Disclaimer: All things you recognize from the original work belong to the author and his/her respective distributors, producers, and publishers. I play in the universe to stretch my writing muscles and to entertain those who deem me worthy of reading and myself. I do not profit from this work.
A/N: Thanks everyone for being so patient. I hope you like the new edits and that you enjoy Harry's journey as much as I am.
Thanks for reviewing and happy reading!
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Chapter Three: To the Grangers'
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The ride back to the surface lost a little of its usual thrill to the teens' silent musings. Aside from whimpering now and again and clinging tightly to Harry's arm, Hermione withheld the usual barrage of commentary and query. The near-silence held as they retrieved the Black ledger from a teller at Griphook's instruction. As they turned to leave the desk, Ragnok appeared at Harry's elbow.
"Lord Potter. I promised to explain certain things of private nature."
"Yes- Thanks. I wasn't sure how to find you again."
"Which is why I found you. Come."
Without further ado, the Director turned the teens followed. He led them beyond the tellers' counters, to a small conference room hidden by a wall pretending to be otherwise.
"Just like Hogwarts," whispered Hermione.
"Perhaps Hogwarts is just like Gringotts," Ragnok sneered. "Our race has long walked the earth. Longer than humankind."
"I meant no disrespect," said Hermione quickly, her cheeks flushing.
"No, I'm sure you did not. But Wizards' wilful ignorance of our contribution to magic is insult enough. And because young people like yourself are not taught to question, you do not."
Ragnok gestured to the seats around the oval table in the richly appointed room, continuing once both Harry and Hermione sat.
"Binding the magic of an heir to a noble and ancient house is highly illegal, Lord Potter."
"Please," said Harry, colouring for his interruption. "Just 'Harry'."
"Very well, Harry. By claiming your blood-inherited title, you will break any seals placed upon you. In order for this to occur, you must accept the Potter Seal." The goblin paused, his lips curling in a moue of distaste. "Unfortunately, the seal your father wore was buried with him, contrary to tradition."
"So how does he-"
"How do I-"
The Goblin laughed when both teens paused in their simultaneous question.
"It is possible to reclaim the seal. In times past, wizards not entailed the title would steal the seal so as to prevent the heir full use of their title. To stop such things, they employed blood magicks."
"I thought that was considered dark," said Hermione sceptically.
"Magic is neither dark nor light," ground the Director. "It simply is. Its use is what matters. May I continue or do you wish to continue spouting whatever they've been feeding you since you entered this world?"
Hermione bit her lower lip, frowning deeply. Harry patted her knee in reassurance. As much as he cared for her, he knew she had a tendency to trust too easily in what she was told and what she read.
"Blood magicks were used because of their potency. Blood is the base of magic in all living beings. It was easy to imbue a family seal with the intent and magic of a Lord, thus ensuring that it would only truly belong to a named heir. All you must do is summon it."
"But I can't use my magic."
"It is still there, inside your blood. Envision it flowing within you and summon the ring. Trust that it is your right, and you will claim the Potter Lordship."
"That's all. Be warned, however. You will likely feel drained by the experience."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry sincerely. "I appreciate you telling me all this, and helping me with Sirius's will."
"It is my prerogative as a creature of business and duty. I will send you the Potter wills once they become available."
Harry and Hermione left the room at the Director's dismissal, glad to have their immediately answerable question resolved.
But at the first set of huge doors guarding Gringotts' entrance, Harry was confronted with the same dilemma he had faced at the bus terminal in Little Whinging.
"I don't think it would be wise to stay in Diagon Alley, Harry," Hermione argued.
They had been standing in the antechamber for several moments, Hermione hissing at Harry, who had already pulled his cloak over himself. Through the open portal ahead, they had spotted both Mundungus Fletcher and Kingsley Shacklebolt patrolling between the great marble steps of the bank and the Leaky Caldron.
"I don't have anywhere else to go!" Harry hissed back. "Besides, all my stuff's at Fred and George's."
"Well, then, would it be so difficult for us to go there, get your things, and meet my parents at the Leaky Caldron? You can stay with us!"
"I don't know your parents, Hermione! What would they say? 'Yes, you can stay for the holiday. You've only just led our daughter into danger every year of school!' Yeah, that'll go over just spiffingly, Hermione," Harry nearly shouted in exasperation.
Hermione jumped at the volume of his words and began coughing loudly in an attempt to cover up the seemingly disembodied voice as patrons looked around in curiosity.
"They'll be fine with it, really, Harry! Besides, do you think I'd tell them the truth about all that? Certainly, muggleborns wouldn't go to Hogwarts if the parents were informed of half of what we get up to."
Harry tried to speak, but Hermione cut across him.
"And I can't stand the thought of you hiding out somewhere all holiday. Fred and George's isn't sensible. They're connected to the floo and they have visitors from the Order all the time, I'm sure."
"It's better than whatever Dumbledore has planned," Harry grumbled, back to a whisper.
"That's what I mean," whispered Hermione beseechingly, her hair growing more and more frazzled as she became more flustered. "You deserve to have a somewhat normal holiday for once! NOT quarantined somewhere or feeding yourself on scraps!"
Harry fell silent, his throat suddenly tight once more. Hermione huffed in triumph, her eyes glinting and her lips spreading into a smile.
"Come on, you're coming home with me."
"Fine… but if it's too much of a burden I can stay at the Leaky Cauldron. Or at one of the apparently many properties I own," Harry muttered in reluctant acquiescence, fingering the corner of the thick leather ledger under his arm.
"Well they won't, so hush and come on, Harry!" Hermione sighed in exasperation as she marched through the front doors.
Harry followed her silently, wand drawn and alert just in case Moody happened to be about. Sure enough, as soon as Hermione left the front steps of Gringotts, Kingsley and Tonks flocked to her side, Tonks in the process of shoving an invisibility cloak into the front of her jumper.
"Wotcher, Hermione," she said in her usual chipper way as she took Hermione's left arm.
Kingsley stood at her right, his eyes darting about as if Harry would be found sneaking between shadows.
"Hello, Hermione," Kingsley echoed in a deep, rich tone.
"Good afternoon," Hermione responded, her voice rising in pitch. "What's going on? Why are you here?" she queried, passing off her nervousness for fear.
They stopped outside the barrier to the Leaky Caldron.
"You've heard Harry's gone missing," Tonks said, her tone hinting towards sadness. Her hair, which had been a dark shade of violet, faded gradually to mousy brown.
"And?" Hermione squeaked with an appropriate amount of alarm. "Do you have news?"
"No. He flew off after he distracted the Deatheaters from Arthur and me."
Harry smiled wryly at that. He had wondered if anyone would be able to track him.
"No one ever told me," began Hermione hesitantly, "but what happened to Harry's aunt and uncle? And his cousin?"
Harry shifted uneasily behind Hermione, wary of the answer.
Tonks looked up at Kingsley, and he nodded slightly, his expressive mouth turned down in a grim frown.
"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley are dead," said Tonks somewhat haltingly. "The boy went to a muggle hospital. He was pretty badly hurt, but he should live."
Hermione's face fell, and Harry registered a type of regret somewhere within him, as strange as he felt that was.
"Anyway, Shack and I were wondering if you'd heard anything from him. Considering what Arthur interrupted, and what the Headmaster said about his magic, we think Harry may be avoiding the Order. Either that, or he's being pursued by someone we missed at Number 4."
"Tonks said he had his cloak and brooms, probably a bag. Perhaps you could get in contact with those DA coins-" Shacklebolt added, but Hermione cut him off.
"That Umbridge cow confiscated them all when we were caught in May," quipped Hermione with distracted brusqueness. "Hedwig hasn't been able to locate him when I asked, either."
"Well… Dumbledore and Remus are worried sick," Tonks continued. "Apparently, they even tried to get Harry's mad little elf friend to find him, but for some reason he can't do it. The poor thing was in tears over it."
Harry frowned at that information. From what he understood about house elves, they were quite capable of finding anyone, despite their protections, disguises, and perceived visibility. Considering Dobby's almost obsessive desire to "help" Harry, he was most surprised.
"That is worrisome…" Hermione said slowly, her eyes taking on an odd glint.
Harry knew that look, and knew she would share her theory later.
"That isn't all," whispered Tonks urgently, pressing closer to Hermione. "Scrimgeor is looking for Harry, as well. The attack made the muggle news, and the muggle Prime Minister contacted Scrimgeour. They put it down to faulty foundations collapsing, but point is, the Minister checked the records and has been breathing down the Headmaster's throat trying to figure out what's going on. He knows Harry's involved, and the Prime Minister wants to know what's going on, too."
"So what are you all doing, exactly?" Hermione hissed back, veritable displeasure on her face.
Harry had to resist the urge to laugh and wondered, a little absently, if he had underestimated Hermione's ability.
"All of the Order has been notified. Everyone's on alert and has their eyes open… Dumbledore has been thinking on the matter."
"Well you're wasting time talking to me. I haven't heard, but I'll keep trying with Hedwig," Hermione assured Tonks quickly. "Will you let me know when you find him?"
"Of course," Kingsley assured her. "We'll let you get back to your shopping then."
"Good luck," said Hermione by way of parting. Tonks and Kingsley nodded before disappearing through the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron.
Hermione continued her walk silently down the alley with her hand in her pocket, clasped tightly around her wand. It was not until both she and Harry were safely through the door of the Weasley's Wizard Wheezes that she spoke again.
"Do you think they believed me?" she whispered, reaching out subtly to find Harry.
He tapped her right shoulder to orient her and waited while a girl moved past them to the Wonder Witch products.
"I think so. You were very convincing," complimented Harry casually.
Hermione smiled and waved as Fred and George noticed her.
"Hello Fred, George," Hermione greeted as the two made their way through the displays.
"Hello Hermione," they spoke in unison, giving Hermione a knowing wink in addition to their identical devilish grins.
As the twins and Hermione talked, Harry took the opportunity to slip behind the register, through the curtain separating the back room from the store, and up the hidden staircase to retrieve his belongings. Before he left the small flat, Harry jotted a quick note to Fred and George thanking them. He made sure to specify that he may be back if he found himself in need before descending the stairs once more with rucksack and schoolbag in hand. Beyond the curtain, Harry could hear Hermione complimenting the twins' spell work on the shield products. Careful to avoid the few lingering customers, Harry quietly slipped back to her side.
"…Hermione, you sound so surprised! We'd be offended-"
"If we didn't know any better," Fred laughed. He gave George a covert glance as Harry passed him. George nodded.
"So, Hermione, if you happen to see our favourite much-sung hero," George began,
"Let him know that we took the liberty of giving him a few goodies to go-"
"Just in case-"
"He gets into trouble between now and term," they finished together.
Hermione raised her eyebrows but otherwise did not acknowledge the whispered exchange.
"I'll just take these please," she said, holding up two shield cloaks.
"On the house," Fred responded with a wink.
"We've already given one each to everyone at the Burrow."
"Thanks," Hermione said with a smile, lowering her purse.
With a wave she turned back to the door. Harry took one last look around at the obnoxiously cheerful store and smiled. 'Leave it to Fred and George,' he thought as the door swung shut behind him.
"Hermione," a woman called in obvious relief from a short distance up the alley as soon as the two teens emerged on the cobblestone walk.
"Mum!" Hermione gasped in alarm, immediately drawing her wand as she ran to her mother's side.
Harry jogged to keep up, his wand already drawn beneath his cloak.
"Mum, you shouldn't have left the Leaky Caldron," said Hermione worriedly as she guided her very obviously muggle mother back to the entrance to Diagon Alley.
"You took so long that I began to worry, dear," said Mrs. Granger as she patted her daughter's hand.
She was a very pretty woman, though older than Harry had imagined. Mrs. Granger was her daughter's height exactly and though her shoulder-length hair fell in tame waves rather than thick curls, it was the same colour as her daughter's. As soon as Hermione had steered Mrs. Granger back through the archway, a man in smart muggle trousers, jumper, and collared shirt came forward with three butterbeers.
"I told you she was fine, Jean," said Mr. Granger with an easy smile.
His wife gave him a pointed glare, but the much larger man merely winked playfully back.
"So how did it go?" asked Mrs. Granger after silently chastising her husband again.
She turned her full attention to Hermione. Mr. Granger followed suit, fixing his daughter with a level and attentive gaze. Hermione expelled a long sigh.
"It's a lot to explain, and I would rather not do it here," said Hermione with a nervous cast of her eyes around the pub.
As in the alley itself, the Leaky Caldron's patrons were few in number. Those who did loiter in the pub were of the shadier cut, and both Harry and Hermione were acutely aware of the likelihood of an order member lurking about.
"Shall we head home after our drinks then?" suggested Mr. Granger casually.
The curiosity in his expression reminded Harry of Hermione's constant inquisitiveness. 'Perhaps it's inherited,' he thought. The conversation then turned to more casual topics as the three drank their butterbeer. Harry sat in silence next to Hermione as they talked about A-levels and private tuition. It would have surprised him had she been anyone but Hermione. And though he enjoyed seeing this side of Hermione's life, after twenty minutes, Harry had begun to fidget. Hermione, hearing one of Harry's impatient sighs, finally suggested that they depart.
Mr. Granger led the way to a car park just off Charing Cross road. Hermione opened the back door and pretended to drop something, allowing Harry to slip inside. As soon as she felt him brush past, she straightened and got in as well. Mr. Granger drove the car smoothly into London traffic. The three sat in companionable silence for a while, Mrs. Granger sometimes casting curious glances in the rear-view mirror. They had completely left the metropolis that was downtown London. In fact, the car was well on its way to Crawley by the time Mrs. Granger finally could restrain herself no longer.
"Are you going to tell us what exactly is going on, Hermione?" she asked, fixing her daughter with a piercing glare as she turned to look at her. "You mentioned your friend Harry?"
"I begged you to take me to London because he's in a bit of trouble," Hermione explained evenly, covertly nudging Harry's side with her elbow.
Harry tried not to laugh in his nervousness.
"He asked me to come to Diagon Alley last week and didn't tell me why. But you know what I've told you about him… He's not exactly a person you ask to explain himself when he needs you," Hermione admitted tenderly.
Harry's throat tightened and heat rose in his cheeks.
"Yes, yes, we've heard all that before… So what happened? Did you meet him? Couldn't he have met us in the pub?" rattled Mr. Granger eagerly.
"Yes, I did. No, people are looking for him, and you'll see him soon enough," said Hermione in her trademark greater-than-thou manner. "He needed my help in settling some business concerning his godfather, but the people who try to look after him wouldn't have allowed it after the attack at his house, so it had to be a secret."
"And?" Mrs. Granger pressed.
"It's not for me to tell, although we will probably need your help in deciphering half of it. But something's wrong. Sirius implied that the people supposedly looking after Harry's safety have an alternative agenda," explained Hermione, her eyebrows drawing together as she contemplated the issue aloud.
"On one hand, Sirius has always tried to act in Harry's best interest… And it's true that Professor Dumbledore doesn't really tell Harry what he needs to know, but I don't think he'd lie to Harry," worried Hermione.
Harry bit his lip, still furious at the Headmaster and quite ready to believe otherwise.
"And Ron… Sirius's will implied he may not be trustworthy, and Harry told me that Ron couldn't come today because Sirius's letter said it wouldn't be wise. Yet, he still left all of the Weasleys with a significant inheritance It just doesn't make sense."
"Perhaps you shouldn't decide anything yet," said Mrs. Granger simply. "We'll sort through it together. You said you wanted him to stay with us?"
"Yes, I invited him today," said Hermione lightly. "I think it will be a welcome change from his other holidays. I told you about the last couple of years, didn't I? And then, this summer they didn't even let him arrange a funeral for Sirius."
"I'm sure he'll find the loft comfortable," said Mrs. Granger. "But if he isn't at his relatives' or Diagon Alley anymore, how are we going to contact him?"
"I forced him to accept the invitation before we left the Alley," Hermione admitted, her cheeks turning pink.
"Oh did you, Hermione?" Mr. Granger smirked at his daughter in the rear-view mirror.
"Yes… But only on the condition that he's not a burden to us," said Hermione with a roll of her eyes.
Harry nudged Hermione's knee in annoyance, feeling increasingly awkward from sitting silent in the backseat, essentially eavesdropping on the conversation.
"Of course he won't. He can stay as long as he likes," Mrs. Granger enthused.
"So will he show up sometime in the next few days?" asked Mr. Granger.
"Hermione?" said Mrs. Granger sharply.
"How's Harry going to get here?" she sighed in exasperation as the car pulled onto Thetford Road.
"I'm sure he's found away," said Hermione cryptically with a glance to her right.
Harry distracted himself from laughing by looking out the windows. New Malden, a part of Kingston upon Thames in Greater London, was comprised of the old sort of houses that one might see in a storybook. The roofs were all shingled with rounded black slate, and the walls of the houses ranged from whitewash to brick. They were, overall, much larger than the homes on Privet Drive, and ranged in architectural styles. The car turned at the end of the street, just before reaching an intersection and what appeared to be a children's play park, and pulled into a garage resplendent in emerald creeping ivy.
Hermione again stalled upon getting out of the car, allowing Harry to slip out silently behind her. Mr. Granger closed the garage while Mrs. Granger began pulling black shopping bags with gold lettering out of the boot.
"Do you need help Mum?" Hermione offered as she slung her bag over her shoulder, tucking her wand in its front pocket.
"I'm fine, dear," Mrs. Granger said somewhat laboriously as she wedged a bag between her arm and torso.
Mr. Granger watched with amusement as his wife attempted to close the boot so encumbered, before Hermione snapped it closed with a roll of her eyes. Mrs. Granger rolled her eyes, but followed Hermione through the door without comment. Harry waited for the woman to pass before entering himself, Mr. Granger bringing up the rear.
Hermione paused just inside the mudroom to take off her thin coat and shoes, shuffling into a pair of slippers.
"You can take it off now, Harry," she said over her shoulder.
"Hermione?" Mrs. Granger asked in confusion, staring into the apparently empty space Hermione had addressed.
Harry, somewhat wary of her parents' reaction, pulled his cloak off reluctantly. He grinned somewhat sheepishly at their open-mouthed expressions.
"Er… thank you for inviting me to your home, Mr. and Mrs. Granger," mumbled Harry with a nervous grin.
"I… How long have you been there?"
"Hermione brought me along with her from Diagon Alley," admitted Harry, shuffling his feet uncomfortably.
"It was my idea, Harry. Stop looking so guilty," laughed Hermione.
"And I'm sure all this secrecy was necessary," grumbled Mr. Granger somewhat sceptically.
"There's a war on," shrugged Hermione.
"Sorry," said Harry quickly. "Er… If it's too much trouble I can find somewhere else. And, urm, I was hoping I could pay rent if I do stay here, and help around the house. I don't want to be freeloading or anything," he continued in a rush.
"Harry!" Hermione gasped in way of admonishment as her parents exchanged a glance.
They studied the deceptively youthful boy: his apologetic and worried face, his nervous shuffling, his oversized clothing and the scars adoring his hand and forehead. Every so often he threw a glance toward Hermione, and Hermione, they both noticed, was quick to take his hand in reassurance. Mr. Granger finally broke the awkward silence as he pulled his wife to his side.
"Harry, you don't have to pay rent. What we said in the car still applies. You're welcome to stay here for the holidays. And as for helping out, just pick up after yourself and enjoy the summer," said the older man with a genial smile.
Hermione smiled up at her father appreciatively before tugging on Harry's arm.
"I… Thank you," said Harry with a little bit of colour in his cheeks.
"Well, now that that's settled… How about we all go to the library and take tea, hm? We can get more acquainted. We've heard so much about you over the years, Harry love," said Mrs. Granger while ushering her family plus one into a larger L-shaped room.
Mr. Granger took Harry's bags from him and left them in the mudroom entrance before following the teens and his wife through the library door. Hedwig sat on a perch under the window, and hooted sleepily when Harry entered.
Harry and Hermione sat together on a handsome leather settee while Mr. Granger took a wing-backed armchair by the fireplace. He pointed a remote at a large stereo and the room filled with relaxing instrumentals. Harry recognized the music as Jazz, and marvelled at the differences he noted between Hermione's family and the Dursleys. Their house, while neat and tidy, neither felt exhaustively meticulous nor conservative. The Dursleys also had not allowed music in the house except within Dudley's bedroom, as they generally disapproved of anything remotely imaginative.
Harry found that he quite liked the comfortable library with its shelves of books and bright windows and rich blue walls. He relaxed almost immediately and thanked his hostess a little more enthusiastically than necessary when she brought in tea, scones, and biscuits.
"So, Harry, what exactly happened that you're in such a mess?" queried Mr. Granger lightly over the top of a newspaper.
Harry noted, with a flush, that an article concerning Grunnings Drill Company had made it to the front page of this latest issue.
"Most recently, that," he answered, gesturing to the article.
Mr. Granger's eyebrows rose into his sandy-coloured fringe as he flipped the newspaper closed to examine the front page.
"The Grunnings Company?" he frowned in obvious confusion.
"I'm supposed to be inheriting my father's title. My Godfather did some things so that when he died, I guess, I'd come into my majority," Harry clarified, his expression curiously blank of emotion with the revelation. "But I don't understand how my dad could be titled in the Muggle world, too."
"But of course he would be," said Hermione. "Don't you ever pay attention in History of Magic? Magical citizens are still subjects of the Crown. Families who are titled got those titles through Royal appointment plus recommendation from the Wizengamot after the Magical Charter of 1430."
"What?" Harry looked in bewilderment at his friend.
"Our current government was established by Parliament and King Henry IV in 1430. Technically, our minister is answerable to the Queen," explained Hermione patiently, attempting and failing to resist rolling her eyes.
"Oh. Well, alright then."
"And speaking of business, you should owl once you finished reviewing your ledger. They probably want your evaluation of your holdings and investments before they continue on your behalf," reasoned Hermione with a glance to her father.
Mr. Granger, who was more literate in financial matters, nodded in agreement.
"That's sensible," Mr. Granger nodded, re-examining the article. "If all this business true, I might just take you up on that offer for rent," he joked.
"But what does all this mean you're in any sort of trouble? I mean – not to be insensitive – but people die all the time. Entailment should be a fairly easy process should it not? What's all this to do with..?" Mrs. Granger trailed off.
"My uncle – he is, or was, I guess – a vice president for Grunnings. He was angry because his job was put in jeopardy by the account freeze, and he blamed me. We were having an," Harry paused, searching for a more benign term, "Argument, of sorts. And I think when Mr. Weasley came to break it up, the spellfire attracted some unwanted attention."
Hermione frowned, not having known what had triggered the confrontation.
"Deatheaters attacked. But the reason why the argument escalated to the point that Mr. Weasley had to help is that I tried to leave a few days before. I had an accident with my magic because I was angry. My uncle and I were having an argument before then, and instead of staying, I left. Dumbledore stopped me, and to keep me from doing any more accidental magic, he did something to me. If he hadn't, my Uncle would have been to scared to… well, argue with me as he did."
Hermione's brows had furrowed, and she searched Harry's face for a long moment before she gasped, her eyes wide with fury.
"He attacked you, didn't he? You should have told me!"
"It doesn't make a difference," said Harry quietly, looking away from the Mr. and Mrs. Granger's pitying gazes. "And he's gone now, so…"
The Grangers, including Hermione, exchanged looks of concern for Harry's sudden bitterness. Mrs. Granger, sensing the tension, immediately changed the subject.
"So the goblins gave you a ledger, Harry?" she asked kindly, gesturing to the thick tome in his lap. "Would you mind if we all look over it? I'm sure such an old book would be fascinating."
"Sure," Harry answered with an easy smile.
Mrs. Granger responded in kind, her compassionate face lighting up with her grin.
Harry got up from his seat, bringing the heavy, leather-bound book to the coffee table. He sat on the floor with Hermione beside him as he opened it up. Mr. and Mrs. Granger joined him and their daughter on the floor much to Harry's surprise. Harry opened the book to the first page and was surprised to discover that this first entry was dated 1522.
"Extraordinary," Mr. Granger gasped as Harry ran a finger over the date.
Immediately, the text on the yellowed page disappeared and was replaced by elegant script dancing in perfect lines over its surface.
"Lord Cronus Black, Earl of Suffolk, paid 120 of 1500 Galleons to Lord Bennet Potter, Duke of Somerset, concerning release of marriage contract for future children. Paid in full 12 March 1523," Hermione read aloud. "This is incredible, Harry!"
"This was your godfather's ledger?" Mr. Granger asked.
Harry nodded, flipping curiously through the earliest entries.
"Perhaps we should focus on the transactions Sirius on," Mrs. Granger suggested. "We can probably assume he set his affairs in order before he passed."
"Right," said Harry as he flipped through the book to the last entries.
His heart gave a pang of remorse for his lost parents as he began seeing Sirius's name and the accompanying dates.
"200 galleons, paid to Comet Broom Company, for children's low-speed hover broom, July 31, 1980. That's my first birthday," Harry laughed.
"A broomstick before you're even big enough to lift your own head?"
He must have been excited to be a godfather. I bought my nephew a football when he was born. He uses it well enough now."
"1,500 galleons paid to Rufus Spudmore Broom Company, for one Firebolt racing broom," he read, smiling fondly.
"And here… 23,411 galleons paid to Carthaginian Refurbishing and Renovation, October 1995," read Hermione, her lower lip disappearing between her teeth.
"What was he refurbishing? Definitely not Headquarters," laughed Harry. He still vividly remembered the doxies and various containers of foul-looking materials.
Hermione searched the pages for other properties, and found a few, although the descriptions did not seem to indicate much space or worth. rrThey perused the book at leisure as they drained their teacups, making a comment or sound now and again at the figures indicated by the ledger, and the things purchased or sold. Hermione finally nodded and Harry closed the book, satisfied that everything was probably in order there.
"It's a total 174,839 galleons," she said, pausing and tilting her head as she thought "Or £874,195."
"Well, you're quite well off now, to state it lightly," quipped Mr. Granger.
"I suppose you'll have to claim your title before you can get the Potter ledger, based on what the Director said," mused Hermione.
"I was hoping you'd forget actually. I'm not sure I'll be able…" Harry trailed off, his face a clear depiction of discomfort.
"Ragnok didn't seem to think you would have any problem. Go ahead and try," Hermione said gently.
Harry looked to the encouraging and curious faces around the room and Harry sighed. He closed his eyes and tried to feel his magic. The others in the room remained quiet, watching with baited breath. Suddenly, there was a bright white flash of light, and Harry fell forward across the table.
"Harry!" gasped Hermione, rushing forward.
He groaned, rubbing his head. A gold signet ring glowed on the ring finger of his right hand.
"Are you quite alright?" Mrs. Granger had come around the table. "I think that's quite enough for today."
The mother said it with the sort of authority that brooked no argument. She rose, patting Harry on the hand as he sat up slowly.
"Let's have dinner and talk about your plans for the rest of the summer. I think we've all had enough excitement for now," she continued with a genial smile. "Hermione, dear, make sure Harry knows where the loft and the bathroom are."
"Yes, mum," chirped Hermione.
Her mouth spread into a grin as she took Harry's hand and pulled him from the library. She led him up the stairs and to a narrow door off the main corridor, barely pausing to allow Harry to retrieve his belongings from the reception room door.
"We just renovated a couple of years ago. Although, the only people who ever stay are my relatives when they visit. It's not much, but I hope you'll be comfortable," she said excitedly as the pushed the door open.
The loft over the garage had once been attic space, and held two windows looking out onto the street. The sloping ceiling came to an end at a short wall. It held a nondescript door, which Harry supposed gave access to storage and perhaps electrical connections. A full size bed stood with its headboard against the far wall, flanked on either side by a low chest of drawers. Harry put his bags on a large, comfortable looking armchair to the left of the bed before turning to smile at his friend.
"It's brilliant, Hermione," said Harry warmly as he sat on the bed.
He sighed in exhaustion before lying back, his knees and feet still dangling off the edge. Hermione lay down beside him, her arm thrown haphazardly over his chest. Harry held the limb to his torso as he turned to look his long-time friend.
"Are you alright, Harry?" she asked softly, her warm brown eyes searching Harry's thin face.
"No," answered Harry. "I'm not sure what to think. I can't forgive Dumbledore for ignoring me all year and locking my magic. I can't forgive myself for falling into Voldemort's trap. I can't deal with the fact that the only relatives I've ever had are either severely injured or dead…" he gulped a deep breath, closing his eyes. "It's a lot to take in."
The two lay in silence for a moment in which Hermione scooted closer to Harry, her head against his shoulder and her arms wrapped around him in a gesture of comfort. Harry revelled in the simple joy of having someone to rely on so deeply, and he happily accepted Hermione's affection.
"Thank you," he murmured, looking at the ceiling instead of at the girl beside him.
"What for, Harry?" she asked, equally muted.
"For being you."
Hermione smiled, turning to place a soft kiss on Harry's cheek. Harry, feeling her sudden movement, shifted to look at his friend only to feel her lips make contact with his. The soft brush, mere moments long, drew a gasp from Hermione's lips as her eyes widened and met Harry's suddenly intense gaze. Her cheeks flushed dark pink and she scrambled to sit up, but Harry wound his hands gently in Hermione's hair, his thumbs tracing the blush on her cheeks, and pulled her close once more. Their lips met for a second time in a chaste, but lingering kiss. Harry's lips parted against Hermione's in askance as her hands moved to rest against his chest.
"Harry, Hermione!" Mrs. Granger called from downstairs.
They froze, both flushing scarlet.
"I'm ordering take-away pizza from Lorenzo's. Do you want anything in particular?"
The moment broken, the two teens pulled away from each other. Hermione glanced at Harry, who shook his head in denial to Mrs. Granger's question.
"No, mum! Just order whatever you and Dad want!" Hermione called back from the doorway.
"Alright, darling. Remember to show Harry the bathroom."
"Okay!" Hermione looked back at Harry, the blush not yet fully faded from her cheeks. She gestured somewhat weakly out the door. "Do you want to see the rest of the house, Harry?" she asked without meeting Harry's eyes.
Harry nodded jerkily and followed Hermione out into the corridor again.
"Loo's there… Towels are in the linen closet inside. Feel free to use whatever you like… Erm…" they passed the open door of the neat, magazine-worthy bathroom to a medium sized bedroom. "This is my room," Hermione said slowly, opening the door.
Harry smiled at the white, built-in bookcases lining the walls. They were filled to the brim with books. The bookcase nearest the bed, which also acted as a nightstand, held Hermione's schoolbooks from previous years. The bed was constructed of white painted brass. The four posts curled into an intricate canopy over the bed, which was hung with sheer gossamer. The white bedspread was embroidered with red and yellow roses. Harry tried to imagine Hermione here as a child, reading in the centre of her bed, and smiled.
"Did you ever play with toys as a little girl, Hermione?" Harry asked in sudden curiosity as Hermione led him back downstairs to the main living area.
She switched on a large flat-screen television with a laugh.
"Why do you ask?"
"Just wondering," Harry responded a little self-consciously. "I don't really see you playing like a little kid, even when you were one."
"You'd be right," responded Hermione ruefully. "But I did have a cast of plush animals to act out the parts of books I liked. And a puppet stage. It's folded up in that storage space in the loft…" she trailed off, blushing at Harry's intent expression.
Hermione stared up at him as Harry watched his friend with new appreciation. In the five years he had known her, Hermione had grown into an attractive young woman, indeed. Her hair, though comprised of thick curls, could no longer be described as the bushy mess it had once been. It shone prettily in the sunshine and with a more muted luminescence under the incandescent bulbs of the house. Her smile was charming, and her rich brown eyes drew Harry in whenever he looked at her.
He wondered vaguely if she had enjoyed the brief kiss they shared, and if he should be worried that he felt so perfectly happy about it. After all, she was his best friend. The implications of the feelings Harry now suspected he possessed would reach further than he and Hermione. Ron, whom Harry assumed to fancy Hermione, would not take well to such news. But it would seem, since Hermione had allowed Harry to kiss her again, that perhaps she did not hold the same feelings for Ron.
'Where does that leave me?' Harry thought to himself as he looked once more at his pretty bookworm friend.
Was he supposed to ignore his growing feelings for Hermione if Ron could not cope with rejection? The thought of losing his first real friend pained Harry, so he quickly discarded the notion. The two continued the tour before coming to rest in the den, the television humming idly in the background while the teens sat with two feet between them on the large, comfortable sofa.
"Dinner's here," said Mrs. Granger from the kitchen after nearly half an hour of virtual silence.
Harry and Hermione rose simultaneously and followed her into the kitchen.
Unlike the Dursley's stark white kitchen and informal dining room, the Grangers' eating area conveyed all that was warm and inviting. Children's drawings decorated the refrigerator, and the bright oak cabinets shone with well-maintained varnish. Hermione and Harry moved in unison to help Mrs. Granger set the table with plates, and Mr. Granger went to the fridge for a pitcher of lemonade.
"Is there anything else you need help with, Mrs. Granger?" Harry offered politely as he pulled Hermione's seat out for her.
The mother smiled at the display and shook her head no.
"We'll discuss your duties and anything else you would like to talk about over dinner. Just take a seat, Harry," answered Mrs. Granger, opening up the pizza box and sliding the cardboard platter into the middle of the table. Mr. Granger brought a large, plastic wrap covered salad to the table.
"Salad, Harry?" he asked genially, offering the tongs after discarding the cellophane.
The meal proceeded in marked contrast with any Harry had experienced at the Weasley table. It was peaceful and companionable, with light talk about the Granger's work and Hermione's weekend. Mr. and Mrs. Granger were eager to hear more about Hogwarts from someone other than her daughter, whom they rightly assumed kept more frightening details to herself. Harry, though wary of their knowledge and Hermione's privacy, answered with more honesty and openness than Hermione had ever dared.
"Yes, it can be dangerous," said Harry after addressing Mr. Granger's questions about their last year at school, "but we are learning a lot. And not just academics – politics, survival, loyalty… I would have never ranked Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood among the most reliable people I know, but they proved that to me this year."
"Tell us truthfully, Harry," started Mrs. Granger after sharing a look with her husband. "How bad is this war Hermione's been telling us about? Should you two really be returning to school?"
Harry looked to Hermione, who searched his face and nodded solemnly. It was the first time since the awkward aftermath of the kiss that she had met his eye.
"We've been fighting it since first year," Harry admitted. "That business with the rogue teacher – it was Voldemort who possessed the professor. Second year, it was one of his belongings that caused Slytherin's monster to be released. Third year, Sirius broke out of Azkaban to take out one of Voldemort's undercover servants, and the rat escaped. Which led to fourth year, when he got his body back, and last…" Harry could not finish as his mind was forced once again to the events of the Department of Mysteries.
He looked to Hermione for assistance and she quickly obliged.
"This, all of what we're seeing on the telly and in the Prophet, is just the culmination of everything Harry's been fighting since we were eleven," Hermione clarified with marked regret. "I'm not entirely sure if it's sane to go back to school, Mum, but I know that Harry's needed there. I'm sorry, but you can't make me stay home, either," she concluded with such conviction that Harry could not help but smile.
"Well," Mr. Granger expelled with a sigh, "We knew to expect something to that effect, but we rather hoped we would not have to discuss it for a while, yet." Mr. Granger paused and caught his daughter's gaze. "We know you've been bewitched – excuse the pun – by the wizarding world. We guessed that you would choose one path over the other eventually, what with spending more holidays with your school friends and being more secretive-"
"Daddy, I-" interrupted Hermione with an apology on her lips.
Her eyes had gone wide with her father's admission. She clasped Harry's hand for comfort as she looked between her parents in growing panic.
"No, dear, let him finish," admonished Mrs. Granger gently.
Hermione's mouth snapped shut and Harry wrapped his arm around her shoulders bracingly as Mr. Granger continued.
"Hermione, we just want you to know that you don't have to exclude us. I know we couldn't stop you from getting involved if we tried, and at this point it's probably too late to make a bid for that anyway," chuckled Mr. Granger. "We just want you to tell us the truth. We want to know what you're doing and we want to help when we can. There's a lot out there that most people can't understand or explain, and you're a part of that world… Just, don't disappear on us, sweetheart. If you need to fight, fine. Just let us know what you're fighting and how we can help you. We don't want you to feel as if you don't have our support, because you always have and always will."
The sincere exclamation hung in the air and Harry smiled gently at his suddenly tearful companion. Hermione's shoulders shook with her sobs for a moment more before she launched herself from her seat and wrapped her arms around her father.
"Thank you Daddy, Mum," she gasped between sobs, clinging to them. "I was so worried! I… I..! Mum, I thought I'd have to obliviate you and send you both away if things… Oh, oh…"
Hermione's words dissolved into nonsensical mutters between heart-wrenching sobs. It was as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and Harry, in witnessing the exchange, once again experienced the guilt and gratitude he always felt when it came to his friends. Hermione's admission that she would have obliviated her own parents shook him. That she would, and had seemed to be planning upon sacrificing so much to help Harry in his endeavours touched him deeply. His heart swelled at the sight of both parents embracing their child.
"I promise you, Mrs. and Mr. Granger, I won't let anything happen to Hermione," Harry swore vehemently, the promise solidifying in his chest as two sets of brown and one pair of blue eyes met his.
"Harry," gasped Hermione, pulling Harry into a hug.
She buried her tear-streaked face into Harry's shirt and Harry uncomplainingly stroked Hermione's back without any of the awkwardness he had come to associate with crying women. It occurred to Harry that her tears did not make him uncomfortable as Cho's had, nor did they frighten him.
"Please, Harry. It's Jean and Tom."
The conversation picked up again, and this time, the youths left out no details as they recounted their time at school.
"So… where do we go from here?" sniffled Hermione. "We know what Sirius implied, and Professor Dumbledore's behaviour is inexcusable, but he's still the biggest force against you-know-who."
"I can't trust him anymore. I'm tired of everyone expecting me to sit quietly without any explanations when I'm the one who's faced him so many bloody times," Harry grumbled vindictively.
"Harry has a point," said Mr. Granger, his brows drawn together in contemplation. "The man you've described to me is both politically and magically powerful, knowledgeable, and given how much trouble you've gotten into, I strongly suspect he may have manipulated the situation. Considering the amount of trouble you've been allowed to get into despite his supposed power and knowledge, I would have to think that he wanted you to deal with those things disregarding prior training or information."
"Perhaps the best policy as of right now would be to wait and see," Jean frowned. "You don't know how much power you wield, yet. If you were a muggle, you'd be eligible to sit in Parliament in a couple of years. Politically, you'd still have considerable sway in the press, and in public policy. A lot of people would want to ride with you into power."
"I don't want to be a politician," said Harry with obvious distaste. "Every one I've ever known has either been a coward or a slimy git."
"But you aren't either those things. You could at least have the power to protect yourself from others," said Hermione. "I'd have to double-check a law text, but I don't think even the Minister can touch you, now, since your titles and seats are inherited. I think he'd have to get the Wizengamot and the Queen's approval to remove your title."
"I think it all comes down to whatever information you'll be receiving in the next couple of days," concluded Jean. "I would say, don't let anyone know that you have reached your majority and do as much as you can to learn everything about your position. In the meantime, you can unravel everything Sirius has left for you and make your decisions in secret. It sounds as if there are a lot of people whom you've kept close that need further consideration before judgement."
"I was thinking about that," Harry admitted. "I'm not too keen on accusing Ron or anyone of anything, especially when there isn't much proof of it. I'm going to be careful, though, and try to evaluate everyone fairly. I need friends I can rely on."
"Both of us do," Hermione agreed, squeezing Harry's hand.
He gave her a wry smile.
"There's a problem we need to tackle immediately though, if that's our plan."
"What's that, sweetheart?" asked Mr. Granger with a jovial smile on his face once more. "I thought those were the bulk of your issues thus far."
"We need a way to communicate with the Wizarding world, without exposing Harry," Hermione reminded them. "I think it's in his best interests to stay away from the Order and Ministry until he's armed with the right information. Hedwig's too recognizable to even carry hi post."
"Why don't I try to call Dobby?" said Harry suddenly, interrupting the debate between Hermione and her mum. "He's never let me down. Maybe Dumbledore didn't give him a good enough reason to look for me. We can let him in on what's going on, and that way we'll have someone listening around at Hogwarts."
"Oh! I nearly forgot. He couldn't because some of the oldest Wizarding houses have family wards that are tied to the entailment. Even elves and owls can't find them unless they want to be found," she gushed. "I learned that when I was doing my research for S.P.E.W. But lets finish your letters to Gringotts first. Dobby won't be very patient once he arrives. And I'm sure Dumbledore will be watching him."
"Right, okay. Letters first, then."
Mr. and Mrs. Granger cleaned up despite Harry's offers to help, and the two teens settled in to planning. The first order of business, a request for the Potter Wills, an audit of all activities conducted with the Potter accounts since 31 October 1981, and a letter of gratitude ware sealed and signed and placed to the side of the kitchen table before Harry and Hermione began composing a request for a new Gringotts-appointed account manager. By Mr. Granger's suggestion, they also wrote in a request to make inquiries with barristers and solicitors to examine why the Potter Will was sealed in the first place and to arrange a meeting with Harry at a later date. In total, the letter to Gringotts encompassed three feet of parchment.
Also in response to Tom's suggestion, Harry decided to approve the unfreezing of Potter assets. He understood that the action would keep the Grunnings stocks from losing total value and that Dudley might have some more money coming to him, since his father had stock before the attack. Harry also resolved to visit his cousin when he could. Dudley deserved an explanation for why his parents were gone, at least. It's what Harry had wanted, after all.
Finally, when it was approaching midnight, Harry turned to Hermione with a grimace on his face.
"I think I need to do some shopping."
"Why such a sour face for that?"
"Well, it's going to be a lot… Since I don't have to go back to the Dursleys', and since I need to meet with people and look presentable doing it, I need new everything."
"We can go into town tomorrow," said Jean from the doorway of the kitchen. She had changed into her nightclothes and had a dressing gown pulled around her. "What do you mean 'new everything'?"
"I've never had new clothes, and everything I have is too big or too worn. I only managed to grab a rucksack and my school bag when I left Number 4, so…"
"Well, then. We shall go early while Thomas is at the office."
"I'm sorry for imposing. I really would like to pay rent, or help around the house. I'm a good cook and fair at gardening," said Harry quickly, misreading Jean's expression.
"No, not at all, dear. You're a guest. Just pick up after yourself. That's all we expect of Hermione and we would never ask more from any of our friends."
"Thanks, Mrs. Granger," said Harry with a shy smile.
"You're very welcome, Harry. And it's Jean, darling."
Harry felt his ears go hot as he returned Mrs. Granger's warm smile. She turned to rinse a teacup and shelve dried dishes. Harry and Hermione reread their letter to Gringotts in companionable silence.
"And now, my dears, I think it is time for bed," said Mrs. Granger finally with a sweeping gesture to the stairs.
Tired smiles on their faces, Harry and Hermione put up their work and happily retired to their beds. In the renovated attic made loft, Harry haphazardly removed his clothes and sank beneath the thick coverlet on the bed. His head had yet to hit the pillow when he slid blissfully into the land of dreams.
. . . . . . . . . .
AN: £874,195=about $1,350,456.44 US. Hope you've enjoyed this installment. As always, happy reading!