So far... 4th Year. Reviled at Hogwarts because his name came out of the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter is in despair at all the calamities which keep ruining his life. He leaves Hogwarts and employs Mercy Fuller as his personal affairs manager. For security, they use ageing potion to appear as a middle-aged, married couple, and Harry assume the name Ben Fuller. Now read on...
The Happy Couple
None of the many passersby took any special interest in the middle-aged wizard and his wife as they bought a Daily Prophet at the newsstand in Diagon Alley.
"There's a bench here, Mercy. Let's take a break while we read what it says."
"Okay, Ben." She cast a warming charm on the seat before they sat down.
They leaned in together quite unconsciously, both tracing a finger down the lead article. "A full retraction!" cried Mercy.
"Skeeter suspended – I wonder how long for?" murmured Harry, turning away to dig some books out of his bag, and the November copy of Prospicks Monthly they'd purchased earlier. He flipped through it, marvelling at the moving imagery of witches and wizards employed in many different jobs. He heard a rustle of paper and became aware of his companion's gaze upon him.
"You've adjusted well," she said. "The differences are subtle but you're acting more like we've been married a while rather than like a fourteen-year-old kid."
"Shut up, woman and get on with your knitting. I'm busy with man's work."
"You don't fool me, Ben. I can see you grinning."
"Listen, there's a statement here from Dumbledore."
Harry jerked upright. Then lowered his head to the catalogue again. "Not interested."
"Mistakes made ... regrets ... changes in policy ... blah, blah... Ah, the transcript and account of his announcement to the students in the Great Hall."
"Students, and Staff, tonight, it is my sad duty to announce certain facts to you all. First and foremost: We now have unmistakable proof that Harry Potter did NOT put his name into the Goblet of Fire.
"According to reports, there was uproar. Commotion of the loudest kind. Even wailing. Dumbledore made no attempt to quell it. He let it die slowly of its own anguish.
"The individual who falsely placed the name of Harry Potter in the Goblet has been identified as Bartemius Crouch Junior who had been impersonating Professor Alastor Moody.
"His purpose was such that either Harry would suffer and die ... or else be enabled to win the Cup and become transported to a terrible ritual in which Harry's blood would have been drained to help in the resurrection and empowerment of He Who's Name Has Been Redacted."
"There were cries of desperation and fear. Some of the screamers raced to the exit door, but the door was locked.
"If Harry had yielded to the enormous pressures placed upon him, then the Dark Lord would have arisen. Then with certainty The Boy Who Lived would have died and all our hopes with him. Your fate, and the fate of your descendants would have been desperate indeed. But instead, this young man's courage stood fast against your abuse, your insults, your cowardly defilement of his character, and indeed my own bad advice. He walked away. He walked away, not because it was easy but because it – was – right! He sacrificed his education, his future, every kind of magical contract, and all possibility of marriage within the magical community. The finest of us ... is lost to us.
"I see some of you bowing your heads. Let mine hang with yours, for my guilt is greatest. Nineteen-ninety-four will be entered in the History books as Hogwarts most infamous, as harbouring its lowest crimes and its shabbiest hours. The names of each but a very few of you will be carved into a Wall of Disgrace to cast shadow on this Hall as a lesson for future generations. Appeals will be listened to. However, if you lack the courage to bring your sins quaking before Merlin himself, then do not stand before me, for I shall not be as merciful."
"Not.. interested," croaked Harry, and there was an odd, high-pitched note to his voice when he tried to change the subject: "Hey look, these witches are gathering potatoes using only their wands. I didn't realise magical folk did farm work."
"Where else did you think food comes from? Elves mostly work in houses and gardens."
"Dunno. Never gave it any thought. Oh, look, pigs can fly." He snatched at something as the page fluttered in the breeze, but missed.
"You'll find something, Ben. And you don't even need to commit forever. Try different jobs. Anything you don't like – quit! Right. Do you fancy walking up to the Leaky for lunch or...?"
"Sure, why not."
Deceit on Diagon Alley
They gathered up their things and ambled off into the crowds of shoppers. The day was bright, though quite cold; warming charms were evident but very few travel cloaks were being worn.
"Some Muggles might be wearing gloves today," mused Harry, gazing about him thoughtfully for a while, before suddenly asking, "Tell me about holding hands again."
"Well, at our age it's not so common but not a dead giveaway if you do."
He slipped his hand into hers. They found themselves weaving around the passersby more. Space was tight. They pulled in closer together.
"You're not going soppy on me, are you, Ben. I warned you."
"No, it's just business."
She pulled a face at him sideways briefly as they almost halted before a bunched-up group of witches peering into a fishmongers at a fresh delivery of Plimpies.
"No, seriously Mercy, it's just the... friendship connection. Means a lot to me. I never really had a good friend before– ... HERMIONE! What are you doing here!"
The bushy-haired girl before them seemed frozen in time. Her mouth fell open. She stared intently at Harry. Then at Mercy. Then at their hands. The rings on their fingers. Without saying a word she bolted back at an angle towards the Leaky Cauldron.
Mercy sighed. "Harry! First time you see someone you blow your cover! Sorry, my fault. I need to train you more efficiently. Who was that anyway?"
"A... friend..." Harry had released Mercy's hand. "What'd I do? D'you think she knew it was me before I...? How? I thought our disguise was perfect. My picture's in the paper every other day! Nobody else notices!"
"Harry, Harry, go after her."
"Quickly. Her feelings are hurt. Please, Harry, run."
The youth trusted Mercy's advice without understanding its purpose. He sprinted through the crowd in the direction he thought Hermione must be running. He caught up with her at the Leaky's back wall, fumbling to open it with her wand.
She stared back over her shoulder with a sort of terrified expression. "Go away! Who are you!" She turned back frantically to the bricks.
"Hermione, you know it's me."
There was long, high keening sound of resignation, like a small animal pining the loss of its mate. Her forehead leaned onto the cold, unmoving bricks.
"Erm... Hermione, I've probably done something wicked, only... well, you know how stupid I am... I can't think what. Please, Hermione...?"
She squared her shoulders, but her eyes were bright with tears when she turned around. "There's nothing wicked about getting married, Harry. It was just the sudden shock of you leaving without much warning and then... this..."
Hurried footsteps came up behind. "Introduce us, please, Harry."
"Uh, yeah, Hermione, this is Mercy Fuller. ... Mercy this is Hermione Granger, my best friend at Hogwarts."
"Pleased to meet you, Miss Granger. I'm Harry's affairs manager. We've taken ageing potion and are pretending to be married as a disguise for the sake of Harry's security. I beg you not to inform anyone."
"Hermione, it was you that suggested I get professional help," said Harry.
"That's right... I did."
"Miss Granger, it's very important that you and Harry talk. He's been busy working out his future but he needs to consider his past debts too."
"Debts?" said Harry.
"Without realising it, you've been referring to Hermione in glowing terms frequently if not by name. 'More than a friend' I think were your exact words, and 'don't know how I'd have survived without her.'"
Hermione was staring at Harry as he in turn gaped open-mouthed at Mercy.
"I know. I'm sorry, Harry," Mercy added hastily, "for betraying those little confidences, but my duty is to provide the best guidance I am able. Miss Granger, have you time to join us for lunch? It's really, really important that you and Harry talk."
"Uuh..." Hermione continued to stare at Harry.
"Miss Granger?" Mercy smiled and her fingers brushed at the grey hairs on the side of Harry's head. "Not at his best, I'm afraid is he, wrinkles round his eyes and so on? The virtual years have not been kind to him."
"No... no, he's fine..."
"Then, shall we?" Mercy's fingers almost blurred over the brickwork which yielded immediately. They went inside.
They found themselves a partitioned alcove for privacy. Hermione ordered a jacket potato, ham, buttered sweet corn and delicate lettuce hearts. Harry found himself repeating precisely the same. They never noticed what Mercy ordered.
While they waited for Tom to bring their meal, the silence was a little strained. Harry couldn't understand why Mercy didn't speak up. Perhaps she wanted him to be first at making an effort. "Uuh... so how come you're down here mid-term anyway, Hermione? Christmas is weeks away."
"Oh, nothing special. What have you been doing with yourself, Harry? Are you keeping well? Are you alright? Are you happy? What about your magic? Did you practise that summoning charm? I hope you keep reading. There's a new book published you might like. I'll write its title down once... if you want to read it, that is. I wouldn't want to... I do hope you're happy. I mean, is everything...? A lot of people have been asking me about you but I couldn't tell them anything, of course. Not that I would have. If you didn't want me to, I mean. I wouldn't mind."
"Yeah, sorry. Should have owled but..."
"What have they been saying, Miss Granger?" said Mercy.
"At Hogwarts? Well... you know, mood shifts..." She paused frowning as the food arrived and was served. She didn't notice the plates were silver. As soon as Tom had left she blurted out, "Some people are so fickle! They all deflated when Dumbledore burst their thin-skinned balloons! I hated it – do hate it."
"You've left Hogwarts haven't you," Mercy said softly.
"The school must feel empty without your best friend. It's admirable that you regard someone of character as more important than a place, no matter how grand. You'll be needing a tutor. May I offer my services?" She placed a card beside Hermione's plate. Fees are proportional and can be shared of course."
"That's brilliant!" cried Harry. "Shared classes you mean? What about it, Hermione?"
"I'll let you two work it out." They scarcely noticed Mercy leaving, nor that she'd ordered nothing for herself but two glasses of wine and winked at Tom as she'd done so.
A Place To Stay
"Did I do the right thing, Harry?" said Hermione. "I simply got up and left the castle... I haven't even been home yet. My parents will be livid. I think I did do the right thing. I think I did. You think I ought to... Oh, God! What on earth can I say to them? They won't understand."
"You haven't told them?"
"I quit Hogwarts early this morning. Just left a note and walked away from it all. I was going to rent a room for a few nights here in the Leaky Cauldron, think things through but... look, oh this is so embarrassing. Harry, you couldn't lend me nine Galleons could you until about three week's time? The rooms here are a bit... more than I thought. I was searching for somewhere cheaper when–"
"–then try Mercy's idea! It's only a tiny shop but we use the front as a kind of living room and classroom. Mercy... occasionally stays upstairs. I... I've been sleeping in the... uuh... kitchen temporarily but there's another tiny room upstairs you could use – just until you sort yourself out, I mean."
"I don't know, Harry... my allowance is not–"
"–You needn't mention anything to your parents! What do they know of Hogwarts anyway? If you go home next summer, will they even ask? If they do, you can casually mention you were moved to another school for the specially gifted – yeah, anyone would believe that and it's true anyway! My place is a kind of school. It won't cost me anything more than I'm paying already, and you'd be helping me out actually."
She stared at him. For the first time there was hope in her eyes. "That... just might work... – brilliant actually!"
They lingered for a long while even after the meal was finished until they dare stay no more.
Harry began to stand. "Come on then... hullo... did she order those drinks for us, you reckon?"
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Is she always like that? Kind of managing things?"
"Always," grinned Harry. "I really admire people who are knowledgeable, smart, and well-organised." He raised his goblet. "To erm... freedom and a happier life!"
She wrinkled her nose at the bubbles. "It's champagne, Harry. Everlasting champagne."
Space To Consider
"Oh, it's bigger than I expected," said Hermione, as she entered Harry's home. "From the way you described it, I thought it was minuscule!"
"Hi Hermione!" cried Mercy from up the stairs. "Just been doing a bit of spring cleaning, Harry, in preparation for your new guest!"
Harry gazed incredulously at the extended living area and kitchen.
"I've made Hermione's room a bit bigger and brighter with an extra window. Come and look!"
Hermione eagerly trotted up the steps with Harry following more cautiously.
Mercy smiled down as they ascended. "I can sleep on the couch downstairs on the odd days I stay over. It's only once a month or so after all, isn't it?"
"Oh!" Hermione clapped her hands. "You didn't tell me you had en suite, Harry!"
"Er... no, I... erm... forgot."
She came bouncing out of the front room and crossed the landing as Harry stopped at the top of the stair, then peered into the room opposite. "Cosy. Barely squeeze a double in here, but not bad at all!" She looked at their faces. "Don't tell me, Mercy – bet he made you take the big room, right?"
Mercy laughed. "Well, you know Harry."
Hermione looked hopefully at Harry, waiting.
"Of course! I always meant for you to have the front room!"
Hermione squealed and ran across to investigate the pale lilac furnishings, the dressing table, the delicate tallboy. "This is just gorgeous!" She hefted up a comfy chair and worked it nearer the bed. There wasn't quite space between the bed and the double wardrobe.
Mercy said, "You can use magic in here; the house is undetectable."
Hermione's eyes widened. A wand flashed. The wardrobe inched aside. "Brilliant!"
"Not outside of course. How old are you, Hermione?"
Mercy appeared thoughtful. "That will look odd in the streets during term time. How would you like to appear nineteen for the next couple of years? Oh this is perfect, Harry! This will save me the tiresome burden of playacting as your wife! If I age you to say, twenty-five instead of forty, then you and Hermione could pretend to be husband and wife instead! If you're both willing of course... Only for security of course. Just business."
Face pink, Hermione gaped at Harry, then pretended to look out of one of the windows. She took steps towards it, craning her neck as if there were a particular diversion catching her attention. "Uuh..."
"Mercy, can I have a few words with Hermione before we decide?"
With a smile but not a word, Mercy went out, closing the door behind her.
"Hermione... it... it doesn't have to be just business."
She seemed to be waving at someone in Diagon Alley but he doubted anyone was there, nor could they have seen the house anyway. The side of her cheek was burning now. "I... I'm sure I don't know what you mean, Harry."
"I mean you and me, Hermione. I've had a lot on my mind. It's only now I've begun to realise how much I missed you."
She turned at his approach. Forced herself to look up at him. He was near enough now that she could not avoid him. Her fingers touched his greying temples. "Twenty-five would be fine, Harry."
Out on the landing, Mercy smiled at the silence that followed, wondering if they were kissing. She decided it might be a good time to return to the Leaky Cauldron to inquire if a Miss Hermione Granger had left her trunk there.
A Few Months Later
"You've changed, Harry." Hermione closed her copy of English Lang Witch, Year 4, and leaned back in her chair. Through the window could be seen two small children excitedly trotting along behind their mother towards the owls in Eeylops, but Hermione's attention was only momentarily distracted from the boy she loved so much more than a friend.
Harry grinned. "You don't mean the Ageing Potion, do you?" He shuffled his homework papers together on their shared desk. "Are we done here for the day?"
She nodded absently. "You've grown these last few months, but I also think you were different from the moment you walked away from Hogwarts."
"–And took charge of my life instead of being pushed around," nodded Harry. "Yes, I made the decision but I mostly have Mercy to thank for the success of it – and for bringing you and me together. I was so preoccupied with all the horrible things that kept happening to me that I didn't realise what was right in front of me – what I'd walked away from. Mercy knew immediately. She pointed me in the right direction, and with no thought for herself."
Hermione smiled, one hand pushing her notes into her bag, then paused. "What was... what is she to you, Harry?"
"Mercy is..." He stared thoughtfully out of the window but he was gazing within, searching his own feelings. "Mercy is my mentor, my manager... lots of things really but..."
"Most predominantly then?"
"My guide to actually just... living, I think. Yes, an all-round teacher for all the things you really need to know to get through life. Maybe all kids should have a professional life guide."
"That's what parents normally do, Harry."
"Most parents are not trained. It must be tough bringing up children by guesswork and trial and error using what knowledge and beliefs you have by chance and circumstance. We're lucky to have Mercy. She knows so much about life – far more than most people – yet she doesn't quite fit in herself. She's too good for Hogwarts, too honest for the Ministry, too sensible to become trapped in the wrong career, and too knowledgeable to be satisfied with a mundane job. I love her, Hermione. I love her like – not like I love you but like the family I never had. She's wonderful. And she adores you. And so do I."
Hermione squirmed in her seat and her eyes shone with happiness. "What about Sirius, Harry? You wanted him to be family too. Christmas is not too far away."
"Yes, there'll always be room for Sirius, but while he's still on the run there's precious little opportunity for him to take care of me properly. Now Wormtail is dead there seems no easy way for him to prove his innocence."
Harry rose to his feet and reached out to Hermione. She took his hand, astonished at his natural ease with her. She didn't care that they both looked older nor that his eyes were no longer green, because his kiss was not faked, and their embrace was warm.
Hermione's thoughts were of Harry's promise. "Mercy would be admonishing us right now for not using our new names."
"She's not actually registered them yet. Next week I think she's going to change them covertly at the Ministry, then Harry Potter will be no more. You don't mind acting the part of Mrs Jones, or calling me Ben, do you?"
"I love being Mrs Jones, and Ben's fine by me."
Harry grinned. "I like being by you too."
Spring In Their Step
During the bright spring of 2002, Hermione Jones was trying on a floppy Easter bonnet in Madam Malkin's. "What do you think, Ben? Am I too old for this?"
"You'll always look nineteen to me, Hermione. Anyway, creams and yellows go well with your hair and your eyes in this sunshine. Come on, let's stroll; you can show off your new frock."
"I keep telling you it's called a pinafore dress, Ben. Not too tight around the waist is it?"
They stepped out into the street. Everywhere was alive with sounds and sights: the pleasant gongs of hung cauldrons bumping in the breeze, owls hooting softly for attention, a new broom was sweeping clean the front of Quality Quidditch Supplies.
"Your waist is fine, Hermione. The frock'll help you resist second pudding anyway."
"I do NOT – eat – second – puddings, Benjamin, as you well know!"
"Or even..." He sniggered softly.
"Now, now, you know we have centuries before we need to even think about having children."
"We have more than enough to care for already." He looked across at the modest white building next to Florean Fortescue's, with its proud banner:
THE MERCY FULLER JUNIOR ACADEMY
Harry sighed happily. Life as a teacher was very rewarding. Preparing children for Hogwarts was finally making a difference to magical education. His wife was excited with the work too, what with teaching so many subjects as well as managing the school library. Marrying Hermione in a Muggle ceremony had been a brilliant idea, but dwelling and working with her in the magical realm fulfilled them both longtime. And above all, he thought, Mercy, as Head Teacher, was living her dream and being honoured.
He waited, but Hermione was still busy pinching a half-inch on her belt.
Harry tried not to grin. "So you're not bothered if I cross over the road for an ice-cream on my own?"
"Well... just a small one then." On the cobbles she slowed to wave at a passing couple and they grinned back, jiggling armfuls of parcels as they did so.
"The Peabody's seem to be doing well for themselves, Ben. Did you see his new cane? Oh look, Pauline's hovering up this morning's billboard..."
She stopped at the kerb. "YOU-KNOW-WHO MORTAL! NOW DEAD FOREVER, CLAIMS DUMBLEDORE! What's that all about, I wonder?"
Hermione hurried after him. "Ben, you realise this might mean you could be Harry Potter again?"
"Not interested," said Ben, and, together, they walked away...
I wrote this entire fic before publishing. Now I'm wondering if I should have made it one big one-shot because Harmony-lovers were wondering where Hermione was in the previous chapter! Well, I did say 'eventually' in the summary. This whole story is all about Harry walking away, growing up, and taking charge of his life, and for that he needed expert advice. Only then was he mature enough to recognise his feelings for Hermione, to support her emotionally, and offer her his hand in marriage.
This fic had my most successful launch ever – over 3,000 readers within ten days and still growing. Thanks everyone for your support! But astonishingly, while looking at my stats, I see my Prank of Pranks story has over 8,000! Why, that particular one is so popular I do not know.
I'm considering a sequel: 'Don't Walk Away' in which Harry employs professional managers and legal advisers but remains at Hogwarts to cause trouble. Not sure yet. Meanwhile, if you like that kind of thing, I recommend 'Harry Gets Angry' by fairywm. It gets right to the heart of the problems that Harry suffers at Hogwarts. Meanwhile, don't forget my 'Broken!' which is still ongoing and completely changes Harry's experience at Hogwarts.
Many thanks for all comments and reviews. These are most welcome and very encouraging. Let me know of any weaknesses or faults – I'm always trying to improve my writing so feedback is really useful. :)