Who Will Fill a Coward's Grave?
Disclaimer : I don't own Harry Potter, that honour belongs to JKR. Since only she writes canon HP, my story obviously won't be.
Chapter 1 - Give Me A Call
For the last week Hermione had kept an extremely close eye on her best friend. There was nothing too unusual in that, she was always looking out for Harry. What was unusual however was the hurt leaking from every pore of Harry's being, not something he could really hide from those who knew him best.
This hurt was not caused by Voldemort casting the Cruciatus Curse on him last week - after springing the trap that the third task became. No, the cold-blooded murder of Cedric Diggory - right in front of Harry - was currently playing on his emotional state far more than the admittedly also horrific witnessing of Voldemort being reborn.
While Hermione absolutely agreed with Professor Dumbledore that the Death Eaters mustn't find Harry's location over the summer, she vehemently disagreed with his suggestion - framed far more like an order - that she and Ron shouldn't contact Harry during the summer holidays. Hermione understood owls could be tracked and messages stolen. What Professor Dumbledore didn't understand however was the many muggle ways there were for her to keep in touch with her best friend. If Dumbledore didn't know about these methods then it was a sure bet the Death Eaters wouldn't be able to track or intercept any contact they had either.
Rather than discussing these communication options with Dumbledore, and presenting him with an opportunity to forbid her actions, Hermione made the decision just to go ahead with her plans. The headmaster could be angry later if he wanted to be. Her method didn't place her best friend in any danger and Hermione reckoned it was far more important that Harry shouldn't be left with just the Dursleys for company this summer - after what he'd so recently endured in that graveyard. She'd sent her idea for keeping in touch by owl to her parents, and her request for their help, but there wasn't enough time left of the term for her to receive a reply. As the express pulled into King's Cross, Hermione would soon discover if her mum and dad agreed with her plan - and had the necessary items on their persons.
Stepping off the train, she quickly spotted them amongst the crowd and grabbed Harry's arm. "I'll be back in a moment, don't leave until I get a chance to say goodbye." With Molly Weasley heading in Harry's direction, Hermione knew that those soon to be administered rib-bruising hugs would at least buy her a few minutes to talk with her own mum and dad.
Harry never really got time to consider Hermione's strange behaviour as his friend's mum was soon upon them. Ron stoically endured his fate before Molly's attention switched to Harry. Hugging him very tightly, she whispered some motherly words of comfort to him. "I think Dumbledore will let you come to us later in the summer. Keep in touch, Harry."
"See you, Harry." Came from Ron, along with a supportive clap on the back.
By this point a flushed Hermione had rushed back, flinging her arms around Harry. Harry was soon needily returning the hug but then felt Hermione's hands slipping down his body. This was Hermione though, and she had a good reason for everything that she did. She then whispered that good reason into his ear.
"Dumbledore was afraid any owls we sent could lead Death Eaters to your aunt's. We both know there are ways to keep in touch those same Death Eaters won't have a clue about. I'm slipping a mobile phone into your pocket, both my home and mobile number are already programmed in. I'll put the charger in your other pocket, so now you have no excuse not to keep in touch this summer."
As Hermione pulled back, she tried to kiss Harry on the cheek. An amazed Harry however had just turned his head to thank her, leading to her kiss landing on the side of Harry's mouth. They were both now blushing furiously before Harry decided to push his luck. This year more than any other, Harry had discovered that the hat put him in Gryffindor for a reason. He may have courageously faced a dragon, with the whole school watching, but this felt every bit as scary. If he got this wrong, their friendship could really suffer. Harry very deliberately leant in, giving her plenty of time to object or move away, and then kissed Hermione on the lips.
It took Hermione a second to realise just what was happening here though thankfully her arms reacted automatically. They were wrapped back around Harry before she started to return his surprising but very welcome kiss. Ron's loud exclamation of 'Bloody Hell' remind both where they were, and that all their friends, fellow students, the Grangers and Dursleys would all be watching them.
They may still be blushing furiously but both were now wearing wide smiles. Ron was shocked by this development however he remembered how his temper had buggered things up between the three of them earlier in the year. He said nothing more but simply smiled toward both his best friends, they would all deal with whatever came out of this later.
Relieved to see the smile coming from the redhead, Harry turned his attention back to the girl who he was hoping had just been elevated from the friends bracket. "This makes leaving you even harder so you better believe I'll be in touch. I don't have the words to say how much you mean to me, Hermione…"
"When you kiss me like that, I know exactly how you feel. We'd better get going…" A quick peck on the lips saw Hogwarts' newest couple separate to go to their respective families and their homes.
After all of the shit that Harry had dropped upon him since he last saw his relatives, ignoring Vernon's rants about freaks was child's play. Seeing Harry's lack of reaction reflected in his rear-view mirror though had Vernon upping his game. Those vicious comments began to be focused more on Hermione - though the walrus didn't even know her name.
"As if it wasn't bad enough having to drive all this way and then be amongst hoards of those freaks, we were then treated to that disgusting display of debauchery between you and that little slut in the station."
Dudley punctuated his comment on the matter with a hard punch to Harry's upper arm. "She must be stupid, as well as a slut, to be kissing Potter in public..."
Since both were sharing the back seat, Harry had merely to turn his head to pin Dudley with a hard stare. "That young lady is the top student at my school, and someone I'm very fond of."
Those green eyes were broadcasting something that caused Dudley's follow-on derogatory remark to dry up in his throat. He didn't know what had changed with Potter but recognised there was a definite difference. Until he could work out what that difference was, Dudley decided not to push Potter. Well, at least not without the rest of his gang to back him up. Dudley holding his tongue was such a rare occurrence it was of course noticed by his parents.
Not happy with the way the freak spoke to her beloved son, Petunia fired her first shots of this Dursley family verbal barrage against Harry. "I don't care if the little tart is the Queen of Sheba, she won't be setting foot in our house - where decent normal people live. Were her parents at the station? Do they approve of public wanton behaviour in such a young girl?"
If his fourth year at Hogwarts had taught Harry anything it was to face up to the situations you found yourself in with courage and conviction. There was also the fact that these were his relatives, relatives that had abused their positions of authority over him since he was a toddler. Spending all those years with the Dursleys, Harry had learned just what made them tick. Now seemed like just the time to start pushing their buttons for a little pay back.
"Hermione, that's my girlfriend's name by the way, is sometimes compared to my mother by the professors at Hogwarts. It's not just because she's as brilliant as my mother was. You see - just like my mum - both of her parents are non magical too. Her mum and dad are both dentists, who own and run their own dental practice."
Harry could practically taste the jealousy being broadcast from the two adults in the front of the car, jealous that he, the freak, knew people of such social standing. He wasn't finished yet however. Over the years there were many, many things Harry had wanted to say to the Dursleys, had actually dreamed of saying to the Dursleys. Once he'd opened that particular door a crack then everything just started pouring out.
"Funnily enough, they never locked Hermione in a cupboard so an obese obnoxious relative could have two bedrooms. Nor did they turn her into their own personal servant, yet these are two perfectly normal people. What does that say about your claim to normality?"
The screech of Vernon stamping on the brakes was easily drowned out by all the car horns being blasted in his direction from the motorists who were having to slam on their own brakes - or in one case, swerve to avoid a collision. Vernon was oblivious to all that surrounded him, his sole focus being the black-haired freak in the back of his car.
The big man moved with a speed that belied his size, it took only a few seconds for him to get out the car and practically rip the back door off. "Right, you ungrateful little bastard, out! We didn't want to take you in the first place, we've never wanted you - we don't want you now. Get out of my car, get out of our lives. I don't care where you go, just stay away from us."
Harry barely had time to grab Hedwig's cage, that had been placed on the floor between him and Dudley, before Vernon dragged him out the car and deposited both boy and owl onto the kerb. Since Vernon's actions were being cheered on by his wife and son, it was no surprise when Harry's trunk joined him and Hedwig at the side of the road. As the Dursleys pulled away, Harry clearly heard his supposed family discussing going out for a celebratory meal - now that they had finally gotten rid of the freak.
In any other city, a scene like this would have drawn a crowd. In London however, people were so busy getting on with their own lives that they had no time left to get involved in anyone else's problems - so Harry was basically ignored. Picking up his trunk, after reassuring an upset Hedwig that everything would be fine, Harry began walking. Reckoning he had enough muggle money on him for a cup of tea, Harry began looking for a cafe with seating outdoors where he could try and work out what he was going to do next. One thing was for certain, he wouldn't be returning to Privet Drive. About the only thing he agreed with the Dursleys on was that Harry Potter should never go back there again.
Neither Harry nor the Dursleys were aware that Vernon's actions of a few minutes ago had rendered him returning to Privet Drive pointless. The blood wards around number four had come crashing down when the house's owner had thrown Harry out onto the street, telling him not to come back to their home. The ward monitoring device, sitting in Dumbledore's currently empty office, emitted a few puffs of smoke before stopping whirring. It wouldn't be checked until much later, when Albus received the first reports that Harry Potter was missing.
Hermione was sitting in the back seat of her dad's car, petting a Crookshanks who was delighted to be freed from his traveling basket. She couldn't really concentrate on what had just happened with Harry in the station because her emotions were currently all over the place, and both parents were busily firing questions at her.
"You never told us that phone was for your boyfriend, just your best friend - who happened to be a boy..."
While said half-jokingly, Hermione could easily detect the concern in her father's remark. "Dad, Harry is my best friend. I'm not sure about the boyfriend part."
"What do you mean? Do you let other boys kiss you like that?"
Her father's worry meter had just jumped a few degrees so Hermione attempted to reassure him. "Of course I don't. That was my first kiss, our first kiss, and we didn't exactly have time to discuss what it meant to our relationship after it happened. That's something we'll do when he calls, but Harry will still be my best friend."
It was her mother who then posed the all-important question. "And what do you want to happen next?"
The blush may be back but Hermione's voice never wavered. "I'm hoping Harry will ask me to be his girlfriend. Do you think he will?"
This had her mother smiling. "From what I saw in the station, I think he will. So does your father, that's what's gotten him all steamed up."
"I am perfectly fine with my daughter having a boyfriend, just as long as that boyfriend is a gentleman."
"Oh Harry is, dad. It's going to be murder now waiting on him to phone..."
"Why don't you phone him?"
"I can't, mum. His relatives would probably take the mobile from Harry. They're not very nice people and he hates going back there every summer..."
Their conversation was interrupted by Hermione's new mobile ringing.
"Hi Harry, not that I'm complaining but I didn't expect to hear from you so soon." Both her parents watched as Hermione lost her smile, they soon discovered why. She couldn't contain her rage, and didn't even try.
"They did what? That fat bastard actually left you on the kerb and just drove away? How could anyone be so cruel?"
Seeing that the situation had become serious, Hermione swearing was a good indicator of that fact, her dad was pulling over to the side of the road while her mother asked to speak with Harry. Hermione was so angry at the Dursleys, she just handed the phone over. It seemed only minutes later that they were once more underway, though her mother now had their London street map out - guiding her husband to where she now knew Harry was waiting.
Hermione sat in the back seat, seething with anger at how anyone could treat Harry that way. Her parents were a good team though and her mother's navigation soon had them pulling up in front of a cafe. Hermione was out of their car the instant it stopped moving, a smiling Harry was soon settling her nerves.
"Hey, I haven't seen you in ages. Thanks for coming..." A quick, gentle kiss accompanied the hug he'd held her in since the moment Hermione was within arms' reach.
Seeing Harry safe and well calmed a lot of Hermione's fears, and she also remembered her manners. Her parents may have left the car at a more sedate pace than their daughter but both were now standing looking at the couple. "Mum, dad, this is Harry."
Harry immediately held out his hand. "I believe we met a couple of years ago but it's good to see you again, Mr Granger. Thanks for coming here..."
Shaking the lad's hand, Dan thought Harry was certainly polite enough. "It was Emma who worked out your location and then led us here, I'm just the driver, Harry."
"Thank you, Mrs Granger. Sorry to be a bother but I didn't know what else to do. I could hardly send Hedwig off with a message in broad daylight. As fast as Hedwig is, it would also have taken ages for any help to arrive."
Emma couldn't help but hug the boy. Abandoned and stranded here by his relatives and yet he was apologising for being a bother. "It was no trouble, Harry, and please call me Emma. Let's get back into the car and discuss what we're going to do next."
When they had all climbed back into the car, Harry offered his suggestion. "If you could drop me at the Leaky Cauldron, a quick visit to Gringotts and I could hire a room from Tom for the summer."
That wasn't what Hermione wanted to hear. "Will Dumbledore let you do that? This is not like the end of your second year, Voldemort is sure to be looking for you."
Wanting to find out just what happened, before they made the offer both he and Emma were thinking of, Dan asked Harry what had led up to him being abandoned at the side of the road.
"I unfortunately have many years experience of their taunting and verbal put-downs, it doesn't really bother me anymore. When they started to bring Hermione into their ravings though, I wasn't about to just sit there and let them get away with that. They pride themselves on being perfectly normal, blaming their abnormal behaviour on the fact I'm a freak. Me pointing out that you and Emma were perfectly normal, yet didn't force Hermione to live in a cupboard, nor treat her as their slave, was a bit too much normality for them to swallow. My uncle nearly caused a crash in his haste to throw me out of the car."
Dan had been studying Harry as he spoke and believed what he was hearing. "Hermione said your relatives were not very nice people, I'm beginning to get some idea of what she means by that."
"To be honest, sir, it's not something I talk much about - even to Hermione."
Emma though had picked up on something mentioned earlier. "Hermione, you mentioned Voldemort. Isn't he that dark wizard who died trying to kill Harry? Oh, sorry Harry, I didn't mean to be insensitive…"
"It's fine, Emma. Turns out he wasn't actually dead, just surviving as a kind of wraith. I was kidnapped from Hogwarts as the tournament ended last week, he wanted my blood to use in a dark ritual that would give him a new body. The ritual worked, he's now back and I was lucky to escape alive. Cedric Diggory, another Hogwarts' champion, wasn't so lucky. They murdered him right in front of me."
Dan was glad he'd yet to start the car, the shock of hearing that could have seen him crash. "This happened in school?"
Shaking his head, Harry answered the clearly concerned father. "I was magically kidnapped out of the school, to a graveyard actually. Cedric was murdered and I became unconscious for a while. I woke tied to a gravestone and my arm was then cut open so my blood could be used in the ritual to bring him back."
Hermione snuggled into Harry, offering her support as he continued his answer. 'After the ritual, he then called for his most rabid followers, intending to kill me in front of them. Even with all those advantages, Voldemort wouldn't fight fair. He used an unforgivable curse to try and control me, before using another unforgivable to torture me - all this before we fought. Come to think of it, Voldemort has now hit me with all three of the unforgivables. There's yet another bit of notoriety I don't want."
Both elder Grangers were health care professionals and could clearly see the pain and anguish this young man was carrying around with him. Hermione's request for a way to keep in touch with Harry over the summer now made perfect sense, they could clearly see their daughter cared for him. That he was then passed off to a family so unloving they would abandon Harry in the middle of London disgusted them. It was as Hermione's parents however that they made the offer that had been on their minds since Emma had requested her daughter's mobile phone to speak with Harry.
The slightest of nods from Dan was enough to let Emma know she should take the lead here, and she did.
"Harry, Hermione originally contacted us about a method so she could keep in touch with you over the summer holidays. She thought you needed to keep in touch with your friends this summer. Having spoken to you, Dan and I agree with her opinion. We'll take you to the Leaky Cauldron, if that's where you really want to go, or you could come home and spend the summer with us."
Here was the offer Hermione had been hoping for. She squeezed Harry's hand, clearly indicating which option she wanted him to chose. Harry though had a couple of things he wanted out in the open first.
"As Hermione said, Voldemort will be looking for me. I couldn't have him or his followers turning up at your house."
If that was the only objection, Dan though this was already settled and started the car. "Harry, you let us worry about that."
"Sir, it is also my intention to ask Hermione if she would be my girlfriend. Would that change your mind?"
Dan pulled out into traffic amid the squeals of both his girls. As Hermione had just kissed Harry, he was already aware of his daughter's answer to Harry's question. "I said to Hermione earlier that, as long as her boyfriend was a gentleman, I wouldn't mind. We'll all sit down tonight and discuss what that means in practice while you're our guest."
A now delighted Hermione was cuddling her new boyfriend, very happy with life at the moment. "Should you send Hedwig with a letter to Dumbledore, let him know what happened?"
After a moment's thought, Harry shook his head. "If Dumbledore is having me watched, let's see how long it takes him to find me. It will give us some idea of how good they are, and give me the chance to see if protection could be placed around your house. if I'm in danger then so are you. All of Hogwarts was in King's Cross, they'll all now know my best friend is my girlfriend now."
While neither Emma nor Dan were happy with all this talk of danger, they were delighted however that Hermione's new boyfriend's focus seemed to be on protecting their daughter from it. This danger, perceived or otherwise, would also feature heavily in their talk with the kids tonight.
Draco had wondered why only his mother had been there to pick him up from King's Cross. On arriving home and seeing his father sitting in his study, Draco immediately had his answer. His father looked terrible.
Lucius Malfoy's normally immaculate appearance was looking decidedly ruffled. His almost grey pallor and bloodshot eyes were also easily distinguishable signs that something was seriously wrong. Lucius' voice too had a rare quality to it now. If Draco didn't know his father, he would have suspected it was fear.
"As you will no doubt have heard, our Lord has returned. He is displeased at our house at the moment but we will soon work our way back into his good graces. His displeasure is merely a temporary setback..."
Even with Lucius trying to hide them, Draco quickly noticed the tremors that would uncontrollably spasm through his father's body. If this is what the Dark Lord's displeasure brought, then it was vitally important that the Malfoys were soon once more standing at their Lord's side - and not under his wand.
"Father, would news that Potter now has a girlfriend appease our Lord? He was kissing the disgusting mudblood, Granger, at King's Cross."
Clutching the arms of his chair tightly, in an attempt to control at least some of the tremors, Lucius thought for a few minutes before answering his son. "Potter is certainly the golden ticket back into our Lord's favour, but that news is not exclusive enough. Most of Hogwarts will have witnessed the same thing you did, and the news will have already been delivered to our Lord. Answer me this though, what effect would us delivering this mudblood into the Dark Lord's hands have on Potter?"
A couple of points he'd just heard had Draco taking a deep calming breath, especially his father's use of the word, us. It was time to answer the question his father had just posed, before asking one of his own. "Anything happening to Granger would destroy Potter, they're very close. Would you really let me help with this?"
Draco then thought whatever their Lord had done to his father had an affect greater than just the obvious tremors. Lucius Malfoy could never be described as honest and open, yet that's what Draco received from his father by way of an answer.
"You're getting old enough to begin discovering what it really means to be a Malfoy, this seems like an ideal opportunity. There's also the fact that we can't wait until I'm fully recovered, just in case some other family has the same idea for courting our Lord's favour. I will need your help with this..."
Their was no hesitation in Draco's answer, this was a few of his better dreams all coming true at the one time. His father respecting him enough to ask for his help with this mission was a huge step for Draco. That this mission would also see him gain revenge on that mudblood, Granger, - as well as devastate Potter - left Draco with a grin on his face that could only be considered as evil.
"I would be honoured to help, father."
A/N a big thank you to the five hundred plus readers who took part in the poll on my profile page. Circumstances kinda dictated this being posted now. I originally intended this to be posted sooner, and for the chapter to go slightly further. Hope to have the next one up within a couple of weeks.