Disclaimer: I'm not J.K. Rowling; I'm only visiting her universe for nonprofit fun and edification. (No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended).
Author's notes: Hermione is paying off war damages to Gringotts, hence the Muggle day job and the lack of cash for a birthday present.
It was a bookshop, not at all where I needed to look, but it drew me in.
There's a peculiar magic having to do with books, with libraries and bookshops. I travel along its field lines like a bead on a wire. Like a trained rat in a maze, I can sniff out what I seek and find a path to it—so long as it's knowledge, so long as it's in books …
Or now, I discover, lines of code. But those are like books too; they're made of words built into idea-castles. And it must be a universal magic, because my programming colleagues, who are the most Mugglish of Muggles, notice it. Funny thing how they put it, too. They call me a wizard. Wrong gender, dears, but otherwise you have it right.
So today I was abroad in London with money in my pocket and a birthday present to buy. I went from one shop to another, more or less randomly, because here is the place where I can spend money and on the other side of the gateway at the Leaky Cauldron my money disappears. At the end of four hours I was footsore and discouraged and I knew for certain that there is nothing in this world that Harry wants. He's left it behind.
I have the invitation in my pocket, stiff parchment with the seal of the Ministry for Magic on it. Last year it was a casual invitation from Molly. This year I have to go to the Ministry on the designated day to pick up the Portkey that will take me to Stoat's Head Hill. The arrivals are staggered and the delegations of guests will be escorted to the Burrow by Aurors.
Harry is my oldest friend in that world, but he's also the savior of the wizarding world, the Boy Who Lived, a hero of the highest rank.
I wandered into the bookshop like a traveler into an oasis. I grazed among the shelves, reading the blurbs, admiring the slick jackets, opening at random to see what might be inside. I breathed the lovely atmosphere of freshly printed paper. Not Harry's world, not at all, but mine—on either side of the border.
Let me be clear: it found me; I didn't find it. Some of it was the size: a massive, magisterial tome like the medieval spell books in the Hogwarts library. It tugged at me and it beckoned: come inside, it said, and step into worlds of things you didn't know.
It was a history of botanical illustration, with full-color plates of plants from medieval manuscripts, from New World expeditions, from the gardening journals of French and English chatelaines. The flowers and leaves bloomed and glowed on the delicious, heavy stock. I turned the pages over carefully, resisting the sensual urge to stroke them. My arm ached from holding the book; I had to crook my elbow around it, as if I were holding a baby. I looked at the price tag: more than I've ever spent on a book in my life, at least on this side of the border. It isn't for Harry, of course. It's for Neville, because his birthday is one day before Harry's. Neville would love this book, and would never buy it for himself. I doubt that his grandmother would either. She's not the indulgent sort.
I still don't know what I'm going to buy for Harry, but now I have something for Neville. I feel a sort of guilty relief, because I hadn't been thinking about Neville's birthday at all until the book stepped forward and told me to whom it belonged.
Birthday shopping for Harry, on the other hand, will have to be done on the other side of the border. That will call for some cleverness.
Not so much cleverness as all that, but luck. I ran into Dean in front of Quality Quidditch Supplies, where he'd been looking in the shop window at the latest broom accessories, thinking similarly discouraged thoughts about Harry's birthday. In his case, he knows what Harry would like, but he hasn't the cash. We adjourned to the Leaky for a pint, and struck our bargain before we'd half finished our drinks. I'll give him muggle money, he'll change it at Gringotts, he'll select the present, and we'll declare it from the two of us jointly. Mischief managed: I have money, he has an idea of what to buy, and thanks to our black market currency transaction, Harry has a birthday present.
Dean is also throwing in one of his drawings: a spectacular aerial view of the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts, with a game in progress against the sky and the mountains. He's been working on it for weeks now and he just finished it. I squint at the tiny figures: red robes and green. Gryffindor versus Slytherin, of course. The red-robed one aloft above the proceedings must be Harry—yes, the tiny flyer has black hair—ah yes, and there's his shadow and complement, green robes and white hair; that's got to be Malfoy.
"The war against Voldemort was won on the playing fields of Hogwarts," I quip. "Dean, this is excellent. And I'm not even a Quidditch fan."
Dean doesn't so much smile as glow, his face radiating like a sunflower at the top of his lanky, drooping frame. "So you think Harry will like it? I was worried, because it's just homemade…"
"I know Harry will like it." And then I say, "Let's cross the border and get it properly framed." Because across the border, I have money.
And now I am really pleased, because not only does Harry have a present, but Dean's work is finally showcased as it truly deserves.