This is the end, folks. Continued in Year of the Dog.
Nineteen Weeks Later
The school year was drawing to a close. Not much had changed, other than the lifting of the general sense of gloom which had gripped the school during the basilisk attacks.
Dobby's efforts to subdue the basilisk, though fruitless, were rewarded with a statue commemorating his (Dutch) courage. The statue depicted Dobby reaching out in anger to an unseen foe while wearing aviator sunglasses. Dobby had only agreed to the statue on the condition that it not bear his name, so the plaque read: "A Brave Elf." Draco Malfoy could occasionally be observed slowing down as he passed the statue, gazing intently at it, then shaking his head and moving on while muttering to himself.
Harry and Hermione spent pretty much every moment together, and many of those moments with Luna as well. The bullying problem had dropped off rather quickly after the truth regarding Lockhart's "resignation" had made the rounds through Ravenclaw house. The girls bullying Luna didn't have any testicles to punch, but they recognized that they were just as soft and mortal as everyone else.
Tom had eventually gotten the equipment he needed for practical demonstrations – he now controlled two animated suits of armor (enchanted by the Headmaster) for the purpose of illustrating wand movements and dueling tactics. When it came to assisting students one-on-one, Tom was supplemented by a 7th year student aide.
A few days before the end of term, the petrified students all received a dose of Mandrake Restorative draught, which was a resounding success. Hermione was about to receive her own dose, but when she asked if the house elves had already gotten theirs, Madame Pomfrey blinked in surprise.
"I wasn't aware any house elves had been petrified." She replied with concern.
Hermione was very disturbed to find out that the house elves had not reported the incident. Pomfrey summoned an elf and had three tiny new patients brought before her. She carefully pried them from the base they'd been placed on and weighed them one by one. After doing a little math to estimate their weight before being petrified, she frowned and went to check the remaining stores of mandrake restorative. The matron sighed and consulted quietly with the elf she'd summoned, though not too quietly for Hermione's improved ears to pick up.
"What?" Hermione called incredulously across the hospital wing. "You're thinking of leaving one of them petrified because you don't have enough?"
Madame Pomfrey was startled to have been overheard and floundered for words, but the elf spoke up immediately. "It is being alright, Miss Grangey. The mandrake juice is being earmarked for students. We was never expecting to get any. After you is being cured of your tail and ears, we will still be having enough left for two elves." He smiled brightly.
"But there are three of them." Hermione said very slowly and deliberately with more than a hint of irritation. "They've lost months of their lives. All I have is an incredibly convincing Halloween costume! It's barely even an inconvenience anymore! They need a cure more than I do!"
"Miss Grangey is being very kind." The elf bowed graciously. "Is she being sure that she can keep her cat parts for another year?"
Hermione squared her jaw and reaffirmed her decision. Madame Pomfrey checked with Professor McGonagall, who again asked if the young Gryffindor was prepared to spend another year hiding her features. Still, Hermione stood her ground.
In the end the elves were all cured and Hermione was forced to make up a plausible story to explain how she earned 500 house points in one night.
The Hogwarts Express was abuzz with the news that Albus Dumbledore would not be returning as Headmaster next term. He was resigning, and Minerva McGonogall would become Headmistress. The news was (to the public) only a few hours old, and quite shocking. Dumbledore had been viewed as a constant – a part of Hogwarts itself. But during the end-of-year feast, he'd announced that he was done.
As the crowd erupted into calamity over his announcement, the aged Headmaster rummaged around under the staff table, and, with some effort, pulled out something large and shiny. It was an olive green Vespa. He wheeled it around the staff table, helmet held under one arm, and cupped a hand to his mouth. "Fawkes!" He called.
There was a burst of flame on the Vespa's handlebars which coalesced into the Headmaster's phoenix. The bird looked around in confusion, and trilled a questioning note. "I'm leaving, Fawkes. Keep Hogwarts safe for me?" Fawkes nodded and squawked what may have been a battle cry. "I'll come back and visit. Take care of Minnie, and try not to burn her new office down." He patted the bird on the head, and it disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Hagrid and the Professors had gathered around Dumbledore, offering mostly teary goodbyes. Some, unaware of the Headmaster's slipping faculties, entreated him to stay. "I'm afraid I cannot. Hogwarts and I have learned all we can from one another, and there's quite a bit of fun I've been meaning to have." He explained with a gentle smile. The old man put on his helmet, and the crowd around him broke. He kicked the scooter to life and charged down the Great Hall toward the entrance, bent low over the handlebars, grinning like a madman and already looking fifty years younger.
As he buzzed by the Gryffindor table, Ron called out, "I thought you said the Italians impounded that thing!"
Albus Dumbledore just threw his head back and laughed. Putting on a burst of speed, he zipped through the immense doors and out of sight.
During the long ride to King's Cross, Harry and Hermione shared a compartment with Ron, Luna, and Neville. Exploding snap was played, chocolate frogs were devoured, and the brutal practice of animating something just to eat it was debated at length.
When the train came to a squeaking halt, the students began to disembark, shoving their trunks onto the platform and running off to greet their parents. Luna tapped Hermione on the shoulder, prompting her to pause while the boys went ahead with their trunks. "I've noticed that your aura reaches out to Harry most in the mornings, and that would make sense if you had spent the night together."
Hermione blushed and looked at the floor.
"I worried that your parents might not allow you and Harry to continue sleeping together over the summer, so I tried to make you the next best thing." Luna explained, and handed Hermione a plush Harry doll.
Hermione's eyes softened and she took it delicately, smiling at the tiny likeness of her boyfriend with emerald green buttons for eyes. Suddenly, she grew suspicious. "This isn't one of Ginny's, is it?"
"No," Luna shook her head. "I made this one myself. Now you can sleep with Harry even if your parents don't want you to."
"Thank you, Luna." Hermione hugged the silver-eyed girl, provoking one of Luna's subtle but radiant smiles.
"Thank you for making my first year so wonderful, Hermione. Daddy told me before I left that I would make friends, but the more time went by, the more I worried that he was wrong." Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but Luna pressed on. "Daddy's never lied to me before, so there were only two explanations that I could think of: Either the world wasn't as nice as the last time Daddy looked, or I wasn't very likable. I'm glad you and Harry proved him right." Luna rubbed the beginnings of tears from her eyes.
Hermione gave her another squeeze. "You're very likable, Luna, and Harry and I would like to see you during the summer. We'll write you very soon, I promise." Hermione assured her. The two girls then began to drag their trunks out of the compartment.
Stan Granger's eyes settled on his daughter and the young man helping her off the train. His eyes narrowed, then closed. He drew in a deep breath through his nose. "Good." He sighed. "I smell fear." The remark earned him a smack on the shoulder from his wife Emma.
"Be nice." She warned him with a glare.
"Oh come on," he muttered. "Hermione's growing up. This is the first time I get to do that 'boys are the enemy' bit – let me savor it. I'm sure the novelty will wear off before I seriously hurt him."
"It had better." Emma couldn't help but smile as she shook her head, focused on Hermione and Harry, who were saying goodbye to a petite girl with white-blonde hair, a ginger, and a pudgy young man who was being summoned by a woman with a dead bird on her head. The young couple finally approached the loose lineup of waiting parents.
Hermione dropped her trunk and dashed into her mother's arms with such ferocity that she was forced to take a step back. Just as quickly as Emma had been embraced, she was released so that Hermione could attack Stan. Harry stood awkwardly, straining as he was holding a large owl cage in his right hand and one end of a trunk in his left. Emma stepped up to the boy, who hastily but gently sat the cage down and offered her a hand, smiling but also looking terrified.
"It's nice to meet you, ma'am." Harry said bashfully.
Emma ignored the proffered hand and instead hugged him tightly. "Thank you for making Hermione so happy." She said before releasing him.
"Tell me, Harry. Have you been fixed?" Hermione's father asked, staring Harry down. Hermione poked him hard in the stomach, causing him to flinch, ruining the menacing effect he'd been trying to achieve.
"That's Stan, Harry. If he gives you too much trouble, let me know and I'll put a stop to it." Emma assured him.
Harry and Hermione hefted their trunks and Hedwig's cage onto the luggage cart the Grangers had procured, and the party prepared to cross into the muggle portion of Kings Cross.
"So," Stan began as they made their way to his car. "Does that owl of yours just eat kibble? If she's up to it, we've got some mice in the garage."
"You won't have them much longer." Harry smiled.
Stan returned Harry's smile in the rear-view mirror. "Alright then, the owl can definitely stay. Harry, you're here on a trial basis." The comment earned him a light smack on the shoulder from his wife. "You know," he gestured toward Emma and Hermione, "they weren't this violent before you showed up."
Harry laughed nervously and looked to Hermione, who gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. It was going to be an interesting summer.
Stan Granger was a reasonable man. He was slow to anger, never obnoxious or pushy, and he always tried to be understanding. Stan reflected on his reputation with a smirk as he drove through Surrey toward Little Whinging, slightly above the posted speed limits. He traveled – of necessity – alone.
Minutes later, he was humming a happy tune and grinding his teeth together as he turned on to Privet Drive.
Normally, Stan wouldn't dream of getting mud on his most prized possession – his M5. He loved the car, and it showed in the way he took care of it. It was immaculate, inside and out; he'd even resisted the urge to buy a "FLOSS HARDER!" bumper sticker on the grounds that it would ruin the car's natural beauty. What's more, he would only drive it like a hooligan on special occasions.
Tonight's occasion was special. His daughter, Hermione, had come home from school a few days ago with her best friend, claiming he had been mistreated by his relatives. At first, Stan had been ready to assume that the boy was exaggerating some perceived injustice and was there to impinge upon his daughter's virtue. But then he listened to his wife's recounting of Harry Potter's living conditions. When Harry confirmed the tales with a reluctant nod, Stan became outraged.
Hermione had revealed to her mother by letter that on top of losing his parents to a crazed killer when he was only a year old, Harry had been beaten, starved, and made to live in a cupboard until he was eleven. Then, when he returned from his first year at Hogwarts with Hermione (during which he'd rescued their daughter from a troll), he'd been locked in his room with the windows barred, utterly isolated from the outside world.
Stan and his wife had of course opened their home to Harry indefinitely – anything to get him away from his dysfunctional, abusive family. Thankfully, the Dursleys had been very agreeable to the idea of Harry never coming back. Stan and his family were currently wrestling with the matter of how to legally keep the boy, and he had to admit the kid was growing on him. He was still slightly worried about his daughter's virtue, but he'd never seen his little girl happier, and Hermione took every chance to remind him that Harry was the cause.
In the meantime, however, the matter of justice remained. Harry insisted that he didn't want to go to the police regarding the years of abuse he suffered under the "care" of his scumbag relatives. Hermione had urged him to listen to Harry, which, ultimately, he had done. Of course, this was after realizing that young Harry hadn't expressly forbidden him from exacting vicarious vengeance and never telling him about it. Plans began to form in his head – plans he would execute alone.
Pulling up alongside Number 2 Privet Drive and eyeing his target – Number 4 – he rolled his windows down just a crack, and revved his engine. His lips curled into a feral smile, and he began to plot his trajectory.
One minute later, his work was nearly done. Number 4 Privet Drive looked as if its lawn had been transplanted onto the house by a team of drunken landscapers. Stan's M5 looked as if it had just completed a very wet portion of the Paris-Dakar. Happily, it had rained last night.
A very purple Vernon Dursley stood on the porch, bellowing in impotent rage as some scrawny bloke with a filthy car lassoed his mailbox and shot off down the street, uprooting the mailbox, which then tore a large chunk out of his hedge. Thinking the madman was finished, Vernon huffed his way to the street to shake his fist at the retreating – oh, bollocks, he was turning around. Vernon's eyes bulged with fear and he threw himself back onto the lawn, narrowly avoiding the filthy M5 as it barreled down on him. From his place in the mud, Vernon heard the screech of tires as the lunatic switched direction again. As the car roared by one last time, Vernon heard the man yell something.
"Harry deserved better than you, you fat bastard!" And with that, Stan was gone, leaving a trail of muddy justice in his wake. It wasn't enough to make up for years of abuse, but it was a start.
If there was a graduate level class on how to cause international incidents, Dumbledore would design the curriculum himself. The final exam would test your ability to escape Austria with a bootful of dead prostitutes and priceless artifacts. If you pass, you immediately get appointed to public office. Pretty high stakes if you fail, though.
I've had Donuts written since before I was even certain Hermione would bring Harry home with her. Stan's car skidded into my head sideways and it all fell onto the page at once.