A/N: This is it: the last chapter of fourth year! It's not the end, though, because the story continues in a separate fic: "Heart and Soul."

Recommendation: This chapter's recommended fic is "No Thanks" by old-crow. On the platform after fifth year, Harry makes an unexpected decision and says something to his relatives which changes his life forever — and Hermione's, too. H/Hr.

Chapter 60 - School's Out

Friday, June 25, 1995. Afternoon.

Dolores Umbridge quietly sighed as she entered Cornelius Fudge's office and saw that he was already sipping from a glass of firewhiskey. Poor man, she thought. If others haven't noticed yet that he's drinking more, they soon will, and then where will the Ministry be? We can't rule effectively without a strong, resolute person in command, and right now Minister Fudge is failing in that area. We need to revive his confidence somehow.

"Cornelius," she said gently, startling him out of his own thoughts. "I'm here for our meeting."

"Yes, yes," he replied absentmindedly and gestured towards the chair on the other side of his desk.

"What is it, Cornelius?" she asked when she sat down. "What has you so distracted?"

"You can tell?" the Minister asked, sounding surprised. He sighed, then said, "It's all of these investigations that Amelia is conducting into what supposedly happened to Jasmine Potter."

Umbridge frowned. "I thought that there wasn't enough evidence to pursue?"

Fudge shook his head. "Apparently there was a bit more evidence in the graveyard than I realized. More than that, though, the appearance of Peter Pettigrew not only reignited that investigation, but also started a new one into what happened to Sirius Black — his original arrest, the lack of a trial, my order to have him kissed on sight…." He sighed again and added, "I just don't know what we're going to do."

Umbridge frowned more deeply, a look that definitely didn't suit her. "It sounds awfully suspicious to me that just as the investigation into the graveyard is petering out, Miss Potter conveniently gets sent back there and happens across someone who not only seems to support her original story, but causes yet another investigation to be launched — and one that is even more obviously aimed at you."

"Aimed at me?" Fudge asked nervously.

"Obviously," Umbridge stated. "The first was clearly designed to undermine confidence in the Ministry — and thus you, by extension — with tales about dark wizards attacking children. It wasn't very subtle, given how easily you and I have been able to see through it." Fudge started nodding at her words. "When you didn't give in, someone concocted a second investigation aimed at undermining the Ministry, but this one targets you even more directly because of your involvement in trying to bring that murdering criminal Black to justice."

"Yes, yes," Fudge agreed. "At first I thought that it was all aimed at the Ministry, but when more evidence and problems came up, I started assuming that maybe there was some substance to…."

"Not at all," Umbridge assured him. "Your first reaction was the right one: this is all a plot against you, the rightful leader of Magical Britain. The only reason for such a plot is if people want to overthrow you."

"A coup!" Fudge exclaimed. "But who would be behind it? Certainly not the Potter witch — no one that age is looking for political power."

"That just happens to be something I wanted to talk to you about today," Umbridge responded. "I've been hearing rumors that Headmaster Dumbledore has been telling people that You-Know-Who did indeed come back at the graveyard. He's using the story to recruit followers."

"So… he's the one behind it all!" Fudge concluded.

"Exactly," Umbridge agreed. "Though Potter is surely in on it — there's no way she couldn't be, since all of the stories revolve around her."

Fudge nodded sagely. "That makes sense. He must be expecting to rely on her fame to smooth over any objections when he finally tries to take over."

"Which means we'll need to find some way of undermining them before they undermine us," Umbridge suggested.

"Do you have any ideas? Fudge asked.

Umbridge smiled broadly, a look that suited her even less than her frown. "As a matter of fact, I do," she said sweetly. She then outlined her plan — the parts she wanted him to know about, at any rate. She was sure that guided stories in the Daily Prophet wouldn't be enough, not even when she added in meddling with the DMLE, but she hoped that a more radical idea of hers would solve the problem one way or another. It just wouldn't be possible to initiate it for another month at least, and she wasn't confident that Cornelius would be comfortable knowing about it.

Friday, June 25, 1995. Evening.

"Wormtail!" Voldemort called out for the third time. The rat may not have been the most reliable of servants when it came to complex tasks, but he was always there, at least. It was one of the things that made him such a convenient target for curses when Voldemort was in a rage.

Instead of calling out to him again, he rang the small bell that he kept on the table beside his throne. In a moment Narcissa Malfoy came scurrying in, her head bowed low so she wouldn't be presumptuous enough to look her master in the eye. "Yes, my Lord?" she asked.

"Where is Wormtail?" he asked in a low, menacing voice.

"I... I don't know, my Lord," Narcissa stammered. "I don't think I've seen him since late yesterday."

"Crucio!" Voldemort said, setting the blonde witch to writhing and screaming on the floor.

After several seconds of this he cancelled the curse and watched her twitch and cry for a about a minute before saying, "Well? Why are you still here? Why aren't you out there looking for him?"

She struggled to her hands and knees and crawled for the doors as quickly as she could. "The next time We see you, you'd better have him," he said before she disappeared into the outer chamber.

Voldemort smiled. She'd blame Wormtail for her suffering and take it out on him. Then, if she hurt him too badly, he'd just punish her for it.

Saturday, June 26, 1995, Morning.

The four joint champions of the Triwizard Tournament, accompanied by Hermione, Neville, Ron, and Ginny, all stood together and watched as Hagrid finished ripping up the giant hedges that had formed the maze which they had recently fought their way through. This was a day that they had been looking forward to ever since Bagman had first showed them how the tournament organizers were desecrating their beloved Quidditch pitch for the sake of the competition.

"Satisfied now, are ye?" Hagrid asked jovially. He may not have shared their distress, but he understood it, which was why he'd invited them to witness the restoration of the grounds that morning.

"Very much so — thank you, Hagrid," Cedric answered gravely. Jasmine couldn't talk because she was too overcome with emotion; Hermione just rolled her eyes.

"I'd a invited ye yesterday, but tha' was when we cleared out all the wee beasties," Hagrid said. He looked at them with a glint in his eye as he continued, "I'll be' ye all had a lot a fun with 'em, yeah?"

"Fun?" Viktor asked with a scowl. "I vould hardly call them fun."

"Waddaya mean?" Hagrid asked, sounding very confused. "They was all mighty excited ta play their role! It was just a shame tha' I couldna find Aragog."

"Aragog?" Ron squeaked out. "You went looking for that monster?"

"'E ain' no monster," Hagrid responded, sounding offended. "I raised 'im from a little pup, I did. I had hoped tha' he'd let me borrow a few a his kids for the maze, but I couldna find hide nor hair of any of 'em anywhere in the forest."

Jasmine and Hermione gave each other a curious look; Fleur steadfastly avoided eye contact.

"So what did you do?" Ron asked, clearly not sure if he really wanted to know.

"When I told Dumbledore," Hagrid explained, "he said not ta worry and used a couple a spells to make some regular spiders a lot bigger and a little more excitable. Great man, Dumbledore is."

"A little more excitable?" Cedric asked, horrified. "They tried to eat us!"

"Nah, they wouldna a done tha'," Hagrid insisted. "They was just happy ta see ya is all."

All the students now regarded Hagrid with looks of mingled disbelief and horror.

"Well, I gotta get back ta work," Hagrid finally said, then walked back into the pitch to organize the removal of the last of the hedges.

"Mental, he is," Ron said softly. "Completely mental!"

Saturday, June 26, 1995, Afternoon.

"Greengrass!" came a snide voice that Daphne had been happy to be free of for the past three months. She slipped her wand into her hand as she turned but kept the move hidden by Tracey, who did the same. Blaise, who was on the other side of the room, looked unconcerned, but Daphne knew that he'd already palmed his wand as well.

"What do you want, ferret?" she asked coldly.

Draco's face went bright red at the use of that hated nickname. "How dare you! You'd better learn to be respectful of your betters, Greengrass, or else..."

"Or else what, ferret?" she interrupted. Others in the common room were taking an interest in their conversation, with many moving out of the way in case spells were cast. "And what betters? You were neutered when Potter beat the snot out of you, remember? I remember, because I was there. I saw you cry. She didn't even need magic to beat you. An ickle girl beat up the big, bad dragon with her tiny girl-fists, and you had to spend more than a day in the hospital getting magically healed from mundane injuries."

Draco's face was turning purple as he practically vibrated with rage. "I've been watching you, Greengrass. I've seen you spend time with blood traitors and unworthy filth outside of Slytherin."

"It's called making contacts," Tracey said. "It's something that clever, ambitious people do in order to cultivate useful relationships for the future."

"Blood traitors and mudbloods are useful for nothing more than cleaning our feet!" Malfoy ground out through clenched teeth. "I was going to give you a chance to reform and abandon your indecent ways, but you can forget about it now. You've condemned yourself and your entire family, Greengrass. You, too, Davis. You'll all be counted as enemies of the Dark Lord. When I tell my father…."

"Oh, is he still alive?" Daphne asked with mock curiosity. "Is he still in one piece, too? I hope he won't be meeting you at the train in London — he might scare all the little firsties."

"Why, you—" Draco tried to draw his wand, but he was no match for two witches who had already drawn. Three quick banishing charms sent Draco, Crabbe, and Goyle crashing into the wall. Daphne looked over to the side and noticed that Pansy Parkinson hadn't gotten involved this time, which was unusual for her. She also appeared to be scared and a bit ragged around the edges, as if she weren't sleeping well.

"Tracey," Daphne said quietly, "I'm going to write another letter to my parents. While I'm doing that, see what you can learn from Parkinson." With a nod, Tracey headed for the other Slytherin witch while Daphne started to mentally compose her next letter. At a bare minimum, she needed to warn them: Malfoy may have been nine-tenths bluster, but that one-tenth usually contained a grain of solid information.

Saturday, June 26, 1995. Evening.

"Mother!" Sirius shouted as he walked out of the kitchen. "I finally got—"

"Sirius!" Walburga interrupted. "A bit of decorum! You're not five anymore, and you're not a barbarian." She took a deep breath and sighed, "At least, you're not supposed to be. I don't expect you to walk around stiff and emotionless, but you want to set a good example for your goddaughter, don't you?" Sirius squirmed at that. "Eventually she'll be moving in the most powerful circles of our society. If she doesn't learn how to comport herself with at least a bit of dignity and refinement, she'll fail before she even starts."

Sirius narrowed his eyes, wondering if maybe he had finally gotten a clue about one of the unstated motives behind the list of tasks he'd had to get done before letting Dumbledore move in. "You're right, Mother," he said carefully. "I'm not used to it myself, so it's easy to fall back into old habits. I'll try to do better in the future."

Walburga nodded once, then said. "Now, what was it that was so important?"

Sirius smiled and held up some parchment. "I finally got a letter from Jasmine about how she did on the third task."

"Finally!" Walburga said in what looked to be a genuine show of emotion, and Sirius noted that she seemed surprisingly eager to get this news. For whatever reason, nothing said in Dumbledore's office had been very enlightening: it was as if all the champions had won, which just didn't make any sense. "Did she explain why she took so long?"

"I'll give you a hint," Sirius said, holding up some more parchment. "Her letter is accompanied by a copy of an auror's interview with her."

"What?" Walburga exclaimed. "Tell me everything!"

Sirius read the letter first, in which Jasmine explained that she was alright now, having only sustained a minor ankle injury. Instead of writing out what happened, though, she had the clever idea of asking the auror who interviewed her about events for a copy of his report — it was, after all, mostly a dicta-quill recording of her recounting her story. Since the auror agreed, she was passing it along.

This didn't do much to sate Walburga's curiosity, and Sirius completely missed Kreacher peeking from around the corner, anxious to hear about what had happened. So Sirius told Jasmine's story, just as if she were there telling it herself. He even tried to mimic her, though his throat did a horrible job at imitating the voice of a teen girl.

In the end, both Walburga and Kreacher were exhausted just listening to the tale. After a bit of reflection, she said, "Sirius, I notice that she didn't explain how she and the other champions destroyed the hedges so they could move through them."

Sirius smiled and said, "Yeah, I noticed that too. I think she used the siege engine spell. I gave the two of them several powerful spells to learn, but that one Hermione managed to piece together on her own from references in old history books. One of their letters said that they'd gotten pretty good with it, though Hermione was better and enjoyed it more."

Walburga's eyes widened at this news. "That's a very powerful spell, Sirius. For two fourth year witches to use it…. Are you sure they were being completely honest?"

"Absolutely," Sirius said with conviction. "I don't think that either of those witches has ever exaggerated or shaded the truth with me. Granted, I don't exactly have years of experience with them, but they really don't strike me as the type — and I'd know, since I am that type."

Walburga grimaced slightly. "Yes, that's certainly true. Well, if they are able to cast that spell — and repeatedly, it sounds — then they are exceptionally powerful young witches. What other spells did you pass along to them?" When Sirius told her, she said, "Some of those spells are a bit darker than I'd ever expect you to endorse."

"They weren't truly dark," Sirius said, waving his hand dismissively. "Grey. Darkish. But not genuinely Dark Magic. I wouldn't have even gone that far, though, if it weren't for the fact that both of those girls have had to fight for their lives multiple times since starting at Hogwarts. I thought that they deserved a fighting chance, and if that means learning some darker, unpleasant spells, so be it."

Walburga nodded in approval. "I wasn't criticizing, I was just surprised. It's obvious that you made the right choice — not only to help them with such spells, but also your decisions about which spells to pass along. I'm impressed, quite frankly; but I'd recommend against letting them grow complacent. Not only is a large spell repertoire a good idea generally, but now that they have fought enemies, their actions will be easier to predict if they keep using the spells over and over. They need to avoid that."

"Got it," Sirius said with a nod. "Find more spells that aren't too extreme and which they can add to their arsenal."

"When do you think they'll arrive?" she asked.

"Soon, I hope," Sirius said with a grin. "Dumbledore insisted that she at least start the summer at her relatives', but I'm hoping to get her out of there in a week or two."

Walburga nodded absently, no longer really listening. She had much to think about.

Sunday, June 27, 1995. Evening.

Voldemort looked down with disappointment at the blonde witch writhing in pain on the floor. "You've had two days, Narcissa," he said as he cancelled the curse — not that she was in any shape to process his words right now. "Two days, and you've brought Us nothing."

"Nothing!" he shouted as he reapplied the torture curse to the sobbing pureblood witch below him. After a minute he released her again, then stormed to the other side of his throne room. He wrenched open the door and pulled the guard inside, where he yanked up his sleeve and pushed his magic into the Death Eater's Dark Mark to call Wormtail.

There had been a time when he would have done that first, but his magic hadn't felt entirely right since... well, maybe since he gained his new body, but he couldn't be sure. Regardless, he had to be careful how he used his magic, but this situation had reached the point where it was definitely worth the risk. Wormtail had been missing for three days now, and that wasn't like him at all.

The guard began screaming in pain after a minute. When he'd created the Dark Mark, he had ensured that it would hurt when he used it, just to be sure that his servants always knew their place. He had wanted the mark itself to drive home the importance of obedience to their master; right now the guard sounded like he might rupture his larynx in his eagerness to obey.

It was music to his ears.

He cancelled the connection before the man reached that point, however. If that call hadn't been enough to bring Wormtail to him, more wouldn't help, and he needed to conserve his strength.

"Leave Us!" he commanded to the whimpering witch and half-conscious guard, wrinkling his nose when he realized that she'd soiled herself while he'd been using the guard's Mark. "And clean yourself up, witch! Have you no self-respect? No dignity?" She just whimpered a bit more as she crawled out of the throne room.

Voldemort sighed as he sat back down on his throne. Without Wormtail around he'd have to find someone else to keep close for menial jobs and occasional recreational cursing. So far, Narcissa has lovely screams, he thought. She just needs to build up a bit more stamina like Wormtail. We'll have to give her the Dark Mark, too.

Monday, June 28, Morning.

Earchewer was just taking his first sip of chojo when the door to his office suddenly burst open, causing him to spill his blistering hot drink all over the front of his expensive suit. "What in the name of…! Who…?" The Senior Branch Supervisor's sputtering was brought to an abrupt halt when he saw the phalanx of guards that had just entered, accompanied by—

"Council Member Sharpaxe!" he cried. Struggling to his feet, he rushed over and gave the older goblin a deep, if slightly soggy, bow. "You honor me with your presence, Council Member!" All goblin warriors and bankers had the greatest respect for Sharpaxe: as the lone male goblin on the Bet Bel, they looked up to him as representing their interests.

"Actually, it's War Chief now," the other goblin stated in a gravelly voice. When Earchewer gasped, he continued, "Yes, I know, title changes are such a pain. I'm going to need all new business cards now!"

He frowned when Earchewer just stood there and gaped at him, then he clapped the goblin on the shoulder and said, "Come on, you can laugh — that was funny! Just because you're a banker doesn't mean you had your sense of humor surgically extracted, does it?"

Sharpaxe turned and signalled for the guards to leave. He then sat in the visitor's chair in front of the Senior Branch Supervisor's desk while Earchewer came back to himself and scrambled to get into his own chair. "War Chief?" he asked. "Does that mean we're…? But with whom?"

Sharpaxe shook his head. "No, we're not at war. I know it's a breach of tradition to name a War Chief without declaring war and assembling the Horde, but we're living in unusual times, and the Council has decided that unusual steps need to be taken."

"This isn't a surprise inspection or a social call, I take it?" Earchewer asked.

Sharpaxe smiled grimly as he leaned forward on the desk. "No, it's not. And it's not a short visit, either. I'll be here for the duration, I think."

"The duration of what?" Earchewer asked, looking confused.

Sharpaxe shrugged as he absently played with his eyepatch. "That remains to be seen."

"Er..." Earchewer said helplessly, then finally gave up. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

Sharpaxe inclined his head sympathetically. "And I'm afraid I'm just going to have to keep you in the dark about some things. There's a lot of pertinent information that the Council has designated Code Violet, which you aren't cleared for."

Earchewer nodded, understanding that of course he wouldn't be brought in on everything — he was only a Senior Branch Supervisor, after all. "What can I do to help?" he asked instead.

"To start with, I need every new bit of information you have on these two witches," Sharpaxe said as he pulled a file from his satchel and tossed it on the desk. When Earchewer opened it, he saw two names he never would have expected to see in a conversation like this: Jasmine Potter and Hermione Granger.

Then Earchewer remembered back to when he was sending in his last report, and how he had thought that by now this would be on someone else's list of things to deal with. Somehow, it had managed to find its way back to his office and had shoved its way right to the top of his list.

"And then," Sharpaxe continued, "I want every new bit of information you have on any veela moving about on this island. Every resource at your disposal is to be tapped for this. Hold nothing back. Once you've started on them, I'll want to review all aspects of our forces here — equipment, training, strength, defense plans, evacuation plans, everything."

Friday, July 2, 1995, Evening.

Albus Dumbledore looked out over all the students attending the Leaving Feast — not only the ones from his beloved Hogwarts, but also the best and brightest from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. As his eyes wandered across the Great Hall, he pondered the state of readiness of his new resistance movement against Tom Riddle.

He'd applied new security measures at Privet Drive, so once the Girl Who Lived was safely behind and charging the blood wards, she'd be as safe as magic could make her. And even then, he'd assign guards to watch over her, just to be sure. She hadn't been happy when he'd told her that she needed to go back there because that's where she'd be safest, but eventually she'd accepted the necessity. Barely.

Some basic wards had been added around the Granger house, too. He couldn't do much for her because there wasn't enough ambient magic in the muggle area to keep stronger wards charged, but they'd have to do. Hopefully the girl will have enough sense to keep her head down this summer, he thought. Maybe I'll send by an Order member now and then, just to check.

Sirius had already notified him that he was back and getting a house in London ready. Dumbledore had offered to help, but Sirius declined, saying that too much in the house was keyed to Black family blood, which meant that only he could deal with it safely. Dumbledore was aware of many other families that had similar security measures in their homes, so he had accepted the excuse at face value. The one bit of help Sirius did require was a place for Buckbeak the hippogriff to go. Apparently they hadn't been parted since Sirius' escape from the castle, and since he'd grown fond of the creature, he wanted somewhere it could be safe.

Hopefully by the end of the summer we'll be able to allow Miss Potter to stay there — just for a couple of days before school starts, he mused. The main obstacle will be getting Sirius to see reason and accept that his goddaughter is safest behind her family's blood wards. Everyone knows that you're safest with family, and Miss Potter is very lucky to have had blood relatives who took her in and have protected her.

Looking to his side, he noted that Severus still hadn't come back from his most recent summons to Voldemort. Wherever he was hiding out, it must have been put under impressive security, because Severus was unable to utter the name of the place or even its general geographic location. He could, however, report that Tom wasn't doing very well. He might not want to show weakness to his servants, but he couldn't afford to hide anything from his Potions Master — not if he wanted to be cured.

So far, Severus had been unable to treat the pain, the nausea, or the weakened magic. He was afraid that continued failure would lead to his own torture or execution. Unfortunately, Dumbledore lamented, I've been unable to offer any ideas that would explain what is going on. Based on his description of the symptoms, I can't think of a single possible cause. And because of the oaths Severus is under, we can't use this as an opportunity to poison or kill him — not that that would really work, he concluded with a twinge of regret.

As expected, Voldemort was moving slowly and carefully. On the one hand, that gave Dumbledore and his allies more time to prepare. On the other hand, it meant that few were willing to believe that Tom was back. Sometimes, he wasn't sure whether it was a situation he should be glad of or not.

Dumbledore sighed as he tapped his glass with his spoon and stood up to give his final speech for the year. Things were not going nearly as well as he'd like, but he thought he might be regaining some measure of control over at least some events and situations. Only time will tell, though, if that control is but an illusion.

Saturday, July 3, 1995, Morning.

Jasmine went up on her toes and craned her neck, trying to find Fleur in the large crowd of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students that were saying goodbye to the friends they had made at Hogwarts over the past year. "Can you see her?" she asked.

"No," Hermione said. "Wait, there she is!" Jasmine turned her head in the direction her girlfriend was pointing and saw not only Fleur, but also her sister, mother, and the other veela witch who had apparently been training the two younger Delacours. Jasmine and Hermione immediately wove their way through the crowd of students and greeted their French friends with warm hugs.

To their surprise, Apolline and Adrienne hugged them both as well, reminding the two Gryffindor witches that they were looked upon as family by at least some of the veela.

"We are sad to be leaving — leaving you, zat eez," Fleur said.

"But we do not intend to be very far," Gabrielle continued.

Apolline handed a small piece of parchment to each of the two English witches. "This is our address in France. The second address there is contact information for Adrienne. If you need anything, just let one of us know."

"Thank you!" both girls said together.

Adrienne looked back at a noise, then said, "The carriage is being loaded now. We have to get going."

Everyone hugged again to say goodbye before parting. As they watched their friends make their way towards the carriage, Jasmine said, "I'm going to miss them more than I thought I would."

"Me, too," Hermione agreed.

Just then, Viktor Krum came up behind them and pulled them into a bear hug. Both witches squealed, which seemed to amuse the big Bulgarian, but once they recovered, they returned the hug. "You vill both send owls, yes?" he asked.

"Of course, Viktor," Hermione responded. She then leaned in close and whispered, "Do you know yet when the wedding will be?"

"No," Viktor said as he shook his head. "Not until I graduate, I think. But maybe you two can come to visit some time and meet Yulia. I think she vould like you both."

"I don't know about this summer, Viktor," Jasmine said, "but soon, definitely."

"Good," Viktor replied with a broad smile. "I must go now. The oldest students are in charge of sailing the ship home." He bowed to both of them and strode off towards the lake.

"Let's get back to the dorm," Hermione said to Jasmine. "You still haven't finished packing, even though I told you to last night." Jasmine just groaned, not wanting to resume their eternal argument over packing, and turned to follow her girlfriend.

Saturday, July 3, 1995, Evening.

Jasmine frowned as she and Hermione pulled their trunks down out of the Hogwarts Express. In the past she'd gotten more and more dejected the closer they got to London. This year was worse than ever: not only was Jasmine being forced to spend the summer in a house with people who hated her, but she was going to be separated from her girlfriend. Her first girlfriend, who was also her best friend.

"You still haven't heard how long you'll have to stay there before you can leave?" Hermione asked.

"No," Jasmine growled, still more than a bit upset that Dumbledore had insisted she return to her relatives. Unfortunately, she had been unable to counter his argument that the protections provided by the wards at Privet Drive were more necessary now than ever before — and, what's more, that those wards needed to be recharged by her presence in order to preserve them in the future.

"Don't worry about it too much, Jas," Hermione said as she put her hand on the auburn-haired witch's shoulder. "However long you have to stay there, we'll keep in close contact. I can write, I can phone, and I'll figure out a way to come visit. Maybe you can come visit me, too."

Jasmine gave her a half-hearted smile as she said, "Do you think your parents will be OK with that? I thought you hadn't written them to ask."

"I've got a plan," Hermione said with a sly smile as the two of them hefted their trunks onto luggage trolleys. "Just be sure to be yourself when you meet them in the station."

"M-m-m-meet them? Here? Now?" Jasmine said, looking around nervously as if she expected angry parents to start popping up everywhere, asking embarrassing questions about what she was doing with their daughter.

"Not right here!" Hermione said with a laugh. "Out in King's Cross. I did write them, but I told them to be sure to meet me in the station so I could introduce them to my friends. Usually they have to keep circling the streets because there's nowhere to park, and I have to wait by the side of the road until they come by again."

"There's no parking around here?" Jasmine asked in surprise.

"Not much — it's awful," Hermione said as they pushed their trolleys along. "There's a car park over at St. Pancras Station, but it's always full. I expect they had to get up quite early so they could find street parking, and I shudder to think how long they've been forced to wait." Jasmine frowned at hearing that, wondering if that was one reason Vernon was always in such a foul mood whenever he picked her up for the summer.

When the two witches reached the barrier, they turned to wave and shout goodbye to all of their friends. The Weasleys were all gathered together in a large red bunch, boisterous as ever. When Mrs. Weasley looked over, however, Jasmine noticed that her expression darkened a bit before she looked away. I'll bet she's still mad about my letter, Jasmine thought.

Neville was talking with his grandmother, who didn't seem very happy and didn't even glance at them. Daphne and Tracey were with two adults who looked like they must have been Daphne's parents, and Jasmine was surprised to see both of the adults give her a polite nod. A little farther along she saw an incredibly beautiful woman fussing over Blaise and guessed that it was his mother. Jasmine had to grin when he saw how annoyed Blaise was getting over the woman's attentions.

Padma and Parvati were obviously with their parents, and Jasmine wondered if her eyes were playing tricks on her, because she would swear that the twins no longer looked entirely identical. She hadn't noticed it before, but this was the first time in quite a while that she'd seen them side-by-side. I guess they went through different growths this year, she concluded. It wasn't a surprise, really. She'd also grown quite a bit over the past year — enough that she'd had to use magic to alter some of her clothing just so it would fit. Hermione had complained about the same thing more than once, too.

Susan and Hannah were with Madam Bones, who gave a wave in greeting, then looked around quickly and came over to them. She moved her wand around the three of them in a complex pattern and said, "That was a privacy spell — I don't want anyone else to hear what I'm going to tell you."

"Is it about what happened to me?" Jasmine asked, "Or maybe my godfather?"

Amelia sighed and said, "Yes, I'm afraid so. There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just be blunt: Peter Pettigrew is dead."

"What?" Jasmine and Hermione gasped together.

Amelia nodded. "We questioned him about what happened in 1981, and he confirmed what you told us. Then we started asking him about recent events, and the silver hand broke free and strangled him. Three aurors struggled to stop that hand and save him, but nothing they did worked. I'm sorry."

"What about Barty Crouch?" Jasmine asked. "Wasn't he able to help?"

Amelia shook her head sadly. "Unfortunately, the treatment he endured broke his mind. We know he must have been involved with getting his son out of Azkaban, and for that he should be imprisoned as well, but he'll simply end up a permanent resident of St. Mungo's. There's no point in imprisoning a person who has no idea where they are."

"So... what does that mean?" Hermione asked. "I mean for the various investigations."

"The good news is that we have a transcript of an official interrogation under veritaserum with regards to what happened to your godfather," Amelia said. "That's not as good as being able to question him in court, but it's still very useful. The bad news is that without having Peter in hand, it will be easier for Fudge to keep blocking any sort of trial. You shouldn't give up hope — it's still possible to make this work, but it will probably take longer now."

Jasmine nodded, then asked, "And the investigation into what happened to me?"

"Unfortunately, that's stalled a bit," Amelia admitted. "His testimony probably would have helped a lot, but now we're back to square one. I still have leads to follow up on, but Fudge is making that harder to do. I'll be sure to notify you when anything changes."

"Thanks," Jasmine said, "I appreciate you letting me know so much." Amelia nodded and wished the two young witches a happy summer before returning to Susan and Hannah.

Finally Jasmine and Hermione stepped through the barrier and entered the muggle side of King's Cross Station, as always incredibly busy with muggles racing back and forth all over the place. Fortunately the crowded, hectic nature of the station made it easy for two witches with a trunk each, an owl, and a cat to slip through unnoticed.

As soon as they were walking among muggles, Jasmine experienced an almost overwhelming urge to reach out and grab Hermione's hand. Why shouldn't I? Jasmine asked herself. We're out of the bigoted, narrow-minded wizarding world now. There are no wizards or witches around to screech in horror. So why don't I just...

"Mum! Dad!" Hermione cried out as she stepped away from the trolleys.

Ah, yes — that's why, Jasmine thought sourly.

She watched a bit wistfully as Hermione hugged two adults whom she recognized as her parents — a woman whose face had the same shape as Hermione's, and a man from whom Hermione had clearly inherited her unfortunate hair — not that Jasmine could criticize. Even though the hugs were a bit quick and seemed to lack much feeling, it was still more than Jasmine had ever been able to experience, and it caused a lot of emotion to unexpectedly bubble up inside of her.

Get yourself together, Jasmine berated herself as the three Grangers approached her. This is your first real chance to interact with them. You have to not only impress your girlfriend's parents without letting on that the two of you are a couple, but you have to lay some more groundwork for helping those three get over their problems. So, yeah, no pressure or anything...

"Mum, dad, this is my best friend, Jasmine Potter," Hermione said. "You met her briefly a couple of years ago." Turning to Jasmine she continued, "Jasmine, these are my parents, Dr. Lindsey Granger and Dr. Emma Granger."

Jasmine held out her hand, suddenly feeling sympathy for boys who had to go through this sort of thing any number of times. "Hello, Dr. Granger, Dr. Granger." Hermione's father shook her hand, but her mother pulled her into a tight hug, letting Jasmine know where Hermione got her hugging strength from.

"Don't worry about the 'doctor' title, just use Mr. and Mrs.," Mrs. Granger said as she broke the hug. "It's so good to finally meet you properly! We never got a chance to talk when we first met you."

"Do you have to rush off?" Mr. Granger asked. "We'd be happy to take you to an early supper, if you have time."

Before Jasmine could answer, a loud voice rang out behind her. "Girl! There you are! How dare you make us wait!"

"That's my Uncle Vernon," Jasmine said softly while looking down at her feet. "I really need to get going. Thank you for the invitation, but I can't accept."

Hermione launched herself at Jasmine and pulled her into an especially tight hug. "Don't worry, luv," she whispered into her girlfriend's ear. "We'll get you as soon as we can."

"Thanks," Jasmine said with a smile as they pulled apart.

"Girl!" Vernon shouted again. "Hurry up!"

"Bye, Hermione," Jasmine said as she moved to her trolley. "Bye, Mr. and Mrs. Granger." Starting to walk away, head bowed low, she called out, "Coming, Uncle Vernon."

Hermione couldn't prevent a few tears from escaping as she watched Jasmine be grabbed roughly by the shoulder while she walked with her uncle out of the station. Her mother put her arm around Hermione's shoulders and asked, "She doesn't have it very good at home, does she?" Hermione could only shake her head, not trusting her voice. "Come on, we'll talk about it in the car on the way home."

Meanwhile, Jasmine's summer was starting like her summer holidays always did: verbal abuse and a bit of rough handling. It wasn't anything that she wasn't used to, but she was struggling to shove aside her typical meekness and trying to focus on her recent declaration to never be a victim again. If she could manage it, then by the time they reached Privet Drive, maybe she could force some changes in how things worked.

One way or another, it was going to be a long, long summer.