Disclaimer: The characters in this story belong to J.K.
Rowling, not to me. At least, if I have understood her characters properly,
the ones in this story are them. Otherwise, they are just imposters pretending
to be them.
A/N: Thanks to my beta, Zsenya, for her skill at
Of course, they were true to their word.
It was a nondescript June evening on a nondescript street in
a nondescript suburb in Surrey. “Nondescript,” however, did not apply to the
three figures walking along the pavement.
The one in front wore an oversized bowler hat, so large that
it covered his left eye. He walked with a painful-looking but curiously
energetic limp, and his one visible eye kept shifting about warily. What could
be seen of his face, hair, and hands suggested a goodly number of years behind
him – and many, many hard miles.
Behind him were two teenagers: a tall, wiry redheaded boy
and a slight girl with bushy brown hair. They walked side by side, like
something more than friends but something less than a couple; their hands
brushed from time to time, and though they never shied away from the contact,
neither did those hands ever join.
They all seemed to think that cloaks were in fashion.
The redhead was the first to speak. “How can you find your
way around here, Mad-Eye? Everything bloo-, er, everything just looks the
The man in front answered, “Don’t worry about that, Weasley,
I’ve been here plenty of times. You just watch yer back.”
“All right, all right.” They walked on a few steps more. “For
a moment there I thought you were about to tell me to watch my mouth.”
Mad-Eye Moody halted abruptly and slowly turned around.
“What, do I look like your Mum?”
Ron Weasley narrowed his eyes and leaned forward, scratching
his chin and making a show of inspecting Moody carefully. Moody endured the
joke for a moment, then cuffed him lightly, swung around and led on as the
teenagers laughed pleasantly.
“You will, won’t you?” asked the young woman. “I mean,
watch your language?”
“I promise, Hermione. I really have been in polite
company before, you know.”
They walked on wordlessly through the empty streets of
Little Whinging, Moody vigilant, Ron and Hermione following in companionable silence.
Ron thought ahead to the friend they were about to visit.
They would stay with Harry until he was ready to leave his Uncle Vernon and
Aunt Petunia for the last time, and come to Ron’s home, the Burrow, to attend
Ron’s brother Bill’s wedding. There was no telling when he would be ready,
though. His aunt and uncle had always seemed to delight in making his life
miserable, while Ron’s family always made him feel at home. But going to the
Burrow meant that Harry would have to face Ron’s sister Ginny. They had been
together as a couple for the past few months, but then Harry had told her that
they could no longer be together. It was the most bizarre break-up Ron had
ever heard of. Usually, couples split up because it isn’t working; they
had split up because it was working. By some twisted logic, Harry had
decided that this would somehow keep her safe while he, Ron, and Hermione did
whatever is necessary to defeat Voldemort.
Ron glanced at his other best friend. The Weasleys had
accepted Hermione, like Harry, as if she were one of the family. Maybe someday,
he thought, he could make that official. Almost accidentally he bumped
shoulders with her. She shot him a mischievous grin and bumped him back, and
that particular dream seemed a hair’s-breadth less remote.
After a few minutes’ walk they turned into Privet Drive, which was distinguishable from all the other streets in Little Whinging only
by the street sign – and by the fact that a few streetlights appeared to have
burnt out. Moody, it seemed, had thought of everything. The older man hung
back in the shadows while Hermione, with Ron at her shoulder, walked up the
path to number four and rang the doorbell. Presently the door swung open, revealing
a very broad man wearing a very unwelcoming expression masquerading as a smile.
“Good evening. Mr. Dursley? I’m Hermione Granger and this
is Ron Weasley. We’re friends of Harry’s.”
Vernon Dursley’s eyes shifted from Hermione to Ron and
narrowed a bit, as if he were trying to remember something. Then he looked
back down at Hermione and replied in a cheery-sounding voice, “Harry? I’m
sorry, miss, there’s no Harry here.” He moved to shut the door in their faces,
but froze as Moody’s low, growling voice reached him.
“They’re here to visit Harry Potter. You’re not trying to
interfere now, are you?” He shifted a little so that Mr. Dursley could see
him. Ron suddenly realized that Moody was wearing the same cloak and bowler
hat that he had worn a year ago at King’s Cross station, when he had threatened
Mr. Dursley with unspecified consequences if he ever mistreated Harry. Yes,
Moody had thought of everything.
The effect of Moody’s appearance was immediate. “Oh, right,
Harry Potter,” Mr. Dursley said with forced geniality, stepping aside hurriedly.
“Why didn’t you say so? Come on in.” As he retreated from the door, Harry
squeezed past him and greeted Ron and Hermione eagerly.
“Welcome to my place,” Harry said dryly. “Tha-a-anks,” he
called down the path to Moody, who waved wordlessly, turned on the spot, and
“So, then, where are you staying?” Mr. Dursley asked the
newcomers pointedly. Having abandoned the doorway, he was now blocking the
entrance to the living room.
“My room,” Harry answered for them. As a cry of rage worked
itself up his uncle’s throat, he continued innocently, “You said I had to find
a place for them, so I did.” He looked to his friends. “Come on up.”
As they started up the stairs, and a fuming Uncle Vernon
stomped off toward the living room, Ron remarked, “Your uncle is certainly, er,
“You should have seen him when I told him you two were
coming to visit. Remember your old dress robes? That’s what his face looked
like.” Ron gave a low whistle. “It’s amazing that you two are actually here.”
“Harry, we promised we’d be here,” said Hermione.
“Yeah, well, it’s still amazing. Thanks.” Harry opened a door
and showed them through.
“So this is where we’re all staying, then?” Ron asked as
they surveyed Harry’s tiny bedroom. “Cozy.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia
wanted to keep the guest room free. Just in case Aunt Marge should suddenly
show up, you know. Of course, she’s on holiday in Gibraltar right now, but you
never know when she might drop in, I suppose.” Ron and Hermione shook their
heads in disbelief. “Hermione, you can take the bed.” Harry had pushed his
bed to the center of his room, leaving just enough floor space for one person
to sleep on either side.
“No need. Ron and I can just conjure beds for ourselves.”
“And put them … where? Or do you know how to enlarge the
“You can take the bed.”
“No, Harry, that’s not fair,” she protested. “We’re the
visitors. You shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.”
“You can take the bed,” he repeated.
“Come now, at least we should take turns. We may be here
for a while, and at least that way we could each sleep comfortably one night
out of three.”
“You can –”
“Wait,” Ron broke in. Hermione was now looking daggers at Harry.
“I know how to solve this.” He let the suspense build for a moment, then announced,
“We should vote.” His eyes met Harry’s. A few seconds later, as if on cue,
they both looked at Hermione.
“Oh, all right then,” she said irritably, but her voice held
more than a hint of gratitude. Ron grinned in satisfaction – not because he and
Harry had bested Hermione, but because he knew they had managed to make her
feel like more than just another brilliant mind. “At least I can do this,”
she added, waving her wand and causing one pillow and one very
comfortable-looking sleeping bag to appear on either side of the bed.
“Thanks, Hermione,” said Harry. Then, looking at both of
them, he asked, “How did you get here, then?”
“Apparated,” replied Ron.
“You mean you passed your test??”
“Well, no,” he said in a quieter voice. “I did Side-Along-Apparition
“That’s not what I saw,” said Hermione, laying a
proud hand on Ron’s arm. Ron noticed Harry’s expression turning a bit wistful
as Hermione continued, “It looked to me like he shook your arm off him before
we went. And didn’t I hear him saying something like, ‘Geroffme, we both know
that’s just a show for the Ministry!’?”
Harry came to himself and he and Ron both laughed at her
imitation of Moody’s growl. Ron added, “He said something else before
She turned slightly pink but soldiered on. “And then didn’t
he say, ‘You know how to do this just as well as I do.’?”
“No, it was more like ‘You can afford to leave some of that
“Oh, don’t do that, though,” she smiled at him. Then,
turning to Harry, she asked, “But Harry, don’t you think we should go
downstairs and be sociable? I mean, they are our hosts.”
“Sociable. Do you have any idea what you’re suggesting?”
“Well, I’ve never really met your aunt and uncle –”
“I have,” Ron warned her. “Listen to Harry.”
“Ro-o-on.” she intoned, “I’m Muggle-born so I should stand a
fair chance of finding something to talk about with them. They can’t be that
Yes, they could. As soon as footsteps could be heard coming
down the stairs, Uncle Vernon established fortifications behind his newspaper,
Dudley hunkered down in front of the television, and Aunt Petunia lost herself
in cleaning (yet again) the already-immaculate kitchen. Every attempt that Hermione,
or Ron, or Harry made to initiate a civilized conversation was immediately absorbed
in the frigid silence. Eventually they gave it up as a bad business and retreated
to Harry’s room, where they could at least talk among themselves without having
to endure the Dursleys’ sullen acrimony.
“I never realized it was possible to ignore someone violently,”
remarked Hermione once the door was closed. Ron opened his mouth to reply, but
thought better of it as she turned to listen to him. He gave her an ironic
grin, and she flushed slightly as she grinned back at him. He mused that
“violent ignoring” was a rather good description of how she had been treating
him for several months of the past year, and that she and Harry most likely realized
that as well. He was thankful that all that was behind them, and that he and
Hermione had grown close enough since then that they were now able to share a
smile over all of that unpleasantness.
“It’s not that bad, Hermione,” Harry ventured, “It even looks
like Dudley fancies you.” His friends laughed, so he continued. “Really, I
saw him take his eyes off the television once when you spoke. I don’t think
I’ve ever see him do that before. Except for food, that is.”
“Oh, splendid!” Hermione chimed in, “First McLaggen, now
Dudley. Just how far down the evolutionary ladder will Hermione’s charms
reach?” The merriment continued. In a more thoughtful voice, she added, “I
wonder what they see in me? After all, I’m no, well, no Madam Rosmerta.”
Ron replied, “No, you certainly aren’t. You –”
“Oh?” Hermione cut him off, her eyebrows rising with her
voice. “And just what might you mean by that?” she added icily.
Harry breathed in sharply and stiffened. Ron sympathized
with him. Under these circumstances, with the three of them cooped up together
in a single small room for an unknown span of days, a row would be horribly
uncomfortable. And if Hermione mentioned Madam Rosmerta, and he replied, then a
row was sure to ensue. Or it would have been sure to ensue, back then.
Back before his birthday, the day he came of age, the day he was poisoned and
almost died, the wonderful day that Hermione at long last started speaking to
him again, the day he finally began to think about what he was doing with the
life he had almost lost. But there had been no rows between them since that
day. And he knew that she didn’t want to start one now, that she was giving
him the opportunity to say something like …
“As I was saying, you’re not just window dressing.”
She dropped her head a little, turning her eyes up to meet
his gaze. With a small smile, she simply said, “Thanks.”
Harry started breathing again, but his brow was furrowed and
his eyes flitted back and forth between his friends. Ron didn’t immediately understand
why he should look so confused, but then realized that Harry had had an awful
lot on his mind this past spring. He wouldn’t necessarily have noticed the
quiet developments between his friends that had been going on under his nose.
It was time for Ron to put the end to all these musings:
there was a joke to be finished. He turned back to Hermione and suggested,
“Hmm, McLaggen and Dudley … Maybe they think you look like food.” Harry
relaxed and rejoined the conversation, which presently dissolved into pleasant
banter. Eventually, as poor jokes were being followed by even poorer ones,
they all agreed that it was time for sleep.
* * * * *
Morning brought a new ordeal: breakfast. Harry, Ron, and
Hermione came downstairs to find four places set at the breakfast table – three
of them occupied by Dursleys. Uncle Vernon shot a nasty look at Harry as they
entered the kitchen, ensuring that the snub would not pass unnoticed. Harry simply
walked straight through the kitchen without slowing down, nodding toward the
unused place setting and asking, “Expecting Aunt Marge, are we?” He led his
friends into the living room, snapped on the television, and sat down with them
on the sofa.
With no experience of Muggle ways, Ron was fascinated. He
leaned toward Hermione and asked quietly, “That’s the felly … telly …?
“Yes, television. It’s broadcast, so each set shows the
people you see, but they can’t see or hear you.”
“You mean all we can do is watch and listen? We can’t even
ask them questions or anything? What’s the point of that?”
“Ron, you can’t ask a book questions either, can you?
What’s the point of a book?”
“That’s what I’ve been saying for years. It’s about time
you came around to my way of thinking!”
Hermione slapped his shoulder and moved to a chair.
Listening to his stomach cry out for sustenance, Ron asked,
“Is this what you do in the morning, Harry?”
Harry looked him in the eye and replied, “Not usually.” He
motioned his head toward the Dursleys, and Ron understood that this was a contest
of wills. He smiled at the thought of a challenge to rise to. He could
outwait his hunger.
At length Dudley finished his breakfast and got up. He
poked his head into the living room and surveyed Ron and Harry sprawled back on
the sofa and Hermione sitting primly in her chair, hands folded in her lap. He
glanced at the television, asked contemptuously, “That’s what you watch
in the morning?” and strutted to the stairs. Minutes later Uncle Vernon folded
up his newspaper, walked through the living room with a glare and a snort, and
left for work. Aunt Petunia took a long time cleaning up, then, fixing her
gaze firmly ahead, she marched past Harry and his guests and out the front
As the door clicked shut, Harry finally spoke. “I don’t
know what made me think they might actually feed you. Usually they don’t even
set me a place.”
“And this morning they set you one just so we’d feel left
out?” Hermione asked incredulously.
“Touching, isn’t it? Well, now they’re gone we can fix
something for ourselves.”
“I’d rather not even touch their food,” said Ron, “if
they’re going to make us that unwelcome.”
“Is there some place we can get something?” asked Hermione.
“I’ve brought some Muggle money – oh, don’t look so surprised, Ron, it’s a lot
easier for me to come by than for you, isn’t it? I just thought it would give
us some extra flexibility.”
“That does it, then. There’s a corner store a few blocks
away. Let’s get our wands and go.”
After breakfast they returned to the house with some groceries
for later. Harry put his key in the lock, then suddenly stopped, drew a sharp
breath, and chuckled bitterly.
“What is it?” Hermione asked.
“I should have known … This is the first I’ve tried to use
my key this summer.” He jiggled the key to show that it wouldn’t turn. “Of
course they changed the locks and just happened to have forgotten to tell
“Allow me?” Ron drawled, as he drew his wand
surreptitiously, hiding it behind his sleeve lest the neighbors see. He
whispered, “Alohomora,” and the door swung open.
Such was the pattern of their stay in Privet Drive. Ron and
Hermione did their best to avoid antagonizing their hosts, a task which could
only be accomplished by staying out of their sight completely. The three took
their meals when none of the Dursleys were downstairs – Ron turned out to be a fair
cook as long as he used magic – and cleaned up meticulously after each one.
Most of each day, and all of each evening, was spent in Harry’s room, in
conversation, or (especially for Hermione) reading, or whatever entertainment
they could devise for themselves. The cramped arrangements soon began to wear
on Ron and Hermione, and they developed a deep appreciation for Harry’s having
spent most of his first eleven years being lorded over by the Dursleys.
* * * * *
One morning, after a few days of enjoying the Dursleys’
grudging and dubious hospitality, Ron and Harry were engrossed in a
particularly intricate game of wizard chess when Hermione announced, “I’m going
down to the kitchen to make some tea.”
“Why not just conjure some?” Harry asked.
“Believe it or not, it tastes better when you make it the
Muggle way. Do either of you want to come?”
Ron didn’t look away from the board, though he could feel Harry looking questioningly at the top of his head.
“No, thanks, I’ve got to make sure I slaughter Harry and I’m only half way to
understanding this position. You go and enjoy your tea.” She left, and after
the door closed Ron finally looked up at Harry and explained, “She’s going
crazy, stuck here with us. She needs a chance to stretch her legs – and to be
by herself for a while.”
* * * * *
Once in the kitchen, Hermione rummaged around for a while before
she found the teapot. It took even longer for her to find the tea. Evidently
Aunt Petunia had anticipated that intruders might try to steal them, and so had
concealed them as cleverly as she could. Eventually, when Hermione had located
the kettle as well, a low voice startled her.
“Well hello, little witch, what are you doing here?”
Ignoring the tone of Dudley’s greeting, she replied simply,
“Good morning. I’m making some tea.”
“Tired of playing with the little boys, are you?”
She couldn’t think of any civil reply to this, so she made
none at all. Dudley stepped between her and the sink. She held her ground.
“Excuse me, please, Dudley. I need to put some water in the
He came straight to the point. “You’re not welcome here,
you know? You’re not welcome to our tea, either.” He snatched the kettle out
of her hands and put it down behind him by the sink. “You want some, you’re
going to have to pay for it.”
“Dudley, I mean it. Pardon me, please.”
“Oh, no, I don’t think so.” He grabbed both her wrists. Dudley may have been contemptible, but there was no denying his strength. “You don’t scare
me. I know you’re not allowed to do magic out of school.” He drove her backwards
to the wall.
“Dudley, don’t be foolish,” she said evenly. It was a
bluff, though, and she knew it. Although she had her wand in her pocket, she
couldn’t free her hands from Dudley’s grip to reach it. She tried to pull one
arm free, but he jerked it back violently.
“No, you can’t do that. And your little friends can’t
help. They can’t do magic out of school either, and if they try to fight me I
can break their little arms just like that.” He wrenched her left arm
again and she winced. Now he had her pinned to the wall with his body. He
lowered his face toward hers. She grimaced and turned her head down and away
to her left to avoid his loathsome advance, but he grabbed her hair and forced
her head back up.
Suddenly he was dangling upside down from the ceiling in
front of her, shouting and cursing, while a jet of red light shot through the
space that his body had occupied a split second before and slammed into a china
cabinet on the side wall, breaking several dishes. Ron was standing in the
doorway, wand pointed.
* * * * *
Ron strode toward them, shouting, “HERMIONE, ARE YOU OKAY?” over
the din that Dudley was making.
“ARE – YOU – ALL – RIGHT?”
“I’LL BE FINE, THANK YOU.”
“WHAT HAP-” He scowled, flicked his wand at Dudley, and remarked, “Silencio.” The noise stopped. “There.” Dudley, now
deprived of his voice, flailed even more violently than before, but the blessed
quiet finally allowed Ron to hear himself think. He quickly realized why his
Stunning spell had missed. “Well, nice one, Hermione,” he said, raising his
eyebrows. “But one of the Prince’s spells? You?”
“First thing that came to mind when I was finally able to
get to my wand.” She whispered, “Good thing he let go of my arm.”
“Good thing for him, you mean. If you hadn’t moved him out
of the way I’d have gotten him. Looks like I didn’t do those dishes any good,
though.” He pointed his wand at the china cabinet and said, “Reparo.”
The broken dishes mended themselves.
“Why did you come down? You were just in time.”
“I’d say just a moment too late, from the looks of it.
Anyway, it seemed like you’d been gone quite a while. I asked Harry how long
it takes to make a cup of Muggle tea, and he said you should have been done by
now, so I decided to look in on you. How come you didn’t yell for us?”
“I didn’t think of it.” He rolled his eyes. “I was busy,
you know,” she protested weakly, and he shook his head and half-smiled at her.
She turned to Dudley’s struggling, inverted form, took a cleansing breath, and said,
“Now, Dudley, listen to me. You said you knew that we weren’t allowed to do
magic outside school. But you didn’t know that that only applies to underage
wizards. We’re of age, so we are allowed. And anyway there are
exceptions to the rule. We can certainly do magic to protect ourselves, or one
another. If a witch or a wizard is attacked, Dudley, they can defend
themselves, and any other witch or wizard can come to their aid – with magic or
not as they see fit.”
An idea struck Ron, and he picked up the theme. “And since
you’re Harry’s cousin, Dudley, you probably meet up with a lot more wizards
than most Muggles do. Not that you’d know that – you can’t tell who they are
by just looking at them. Of course that means that anyone you attack, anyone
you bully, might be a wizard or a witch. Just like today. Except they probably
wouldn’t be as nice to you as Hermione was. Take me, for example. If Hermione
hadn’t hung you upside down, I’d have had you lying unconscious on the ground
until I took my spell off you. And I wouldn’t have been in any hurry to do
“Speaking of which,” Hermione continued, “I’m really sorry, Dudley, but when I do the counterspell to let you down, unfortunately it … doesn’t set you
back down on your feet. It, well, just drops you.” Dudley’s eyes widened as
he looked toward the floor; his panic increased noticeably. “Here …,” she
said. She stepped into the living room and began to remove the cushions from a
“Um, what are you doing?” asked Ron, following her.
“I’m going to put these under him so he doesn’t hurt himself
when I release him.”
“You mean that after what he tried to do to you, you’re not
going to just let him land on his fool head? It might improve him, you know.”
“I hope he’s learned his lesson already. Maybe a good will
gesture might help … something.”
Admiring her magnanimity, he said, “Well, it’s not what I
would do, but then it’s your choice, not mine.” Then, lowering his voice to
make sure Dudley couldn’t hear, “Of course, if you really don’t want to
drop him on his head, I could levitate him down.”
She looked up at him in pleasant surprise and cried
“Splendid!” She strode back into the kitchen and to Dudley. “Right, then. Dudley, I’m going to release you now, but Ron is going to lower you gradually so you won’t
hit your head.” She glanced at Ron. “Right?” He raised his right hand in
promise. In a soothing voice she added, “You may drop a bit before he catches
you. Don’t be frightened. All right?” Dudley nodded tentatively, his eyes
wide with fear despite Hermione’s assurance.
“Ready?” asked Ron.
“When you are.” They stood shoulder to shoulder, wands
out. “You start.”
Hermione whispered, “Liberacorpus.”
Dudley fell barely an inch before the levitation spell
“What a team,” Ron replied dryly. He rotated Dudley right side up, then lowered him toward the floor. With mere inches to go, however,
he stopped. “Oh, by the way, Dudley, one more thing.” Inclining his head
toward Hermione, he spoke lowly and slowly. “If you ever again so much as lay
a finger on her, I swear I’ll turn it into something you won’t want to have
attached to the end of your arm. Understood?”
Dudley nodded again, more distinctly this time but just as
fearfully as before. Ron set him down smoothly and broke the levitation
spell. Dudley fled up the stairs to his room with remarkable speed for someone
As they pocketed their wands, Ron spotted the ugly bruises
rapidly developing where Dudley had been manhandling Hermione’s left forearm.
“Hermione, you’re hurt!”
“Don’t worry, Ron, it’s nothing.”
“What do you mean, ‘nothing’? It’s terrible – look at
that!” He reached out and cradled her injured arm in his hands.
“It’s all right, really!”
“No it’s not, it’s –“
“RON, DON’T HURT DUDLEY!”
“No, no, I’m not going to … but …” He looked up at her. “But
… you’re hurt.”
Her eyes met his, and suddenly the world contracted around
them. He had known those eyes for years, loved them silently for almost as
long, but he didn’t recall that they looked quite like this. Had he never seen
them properly? Had he somehow forgotten how they really looked? Intrigued, he
leaned closer … to get a better look at them … but they turned into eyelids,
and then the world vanished.
Their lips met: friendly, warm, gentle; her welcome melting
away the old fear, the terrible and now so foolish fear that had kept him from her
for so long, the fear that loving her might somehow end his unique and precious
friendship with this miraculous Hermione Granger.
In a few magnificent seconds it was over. A few more and they
opened radiant eyes to one another, and saw in that radiance that they would
always be the truest of friends, and infinitely more, not until the end of
their lives but until the end of time.
And he gathered her in his arms and they embraced for a long
time, drinking in each other’s love until their hearts were full.
* * * * *
As they started up the stairs to Harry’s room, Hermione gasped,
“Oh, no!” and turned to Ron, looking stricken.
“What’s wrong?” he asked anxiously.
She put her hand to her mouth. “We forgot about Dudley’s voice!”