McGonagall meets with the Grangers, and Fleur introduces her new friends to her father.
McGonagall swept through the door like some Victorian schoolmistress out of a costume drama. Her long green dress, high buttoned shoes, and black cloak seemed oddly appropriate in the old-fashioned sitting room. The eccentricity almost distracted his attention from the fact that, despite the rain outside, her cloak and shoes were completely dry.
He waited until Mrs. Badger had shut the door behind her and McGonagall sat facing them across the coffee table. "So, Professor McGonagall. Have your lot something to do with why I've not seen my daughter since eight this morning?"
"Dan!" Emma said. "Don't be rude."
"Actually," McGonagall said, "I understand completely. I'm afraid that some of 'our lot' have had something to do it. But your daughter is safe, and it's also some of 'our lot' who are responsible for that."
The relief was instant, spreading through his body like a dose of some powerful drug. Seconds later, however, rational thought returned. "Wait a moment, Professor. If Hermione's safe, then why isn't she with you?"
"Well... I'll have to tell you the story as we know it."
He wanted to interrupt several times, but Emma gripped his arm so tightly he knew he'd find bruises, after. The mild pain gave him something to concentrate on until the end of McGonagall's tale, which sounded like something out of a children's fantasy novel written by a frustrated romance novelist with a bizarre taste for captivity narratives. "So,"he said, finally, "an unscrupulous Wizard took my daughter for a mythological creature. Therefore, she was kidnapped, bought like a kitten as a birthday present for a boy of her own age, and is now wandering about London with said boy, a thirteen year old French girl, and a mad girl of ten whose equally mad father decided it was better to sell her as a slave than to have her throw a tantrum?"
"Selkies are quite real, Mr. Granger; they're not figments like Crumple-horned Snorkacks or the Abominable Gnu. Many fine people, including, evidently, either yourself, Mrs. Granger, or both of you, have some Selkie ancestry. And Miss Lovegood isn't mad, she's merely... her family have a gift for Second Sight. It tends to make them somewhat eccentric."
"Fine. She was mistaken for a member of an oppressed indigenous tribe, kidnapped, bought like a kitten for a boy of her own age, and now is wandering London with said boy, athirteen year old French girl, and an 'eccentric' girl of ten who insisted that her 'eccentric' father sell her into slavery. Why does this not improve my opinion?"
"Hagrid only bought her as the most effective means of rescuing her. I'm quite confident in saying that young Harry Potter will regard her and the other girls as friends, rather than property. As for the 'wandering about London' part, Miss Delacour comes from a political family. If she thinks that she and her friends might be in some danger, it's not unreasonable to believe that she will go to ground in an effort to protect them, and seek to take them to a place of safety known to her."
"Wonderful. So, even now, perhaps disguised as a New Age Traveller or riding as a stowaway in a fishing boat, my eleven year old daughter is on her way to France with the other inmates of a young Wizard's harem. But it's only because her newfound best friend, looking at things from the mature perspective of her thirteen years, wants to protect her. Lovely."
"Miss Delacour's father is looking for them. I'm quite confident that he will find them before tommorrow morning."
"So, a French politician, a French Wizard politician, is looking for them. In London. Ordinary London, not your London."
"Gérard Delacour was, in his day, one of the best intelligence operatives the French Ministry possessed. Which, to be quite honest, means as good as or better than our best, and more than capable of operating in both worlds. He also read English literature at Oxford. Merton College, mind, not one for only 'our lot'."
"A French James Bond with a taste for English literature, who's also a devoted father when he's not dabbling in politics. Now I've heard everything."
"Dan, stop this at once," Emma said. "Professor McGonagall and her colleagues are doing their best for our daughter. And did I just hear you insulting a man who loves his daughter as much as you love Hermione and who is, right now, searching for both of them?"
His wife's voice quenched his anger, leaving a surprising amount of shame in its wake. "I'm sorry, love. You're right. Please forgive me, Professor."
"Of course I will, Mister Granger. I've never borne a child of my own, but, in a very small way, I have helped to raise quite a number of them. Considering how attached I find myself, I can only barely begin to imagine what it must be like for a parent. Hermione is a delightful girl, and I'm concerned for her, myself. And young Harry is the orphaned son of two of my very favourite students, who died tragically and far too young.
"I'd very much hoped they'd become friends, actually," she added after a brief pause, "but this was the last thing I would have expected to happen."
"A bookshop, Fleur?" Harry said as she lead them towards a Waterstone's.
"Yes. They will have books of travel. Which should tell us our options. If we cannot reach France without passports, we at least may reach the North of Ireland. It might be... difficult, but I should be able to Veela us through it. Whatever the Muggle situation, Wizarding Ireland is one country. And in Ireland my Tante Babette lives with her husband, Dónal Dubh Mac an tSaoi. They will shelter us and help send us home to France."
Hermione was torn. A bookshop... even if she'd never been in this particular location, it was still the next thing to going home. But the next thing to going home wasn't the same thing as going home. And she wasn't sure about going home, in general, because the concept of "home" now seemed to require aFrench girl, a green-eyed boy, and a mad little blonde. If she went back to the house she'd grown up in, but couldn't bring them along... she wasn't sure it would be home, anymore. And that thought was terrifying.
They followed Fleur inside and headed for the travel section. Harry's eyes flicked about, following every stray movement of customers and clerks. "I've never actually been inside one of these," he whispered.
Hermione felt almost desperately flattered that he'd chosen to confide in her. So flattered that the full import of his statement didn't hit her for almost a dozen heartbeats. "You've never been in a bookshop?"
"Other than Flourish and Blotts, not really. I was only ever brought along shopping to carry things, and Aunt Petunia said dirty freaks weren't allowed in bookshops. Besides, I don't think she really likes books. Dudley certainly doesn't. Imusually get to read his, once he's done tearing them up and scribbling on them. But those are always the ones Aunt Marge gave him because she thought they were the appropriate thing to give, or that Petunia got for him because she wanted to be seen buying them for her clever son. Histories and science books, mostly. Plus the odd Biggles book, or things like Tom Brown's Schooldays. But nothing... freakish."
"That's horrible, Harry," she said. "I... well, you can read any of my books. I mean, if you want to."
"I'd like that," he said. "Do... do you have the Chronicles of Narnia? I read the first one, from the school library, but Uncle Vernon caught me and I wasn't allowed the others." He blushed. "I mean, I suppose it's only a kid's book, and..."
"Don't be silly, Harry," she said. "Narnia is wonderful. When all of this is settled... we'll sit down on a sofa or somewhere in a corner with lots of pillows, and read all of them. Together. I mean, if you want to."
"I do," he said. There was an awkward moment of looking at each other, knowing it wouldn't look right to hug and wanting nothing less, and then, very swiftly, they took each other's hands.
Luna added hers to the grip. "I'd like to, as well. If Imay?"
"Of course you may, Luna," Hermione said. "It wouldn't feel right without you and Fleur."
Fleur smiled at them, and Hermione wished they were all alone and could cuddle together and not move for about a day and ahalf. I hope she gets us an overnight ferry, she thought. We'd share a room, and we could lock the door and push the beds together. Of course, that was assuming that Fleur's plan would work, but Fleur's plans seemed to work remarkably well. /But we haven't got any pyjamas/, she thought, and couldn't decide if the idea filled her with wonder or dread. Luna would be delighted, of course, but... Don't think about that until the time comes, she told herself.
"I think we can do this," Fleur said, after a few minutes' flipping through books, "but it's going to mean trains and buses and quite a lot of bother. And we'll have to make up a very good story for why we haven't got our parents with us."
"But... we're Harry's," Luna said. "And he's an orphan. In fact--you're the Potter, Harry. Isn't that good enough?"
"Not to Muggles," Fleur said. "Their rules are different, you see--" she broke off, staring towards the entrance. "Papa?" Hermione saw a man, only an inch or two taller than Fleur, looking more like a college professor than anything else, albeit a very graceful one, the sort who probably fenced or did a lot of Tai Chi or something. There was something incongruous about him. Was it his clothes, or his hair? No. He's wearing a monocle? But nobody uses those anymore. And then he was embracing Fleur.
She didn't know whether to be delighted, that here at last was an adult who might be on their side, or terrified that he was going to take Fleur and send her away--I'm sure everyone, even Wizards, even French Wizards, has the equivalent of an Aunt Mildred somewhere--and they'd never see each other again until they were all grown up.
They were speaking French, too fast for Hermione to follow. She heard bits--friends, love, saved, family?--but there was nothing she could piece together. Then "Papa, might we speak English, please? Hermione has a very nice accent, but she has not yet learnt so very much French. And Harry and Luna haven't got any, for now."
"Well," he said, "we shall have to remedy that. Since all of you are now part of our family..."
"Of course, Fleur. No father likes to see his daughter grow up, but... even without this"--he tapped his monocle--"I can see how you feel for each other. And I am not so foolish that I can be claimed by a half-Veela and live for so many happy years with her and not know the signs. So, will you introduce us?" Hermione was surprised to notice that he had much less of an accent than Fleur did, even when she was speaking normally, rather than exaggerating her accent to charm or distract.
And Fleur, brave, self-possessed, capable Fleur, suddenly looked as shaky and nervous as a student about to give her first oral presentation. "Papa," she said, "this is 'Arry Potter. Our, ah..."
"Hello, sir," he said. "I'm Fleur's friend."
"And a bit more, no? I am Gérard Delacour, Harry. And any... friend of my daughter is my friend." They shook hands. "So, you have rescued my daughter, and kept her safe. I am sure your parents would be, no, are proud. They were fine, brave people. I only met them once or twice, but I am sure we would have become friends, had they lived."
"You met my parents, sir? I... I never knew anything about them, before yesterday when I met Hagrid, and... I'm sorry. I didn't really rescue Fleur, it was Hagrid who had the money, and..."
"Ah, Harry. It speaks well for you, that you are so modest. But... you could have done almost anything with my daughter and her friend. They were bought for you, and you had their leashes. But instead you promised to care for them, and made friends of them. That is not something every boy would think to do, confronted with two beautiful girls in a cage."
Harry's face fell. "You mean... it was only magic? Only a spell to make them obey me?"
"No, 'Arry," Fleur said, and hugged him about the shoulders. "It was nothing of the sort. The spells on the collars, on the cage, those could only have made our bodies obey your commands, for a while. If they had even been properly cast, as they were not. Feel, my 'Arry. Could it be anything other than love between us?"
"What happened was the very opposite thing, Harry," Mr. Delacour said. "You made a promise, and the girls accepted it, and made their own promise in return. And, whatever the other parents may say, I think it was well done."
"I would ask you to call me Gérard, but I can understand how that might feel awkward for you. I would hope to be, in some small way, as a father to you, Harry, but you have a father already, although he is gone from this Earth, and I never could replace him. So... would you call me 'Uncle'?"
"If you want me to," Harry said. His voice was very flat.
"I am sorry, Harry, I am a fool, sometimes. Having met the gross parody of a man whom you know as an 'uncle,' I should have realised what the term would mean to you. Would 'Oncle Gérard' do? Or is it still too close to the English word? Or are the sounds too foreign?"
Harry's face lit up slowly. His lips worked, as if he were trying the sounds out. "No, Onc' Gérard. Thank you."
"Good lad. I can tell that you will learn our language very well, Harry."
"Of course he will," Luna said. "Our Master is very smart, and good at all sorts of things besides defeating Dark Lords and collecting girls who love him."
"This is Luna Lovegood, Papa," Fleur said. "She..."
"Met Harry and Fleur and Hermione and knew I ought to be Harry's pet, just like them," Luna said. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Mr. Delacour. Are you related to Charles Poisson Delacour who wrote Travels with a Yeti?"
"He is a distant cousin, I think. I'm very pleased to meet you, Luna. Would you call me Oncle Gérard, also?"
"Thank you. I will, Oncle Gérard."
"You have an excellent ear, chérie. I can tell that you will learn French very swiftly."
"Will we come to live with you, Oncle Gérard? I'm sure our Master has a house, somewhere, but he apparently lives with his aunt and uncle, and he thinks they wouldn't like us. I don't know why, though. We're all housebroken, and we'll sleep with him so there'll be no need for another bed of our own. And we'll stay off the furniture, and I promise we'll not make too much noise at night."
Hermione glanced at Mr. Delacour's face, worried about his reaction. She didn't like thinking about how her father would react, if Luna said something like that in his hearing. To her surprise, Mr. Delacour appeared to be desperately trying not to laugh. "Luna," he said, "when you're older, you'll understand that some things a father does not wish to know in such detail. But... yes, I hope you will all come to stay with us."
Hermione was feeling slightly left out, for no very good reason. Then Harry took her hand. "And this is Hermione Granger, Onc' Gérard," he said.
"'Ermione is the first friend I made in England, Papa," Fleur said. "I stopped being afraid as soon as she was, ah... put in with me."
"I am very pleased to meet you, Hermione," Mr. Delacour said. "You're a very brave girl, to comfort my daughter despite your own fears."
"But... Fleur comforted me."
"It took both of you, chérie. Well done."
"But I didn't do anything, sir. It's just... I was there."
"I hope you'll call me Oncle Gérard, Hermione. And what you say only confirms your bravery. I have met many soldiers and others who had done brave things, so I think that I should know a very brave girl when I see her."
"Merci, Oncle Gérard," she said. He ruffled her hair, which normally irritated her but for some reason it was all right. Perhaps because his touch was feather-light and didn't actually put it out of place.
"So," he said. "It has been a long day. Will you come with me? Minerva, Professor McGonagall, has gone to tell your parents, Hermione. I'm sure they will want to see you. And to meet your new friends."
"Oncle Gérard? If they want to send me to Australia, I'm not sure I want to see them."
"What, Hermione? Are they... cruel to you? I did not think, but..."
"I'm sorry," she said quickly. "They're not."
"No, my dear, I am not angry with you. It's only... if something is the matter, will you please tell me? There is nothing I will not do to protect my daughter's very dear friend."
"Oh, no," she said. "They're good parents, and they've never done anything bad to me. I've read all about what bad parents can do to children, so I think I ought to know. It's only... I can't believe they'll let me stay with Harry and Fleur and Luna. It was hard enough to convince them to let me go to Hogwarts. I was supposed to go to a good Muggle school, and then to Oxford or maybe Cambridge, and read history or science..."
"I see. Well, perhaps we can convince them, together. Would it be all right if all of you stayed with them, for a while? It might be awkward at first, but I am sure they would see that you are all very good young people, and wonderful to each other."
"Maybe. But... they're Muggles. They haven't got Second Sight, like Luna, and they can't wear a monocle like yours, that lets them see what we mean to each other. They'll think I'm only a silly child, and throw words like 'Stockholm Syndrome' about. Perhaps they'll say even the local comprehensive would be better for me than Hogwarts, 'because at least slavery is illegal there,' and they'll never understand that we're not slaves, and..." she ran out of breath, and words.
"I don't know what I can do," Harry said. "But if there's anything I can do, I'll do it. Not because I want to keep you, but because you want to stay with me. I mean, if you do. And, I mean, I do want to keep you, but..."
"I understand, Harry," she said. "I want you to keep me. And... I want to keep you, and Fleur, and Luna."
"I may be able to help," Mr. Delacour said. "I am a father, also, and a diplomat. And it might be bad for your health, for the health of all of you, if you are not allowed to remain together. If worse comes to worse, Hermione, well... your decision is up to you, but you are welcome to live in my family's home. In a very real sense, you are my daughter's fiancée."
"Oh." Somehow that hadn't occurred to her.
"Yes, my dear. I hope you don't mind."
"Mind? Of course not, Oncle Gérard. I... I love them. But we're all so young. And... there are four of us."
"The Wizarding World has long seen certain truths, in a way that our Muggle brothers have not, about love and its relationship to number and gender. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that we have not been able to not see.
"As for your age, it would be preferable, of course, that you would wait until you are a few years older for the... consummation, but if it should prove necessary to formalise your relationship in order to keep you safe, it is possible."
There were a thousand questions Hermione wanted to ask, but she knew it wasn't the time. So she meekly followed her new uncle and her three best beloved friends towards the door.
"Wait," Mr. Delacour said. "We have spent enough time in this shop. We should buy something, to be polite. And I think that the four of you might want some comforting book, to read together before you fall asleep tonight. Would... oh, say, this one be good?" He picked a copy of Alice In Wonderland off the shelf.
They looked all four looked at each other. "I trust you,"Harry said.
"Umm... maybe it's a little too much like today has already been?" Hermione said. "Although you're all much lovelier than the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse."
"As you think best, my darling," Fleur said.
"I've already read it," Luna said. "And I shall like whatever book our dear Hermione thinks best."
Mr. Delacour set the book down and picked up another. "How about this one? Or is it too childish for you?"
"No," Hermione said, "The Wind in the Willows is lovely." Suddenly she was worried. What if Fleur thinks it's babyish? What if Harry thinks it's nonsense? What if Luna... well, thinks Toad is an insulting caricature of toads?
"I think it is a wonderful book," Fleur said.
"I never was allowed to read it," Harry said, "but I'd like to."
"I agree with Fleur and Hermione," Luna said.
"You are all wise beyond your years," Mr. Delacour said. "You have chosen very well, Fleur. Or perhaps I should say that Providence has been very kind to you."
Mrs. Badger knocked at the door. "Professor McGonagall," she said, "a gentleman's Firecalled for you. A Mr. Delacour."
"What?" Dan said.
"We communicate by something called the Floo network, Mr. Granger," McGonagall said. "It's much like your telephones, except it also serves us as a means of transit."
"Oh," he said. "Well, then, shouldn't you... wait a minute. Mrs. Badger is one of your lot? Just what sort of game have you been playing with us, Professor?"
"Dan, behave yourself," Emma said.
"Actually, Mr. Granger," McGonagall said, "I had no idea you were staying with a Squib until I divined your whereabouts in order to tell you I'd seen Hermione in that villain's ledger. I'm not sure how you picked Mrs. Badger's B&B, but I'm inclined to say it was the result of... co-incidence, in the original sense of 'things which occur together.' The parents of Muggleborns are often more sensitive to magic than the typical Muggle; it is quite possible that your subconscious instincts drew you here."
"Think, Dan," Emma said. "If Professor McGonagall were trying to deceive us, wouldn't she have told her co-conspirator to be more subtle? To tell her someone had, oh, telephoned?"
"All right," he said. "Hadn't you better take your call, Professor?"
"I suppose I had," she said. "Would it make you feel better to come with me, to see that we are treating you honestly?"
"Perhaps we should."
They followed McGonagall to the door. "Mr. and Mrs. Granger are coming with me to take Mr. Delacour's call. If you don't mind?"
"Of course not, Professor," Mrs. Badger said.
They went back through the kitchen, into what must have been Mrs. Badger's private quarters. "I keep the Floo in here,"she said, "so there's no fear of my Muggle guests seeing something they should not. Most of them aren't the parents of a Muggleborn like yourselves, Mr. and Mrs. Granger, so you'll understand I must be careful."
The flames in the grate had an odd cast to them, and the image of a man's head floated amid them. He had a pleasant face, black hair with traces of grey at the temple, and a neatly trimmed Van Dyke beard. "Ah, my dear Minerva," he said, in alight French accent. "I have found my Fleur and her friends, and they are very well, thank God."
"Wonderful," McGonagall said. "Gérard, these are Dan and Emma Granger. Mr. and Mrs. Granger, this is Gérard Delacour."
Here endeþ ðe chapter.