He thought she was going to break his ribs.  It’s out, he thought, she knows now.  He was surprised to feel relief, although he decided that he would feel even better if he could breathe a little.

“Hermione,” he managed, “ease up a bit, would you?”

A flood of her hair moved away from his face.  She stared at him, eyes shining with tears and an inextinguishable smile on her face.  “Oh my God, Harry!  You don’t have to die!” she shouted, and then proceeded to squeeze the life out of him again.

“Hermione, I – don’t – you’re supposed to – wha…?” he stammered.  Dumbledore was smiling.  Harry looked to Lupin half in confusion and half in desperation, and felt some satisfaction that a measure of confusion played across Lupin’s face as well.

She let her arms loose but leaned in against Harry, much to his surprise.  “I’ve done nothing but think about what the prophecy could have been, all summer long,” she explained.  “You shut us out all year.  There were so many things that you wouldn’t tell, that you didn’t want to tell, and then came all the business with the prophecy, and you just disappeared.  It seemed as if you were giving up, Harry, and you don’t give up – you simply don’t.  ‘What does he know?’ I wondered.  I decided – I don’t know why – but I decided you must have found out you had to die for V-Voldemort to be defeated, or something like that.  Then… in his letter, Sirius asked… well, that just seemed to confirm it.”

She was almost wild-eyed, Harry thought.  “But you don’t, Harry… don’t you see?  You can win; you don’t have to die!  Isn’t it wonderful?” Hermione finished.

Harry frowned.  “The prophecy says I have to kill him or be killed.  It doesn’t say I’m not going to die.”

“Fine, but it doesn’t say that you will,” Hermione said.  “Do you mind if I savour that for a bit, before we go over the safeguard?”

Harry looked to Lupin again, who had settled into the same smile as Dumbledore.  He said in exasperation, “I have to kill him!  Forgetting for a moment that this might be a bit of a challenge, don’t you have a problem with it?  If I want to live, I have to murder someone!”

Hermione shook her head disapprovingly.  “Murder seems rather strong, don’t you think?  It’s not like you’re going to run around offing schoolchildren.  Honestly, Harry, I never assumed that this could end unless somebody kills him.  Can you really envision Voldemort captured and on trial?”

“Will you say something, please?” Harry pleaded with Lupin.

Lupin’s smile was broad and apparently inextinguishable.  He said, “Hermione, I think that you have more faith in Harry than he has in himself.”

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.  “You continue to exceed my high expectations for you, Hermione.  Harry, you have made a wise choice – a splendid choice.”

“I didn’t choose this,” Harry snapped at him.

Hermione pulled him close again.  “That’s true, Harry; I chose it.  I could never give up on you, not ever.  I’ll follow you anywhere, you know – even if I think it’s a bad idea.  I’ll give you any help that I can, no matter what it takes.  I want you to find love, too, like Sirius wanted.  I want you to have everything you deserve in life.  That’s what best friends want for each other, right?”

Harry asked quietly, “So we’re, um, best friends?”

“Of course we are,” Hermione quickly returned.  Her brow furrowed for a moment.  “You’d better not have changed your mind between here and the Shrieking Shack!”

“Hermione, you must remain near Harry for the remainder of your schooling, if you truly wish to fulfil these intentions,” Dumbledore said, “and if you wish to remain near Harry, then your agreement with Sirius must be severed.  You are not of age, so it is not binding in any case.”  Hermione began to protest, but Lupin gently waved her off.

“Your parents are teetering on the edge of withdrawing you and relocating abroad,” Lupin said.  “If the agreement is broken, you’ll temper their concerns a bit.”  He turned to Dumbledore, and added grimly, “That being said, I wonder if the Headmaster might simply be substituting a new concern for the old.”

“The law is clear with regard to magical consent, Remus,” Dumbledore said.  “I am satisfied that Hermione understands the potential consequences of both the knowledge she now possesses and the magic that will safeguard its transmission.”

“You’re equivocating, Albus,” Lupin said.  “That does nothing to ease my concerns about this.”  Dumbledore shot Lupin a very parental look, and Lupin sighed.  “Very well… I sense this is my cue to leave.  Hermione, I’ll have a chat with your parents about the agreement.” 

As soon as the door closed behind Lupin, Dumbledore said, “Now then, to address the consequences of knowing what you now know…” He quickly withdrew his wand and pointed it toward Hermione.

The instant Harry saw the wand, he shouted, “Expelliarmus!”  Dumbledore’s wand shook and then slipped from his searching fingers; it landed in Harry’s grasp.  “If you so much as flinch, I’ll break it in two,” Harry said murderously.

Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled.  “What did you think I was going to do?” he laughed.

“You – I don’t know, you pulled your wand on her and – and – not a word of explanation – and – and what was I supposed to think?  I don’t know, I – I – I guess I thought you were going to Obliviate her, or… I don’t know,” Harry stammered.  His hands shook and sweat beaded at his temples.

Hermione put her hand on Harry’s, wrapping her fingers around Dumbledore’s wand in the process.  “Harry, it’s all right.  Give it back,” she said.

The touch of her hand made him stop shaking.  “I – I don’t understand,” Harry said.

Dumbledore gently took back his wand.  “Why would I reveal the prophecy only to modify the memory of the recipient?” he asked.  “Moreover, where would I begin?  The two of you have shared significant portions of your lives for five years.  If I were a full-time Obliviator, I would still be putting Hermione at a modest risk.  For that matter, I’m somewhat offended that you thought me capable of performing a memory charm without consent.”

Harry felt ashamed.  “I – don’t know – I – saw the wand, and – I don’t know what…”

Dumbledore smiled.  “Your apology is accepted, Harry.  I am curious about one thing, however.  How did you manage to disarm me without your wand?”

“But I just…?” Harry began, and then stopped.  Hermione ran her hand along the side of Harry’s leg, and pressed against the wand concealed in his pants pocket.  Her eyes betrayed questions and wonder.

“As I said earlier, we really must discuss this so-called control problem of yours,” Dumbledore said to Harry.  “Now then… Hermione, you do agree that the oath between you and Sirius may be dissolved?”

“I will agree to that,” replied Hermione.

“You will also agree to any measures that I might deem necessary in order to assure your safety?” Dumbledore asked.

Hermione sighed.  “I’m less than pleased about the idea of ‘any measures’.”

“Your parents have given me their trust, which I shall not betray.  Under the circumstances, your protection will become a primary focus for the Order.  You may find this stifling but I do insist.  I will endeavour to keep you a part of the decision-making, as you are legitimately more qualified to do so than are your parents,” Dumbledore explained.

“Then I agree,” Hermione said.

Harry lowered his head.  He couldn’t remember ever feeling so completely powerless, even when he’d been in Voldemort’s grasp.  Part of him wanted to cry out, but the rest of him understood that it would make little difference.

Dumbledore explained to Harry, “The safeguard is a variation on a very old protective spell.  I acquired it from a friend within the Department of Mysteries.  It is not evil, but its essential aspect does come from the Dark Arts.  Hermione cannot be harmed in any lasting fashion by the casting of the charm.  However, it is not pleasant for the caster, the recipient or the bearer –”

“The bearer?” Harry asked.

“In this case, that would be you.  For purposes of this protection, you are the bearer of the secret to be kept,” Dumbledore said.  “Hold out your right hand, please.”  Hermione reached out to Harry with her left hand, and intertwined her fingers in his. 

Dumbledore flicked the back of Harry’s hand with the tip of his wand, and then did the same to Hermione’s hand; three dark characters appeared.  “The runes will for the most part disappear once the incantation is cast,” Dumbledore said.  “If you would both remain seated on the sofa, please?  I would ask that you keep your hands entwined as well. Hermione, you must relax and clear your mind in the manner that we discussed.  Harry, you must keep your mind fixed on the contents of the prophecy – do you understand?”

Harry nodded glumly.  Dumbledore stood directly in front of Hermione, and held his wand in both hands like the grip of a sword.  He moved it around in a figure-eight, and it began to glow like he was casting a light spell.

“I ask you one more time: are you absolutely certain about this?” Dumbledore asked.  “Once done, it cannot be easily undone.”  She nodded. 

“Harry, are you going to intercede?” Dumbledore asked.

“No, he isn’t,” Hermione said; “Are you, Harry?”

“This shouldn’t be happening,” Harry said grimly.  “I should have kept things to myself.”

Hermione grasped Harry’s hand tightly.  “Stop,” she said; “This is the right thing, and we both know it.”  She closed her eyes, but Harry forced himself to watch.

Dumbledore said ‘Arcanum se astringo dum dolor’, and a glow spread from the tip of his wand down the shaft.  As he said ‘Arcanum se astringo donec nex’, Dumbledore’s robe rustled and Hermione’s mane of thick brown hair blew back as if stirred by wind.  

Dumbledore touched the tip of his wand against the centre of Hermione’s chest, and said, “Tutela!”  There was a flash of light, and she cried out as though the wand had pierced her; her eyes shot wide open and her back arched in spasm.  Harry felt a rush of energy surge from her hand to his and he let go in shock.  When Dumbledore withdrew his wand, she slumped.

Her eyes closed and she began to tremble.  Harry immediately brought her toward him.  She was cold, and she shook so hard that Harry had difficulty holding her.  He glared at Dumbledore, who produced a wrapped chocolate from the folds of his robe and wordlessly gave it to Harry. 

Harry fumbled with the wrapper, broke off a bit of the chocolate, and carefully pressed it inside Hermione’s lips.  “It’ll make you feel better,” he said.  He tugged her up until she was curled across him, her head resting near his shoulder.  He felt as though the heat was being drained from his body; it reminded him of Dementors, and he shuddered at the thought. 

She whispered something, but he didn’t catch it.  He inclined his head, and told her, “I’m listening.”  She said it again, and he laughed nervously.

Dumbledore asked, “What did she say, Harry?”

“She told me not to fuss over her, that she’d be fine,” Harry said.  He stroked her hair and whispered, “Hermione, don’t you ever think that you were sorted into the wrong house, not for a moment.”

Harry answered Dumbledore’s questioning look by telling him quietly, “She told me once that the Sorting Hat considered her for Ravenclaw first.”

Dumbledore nodded thoughtfully.  “She does possess the clever mind associated with Ravenclaw, but I agree that she has found her proper place.”  He reached out and gently brushed the backs of his fingers along Hermione’s cheek, and told her, “You will feel yourself again within the hour, dear girl,” before he fell back into his conjured armchair.  Hermione’s moment diminished and her breathing relaxed.  Harry stared blankly into the fire.

Dumbledore said quietly, “You seem so like your father this evening.  I find that I resist comparing Hermione to your mother, for fear of unintended consequences.”

“Hermione and I are friends, best friends,” Harry said.  “I have no expectations beyond that, not with anyone.  ‘Neither can live while the other survives’, right?”

“Harry, there is a fine line separating ordained prophecy from self-fulfilling prophecy,” Dumbledore warned.  “At the surface, this part of the prophecy is logical.  Voldemort cannot possess that which he believes he wants, unless you are eliminated.  You cannot reasonably expect to undertake a normal adult life while Voldemort’s power grows – nor can Hermione, the Weasleys, or any of your schoolmates.  There is a war coming, and none of you will truly live until it is concluded.  I will not spare you that truth.  However, if you persist in acting as though the prophecy prevents you from having friends or experiencing enjoyment or knowing love, then it will be by your own choice.”

“You said it yourself: I can’t have a life until he’s gone,” Harry insisted.

“A brave young lady just put your life before hers,” Dumbledore reminded him.  “Others have already made similar agreements, tacit and otherwise.  Those around you accept heightened risk in exchange for your company.  In fact I did so this afternoon, during my meeting with the Board of Governors.”

“I don’t follow,” Harry said.

“I made certain concessions, in order to placate key members of the Board.  I shall leave it at that for now,” Dumbledore said.  “I will never abandon you, and I will not allow dark forces to separate us.  Hermione will never willingly abandon you – that should be abundantly clear, if it was not before.  I sincerely doubt that the young Messrs. Weasley or their sister will ever willingly abandon you, nor would their parents.  The Order exists largely for your benefit, and the key members all understand this.  Despite the feelings that have been stirred within you due to the prophecy, you are not alone now and you need never be alone again except by your own choosing.”  He began to rise from the armchair, but slumped to one side. 

Harry jumped up in surprise, and carefully helped Dumbledore to his feet.  “Are you all right?” he asked.

Dumbledore smiled faintly.  “It is late, I am old, and the charm was more draining than I anticipated.  That is curious, most curious indeed… it was as though I were casting it several times.  I shall have to make enquiries…” 

Harry felt Dumbledore tense.  “What is it?” Harry asked.  “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“It is well past time to retire for the evening, Harry,” Dumbledore said awkwardly.  “I am not at all accustomed to asking… but I believe that I may manage the Floo with modest assistance.”  Harry put his arm around Dumbledore’s waist, and they stepped through the fire into the Headmaster’s office.  Harry tried to avoid thinking of his last visit to the office, but failed miserably.

Dumbledore took up his walking stick from beside his desk.  “I shall be fine from here.  Your best friend needs you now,” he said.  His eyes shone – dimmed but but unmistakeable. 

Harry reappeared in the library at Grimmauld Place.  He quietly walked down two flights to discover that Lupin had indeed retired for the night.  He didn’t want to disturb Hermione, but he wanted to be close in case she needed anything.  The only remaining light in the room came from the flickering fireplace, which was now returned to its normal hues.  Flickering light reflected off her hair.  She had drawn her arms up, and her hands were pressed against the side of her face. 

He held up his own hand in the orange light; the runes were barely visible, just as Dumbledore had said.  He whispered, “Why did you do this?”  He expected no response, of course, and there was none. 

He watched her sleep for a while, but had to turn away.  He couldn’t shake the sight of her crying out from the spell, which in turn brought back the image of her lying unconscious at the Ministry, which in turn brought back the sight and the sounds of the veil. 

Harry wondered what he done to deserve friendship of the sort that Hermione had shown that night.  He was too tired to notice that she had stirred and rolled against him.  He was asleep long before the last embers of the fire died.

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