The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
This is a continuation of my story, 'What If? … Another Goblet of Fire Alternative'. At the end of that story, Sirius persuaded Harry and Hermione that Voldemort's return made Britain too dangerous for Harry, and they decided that they should leave the country. This story begins on the same day Book 5 itself did, shortly after Harry's birthday. But things quickly diverge from that point on.
Chapter 1, Flight
All in all, Harry was relatively satisfied with how his summer was going so far. For one thing, the Dursleys were mostly keeping him at arms' length, which suited him just fine. Vernon, amazingly, had held his tongue when he'd witnessed his nephew kissing his girlfriend, and subsequently been introduced to the Grangers at the train station. It was probably, Harry thought, because they were in a public place, and the Grangers had a quite respectable appearance to them, which had been confirmed when Hermione had managed to work in the fact that her parents were dentists. Even once they were out of sight, and on the way back to Little Whinging, Vernon had contented himself with a fairly mild assortment of insults, primarily centered on Harry's 'unnaturalness' and threats about him doing anything 'inappropriate' with 'that girl'.
What had also contributed to Vernon's restraint was the sight of the Grangers' car when they'd all gone out to the car park. One of the primary ways Harry's uncle judged a man was by the car he drove, and his estimation of Hermione's father went way up when he spotted the Granger family climbing into their Jaguar XJ-6 (of the recently released X300 series). But while Vernon had been impressed by Mr. Granger, Petunia had been thoroughly intimidated by Mrs. Granger. Somehow women can always tell when another woman is classier than they are, and with these two it was no contest. Harry had no idea if it was the way Hermione's mother carried herself, her manner of speaking, or her designer clothing, but whatever it was, she had it and Petunia didn't.
Another bright spot about Harry's holiday was that Hermione had sent him a mobile phone as an advance birthday present, so he'd been able to talk with her every night. For the first time ever in his stay at his aunt and uncle's Harry wasn't completely isolated. Being able to do something so ordinary as a teenager chatting with his girlfriend felt wonderful. But the best part of the summer was that he'd even been able to see her twice – once early on when she'd come to visit, and again a few days ago when she and her parents had come to take him out to dinner for his birthday.
Interestingly, Aunt Petunia had insisted he have something decent to wear for the occasion, so she had bought him new clothing for the first time in his life. Hermione had let him know how great he looked in the dressy slacks and oxford shirt. After, that is, Harry had finished gawking at how great she looked in the halter style sundress she'd worn for the occasion. The reactions of the young couple, the sidelong glances and shy smiles, had been the source of much amusement for the elder Grangers.
The only downside to the first month of the summer holiday had been the lack of news from Ron and Sirius. At least Sirius had explained why – they'd been ordered (presumably by Dumbledore) not to tell him anything in case their owls might be intercepted. Sirius did manage to communicate to Hermione (who of course had passed it on to Harry during one of their nightly chats) that he'd turned over one of the Black family properties to Dumbledore to use as a meeting place for the anti-Voldemort resistance. Ron hadn't even said that much. Harry suspected that he and the rest of the Weasley family might be staying at this property, since most of his letters complained about having to do a lot of cleaning, but that was about all the information he'd been able to glean from his best mate's brief missives.
Ron (or more accurately his mother) had sent him a cake for his birthday, which Harry let him know he greatly appreciated. He'd also received several bars of Honeyduke's chocolate from Hermione and Sirius and they had also been helpful in supplementing his meager rations from his relatives.
Fortunately, the communication with Hermione more than made up for the relative silence from Ron and Sirius. Harry had also been following the muggle news, glancing at the paper every morning while he was cleaning up the breakfast dishes, and listening to the evening newscast on the telly from a hidden spot in the hydrangea bushes outside the living room window. But while he'd tried to be alert for reports of mysterious deaths or unexplained natural disasters, there hadn't been anything out of the ordinary. So perhaps there really wasn't any news about what Voldemort was up to, and maybe it wasn't the case that Harry was being kept in the dark about things, although he suspected differently. But, that was no different than any other summer.
One other person who had been writing him was Fleur Delacour, his fellow Tri-Wizard champion. When he'd confided in her his thoughts about leaving Britain, she'd promptly offered him her and her family's assistance. She'd assured him that they were all very grateful to him for his concern for her younger sister Gabrielle, and would be pleased to be able to make it up to him if he happened to find himself in France in the near future. She'd also teased him that Hermione might have some competition for his affection, since Gabrielle was now completely smitten with him. Harry inwardly grimaced at this revelation, which brought to mind the behavior of the ten year old Ginny Weasley, but he resolved that it was something he'd just have to tolerate if he ever visited there.
All in all, Hermione was not satisfied with how her summer was going so far. On the bright side, her parents had been agreeable to her suggestion that they leave the country, relieved, in fact when she'd explained the danger they were in. But things had taken longer to get organized than she'd expected. It was August already and they still weren't ready to leave yet.
Another annoyance was that she'd been pressured to join the Weasleys 'for safety reasons'. She had declined, pointing out that if she was unsafe her parents probably were too, and she wasn't about to leave them to fend for themselves. She found the Weasleys' whole attitude toward muggles, a general dismissal of their importance (quaint creatures, but of no account) rather insulting. After Ron's initial invitation she hadn't heard another word from him. Ginny had written twice, mostly to urge her to reconsider. Fortunately Sirius had been in touch with her, providing her with the barest details of the situation, and she grudgingly accepted that he was in a delicate situation and couldn't tell her much more.
Even more irritating than the slow pace and lack of information was that the Daily Prophet had been criticizing Harry. They'd evidently picked up on Minister Fudge's claims that he was unstable, deluded, attention-seeking, and other variations on the same theme. After meeting Harry, her parents were infuriated that the wizarding press could get away with such obvious slander. But the most frustrating thing was that she'd only seen Harry twice all summer. True, that was twice more than she'd seen him in previous summers, but he wasn't her boyfriend then.
That thought invariably brought a smile to her face. She'd had to endure a great deal of ribbing and a general interrogation from her mum and dad on the car ride home after her brazen display at King's Cross. But she'd tolerated it good-naturedly; she was simply too happy to let it get to her. Her parents had eventually picked up on her irrepressibly good mood, and realized that this was not just some frivolous teenage romance. Their bookworm daughter had fallen in love, with the boy they'd been hearing about for four years.
The conversation had turned serious when they'd reached home and Hermione had revealed the dangerous situation she and Harry faced. That discussion had gone long into the night, and picked up again the next morning at breakfast. The Grangers agreed with Hermione's analysis and general thoughts on a course of action, and began to ponder where to go. Fortunately, she was able to persuade them that the wizarding world itself wasn't at fault, and that she should continue her education at another school of magic.
The most obvious alternative was Beauxbatons, but they soon decided that it wasn't necessarily the best choice. For one thing, she and Harry didn't speak French. For another, Madame Maxime was apparently off with Hagrid on a mission to contact the giants, and Fleur had graduated, so they wouldn't really know anyone at the French school of magic. And finally, it was too close to home. If Voldemort came after Harry, he wouldn't be too difficult to track down there. So, while France might be their first stop, it would not be their ultimate destination.
So all in all, Hermione grudgingly had to admit, things weren't going all that badly. Progress was being made, and she had been able to spend some time with Harry. The new aspect of their relationship had been going well. And she had been able to talk with him every night.
"Hello, Granger residence." Harry immediately recognized Mrs. Granger's voice.
"Hi Mrs. Granger, it's Harry," he blurted out in a rush. "Is Hermione there?"
"Certainly, Harry, I'll call her," Hermione's mother replied. "Is something wrong? You sound …"
"Yeah, there's been a problem," he admitted. "I'm in a real bind."
"Oh my, is it something we can help with?" she offered. "Oh, here's Hermione now."
"Harry? You're early," Hermione commented as she took the phone from her mother. "I wasn't expecting …"
"Hermione, listen, I don't have much time," Harry interrupted. "I was just attacked by two dementors and …"
"What! Harry, are you all right? What happened?" Hermione broke in, a note of fear in her voice.
"I'm not hurt, but you have to listen, OK?" Harry pleaded. "I drove them off with my Patronus, but then I got an owl from the Underage Magic Office. They said I'm going to be expelled and have my wand snapped." Overriding the gasp on the other end of the line he quickly continued. "Then I got one from Mr. Weasley saying that Dumbledore said to stay put and not surrender my wand. Then there was another from the Ministry saying I'm not being arrested immediately, but I have to go to a hearing next week. Hermione, with the way the Minister's been tearing me apart I don't have much confidence about getting a fair hearing. And I'm not sure Dumbledore will be able to do much about it. Didn't you say he's been removed from his Wizengamot position?"
By now, Hermione had collected herself and reigned in her initial feeling of panic. "That's true," she confirmed. "He may not even be in the courtroom for the hearing. What do you think you should do?"
"There was one more owl, a few minutes later, from Sirius," Harry revealed. "At first glance it said pretty much the same thing, but there was another message that appeared after I gave the map password phrase. It said, 'Time to fly'."
"So, he's telling you to leave," Hermione confirmed. "But where will you go? And how will you get there?" Before Harry could respond, Hermione added, "Wait, just a minute." After a few seconds she continued. "My Mum's on the other phone now." She quickly filled her mother in on the situation, and after a brief discussion, the Granger women decided that Harry could come there, and they would move forward with their plans to leave the country. Meanwhile, Harry was considering his options.
"The Knight Bus could be tracked," he reasoned. "I could maybe fly to your house, but I don't know how to get there and I'd have to leave my trunk behind. There's some stuff in there I'd hate to give up, but if I had to …"
"What about Hedwig?" Hermione suggested. "If you wrapped a few things up in a package she could bring them. On the other hand, you could just shrink … Wait! She knows how to get here! You could follow her."
"Good idea," Harry agreed, glad that the first hurdle had been overcome, then turned to the next. "But if I tried to shrink or even levitate my trunk, it would be another underage magic violation. And another violation so soon after the last one might make them send Aurors here immediately. And any spell, no matter how innocent, sets off their detectors. Remember before second year when Dobby levitated that pudding … That's it! Dobby!"
Seconds later an enthusiastic house elf appeared in Harry's room, eager to be of assistance. Hermione immediately caught on to Harry's plan, and suggested that to be on the safe side, Dobby hold off on doing any magic until after Harry had left the house. For his part, Dobby readily agreed to take Harry Potter Sir's trunk to Miss Grangy's house. He even assured them that he could get it from the cupboard under the stairs without disturbing the Dursleys. (Although this last part was added reluctantly. The loyal house elf clearly would have liked to disturb Harry's abusive relatives a great deal.) Just as Harry was about to ring off, Hermione reminded him that he should pay Dobby for the task, and he assured her that he would.
Harry quickly packed up his meager belongings, and after making sure Dobby understood his instructions, he paused a minute to look around the bedroom. If things went the way he hoped, this was the last time he'd ever see Number 4 Privet Drive. And frankly, he wouldn't miss it a bit. Even though this had technically been his bedroom for four years, he still felt like an intruder every time he was here. He'd only actually spent about thirty weeks total in this house during that period. The rest of the time his aunt used the small bedroom for storage, grudgingly clearing out a small space for her nephew when he returned each summer. No wonder the place never felt like home.
Harry sighed, and muttered, "Good riddance." Then he picked up his broom and cloak, and after one last check to make sure he had everything, waved goodbye to Dobby and launched himself out the window. Hedwig was right beside him and Harry grinned at his faithful familiar, who had made this journey many times. In just over an hour they landed in Hermione's back yard.
Within ten seconds Hermione was out the door and had her arms around him in a crushing hug. Her mother and father followed along a bit more sedately, shaking their heads in amusement at their daughter's enthusiastic greeting.
"Harry! You're here! Everything went well, then? Oh, you have to tell us all the details. We've been mad with worry!" Over her shoulder Harry saw Mr. Granger turn to his wife and mouth the word 'we?' He couldn't help letting out a small chuckle, which earned him a glare from his girlfriend, who was dragging him by the hand up to the porch.
Despite the tenuous situation he was still in, Harry couldn't help feel a sense of relief. For the moment, at least, he was safe, but even more, he was among friendly people who cared for him. The contrast between this home and the one he had just left was striking. He glanced around to take in his surroundings as Hermione sat on the porch swing and motioned impatiently for him to join her.
"This is a really nice place you have here," Harry commented as Hermione's parents pulled up a pair of deck chairs to join them. Although it was dark, he could see that the small back garden was homey and inviting, in contrast to the overly manicured lawn and shrubbery of the Dursleys.
"Yes, we'll miss it," Mrs. Granger noted a bit sadly, referring to their imminent departure. "But I'm sure we'll find something just as nice in Australia. The important thing is that we be safe. And that includes you two," she added with a nod toward the children.
"Harry!" Hermione hissed in exasperation. "Don't change the subject!" Harry grinned at her and proceeded to relate, in sufficient detail to satisfy even Hermione, the events of the evening and night so far. Mr. and Mrs. Granger were sickened at the description of the dementors, and the prospect of having one's soul sucked out. Their daughter wisely refrained from mentioning just how close she and Harry had come to having that happen to them a year previously.
Harry shot a quick, shy smile at Hermione when he described how he'd needed to summon a happy memory to conjure his Patronus, which caused her to blush as she realized what memory he'd likely used. Once he was finished, Hermione leaned back in the swing and bit her lower lip in concentration as she considered one of the details of Harry's tale.
"You said Mrs. Figg was a squib, and she used to babysit you when you were younger?" she pointed out in a voice of suspicion.
"I thought you might catch that little item," Harry nodded grimly in confirmation.
"So Dumbledore …"
"Must have known all about the conditions I was raised under," Harry agreed with a scowl. "She talked about having her cats keep an eye on me. She even referred to being there under Dumbledore's orders."
"I'm going to need some time to think about that," Hermione frowned. "There are some possible implications there that I don't like."
"I agree," Harry replied. "But we haven't the time to dwell on it right now." Hermione nodded and gave him a quick squeeze of reassurance as she snuggled closer to him.
"So, did Dobby make it here all right?" Harry asked, looking around as if he expected the excitable little creature to pop up at any time.
"Yes, he waited half an hour after you left, just like you instructed, and then popped here with your trunk," Hermione assured him. "Dad's already loaded it in the boot of Mum's car, along with mine. We'll be ready to leave first thing in the morning. Then I wrote up a note for Dobby to take to Sirius, so he would know what we're planning."
Harry turned and looked at her curiously. "And just what are we planning? Are we driving to the airport tomorrow?"
Hermione glanced at her mother, and both women smiled. "No, we're driving to France."
The Grangers and Harry were up and on the road early the next morning. Mrs. Granger had made reservations on the Eurotunnel Car Transport (more commonly referred to as Le Shuttle) for the 10:00 AM departure, and they had roughly a two hour drive from the Granger home in Oxford to the terminal in Folkestone.
Mr. Granger did not accompany them, as he still had some things to settle before leaving the country. They'd managed to make arrangements with a newly appointed lecturer at Oxford to occupy their house. The young man and his wife had agreed to a five year lease with option to buy, dependent on his receiving tenure at the university, but the contract still needed to be finalized. Mr. Granger was also still in negotiations with the other partners in their dental clinic for them to buy out the Grangers' share. He anticipated that both of these issues would be cleared up by the end of the summer. The plan was that Harry and Hermione would stay in France, with Mrs. Granger making trips back and forth. Once everything was ready they would move on to Australia.
While they were finishing loading up the car, Harry had a moment alone with Hermione's father, and let him know that between himself and Sirius, they had plenty of funds available if his family needed any help. Mr. Granger thanked him, but indicated that they had enough saved up to cover their short term needs until they received the proceeds from the sale of the partnership. He did agree that having Dobby around to help pack up the house would be useful, and Harry assured him that the eager elf would be happy to assist in any way he could.
For the first part of the drive, Hermione sat in the back with Harry, while Crookshanks in his cat carrier occupied the passenger seat. Hedwig had been sent off to France the night before, after a brief rest and a few owl treats, to let the Delacours know they were coming. As they headed toward London, it became apparent that Hermione was in extraordinarily high spirits.
She had been looking forward to this day in eager anticipation all summer, and the combination of her excitement about finally leaving, going away with Harry, and the fear followed by the relief of the happenings of the night before was nearly overwhelming. So she reverted to her normal method of coping with stress, talking nearly nonstop, explaining what was going on in exacting detail. Fortunately, both Harry and her mother were very familiar with this trait, and affectionately indulged her.
She started out by relating everything she knew about the new Channel Tunnel, which had just opened the previous year. Neither she nor her mother had ever been on it, as it had still been under construction during their last trip to France the summer before third year, but she had, as usual, read a great deal about it. She explained, in response to Harry's question of which station in London the train departed from, that the car transport carriage actually loaded in Folkestone and unloaded in Calais, rather than running from London to Paris like the passenger line did. They could choose either to stay in their car during the crossing or get out and walk around. Harry, of course, would have to stay under his invisibility cloak since he didn't have the proper travel documents. After exiting the shuttle in Calais they planned to get some lunch, perhaps do a little shopping and then drive into southern France.
By the time Hermione was past her initial adrenaline rush and calmed down enough that normal conversation became possible, they were on the M25 passing through Surrey. Mrs. Granger took the opportunity to point out to Harry the exit that led to Little Whinging. There was no mistaking the scowl that darkened his face, and Hermione wrapped a comforting arm across his shoulders and gave him a quick squeeze.
"That's over and done with now," she whispered. "Think about how much better things are going to be." She smiled at him, trying to coax one from him in return, and soon succeeded, her infectious good mood eliciting a cheerful grin.
In addition to Hermione's irrepressible exuberance, Harry couldn't help but notice the way she was dressed. That morning she had loudly declared, "Granger Holiday!" and her mother had echoed the sentiment. Apparently, the Granger women had certain habits and practices that they observed when on holiday, one of which was the style of clothing they wore – bright, colorful, and definitely summery. Hermione was outfitted in a scarlet red tank top, white shorts that set off her tan legs nicely, and white sandals. Her toenails were painted red to match the top. Mrs. Granger was also wearing a tank top and shorts, and her toenails were painted as well, although a more subdued shade of pink. Hermione's hair was pulled back into a pony tail; her mother's was also tied back to fall down her shoulders. Her clothing was slightly more conservative than her daughter's – the shorts a bit longer, with a higher waistline. Harry did not miss the fact that Hermione's top didn't quite reach the top of her shorts.
Neither did Hermione miss the fact that Harry was quite aware of, and appreciated her choice of clothing. His attention had been irresistibly drawn to her waist every time she made a movement that bared a small patch of skin around her navel. Feeling mischievous, she now yawned and stretched her arms over her head, wriggling slightly as if to alleviate some stiffness in her body. It had exactly the effect she'd intended, as Harry's eyes widened and he caught his breath at the sight of a good six inches of bare midriff that was temporarily revealed, showing off a toned tummy and slender waistline. Not to mention the way the tank top was pulled tightly against her bust as she arched her back.
Noticing the sudden silence from the back seat, Mrs. Granger glanced into the rearview mirror and rolled her eyes. "Hermione Jane, stop teasing that poor boy," she scolded in an amused tone.
"Yes, mother," Hermione retorted with an unrepentant grin, shooting a glance at her boyfriend out of the corner of her eye. Harry was initially startled by the exchange, but then caught on and a smile of his own crept onto his face.
Of course, Hermione could not resist doing it again a few minutes later. But this time Harry was ready for her and as soon as the rising tank top exposed her waistline again, a loud shriek rang out in the car as he pounced and began tickling her.
Mrs. Granger had expected something like that to happen from the scheming look she'd spotted on Harry's face, and let the squirming and giggling go on for a minute before breaking in. "All right you two children, behave back there," she joked. "And Harry, keep those hands where I can see them."
Hermione's eyes widened in mortification at the implication of her mother's words, but Harry could see the twinkle in her eyes in the mirror. With a smirk he whipped out his invisibility cloak and pulled it over himself, then extended his arms out from underneath, leaving a pair of disembodied hands floating in the air between the seats.
The laughter in the car lasted almost all the way to Folkestone.
The mood of the three travelers turned more serious as Mrs. Granger exited the M20 and pulled into the lane leading to the boarding area. This was no light undertaking; not just another holiday. They were leaving the country of their birth, possibly never to return. Not to mention that they were effectively smuggling an illegal immigrant across a national border. While they were waiting in the queue, Hermione moved up to the front seat, switching with Crookshanks, and Harry curled up silently under his cloak. The officials checked Hermione's and her mother's documentation and waved them into the brightly lit compartment of the car transport.
Less than an hour later they were in France. Harry silently got out of the car during the crossing and stayed back out of the way while the Grangers went through French Customs and Crookshanks' registration was checked to confirm that he was rabies free. Hermione later informed Harry that the Magical Menagerie had provided a certificate that magically updated itself, eliminating the necessity of getting the temperamental cat shots every year.
"Tout est en ordre, Madame, Mademoiselle. Bonnes vacances." The customs official tipped his hat at the two attractive women and stepped back, waving them on. Mrs. Granger drove a short distance and pulled over while Hermione ostensibly got out and retrieved something from the back seat. Harry jogged after them and climbed in before she shut the door, and they were off.
Mrs. Granger next announced the plan for the day. First, shopping – Harry needed an appropriate wardrobe. While the grunge look: taped shoes, worn, baggy T shirt and torn, oversized jeans, might be acceptable attire in certain parts of London, it would simply not do for a Granger holiday in France. For his part, Harry assured her that he had no attachment whatsoever to his hand-me-down clothing. Fortunately, she informed him, pleased with herself that she had read the situation correctly, the pound was currently in a strong position relative to the franc, and there were shops specifically catering to English tourists located at the tunnel exit right there in Calais.
She did agree to Harry's insistence that he pay for his own clothing, and informed him that she thought they could keep the total cost to around a hundred Galleons. Harry was then introduced to the phenomenon that was the Granger shopping expedition. Hermione and her mother prided themselves on their ability to walk into a store, identify what they were interested in, buy it, and get out in a minimum amount of time. And amazingly, they did. Harry was outfitted in lightweight fabrics for the warm August weather in southern France: khaki shorts and linen or cotton slacks, and tank tops and sleeveless T shirts in pastel shades, layered under button down shirts, worn open. At one point Mrs. Granger sent Hermione ahead to scout out the shoes and held Harry back.
"Boxers or briefs," she inquired in a low voice. Harry suddenly realized that they had just entered the underwear section, and gave her an embarrassed nod of gratitude for her discretion.
"Um, just the plain ordinary ones," he mumbled, gesturing to a display. She smiled and sent him after her daughter, suggesting that they choose some sandals or deck shoes in addition to a good quality pair of trainers.
Harry's admiration for the Granger women was higher than ever when Hermione's mum looked at her watch and announced with satisfaction that they'd finished in less than an hour, and it was now time for lunch. With the hour time difference it was not quite 1:00 PM local time, and the three travelers settled into a small bistro and placed their order.
The establishment was designed to give the feeling of an 'authentic' French café with outdoor tables on the sidewalk. After they chose a nice, sunny location, Harry ordered a ham and cheese baguette with some crisps, Hermione selected a brie baguette, while her mother chose quiche and a salad. They topped it off with takeaway chocolate croissants for later in the drive.
While they were waiting for their food, Mrs. Granger informed them that she hoped to be able to make it to Lyon by evening, which was about a six hour drive, or more, depending on how long it took her to adjust to driving on the 'wrong' side of the road. She had in mind a bed and breakfast that they could stay at that night if they hadn't heard from Fleur by then. She apologized to Harry that they'd have to bypass Paris on this trip, but he agreed completely that this seemed the best strategy.
Once back on the highway, they settled in for the long drive and turned to an important topic that they hadn't felt secure enough to discuss before: the dementor attack on Harry. They soon concluded that there were only two possible explanations. Either two dementors had left Azkeban on their own and were roaming the country at large without the wizarding public being aware of the danger, or someone in the Ministry had sent a pair of dementors to Little Whinging. Both scenarios had alarming implications, but Harry and Hermione both felt that the second one was more likely. The big question – was the attack ordered from the top, i.e. the Minister of Magic's office, or was an intermediate level employee acting independently? As they had no evidence either way at this point, after some lengthy discussion they decided to set that question aside for the time being.
It was late in the afternoon and Harry was riding up front with Mrs. Granger while Hermione took a turn in the back seat. Harry had been telling her about the tournament, which interested her in that it sounded so different from his perspective than from her daughter's. He'd gone into considerably more detail about snatching the egg from the dragon, explaining the strategy he'd employed to lure the nesting mother into the air. Hermione pointed out in her defense that she'd spent the entire time terrified that he was about to die at any moment (she had even covered her eyes with her hands at one point), so she hadn't really noticed the subtleties of his approach. When he'd heard that, Harry reached back and took Hermione's hand and said he was sorry she'd been so upset. Beside him, Mrs. Granger couldn't keep a wistful smile off her face at the devotion the two teens felt toward each other.
Now he was telling her about the second task, and she smiled at the indignation in his voice even now, nearly six months later, at the very idea of Hermione being more precious to the Bulgarian quidditch star than she was to him. Hermione leaned forward and fondly rested her hand on his arm as he declared that she'd saved his life by jumping back into the water to rescue him when the effect of the gillyweed had run out. Just as the two of them were describing the controversy on the dock that followed, Harry suddenly leaned forward and peered out the window.
"Hedwig!" he shouted, pointing to his snowy owl who was flying alongside, keeping pace with the car. Mrs. Granger pulled over to the shoulder of the highway, and Harry opened his window to let the snowy owl perch on the car door.
The message she was carrying was, as they'd hoped, from Fleur, and included directions for them to follow. Fortunately, they were not far off the most direct route to her parent's house. An hour and several turns later, they were bumping along what could best be described as a country lane, and the next instruction called for them to turn into what looked to Mrs. Granger like a meadow, backed by a woods, with no discernable access for the car. Harry and Hermione, though, insisted that they could see something like a cart path leading into the woods, and they concluded that it must be hidden by muggle repelling charms.
Deciding that she had to trust them, Hermione's mother steered the car into the meadow, and then into the woods, driving between two trees that she could have sworn were too close together for the car to pass between. A few minutes later they emerged from the other end of the woods to behold the ruins of an old castle (Mrs. Granger) or a beautiful chateau nestled amidst well tended orchards and vineyards (Harry and Hermione).
Both teens could feel themselves pass through a ward boundary, and less than a minute later Fleur herself popped into view. The three occupants of the car got out while the beautiful French witch hurried forward and greeted them all with a hug and a kiss on each cheek.
" 'Arry, 'Ermione, eet ees so good to see you again. Bienvenue! Welcome to France." Hermione introduced her mother, who greeted Fleur graciously, but with a doubtful expression on her face.
"Is that …" she gestured to the rubble before them. "… where you live?" Fleur laughed lightly and then drew her wand and cast a spell on the English woman, allowing her to see the chateau as it really was. Her mouth dropped open in amazement.
On their previous visits to France she and her husband had spotted several beautiful, ancient French castles and one of her dreams was to actually tour through one of them. It now dawned on her that she was actually going to be spending some time living in one. It was all she could do to keep from clapping her hands in delight at the prospect.
Fleur climbed into the back seat with Hermione and directed them the rest of the way up the path to the chateau, revealing some of its history. The Delacour family had lived on these lands for hundreds of years, having been granted them by some long ago French monarch. The family had a long history of being associated with the French court, from which their name derived. Even now, Monsieur Delacour held a prominent position in the French Ministry of Magic. Harry and Hermione shared a glance at the thought of how useful that information might be.
Harry managed to get through his re-introduction to Gabrielle without too much embarrassment. The adoration in her eyes was plain to everyone, but aside from her initial squeal of delight, she managed to greet him with as much poise as a nine-year-old could manage. The remainder of the evening she contented herself with longing glances, and flushed cheeks whenever Harry turned his attention in her direction.
After a delightful dinner, which included Harry's first experience with drinking wine with a meal, Madame Delacour showed Mrs. Granger around some of the chateau and the gardens while Harry and Hermione talked with Fleur and her father. As they'd hoped, he let them know that he was very interested in Harry's situation, and had some ideas on how to turn it to their advantage.
Harry and the Grangers ended up retiring early, worn out from their long day combined with the stress of the preceding one. The following morning, however, brought one more surprise to the pair of magical teens. When they walked into the dining room for breakfast, there, sitting at the table, was a very familiar man with long black hair.
"Hi kids," Sirius grinned at them. "Did you miss me?"
A/N 1 I know the shopping trip is one of the biggest clichés in fanfiction but I can't see how to get around it. JKR makes special note of the state of Harry's clothing – the description in this chapter, 'taped shoes, worn, baggy T shirt and torn, oversized jeans', is taken directly from the book. There's no way that a family would take him on vacation with them without making sure he had appropriate clothing.
A/N 2 I'm figuring about three chapters for this story, like the last one, so don't expect a long, multi-chapter epic. I'm working on the second chapter now, but no promises on when it'll be posted.